Here’s What Older Trans And Nonbinary People Want You To Know

“It is neither a fad nor a trend. It is who you are.”

As more young adults openly identify as nonbinary or transgender, some people have assumed that identifying as such is only a young person’s game — a new fad taking preteens by storm.

But of course, the presence of older trans and nonbinary individuals — and their existence throughout history — prove that assumption wrong. We sent out a survey for trans and nonbinary people over the age of 40 to hear about their coming-out journey (particularly before the prevalence of YouTube, social media, and various hashtags).

I would rather my kid change their sense of their gender 200 times before puberty than die before they could live. Your anxiety over young kids claiming a truth of who they are is about you, not them, not medicine, not some grave threat. Deal with your shit and let others live.

Here is what they had to say:

1. “It’s who I’ve always been, but society forced me to fit into a binary role that didn’t work for me.”

2. “For the first time in my life, I am happy.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

Age 5. In 1958, I tried to wear my sister’s clothes to school. My parents did all they could to dissuade me; psychiatry, Outward Bound, corporal punishment. I entered the closet, abused substances, and had one failed relationship after another. I finally came out at the age of 61. I am married, no longer abuse drugs and alcohol, and am out at work — and happy. For the first time in my life, I am happy. What a long strange trip it’s been.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

It is neither a fad nor a trend. It is who you are. The binary is a social construct.

—Lee Anne, 66, she/her, nonconforming transgender woman

3. “I think that the young people who have been discussing gender in a new way, and trying to identify their own, and learning to talk about it, are doing important work.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

I had different words for it at different ages, but only in my head. I identified as a lesbian, since about age 20, and yes, that’s about “who you want to have sex with, not who you want to have sex as,” but for me, the two were not so different. Lesbian community and culture *was* the place where gender nonconformity was more the rule than the exception. About 10 years ago — thanks, actually, to social media — I began seeing videos of programs on transgender kids, starting with the Barbara Walters piece on Jazz Jennings. I would watch these videos over and over. I remember one parent talking about the concern over what if their child later regretted transition, and I was drafting a letter in my head, that I never wrote, where I talked about knowing that if I’d had anyone who could have heard me as a child, they might have thought I was a transgender boy, and if I’d transitioned as such, even though I realized that was not a complete picture of who I was, I still would not have regretted it.

I remember a meeting where we were to go around and say our names and pronouns, and someone said, “I use all pronouns,” and I liked the sound of that, so I said the same thing. Afterward, I felt an amazing sense of joy, liberation, for having said that.

I learned the words “nonbinary” and “genderqueer” and all sorts of new terms, and found people like myself, and just marathon-read Facebook group posts and binge-watched trans and nonbinary YouTube videos and was blown away, astonished. I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

I think that the young people who have been discussing gender in a new way, and trying to identify their own, and learning to talk about it, are doing important work. We have always been here, but the context for externalizing gender identity beyond the expected identity we always tied to so-called biological sex didn’t exist in this society in recent time, until now. If the kids do and say things that sound “trendy” try listening to cisgender young people. That is what kids do and how they talk. That doesn’t negate the ideas they are talking about.

Don’t worry so much about getting “validation” from others. Try not to get mired in the difficulties of being trans/nonbinary. You all are doing something marvelous. Being trans/nonbinary is something good. You have options for how you want to let it play out in your lives. The hard stuff is hard, but try to enjoy and appreciate this process of learning about yourself.

—Lynn, 59, they/them, nonbinary trans man

4. “My earliest memories of wishing to wake up with the correct body date back to when I was maybe 5 or 6.”

5. “Even when I met trans people, they seemed (whether because they had to in order to be considered trans ‘enough’ or because they genuinely were) to identify as binary male or female, so I never considered I could be trans.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

I’ve never been comfortable with my gender. I remember self-harming since puberty, and other things I can see were signs. Even when I met trans people, they seemed (whether because they had to in order to be considered trans “enough” or because they genuinely were) to identify as binary male or female, so I never considered I could be trans. Most of my life it’s been a family and friends “joke” that I’m a gender of my own. I slowly became aware of nonbinary identities and now realize I am nonbinary (specifically agender). I think I was 48 when I put a name to it for the first time.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

I don’t listen to people who have no idea what they’re talking about, but if I had to, I’d ask them why it bothers them so much if it’s so unimportant. And why they feel the need to police other people’s identity.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

If you’re questioning your gender, you are most likely not cis. Don’t worry if you can’t work out where you fit in right away, and don’t worry if you change your mind a few times.

—Drew, 52, they/them, nonbinary

6. “My existence is not a trend, I have the right to be, the right to express myself.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

I guess I knew I was nonbinary back in my teen years, but back in the ’80s and in my country, I did not have a word to define myself. The easiest way for me to fit somewhere was to call myself a gay man. Later on, in my thirties, after moving to Europe, I started to realize I didn’t need to fit any label or group and started being more myself. At that moment I started to define my gender identity as nonbinary.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

My existence is not a trend, I have the right to be, the right to express myself. The right not to follow the herd and be true to my heart and spirit.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

Be yourself, be patient, be strong. It’s not gonna be easy, but your path is yours. Grow a few good personal relationships and especially if you are younger do not get desperate, you will get stronger if you stay true to yourself. The problems others have about you are theirs and not yours, and consequence of their own ignorance and fears.

