Gender Identity at Any Age

Reading: Gender Identity at Any Age: Wendy Cole on Embracing Her True Identity at 67

Covey Podcast

Gender Identity at Any Age: Wendy Cole on Embracing Her True Identity at 67

Wendy Cole knew she was a girl from childhood. Learn how she transitioned in her 60s.

with Wendy Cole

“Gender is between the ears, not the legs,” says Wendy Cole, a Transition Mentor with a focus on self-acceptance and personal empowerment. Knowing she was a woman since childhood, Cole transitioned at age 67 and was fully able to embrace her true identity. Now she helps others navigate their own life’s changes with compassion and mindfulness. “Life is about possibilities,” she tells Lesley. “[You] have to change [your] beliefs of what’s possible.” In this conversation Cole discusses her courageous journey of self-love and transformation. She shares her story of confronting societal and familial expectations, overcoming decades of internal struggle, and finally finding joy in being herself. A must-listen for anyone facing personal challenges and seeking to reinvent themselves.

LJS: Hey, Wendy. So glad to have you on the podcast. This is great.

WC: I’m so happy to be here, Lesley. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

LJS: So tell me, where are you located?

WC: I am in Providence, Rhode Island.

LJS: Providence, Rhode Island. Okay, cool. So let’s start with your background. Where did you grow up? What did you do career-wise? What was your family situation? Very briefly, so people understand where you’re coming from.

WC: I was actually born in Jacksonville, Texas. I was only there for three months and my mother took me to New York State; Newburgh, New York, initially. But then I grew up in Fishkill, New York, about 50 miles north of New York City, which was my playground in high school and college.

LJS: A lot of people felt that way. Cool. And what did you do for work?

WC: I was fascinated with computers because of Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey. So…I went to college for history and political science. After college, I went to a really top technical school in Dallas, Texas. Control Data Institute. Ross Perot. I got hired out of there by a digital equipment corporation, and that started my tech career in north central Massachusetts. Then I got transferred to New Hampshire, and then ultimately transferred to outside of Philadelphia, where I was laid off.

LJS: We’ve all been through that. Yep.

WC: After almost 20 years of working for the digital equipment corporation as an employee. I worked my way up from being a technician to a project manager to doing sales, technical support and all of that. Two years of paid severance with full benefits. And I decided, “I don’t want to be an employee anymore.” I wanted to do contract consulting because I’d been in touch, I’d come into contact…with consultants, and that seemed to be a much better way to work.

LJS: Okay, so did you do that for a while?

WC: I did that for about another 15 to 20 years. And I loved it. I would walk into a corporation and I would be hired to develop a system for them, usually intranet based, that they could use globally. And, I worked for companies like FMC, which is a big chemical company. I worked for Merck, NEC, developing systems for them. And I only had one boss, the person who signed my contract every three months.

LJS: All right, that’s pretty great.

WC: And I worked from home the majority of the time. I owned two Dell servers, a desktop and a laptop. So I could simulate the client environment, developing SQL server databases and web based applications in first visual, basic ASp, dot all Microsoft technology. And I never really went to school for any of that. I bought books and taught myself. I had imposter syndrome when I started because I was self-taught. Well, I found out that all the best programmers that I worked with and all the best developers that I worked with, all self-taught.

LJS: That’s interesting.

WC: It becomes a passion, something you immerse yourself into.

LJS: Right. So let’s talk about your personal reinvention. How did that happen?

WC: I was born transgender. This is not a choice. It’s how you’re born. It develops within the second trimester. Your brain gets wired, your body develops, the sexual differentiation begins. My brain went female, my body went male. I told my parents by age ten, I’m a girl.

LJS: Yeah, I know. Most people know that. From working in the fashion business, I can tell you that. Everybody knew at age six.

WC: Yep, yep. I had a hint at it at three or four, but I didn’t have words to put around it. It just evolved and kept growing. And the closer I got to puberty, the more intense it got. So when I told my parents, it was 1958, and of course, this didn’t go well.

