Manitoba

'I have a goal to complete my life as me': At 63, Winnipegger plans next steps in her gender transition

While most people her age are planning for retirement, 63-year-old transgender woman Rhiannon Lynn Frost is making plans to complete her transition this year.

Rhiannon Lynn Frost started thinking about transitioning in her 40s

Rhiannon Lynn Frost is counting down to her scheduled surgery date. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)

Rhiannon Lynn Frost shows off her new nail polish — Purple Haze — with pride.

It's her favourite colour, next to red.

"The last time I wore red, it was kind of like ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz, with a sparkle kind of thing," Frost says. "It just makes me feel good. I'm not ashamed."

It took her decades to be able to wear nail polish without feeling shame.

Frost is a 63-year-old transgender woman.

While most people her age are planning for retirement, Frost is making plans to complete her transition this year.

She says it took her a long time to realize she was transgender, but she doesn't think it's ever too late to go after your dreams.  

"I have a network of friends who believe in what I'm doing," the Winnipeg woman says. "I have a goal to complete my life as me."

Frost started thinking about transitioning in her 40s. She started regularly wearing nail polish and women's clothing. 

"Freedom," she says.

Frost says her purple nail polish is more than a fashion statement — it means freedom to her. (Travis Golby/CBC)

That's the feeling Frost has today, after struggling with her identity her whole life.

"If I was living with my parents now, they would have kicked me out if I did something like this," she says, showing off her nails as she applies her makeup.

"I wasn't comfortable in my other skin," says Frost.

When I was living the male life, I wasn't happy, I was angry. I was just mad all the time.- Rhiannon   Lynn Frost

"When I was living the male life I wasn't happy, I was angry. I was just mad all the time, so I had to make a choice of what to do."

But the choice to transition wasn't easy.

Excited, 'a little nervous' about next steps

First, she did a lot of research.

For the past year, she's been taking hormones, and she's received laser treatments to remove her facial hair.

The biggest step in her transformation will be breast augmentation surgery later in the fall.

"I'm very excited, a little nervous too," she says. "I just want to feel more complete as a female." 

But the biggest hurdle was breaking it to her family.

Frost says wearing nail polish and makeup is part of her transition journey. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Frost was born in Nova Scotia and named Lewis, after her grandfather. Lewis grew up in a family of eight, with four brothers and a sister who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

From the start, Lewis felt different from other boys. 

"I was just always emotional growing up, and I thought that was kind of odd, because back then I thought females were supposed to be the most emotional people … and I was always really emotional." 

Frost also had a learning disability and was bullied in school.

"I was in a special [ed] class and told I was a slow learner, so I was called names," she says. "I wasn't into sports or very masculine."

Lewis started taking an interest in nail polish when he was 11, after watching his mother and her friends paint their nails at home.

He asked if he could try it, and his mom allowed it.

"But it was clear nail polish and so when I went to school that day, nobody noticed," Frost says.

'It's not who I am anymore'

It's not easy for Frost to talk about that time.

She doesn't want to share photos of her childhood or manhood because it's not her identity now, and she wants to leave it in the past.

"It's not who I am anymore."

Frost, 63, studies her face as she transitions into whom she really is: a woman. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Frost spent most of her adult years as a man, working in the service industry as a prep cook. She never married or had children.

She took on various other jobs, including one at a wood shop that resulted in a workplace accident in which she lost the end of a finger.

It took a night out with her friends to realize she needed a change. 

"I was playing with some friends and I was experimenting with some [women's] clothes and it just felt right, but I wasn't sure, so it took a while to click in to me that I'm trans."

Disowned by family

Wearing women's clothing wasn't enough. 

When she was in her 50s, she legally changed her name to Rhiannon Lynn Frost — she prefers to be called Lynn — and slowly began preparing her body for the life-changing surgery.

That meant telling her family the truth about her life.

Winnipegger plans next steps in her gender transition

3 years ago
4:02
While most seniors usually settle down after a full life, Rhiannon Lynn Frost is starting a whole new life from scratch, literally. 4:02

"Most of the advice I got was was 'You're going to lose friends, you're going to lose family, you're going to lose a job — and if you're living somewhere and they don't accept you, you're going to lose that too,'" Frost says.

They were right. She lost it all.

Her family disowned her. Her mother was blunt.

"She told me that if I ever call her or visit she would call the police on me and that was the end of that discussion."