—Dionysus, 40, he/him, nonbinary

7. "I started this journey at a time and place that was certainly not trendy and exceptionally dangerous — yet I persisted and now flourish."

8. “I left a note with a tooth asking for some tooth fairy magic — my parents were not amused.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

Age 3 or 4 is when I felt oddly out of sorts. By 6, I knew I was a girl. I left a note with a tooth asking for some tooth fairy magic — my parents were not amused.

When you were first coming out, where did you find community?

I was on the Usenet newsgroups back in the ’90s, and recently got active in trans issues on Facebook and Twitter when changes to the legal definition of gender surfaced from HHS back in October 2018.

You know, I’ve only recently been reaching back out in that “trans” space. I’ve been living a normal and somewhat productive life, comfortable in my own skin for the past 16 and a half years past gender-confirmation surgery, 20 years past transition. My community post has been my community pre. I’ve been blessed to have good friends throughout who’ve kept faith and friendship going. I’ve learned that honesty breeds trust.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

They don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. Gender dysphoria is a real and treatable thing. Transition saved my life. My only regret is that for many reasons, it was not a thing for girls like me in 1959.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

You be you. It can be hard at first, but it gets so much better.

—Stephanie Catherine Helms, 65, she/her

9. "Having transitioned in the ‘70s, stealthy living was my solace."

10. “I was always made fun of, but I didn’t know why.”

11. “It wasn’t until I started using YouTube that I realized there were transgender people and that I must be one.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

I have always been feminine and really would have wanted to be a girl, but just didn’t know it was a possibility as I grew up in Iceland. The whole world told me I must be gay, so I had a couple of boyfriends but ended up meeting a girl when I was 20 and we married and had a daughter. We are still married and our daughter is 24. My wife knew I was feminine and sort of queer, as I was a professional drag queen early on in our relationship. It wasn’t until I started using YouTube that I realized there were transgender people and that I must be one. At first, I thought I might be nonbinary but quickly realized I was a binary trans woman. I eventually transitioned at 46. I have never been happier.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

They probably know some transgender people, either transitioned or not, but don’t realize it. We are here, and we’re not going anywhere.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

Trust in yourself, be safe.

—Freyja Svansdóttir, 50, transgender woman

12. “Something that has existed for as long as modern humanity has existed is hardly a fad.”

13. “We know who we are, and listening to us is just simple respect.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

Very young, maybe 7 or 8? But it was a different world back then and trans visibility was nonexistent. I didn’t start transitioning until 48.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

Is having blue eyes a fad? Is being tall a fad? We know who we are, and listening to us is just simple respect.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

It’s a hard road, but it does get better. Haters gonna hate, but it’s your one life, so live it.

—Liesel, 50, she/her

14. “Never let your community change who you are. Be your own light.”

15. “I use ‘he/him’ because those pronouns described me for 42 years, regardless of meaning.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

I’ve sort of known for an awfully long time, but I’ve only had the language to describe it to others in the last few years. I’m still learning. I use he/him because those pronouns described me for 42 years, regardless of meaning.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

First off, I’d sigh — audibly and with derision. Then I’d launch into a volley of evidence-based, peer-reviewed papers.

Where do you find community and representation?

I’m not sure I have yet. It’s hard. I work in a bigoted industry and I have to be able to face people every day. Burying myself in like-minded individuals doesn’t help with this.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

Your knowledge of yourself is exclusively yours. It can’t be argued with by anyone other than you.

Pete, 42, he/him, nonbinary

16. “When you hide for so long, it is hard to know how to stop.”

17. “I never got the gender norms and have always struggled with it.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

At 53, but I had lived as a butch lesbian all my adult life. I never got the gender norms and have always struggled with it. I knew MTF people and was fascinated by it, but it never occurred to me I could go the other way.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

I think it depends on the person. I think for some it is a fad, particularly nonbinary people. For others, this is what we are.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

Go for it.

—JJ, over 50, he/him/his

18. “Forget the ‘I always knew I was born in the wrong body’ mantra. I was hit by a truck.”

19. “These things weren’t discussed in the ’70s, apart from with ridicule or pity.”

At what age did you realize you may be trans or nonbinary?

The earliest feelings, about 4 years old — playing and emulating female characters seen on TV. I always identified with female role models but couldn’t get my head around “am I a girl?” because I was young. These things weren’t discussed in the’70s, apart from with ridicule or pity.

I used forums before social media, podcasts from the early days until now. Online support groups.

What would you say to those who say coming out as trans or nonbinary is only a fad or trend?

It isn’t a fad. It’s part of the difference in people. Trans people have always been here.

What advice do you have for younger trans and nonbinary people?

Talk to people offline as well as on digital platforms. Go to Pride!

Laura, 45, trans woman

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Topics in this article