LJS: I bet. 1958. Holy moly.

WC: Christine Jorgensen had been in the newspapers in the early 1950s. She came back from World War II. So, my parents took me to a psychiatric center where I sat with the psychiatrist and my parents. And of course, this is the fifties, and children are seen not heard.

LJS: Right.

WC: I was told. Well, that he told my parents, oh, this is just a little transvestism. Boys experiment. He’s too young to diagnose as transsexual. And, once he has a career, he has a wife, he has a house and a family, he’ll forget all about being a girl. Much to my surprise, I spoke up and I said to the psychiatrist, “I’m a girl.” I was taken from the room.

LJS: Oh, no.

WC: Yeah. We had like four or five sessions after that. And I was only in them partially. It was all with my parents.

LJS: Well, in the olden days, they blamed the mother. Right. So the mother was too domineering. And that caused…

WC: I have no idea. They shared none of that with me. But I would imagine that was one of the things, right. And my father was very conservative. During World War II, he was a lieutenant commander in the Navy. I found out over the course of the rest of my life, all the lengths he had gone to to have a son, to continue the family name.

LJS: Were you the only son?

WC: Oh, yeah.

LJS: Okay. Were there other siblings? Did you have siblings?

WC: I had one that I found out about when I was in grammar school. A half sister Carol, from my father’s former marriage. And my father’s former marriage actually went on for eight years after I was born. They didn’t get divorced until 1956. I was born in ‘48. And, I found out later on, in 2001, when my father died, that I had a half sister that I didn’t know about and my mother didn’t know about until then. So, he had actually tried a year before I was born to have a son with his first wife. My half sister Kathy had always been told through her lifetime, “If you were born a boy, your father wouldn’t have left us.”

LJS: So he was really wrapped up in this. It’s Henry VIII, right?

WC: Exactly.

LJS: Wow. Oh, my god.

WC: So, the next really pivotal point for me was senior year of college. I’m graduating, another major life change. Getting into the world with a degree and all that other good stuff. So I had to do something about this. This was total turmoil inside me. I was depressed, so anxious, suicidal ideations were intense, very common. So I found a psychiatrist who said he would help me. I didn’t know what the status of my diagnosis was or anything like that. He took me as a case study patient to a quarterly meeting of area psychiatrists. There were about 20 psychiatrists in the room, in a hospital conference room. And I’m talking, I get into it, about four or five minutes into it, one of the psychiatrists stands up and says, “Well, I’ll see you all next quarter.” Looks at me and says, “You’re a freak. You should move to New York City and turn tricks like the rest of them.” This was 1970. That’s when I also found out that my diagnosis was: this is how you’re born. There’s no treatment and no cure. And that was the way the medical community, therapists, psychiatrists, doctors – you’re basically written off. So I came to the realization that my only way to do this was to move to Manhattan like the doctor suggested, or San Francisco, to the underground. But I would never be part of society.

WC: So I decided at that point, okay, basically suck it up and see what I can do to go forward without dealing with this. And I did eventually get married in ‘74. I had my career started in ‘74. I got married a year after I started my career. And ‘78, I told my wife, I was talking in my sleep. She woke me up. “You’re talking about being a woman. What’s going on?” I told her everything. Figuring we’d be divorced by morning. For her own reasons, we stayed together as long as I didn’t do anything about this. And that was still the 1970s. In New York State, in California, I would be arrested for appearing in public as a woman while assigned male at birth. And that’s the other thing that a lot of people don’t understand, is gender is between the ears, not the legs. So when the doctor announces, “Oh, it’s a boy or it’s a girl,” at best, it’s a guess based on physical anatomy. But as that person develops, their gender identity, which is in the mind, really begins to develop. And there’s a total incongruence there. So basically I’d struggled through 40 years of marriage, my career and everything, repressing this.

