Transitioning aged 69 shows ‘it’s never too late to be happy’, says ex-hairdresser after lifetime hiding her identity

A former hairdresser who has transitioned to be female at almost 70 years old after a lifetime considering suicide “every single day” as she tried to hide her true identity has said “it’s never too late to be happy”.

Phillis Rolli, 69, who worked as a successful hairdresser for 45 years and now lives in Seattle, USA, said she “knew she should have been a girl” when she was just five years old.

One day, Phillis said her father caught her dressing in girls’ clothing and “got very physical” with her, making her understand that “this was a very bad thing to ever tell anybody” – so she kept quiet, “pushed it down” and hoped these overwhelming feelings would “go away”.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli pictured at seven years old (Collect/PA Real Life)

Phillis, who was previously known as Phillip, went on to get married and have two “beautiful” children, making “so many choices, trying to prevent (herself) from ever pursuing it”.

However, despite “pasting on a happy face and a happy smile” for years, in reality Phillis was in “dark despair” – and it was not until the start of 2022 that she started hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli on the first day she ever wore make-up and women’s clothing (Collect/PA Real Life)

In November 2022, at 69 years old, Phillis came out to the world after the hormones had transformed her from a “skinny, shapeless man” to a “curvy” woman after an experience likened to a “70-year-old teenage girl going through puberty”.

“I never wore female attire or any make-up whatsoever until November 28 when I put on female clothing and I went to Sephora and got my make-up done,” she said.

“I’ve never not been presenting as female since, and I knew, that day, when I looked in the mirror and saw Phillis that she was out and there was no putting her back.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli said she likes to wear ‘tasteful’ women’s clothing and shoes (Collect/PA Real Life)

“So that’s the day Phillip died and went away forever.”

Phillis calls the time before her transition “the dark years” and said she had a “very traumatic life”.

She said she “lived in darkness” for more than 60 years, felt “hollow” inside, “spent her alone time crying”, and isolated herself from relationships because she felt she could not relate to others.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis before her transition when she was 17 or 18 years old (Collect/PA Real Life)

During her 20s, in the 1970s, Phillis attempted to transition twice as “(she) couldn’t control it any more”, but this was unsuccessful, and she said she ended up trying to commit suicide after both attempts.

She said she was given the incorrect hormones, which intensified her masculinity rather than “creating more femininity”, and she was “horrified”.

She said she was even taken to a mental health facility for 30 days, as doctors thought she was “wacko”.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli, before she transitioned, in her mid-20s (Collect/PA Real Life)

She “never told anyone” of her struggles, and she harboured her secrets for years – even during her 15 years of marriage, which ended in divorce when Phillis was 50.

Phillis did her utmost to be hyper-masculine and hide her feminine urges, including getting tattoos, growing a full, thick beard, and buying clothing and furniture with “no feminine edge to it whatsoever”, but her feelings never went away and it made her “miserably unhappy”.

“Many decisions throughout my life were made based on the reflection of how people would perceive me,” she explained.

“Every piece of furniture I bought, everything I bought, I would make sure it had no feminine edge to it whatsoever because, if there was a little bit, (I thought) it would become obvious to everyone.”

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli, before her transition, at 66 years old (Collect/PA Real Life)

In May 2021, Phillis said she was sitting in her house where she had retired, and she had “worked out all the details” on how to end her life for the third time as “(she) couldn’t do this another day”.

She said she was “in so much despair”, but everything changed in a flash when she remembered a promise that she had made to herself when she was 20 years old.

Since her mother and father had died earlier that year, Phillis said she “didn’t have to worry about hurting (her) parents any more”.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli, before her transition, with her parents (Collect/PA Real Life)

“All of a sudden, I was sitting there, and a promise I made to myself when I was 20 came crystal clear in my head,” Phillis explained.

“When I was 20, I promised myself that if I could not live my life as a woman, then I would be a woman as a senior, and nobody could stop me then. So, I’ve kept that promise to myself.

“That’s the day that everything happened. I shaved my beard off, told doctors to get things started, and then January 1 of 2022 was the first day I took hormones.

“It’s been (over a year), and my body has responded dramatically to the hormones; I don’t even look like the same person any more.

“I used to be this skinny, shapeless man and now I’m curvy.”

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis with her rollers in her hair (Collect/PA Real Life)

Phillis has not had any surgery but started HRT in January 2022 and she has since had a “dramatic” transformation.

She started taking oestrogen and spironolactone before doctors later introduced progesterone, and said a doctor likened her to a “70-year-old teenage girl going through puberty”.

“The hormones have been so effective on me in such a short time,” she said.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli six months into HRT (Collect/PA Real Life)

“Most of the girls take two or three years to reach where I’m at; I’m already at a full B cup (in my bra size).

“My chest went from 40 inches to 36 inches; I’m developing a waist.

“I went from having a flat, old man butt to having a bubble butt. I mean, things have changed dramatically, my hair got three times thicker and it’s growing like a weed.

“My body has reacted wonderfully to the HRT, and it makes me feel normal. I feel normal now for the first time ever.

“There is no more despair and no more crying myself to sleep every day.”

Phillis said she went from thinking about suicide “from the minute waking up until (she went) to bed at night, every single day of (her) life)”, to waking up happy.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis said she is now ‘living (her) dream life’ (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said she “never thought about suicide again”, just two weeks after starting HRT.

Phillis told her children about her transition but it was not until November 28 2022 she announced it to the world, posting a before and after picture on the online forum, Reddit.

She said making the announcement was “scary as hell” and she thought her family would disown her, but she was shocked by the response as she received “nothing but love and confirmation”.

“There was not one word of judgment. Not one word,” she said.

“Everybody said, ‘we were shocked, it totally caught us off guard, we had no idea, but we are in distress that you were so unhappy for so long’.

“Every member of my family sent me nothing but love, told me how beautiful I look, and the biggest thing I get from everybody, and it must be the reason that my post made such a sensation, is they say, ‘you look so happy’.”

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
A selfie of Phillis taken in January 2023 (Collect/PA Real Life)

Phillis has fully embraced her new life and summed up her disposition as “gloriously happy”.

She said she has learnt to walk and move in a more feminine way, she wears make-up and “tasteful” women’s clothing and shoes, including high heels, and she has had speech therapy sessions.

Phillis has not yet found her perfect man, but she is hoping to meet somebody in the near future as she has been single for nearly 20 years following her divorce at 50 years old.

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
A picture taken two years before Phillis’ transition (Collect/PA Real Life)

Phillis said she never thought she would escape from the despair she felt, but she is so glad she made the decision to transition, even at 69 years old, and cannot even remember her former self.

She said: “It is hard for me to even remember him.

“I can see pictures of him, but I can’t remember how he felt. I can remember that the despair was horrible, but I can’t touch it any more like I used to be able to.

“I am so me, that it’s hard for me to believe that I wasn’t ever me.”

Phillis Rolli before and after her transition.
Phillis Rolli said she is now ‘gloriously happy’ (Collect/PA Real Life)

Phillis did not expect such a dramatic change in herself and her appearance, and she said this does not happen for everyone who takes HRT, but she added: “It’s never too late to be happy.”

She continued: “I’ll stand in front of my window; I live in Seattle, and I have this magnificent city scape view out my window, and I stand there and I look out the window and I think to myself, how did this happen?

“One year ago, I was in dark despair and now I’m living my dream life – the life I have always dreamed of.”

If you need mental health support, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 116 123, free from any phone, email or visit branches in person.