Many transgender people have had to wait to come out. And it can often take half a lifetime for circumstances to feel stable or safe enough to transition and come out.
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, is not alone in transitioning and coming out after 50. Caitlyn is 65.
For those in the post-50 transgender community, the reasons for waiting until later in life to transition are often the same:
1. Feeling stable in one’s career. It’s important to believe that you can transition your career along with your gender. Many people are frightened of losing their jobs, a chance at promotion or even the friendship of their colleagues. Caitlyn didn’t come out until after the Olympics, commercials and a point in her career where perhaps she felt she could continue as her true self: a woman.
2. Believe it or not, some transgender people wait until a parent, parents, grandparents or other significant family members or mentors die before coming out. Many people who are over age 50 come from an era where they don’t want to disappoint, hurt, embarrass or shame their elders. There is a recognition of the lack of acceptance they might face, and many hide in order not to hurt their families or even lose family ties. Caitlyn Jenner waited until her father died.
3. Some closeted transgender people also marry and have children. Just like many people, members of the transgender community have a desire for family. For those after 50, it may not have seemed possible to marry or have babies if they were out as transgender, so they remained hidden. Caitlyn Jenner was not unusual in that desire. She was also not unusual in wanting to wait to tell her children that she was transgender until they were young adults. There is a common fear that kids won’t understand, could reject them and even if their kids are open-minded, that they could be mocked or even ostracized in school, church and their community for having a transgender parent. Today, younger transgender people may be entering a more enlightened time, where they may feel the freedom to marry without hiding their true gender and their children will grow up seeing their parents living their lives authentically.
4. For many over 50, their religious community is a central focus of their home, school and social life. Depending on where you live in the United States or the world, coming out as a transgender individual can set you apart from everything that you know. Very few religious communities are welcoming to transgender individuals. Imagine what it must be like to have to choose between living your life authentically and your faith? Here too, many worry about being ostracized from their community, families and friends when choosing to live in their true gender. It can take a half a lifetime to find the courage and have the resources to do that.
It’s just different to be over 50 and transitioning. Caitlyn Jenner is getting all kinds of criticism and Sunday morning quarterbacking about how she could have done this better or differently than how she’s doing it. It helps to remember that Caitlyn and over 50 transgender folk come from a world that didn’t use words like “Gender Fluid” and “Gender Queer” growing up. That implies that there is an understanding of a gender spectrum or a binary system. This wasn’t even a thought in the most liberal homes of those over 50. Caitlyn Jenner grew up in a world where gender roles were much more clearly defined. It was pick a team: pink or blue – forget fifty shades of grey.
In many respects, for the younger transgender community, they are growing up in a very different world. The world is changing fast in part due to people like Caitlyn Jenner, who can command the public stage. It is good for us to remember that there are no road maps and this new breed of public transgender activists are paving the roads of acceptance and understanding with great courage. We are building new paths to understanding now, and the best any of us can do is gather around each person who is transitioning and offer them compassion, support and acceptance.
And please remember– it’s just different after 50.
You can read more from Mac on his website, betruetoself