LJS: Sure, because that’s what you were told to do.

WC: Exactly. And you have no idea how damaging and how difficult repressing your real identity really is.

LJS: I can’t imagine. I bet most people listening cannot even imagine what that’s like.

WC: And, one of the things I ask people to kind of drive that point home is, when was the last time you looked in the mirror and said, “Oh, this is all wrong. This is not how I should be.” People like myself face that on a daily basis. It ebbs, it flows, but it never goes away. And nothing you can do to change it.

Well, in 2014, late 2014, very dark time, lots of ideations coming through, making preparations to end everything. I decided, I hadn’t looked in all these years to see if my diagnosis had changed, because I didn’t want to. I didn’t. There was nothing I felt I could do about it. And, if I looked and found that I hadn’t changed, that would be just as bad as not knowing at all, was my attitude toward it. So I looked, I got on Google, I started doing searches, and I found out, wow, this is now, something that I’m born with and it’s treatable. Therapy. I can actually talk to somebody, and hormone replacement therapy and any necessary surgeries.

LJS: Times had changed. That’s what had changed.

WC: Yes. 2012 is when that happened. And once I found out about that, I didn’t hesitate. I went upstairs, I said to my wife, “Remember what we talked about in 1978?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, it never went away. And I am going to find a therapist who will work with me, and I’m going to see what happens with this. I have to deal with this. I can’t take it anymore.” And I found a wonderful therapist. It took quite a bit of effort, but I found, she was wonderful. At the end of our first session — Lesley, I hadn’t talked to anybody about my feelings and how I, how I felt about myself in 45 years.

I sat there and I poured my heart out. It was an intake session, so it was a little bit longer. And it was just amazing. It just felt so good.

I told her that back in the sixties, I was a raging hippie. I was into Zen, meditations, all of that. So she said she wanted me to start journaling. And she also wanted me to get back into my meditations to control my mind, etcetera. And, as I was leaving the office, I looked back to say goodbye. And she looked at me and she said, what’s your name? And I snapped back: Wendy.

LJS: You knew?

WC: Oh, Lesley. I picked that name in grammar school. She was the most popular girl in my class. Wore the nicest clothes. Everybody loved her. And I said to myself, if I could ever be a girl, I was going to be Wendy.

LJS: And interesting when you think of Peter Pan, right?

WC: I’ve heard that comment before.

LJS: Yeah. Interesting. Okay.

WC: So we went on from there. I had no boundaries whatsoever with my family, my wife, or anyone. I just knew what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. And by the third session, well, second session, I told Stephanie, my therapist, I’m going to come next week as Wendy. Understand, I hadn’t cross-dressed in over 30 years. I hated that. It reminded me of what I couldn’t be and who I couldn’t be. So the immediate relief that I would experience by dressing in feminine attire didn’t cut it because I had to take it off. I had to go back to my male facsimile, which is what I called him.

LJS: What do you mean? Why did you have to go back? You just couldn’t [stay] there?

WC: This was back like 30 years earlier.

LJS: Oh, I see, I see. 30 years earlier, you couldn’t handle it. Okay.

WC: I couldn’t handle taking everything off. It hurt too much. So I just never wanted to do it again.

Then, I said to Stephanie, I said, you realize this is going to cause a boundary between my wife and I. There was a rule. If I did this, if I started dressing, I couldn’t leave the house. No one could know about it. It was a big secret. Well, I’d had this big secret for decades. Since childhood. And, I wound up insisting, and I got dressed that Thursday morning, and I went to therapy and, to prepare myself for it, for the six days before, I meditated. I envisioned: how would I feel? It was going to be the end of January, beginning of February in Pennsylvania. So how would I feel with my overcoat on, looking like any other woman going to an office job. I’d hear the sound of my shoes going across the parking lot. I’d see my reflection in the glass door. How would all that feel? And it would feel wonderful. And I just focused my mind on those feelings, shutting down all the other thoughts that were going through there, all the doubts, all the fears, of everything. And I’ve been journaling.

