Coming out in later life — one woman’s ‘dash for freedom’
“I knew by age 50 that I just had to be who I felt I was and to be free — as a woman”
I’m a recently published author, going by the pseudonym Michaela Taylor. I prefer her/she. I identify as a transgender person but, when I had the first inklings of this, aged six in the 1950s, transgender (or trans) and gender identity were terms yet to be coined. I live in a small city in the north-east of England. I’m 73 and have been happily married for 52 years. We have sons and grandchildren who live close by. I tried to shake off or stamp out my deeply held desire to be a girl until I was 50. I knew by then that I just had to be who I felt I was and to be free — as a woman.
When I was 50, I told my wife, Ella, about my gender dysphoria. That was difficult for us both. There then followed a separate double life, keeping my secret deeply and worryingly hidden, while continuing to advance my career and keep all my family and friend relationships intact. Scary and timid outings into the big wide world followed — as Michaela. I slowly carved out another life for myself, with numerous people from different parts of my new life only knowing me as a trans woman.
Greater became the strain on my erstwhile happy marriage until, out of the blue — and set against my super-fit life as a racing cyclist, runner and gym worshipper, which had always been so important to my sense of self and self-worth — I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and given two years to live. That was four years ago. And, I thought, that was it. My glacial transition and sojourns into the outside world became a sprint for the line, to Ella’s horror. I threw caution to the wind and, against her wishes, had an exhilarating, euphoric dash for freedom, telling everyone who I was — and to hell with the consequences.
This story is essentially my book, She Said She (A Trans Love Story): a story of mine and Ella’s deep love, our superglued relationship and our struggle — for me to be a woman, Michaela, and for Ella to hang on to her husband, Michael. I adore Ella and crave her company, but I need to be me. It’s a conundrum that exercises us daily. I know I can never let her go.
Scared of who I was and withdrawn, well into my 40s, I need not have worried about rejection — or worse — when coming out. And, believe me, I had seen that happen to most trans acquaintances: divorce, losing contact with children, rejection by some friends and their church — even a suicide. That just wasn’t my experience. So far, I’ve kept everything. In fact, friends who I have known for years are now kinder, warmer and closer.
I have encountered just two, very minor, transphobic incidents — although, interestingly, I have had plenty of gender stereotyping from men who thought I was a regular woman. A compliment maybe, but there have been a few times when men, who didn’t read me, have made unwanted sexual advances. How scary — and how much do I now understand the #MeToo movement. Through that, I know I’m lucky to have come out now, when diversity, in all its glory, is slowly seeping through society. But, I guess I may not always have been promoted if I had come out as trans while still working. Undercover as I was then, as a white middle-aged, middle-class man, I saw it happen.
From my tentative first steps, out in the ‘pink triangle’ of pubs, I was helped enormously by many trans and gay folks. I gained valuable experience and confidence there. That has waned now with lots of stuff online, which is not for me. So now, all my friends and relatives, including some influential cisgender girlfriends, are all mainstream and straight — well, as far as I know.
Having once barely bothered the NHS, but now undergoing my prostate cancer treatment and attending the Gender Identity Clinic, I’m never away. Again, I have no horror or prejudicial stories to tell. What I have encountered has been 100% professional, dignified, understanding and with total acceptance — even when I’m the only woman in the prostate clinic. Like my encounters throughout society, there is curiosity and interest. It’s something I am happy to talk about. There’s the occasional lapse into misgendering, but it’s never been malicious — just slips.
Of course, there are now more role models and heroes — there weren’t many last century. I read with interest Jan Morris’s book Conundrum, and followed the brave story of model and activist April Ashley. More recently, at a bike race, I was delighted to bump into and chat to my hero, Pippa York, a commentator for cycling on Channel 4, and fantastic 1980s cyclist who is a former Tour de France King of the Mountains. We talked only of trans issues, though!
If you’re interested in reading more about Michaela’s experiences, you can find her book here: https://amzn.to/3sQDNYG