I turned a certain age this month. I am told I do not look that age. Apparently, I have good genes. My parents lived well into their 90s and always looked younger than they were. Some of it is that I color my hair, which I have no intention of stopping. And some is because estrogen is a marvelous substance that keeps the body looking younger.
I suppose I am also aided by the fact that I do not act like an older person. I mountain bike, road bike, or run six days a week. Recently, I was on the fifth floor of a hotel for a week and took the steps to my room all day every day. I like to stay on the move. I have always been a Renaissance person, and my mind is constantly working on the next thing. I just finished my memoir, pastor a church, counsel clients, and speak all over the world on gender equity. I have no plans to slow down anytime soon.
Still, I turned a certain age this month, and I do not like it. I said to everyone at church, “I turn fifty next Sunday, so come to the service and celebrate with me.” One kind man thought I was serious when I said I turn fifty. When I told him that was not the case, he said, “Well, you certainly don’t look sixty.” I just left it at that.
Men gain prestige as they age, though even they eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. One of my male mentors said, “When I turned sixty, I found out it was the new fifty. When I turned seventy, I found out it was the new sixty. But when I turned eighty, I found out eighty is just eighty.” Still, two men in the later half of their seventies squared off in the 2020 Presidential campaign. We make room for older men in the world. Older women – not so much.
I am on a flight to Maui as I am typing this post. I am fortunate to have an upgrade, but it is unfortunately one of my least favorite airplanes, an Airbus 321neo. It’s a “next generation” narrow body jet that is being purchased by airlines to use on long over water routes. I asked a flight attendant, “How do you like the neo?” He answered, “Yes, we have meal service.” I said, “No, I’m asking about the airplane – the Airbus 321neo. How do you like it on a route this long?” He said, “It’s good,” and walked away. Cathy was flying with me and said, “Yep, that’s how it goes.” I couldn’t possibly have any real knowledge about airliners.
As the flight attendant was preparing meal service, he saw on his paper that I am an Executive Platinum member, which means I fly over 100k miles a year, and have well over two million miles with American Airlines. He came back and made quite a point of saying, “We value your loyalty to us.” Then he actually answered my question, “No, I don’t like the neo, it’s underpowered and too small for a trip like this.” But he had to see my status before he took me seriously.
I do not want people to know my age because I do not want to be taken less seriously than I am already taken. Being an older woman is not an affliction. It is a privilege. And the wisdom older cisgender women bring with them is a national treasure. They know about privilege, systemic injustice, equality, and the sanctity of life that the rest of us only read about. There is a reason that wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures is referred to in the feminine gender.
I have an alpha personality. That means I am confident, action-oriented, and have high expectations of myself and others. I process information quickly and am obsessed with return on investment. How can I be more efficient to accomplish more good work? Those are not specifically gendered attributes, but how they are received is gender specific. A man with an alpha personality is praised. A woman with an alpha personality is “that woman.” Behind her back, a single word is used to describe her. An older woman with an alpha personality is in deep trouble. She will be put out to pasture as fast as those in power can figure out how to do it without a lawsuit. Hilary Clinton never had a chance. A woman is not allowed to be ambitious and strong.
I do not tell people my age because I want to be taken seriously. It really is that simple. I want to be heard. I want my knowledge, history and wisdom to be brought to the table. I want my words and actions to matter. I want to make a difference in the world. When I spoke as a guy, people listened. When I speak as a woman, people say, “That’s nice.” Nice is not what I am going for. Change is what I am going for.
So yes, I had a big birthday, but I’m not being put out to pasture. I’m going to Hawaii with my family to celebrate. I will celebrate before I get back to work. I have a lot I want to get done in the world. And if everybody knows my age, it’s just gonna get in the way of doing it.
And so it goes.
22 thoughts on “No Pastures For Me”
Ain’t it the truth! Great way to celebrate—we’re doing something similar in December. Have fun in Maui and try pressing the issue. Assertiveness and repetition help some people learn.
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Oh . . . And I think I told you so. . . Not to be that person . . .
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I was thinking of you as I wrote this post!
A very happy belated birthday to you! 🤗
>>An older woman with an alpha personality is in deep trouble. She will be put out to pasture as fast as those in power can figure out how to do it without a lawsuit.
Truer words have never been spoken. As an older, alpha woman, I affirm everything you wrote. Not telling your age can help, but honestly, most people can either guess (through musculature, skin tone, posture, your hands) or will look you up online (LinkedIn, esp) and work backwards. The truly dedicated will Google you until they find your birth date. It’s easy.
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You are so right E! I continue to doggedly work to change this every single day in one way or another. You go Paula!!
