“I would have been a miserable old man, but instead I’m a cheerful old woman”

Deirdre McCloskey spoke in Cartagena on Saturday morning about her journey as a trans woman. A renowned economist, McCloskey transitioned in her 50s, and talked to festival goers about realizations, gender and the joys of female friendship. 

She spoke about her childhood as a boy, a good childhood aside from the unusual habit of praying, at the age of 11, that she would wake up without a stutter, and as a girl. 

 “At 53 years old, I got half my prayer.”

 She described about her full life, successful career and happy marriage with children, but a moment in the August of 1995, when she had the realization that she could and should transition to womanhood – from Donald to Deidre. 

“Since that day I have never had a moment of doubt. For all the decisions of our lives, down to what automobile you buy, you have those moments of four in the morning doubt. At that time of the night I examine myself. Not one doubt.”

She feared losing her career as an economist and as a professor, as economics was a very macho area – she remains, however, a globally celebrated economist and writer. 

In the end, it was her family relationships which came under strain, with her sister having her forcibly committed to a psychiatric ward on two occasions (failing on a third), and the ultimate breakdown of her marriage and relationship with her children.

“My children have not spoken to me since 1995. I have three grandchildren who I have never seen. I tell my sad story – but everyone in this room has a story like this in their family: for God’s sake, forgive one another.”

At a social level, here was a lot to learn about womanhood, having not been raised as a girl – certain things which come with culture and others which come with biology, she said. 

“You settle into a new habit - it’s like becoming an immigrant – it takes a while to adjust, even if you speak the language.”

One of the great revelations for McCloskey was the depth female friendship and the family and support she found in her female friends. 

“It’s based on mutual confession – you tell a secret, they tell a secret. Men don’t want to tell secrets. They are in the business of hiding their weakness – because they are in competition - afraid of each other.”

She spoke with moving good humor about her surgeries, her hurry to realize herself and her joy in finding herself accepted as a woman. But also, described the caution which she has had to develop in response to being both a woman, and a trans person. 

 “I wasn’t unhappy as Donald, but the thought of staying Donald after my realization horrifies me. I’d have been a miserable old man, but instead I’m a cheerful old woman.”

Listen to Deirdre McCloskey in conversation with Rosie Boycott on the Hay Player