So I’d been typing, single space, no punctuation, no grammar concerns or anything, and sharing those pages of my journal with Stephanie, my therapist, before each session, so she’d know where my thoughts were at. And, I’d read what I wrote four days later and go, “oh my God, I don’t want to feel like that or think like that anymore.” I walked into that, my third session as Wendy. I couldn’t have been happier. There were people in the waiting room. They didn’t pay any attention to me. Everything was fine. I’m going, wow, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can really be me. I kept working on all my mindfulness, all my visions, journaling, shifting my beliefs, working to say, “Okay, if I’m saying I can’t do this, I start out by…I’m curious, what would it feel like if I did that?” Something. Because we can’t live outside our beliefs. So I started shifting what my beliefs were. Within about three or four months? Oh, yeah, I can definitely do this. I was so happy. And by the time I got to June, that’s six months from the time I started.

By the time I got to June, I was so happy. My wife said to me, you know, you’re really upsetting me. I’m worried about the future. We’re going to get divorced. You’re going to go your way, I’m going to go mine. But you’re just so happy. And I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m finally going to get to be me.” The next thing she said was, “Well, my first husband left me for another woman. Now my second husband’s leaving me to become a woman.” We were both laughing.

LJS: At least she had a good sense of humor. That’s good. I like that. That’s actually really good. That’s a good one.

WC: We did divorce. It was when I announced that on March 4 I was going to start hormone replacement therapy. And, she said, well, we’re getting a divorce. I said, why? Knowing the answer. And she said, well, you’re going to develop breasts. Lord knows what else you’re going to do. So. And I’m not a lesbian, and I’m not going to be married to a woman. So getting divorced. And I said, okay. And I walked away. I went back to my office, I sat at my desk and go, oh, wow, that was a lot easier than I thought it was. And we divorced amicably. We’re still in touch. For the pandemic year, we couldn’t sell the house. So for the pandemic year, we still jointly owned the house. So I told her I was going to move back in and I set up an apartment for myself in the basement. And, that’s where I lived for the next two and a half years.

LJS: And, so talk a little bit about what you do now because you help other people who are going through this, correct?

WC: Yes, I do. What I discovered was, because I did this in six months and was actually blending into the community where I lived.

LJS: You stayed in the same community and they were willing to accept that?

WC: Actually what I did was I moved about 40 miles north of where my house was to a town on the Delaware river in central Bucks County called New Hope, Pennsylvania.

LJS: Oh, New Hope. I know New Hope. We had a house out there so we used to go out to New Hope a lot. We love New Hope. That’s a good space for you.

WC: Well, I thought so, too, and I figured, oh, the gay community is going to get me. No, no. I found out they had almost as little understanding of being born this way and what it’s all about as regular people do.

LJS: Oh, okay. That’s a surprise. I would not have guessed that. Okay.

WC: They saw cross-dressers a lot who came into New Hope, right? But people like myself who are going to be living full time as women and going for the surgery and completely changing their physical anatomy, not so much.

LJS: Always a reason to reject somebody, isn’t there? Like, that’s what’s so hilarious to me.

WC: Is even with their own community!

LJS: That’s what you come to terms with, I think, as you get older, is that there’s always going to be some reason. They just don’t like the way you look at them. They don’t like the color of your eyes. There’s always some reason to… I find human beings, I don’t really understand why they like to…I don’t know what they’re looking for, but it’s always something, right?

WC: Well, I turned that into an extremely positive experience.

LJS: Awesome.

WC: My first neighbors that I met lived in this neighborhood that was a mix of condos and apartments in Village Two, which you might be familiar with.

LJS: No, I don’t know that.

WC: But that’s up the hill from right, overlooking New Hope. My neighbors Chad and Jason left flowers at my front door. Welcome to the neighborhood, Chad and Jason, number 15.