Oh, do I ever hear you, my friend! Aging in America is not fun for anyone, but women face actual trauma from aging. Whether we remain married to the same person or suffer the embarrassment of “the Dating Pool,” our change in status can be debilitating at this stage of life. I am a late mother, so I am also coping with the “letting go” stage of motherhood where my child needs to be off making their own mistakes. Let’s not even talk about a failing body. It all sucks, at times. And yet…
There is a calmness in age for me. It comes from being able to choose what is important to me, and direct my energies toward that. It also comes from understanding who I am, and who I am not. I am no longer defined by my daily tasks. THAT took some handling. I had always been someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s family photographer, some child’s coach or Girl Scout leader. For me, it was a sudden transition, brought on by illness, but all those things happen to us all, and it’s hard. But on the other side, sometimes, there is the gift of knowing what this jumbled-up mess we call life is all about.
I see that gift in you, and I so appreciate it. Thank you so much for not being willing to accept age as a defeat, or a time to settle for less out of life. Thank you for living in that truth, and sharing it with the rest of us.
I just adore your perspective and wisdom and I love learning from you.
The name used start with a “b”, now it starts with a “K”, should. feel responsible? As always, very well said Paula.
So much love for this entry and so much sadness because it’s true. Appreciate how you lend your voice so honestly to the experience of women. It’s so good to be seen and see you.
BTW, I went to pre-order your book on Amazon (looking forward to reading very much!) and noticed the very first para of the description says this:
>>Dr. Paula Stone Williams made the life-changing decision to physically transition from male to female at the age of sixty.
You don’t look your age at all !! Go girl !!
You are much too kind, Janet!
Age is relative.
Truth is timeless.
You have those sparkling, sizzling, hard-to-blow-out Truth candles on your cake, Paula Williams.
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I miss you so much Lynn. We need to get together!
Hi Paula, your TED talk about taking your male privilege with you when you transitioned made me laugh. And think. I have a trans nephew, who says trans nephew is strange, but I feel it conveys my meaning efficiently. Simon, though not the reason for this note, is why I think about this topic more than I might if I didn’t have a trans nephew.
My husband was with the Army Research Institute for several years, and his boss asked him to do the research on transgendered members of the military. Of course he had to look outside the US. I was enlisted to help, though I have neither military experience (being a spouse only helps one make sense of the alphabet zoo and more general knowledge of how things work) nor a Ph.D. I am, however, possessed of a monstrous curiosity.
During the course of the research, I discovered that transwomen are murdered at an incredible rate.
I am also a dissertation editor who has learned not to trust Ph.D candidates to make distinctions between peer-reviewed research and white papers. I’m always checking their sources, and sometimes I find they don’t understand their own theoretical foundation, so I end up doing my own investigation.
In researching a dissertation on bullying, I ran across a theory people used to explain why would-be witnesses to aspects of Kennedy’s assassination were all dead not long after President Kennedy himself. I have quite forgotten the name of this theory, but the jist is that some people’s lifestyle of late nights, drinking, drugs, nightclubs and sketchy locales shortens their lives.
Then I combined your perspective on privilege with the late night lifestyle theory and thought about the different things my brother and I were told growing up. I remembered how frequently I was told by my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles how I should dress and behave and how dangerous the world is for girls and women. I took their warnings seriously. I always tried to be aware of my surroundings, and I never failed to ask for an escort back to my dorm after studying late at the library.
I realized that no transwoman ever got those warnings, and maybe it isn’t just male privilege that you take with you when you transition. Maybe you take that sense of safety and security, too. Maybe people are so busy processing that the guy they used to play basketball with now is female, and people don’t realize that your security posture has changed, too.
Looking back on the things I warned my son about, I did talk to him about parking lots and dark alleys and stressed that nothing good happens when you’re out after midnight (Cinderella’s fairy godmother was right about that). I didn’t warn him about being raped; I spent more time explaining about predatory females!
I think it’s possible that transwomen are attacked at a high rate because they weren’t grounded in the same warnings as their sisters. It doesn’t occur to them that they now have to cultivate a voice in their heads that warns them not to go for a run at night alone. The voice that prompts them to ask a security guard to walk them to their car and to park under a street lamp, and always tell someone where they’re going, with whom and when they expect to return. That ability, that freedom not to worry so much about my safety is something I always envied.
I can’t imagine the journey you have taken or the one my nephew is on. Transitioning genders has got to be one of the most difficult a human being can make. I just wondered whether your sense of physical safety is something else you took with you when you transitioned.
Happy Birthday Paula. Often think of you. Jeri
I miss you, Jeri. I hope you’re doing well.
You have such a unique perspective of life that many will never get to see or experience in their lifetime. I admire your spirit and the use you give to your knowledge. Even though I don’t like to age, I enjoy birthdays because there are a celebration of life, and a milestone that not everyone is lucky enough to experience. Happy birthday.
I too, just last week, turned the big 6-0 and went to Oahu to celebrate with my daughter (who turned 36 on the same day) and her family. I started to notice even she was treating me differently. Let me carry the bag, you just watch the kids. I then said, I packed this bag, I can carry it, and we can watch the kids together. Little by little I am see this type of old lady treatment. I will go down fighting and not be ignored!
Seriously, yes! I don’t let anybody put my bag in the overhead compartment of a plane.