She told me that if I ever call her or visit, she would call the police on me.- Frost

Her siblings and other relatives didn't understand either.

"My brother and stepmother came at me saying 'Somebody forced you into it,'" she says. "Well, no. Nobody forced me into it."

But Frost is leaving that behind her.

"I'm moving on with my life. I don't need any distractions in my life right now."

Focus on the future

She is scheduled for breast augmentation, which is covered by Manitoba Health.

She eventually wants to get sex reassignment surgery, or bottom surgery, as she calls it, but that isn't offered in Manitoba right now. (It is funded by the province, but she'd have to travel to Montreal to have it done.)

Frost prefers to be seen as a woman, after years of hiding her truth from others. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Frost also thinks about having facial surgery one day. 

"I want to feminize my face a little more, so it's more feminine than masculine," she says. "I don't want to get mistaken for a guy, thinking I'm a drag queen or a cross-dresser, because I'm not. There's a big difference between us."

She feels the only way she'll be accepted for who she is on the inside is if people like what they see on the outside.

"I run into problems today where people just have difficulty with me, like on a bus or in the mall. Like I'll sit down somewhere and I'm not bothering anybody, and they see me and will get up and move away to someplace else."

Her focus now is on the future.

Frost undergoes laser surgery to remove facial hair. (John Einarson/CBC)

Frost is counting down to Sept. 3, the day of her breast augmentation surgery. Following that, she plans to attend Red River College to become a health-care aide.

She has no immediate plans to retire. 

Barriers for older adults

It's a tough transition so late in life, but she's not alone.

Ellie Caslake, with the Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg, runs a program for older adults in the LGBTQ2S+ community who need a safe space to gather.

"There are so many barriers for older adults to come out," Caslake says.

"For a lot of us it took 60-plus years, and we just couldn't carry that weight any longer.… We can't hide anymore. It's horrendously difficult, with or without support, to be lying on the surface every day."

Caslake, 68, came out in 2018.

Ellie Caslake of Rainbow Resource Centre says more adults are transitioning later in life. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"The short answer is that I couldn't carry that weight anymore. I have been acting as a man … and I just couldn't do it anymore."

She feels lucky that her family has accepted her for who she is.

"My son, his response was 'I figured as much,'" she says. "And I was like 'What? When?'" she laughs.

"My granddaughter's response was 'Grandpa, you look awesome.'"

We grew up in an era when being LGBT was against the law and there were health issues, the AIDS epidemic.- Ellie Caslake

But not everyone is that fortunate.

Caslake is seeing more people like Frost — people who want to transition later in life and don't have support.

"We grew up in an era when being LGBT was against the law and there were health issues, the AIDS epidemic," Caslake says.

"Older adults are at a stage where perhaps they've lost a partner, divorced or there's death, and now there's this sense of freedom, permission.… If not now, then when?"

CBC's Nelly Gonzalez joined two experts for a discussion on supporting transgender people. Watch it here:

Q&A: How should a community support transitioning?

3 years ago
27:52
BC's Nelly Gonzalez joined Ellie Caslake of the Rainbow Resource Centre and Rhea Mossman Sims of Klinic Community Health to discuss supports for transgender people and their families. 27:52

Manitoba government numbers say gender-affirming surgeries have gone up since last year, while the number of older patients getting these types of surgeries remains low. 

A spokesperson for the province says in the 2017-18 fiscal year, 88 patients received 93 surgeries. Three patients were over age 55.

In 2018-19, 142 patients received 144 surgeries but once again, only three patients were older than 55.

Regardless of age, though, everything changes once a person begins their transition, Frost says.

"As you transition, you sort of evolve from who you were — your mannerisms, your hairstyle, your clothing, the fashion and the music."

Frost says she finally likes who she sees when she looks in a mirror. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Frost still has insecurities when she looks in the mirror, but she's slowly becoming comfortable in her own skin at the age of 63.

"Looking in the mirror now, I see a beautiful transgender female who has a beautiful heart and a passion for life."

If you or someone you know needs more information about transgender supports for the aging population, contact the Rainbow Resource Centre.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nelly Gonzalez is an award winning reporter/editor at CBC Manitoba based in Winnipeg. She's been working with CBC since 2011 and has 14 years reporting experience in Winnipeg. She began working at CBC as a videographer covering stories in Brandon before relocating to Winnipeg in 2012.

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