LJS: Oh, that’s nice.

WC: I went to go introduce myself, and they weren’t home. Sunday evening. They came in at about eight in the evening. They’d been away, and so I went down around 9 to introduce myself. I found out there was a running bet in the neighborhood that, “Oh, is she cisgender or is she trans?” I confirmed. I transitioned. I don’t know when, but I’m going to have the surgery, and I’m living full time as a woman. And, Oh, wow. You’re really doing all of that. Yeah. And that’s when I said it for the first time. Lesley, “I’m an open book. Ask me anything you want to. And absolutely nothing is off limits.” I’ve lived by that ever since. I would go to the gay bar and be talking with the guys and anybody else that came there. And, the conversation would go like this, especially with the guys who had been married. Oh, you knew this at a very young age. You were gay. Yeah. You got married, you repressed all of that. Yeah. Well, so did I. The only difference is you became a G. I became a T. That’s it. Let’s go on from there. And we had a great conversation. The gay community were my biggest supporters, of course, and I had a blast.

LJS: That’s great.

WC: And, I worked at the local supermarket as a cashier, and the gay people that work there were rather surprised because one, I never mentioned having transitioned in the job interview relevant to it. And most of the women that I worked with in the front end of the store had no idea.

LJS: That’s great.

WC: And it was just a wonderful experience. And I’ve gone on from there to help people in transition. I’ve also started working with parents of transgender because…

LJS: Oh, interesting.

WC: They have no context by which to understand this.

LJS: Of course not.

WC: So I do a lot of educating with parents and helping them with what to do and what not to do.

LJS: And so you’re called a transition mentor, is that correct? And people can hire you to help them understand how to get through this for themselves …or for their kids, is that right?

WC: Absolutely.

LJS: Great. And where can people find you, Wendy? Where do they find your services?

WC: The best way to connect with me initially is My calendar’s there, my newsletter’s there, and there’s a link there that drops them back into my main website where all the podcast interviews are located. And there’s everything else about me there.

LJS: And what are you finding today as the pressure is quite severe on trans right now? All this hysteria, all this repression, we’re like… I have to say, I feel like we’re in some weird retro thing. Back to 1864, these people want to go. How are you, how are you teaching people to deal with that, just briefly because we’re almost at the end here.

WC: Right. First and foremost, the first thing that somebody in transition needs to do is change their beliefs in what is possible for them. Life is about possibilities. They have to change their beliefs in what’s possible. If they don’t do that, they’ll never find self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is the key to getting through this and actually having fun and enjoying it. And once that happens, they’re fine. What I’m finding with, I recently talked with someone who wants to hire me, but because of her personal circumstances, she can’t right now, but I stay in touch and she’s going to reach out and be back with me. She was just so panic stricken. “They all hate us, they all despise us. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to do anything about this.” And I just said to her, “Stop. Those are your own thoughts. From what I’m finding through what I’m doing, most people have no clue about us or what to think about us, other than what they hear from some politicians and so-called religious people about how horrible we are while they use us as a wedge issue.” They can’t use the gays anymore because that’s more acceptable now, but we definitely aren’t.

So that’s when I find, once I start helping people get past what their thoughts are, what their beliefs are, and form new ones that are more supportive for themselves, they discover self-acceptance. They can actually move forward. I don’t tell them how fast to go through. We’ll develop a roadmap of all the steps and things that you need to personally do in order to complete this whole transition. But it’s not a project plan. There’s no date on it. And one of the other things I personally learned, you’ll do whatever you need to do when you’re ready. There’s no such thing as failing.

LJS: I love that. Well, on that, we’re out of time. Wendy, thank you so much for your time. And thank you for helping people. And thank you for your story, because I think that will be very enlightening and helpful for other people who are going through what you’re going through.

WC: Thank you, Lesley.


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