As part of On the Coast's Gay and Grey series, the CBC's Jennifer Chen went to visit Nanci Blu at home on her 63rd birthday to hear her story about her transition from a man to a woman in her 50s.
While many people in the LGBT community struggle with particular challenges when it comes to aging, Nanci Blu dismisses the idea that she is getting older.
She says becoming a woman has instead helped her "reconstitute" and become a new person, at a later stage in life.
On her 63rd birthday, I went to see her at her apartment in East Vancouver. She was just back from getting her makeup done at the MAC counter downtown.
Nanci strode into the room in black heels, put her coat and keys down, and proceeded to start making coffee.
Inside her home, she had colourful scarves and assorted hats hung on the walls and plastic milk crates on the floor stacked with papers. There was music equipment everywhere.
"I make no excuses for the state, this is how I live," she said.
She finally sat down in the middle of the room with a cup of coffee: "Ahhhhhhh," she exhaled.
Then she began telling me her story.
'This trans thing'
Nanci was gregarious and ready to talk, her tone confident. She certainly didn't hold back when she recalled the dark corners of her life.
Before she was Nanci Blu, she was Richard Nelson Brown, a former identity that she has nicknamed "R."
In the past, she liked to dress up as a woman, but as a biker it didn't really fit with her public persona. So she kept it hidden.
In 1989, when she was around 38 years old, she came out to another person for the first time. She said it was the pivotal moment in her gender and identity transformation.
'It's about identity, it's about being ourselves in our lives. And many people aren't.'- Nanci Blu, on being honest with herself
"I came out to another person in terms of what my deep dark secret shameful thing was, and it changed my life," she said.
She described "R" as a kleptomaniac, a liar, an actor, a biker and, mostly, a likeable guy. Nanci thought, as "R," that she could conquer her big secret, and it would go away. But she realized one day it wouldn't.
"This is more than that. In fact this is me, somehow," she recalled thinking.
Finally, four years ago, she began to deal with what she calls "this trans thing."
"I needed to deal with the fact that I needed to dress in women's clothes," she said. "What did that mean?"
She says she began publicly dressing and acting like a woman in just the past four years.
"I had to change a lot of people in my life... [people] who hadn't bought this. That wasn't part of the package when we started [our relationships] and I don't hold it against them," she said.
"Now, I am who I am to people, not partly this to some people and someone else over there... It's about identity, it's about being ourselves in our lives. And many people aren't."
She says letting go of her secrets stopped her from dying: "That's when things started to change."
A new life at 59
In 2010, Nanci Blu emerged. I could see her face light up and she leaned slightly forward when she talked about her new self, her true self.
"I didn't know I was going to be called Nanci Blu," she said. "I just became this utterly new being, and very happily so."
She was wearing a black lace top, a baseball cap, black-and-white striped tights, and a short skirt. Her earrings and bracelets jangled as she moved. She had guitar picks stashed in several places — disguised as earrings and rings.
"Here I am looking all girly, and I love it," she said. "I chose 'Nanci,' because it's frilly, and Richard the biker was the most afraid of that."
Nanci said she went through sexual reassignment surgery about two years ago.
After the operation, she became visually impaired and is now seeking legal reparations. She is legally blind so she can't do her own makeup.
Now, Nanci runs a support group for people who are thinking of going through sexual reassignment surgery, to help others learn from her experience.
Aging as a stage of development
When I asked about her views on aging, she said, "I am at a certain point in the evolution of all of this. I am just getting on with my life."
“You’re talking about body image, and it’s a stage of development. We live in this culture that worships youth," she began.
"I’m blind:I can’t evaluate people on that level anyway. I have to start evaluating people on a whole new level, and I am,” she said emphatically.
'I’m just not growing old! I’m maturing — but it’s not a decrepitude, it’s a fulfilling.'- Nanci Blu, on aging
I am struck by her optimism and her unwillingness to be deterred by social expectations.
"This is what 63 looks like. I’m just not caught by that age thing. This body is getting some wear and tear, and sometimes it’s a little heavy to lug around. But it’s part of the game. I’m still in the game!”
Nanci continued: "I’m just not growing old! I’m maturing — but it’s not a decrepitude, it’s a fulfilling.”
These days, she is engrossed in her music and that work is bringing her a renewed purpose.
She picked up her guitar and played a song she’d recently composed, called Song for Jolene.
Nanci said she’s getting a band together for her new album, and has just found a drummer who’s in her 20s.
She said that although it has taken her longer to nurture a community of musicians, she’s made big inroads.
"I have arrived, I have become part of this community," she said. "Bring it on! Let’s do more."