The retired police officer from Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales hid her identity from friends and family for decades, but has finally been able to become her true self at age 82.
Her journey is the subject of a new documentary called Becoming Colleen, screening this month at the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival.
“I lived in my own world to because I had to. Most of my life I never had anybody to talk to about ‘the problem’,” Colleen explains.
“When I was younger I asked my mum if I might be a girl but she died when I was five or six. I didn’t dare mention it to my father or I would have got a clip around the head.
“I was scared of anyone finding out… You had to hide your reactions and feelings a lot. Just how I managed to do that, I don’t quite know. There’s such a hatred of transgenderism at my age, my vintage.
“It would mean so much to me to be able to be what I want to be… If I passed away under that surgery, I’d go quite happily because I’d be going the way I want to be, as a total woman.”
Earlier in her life, Colleen married wife Heather and became the father of two sons. It was only years later that Colleen was able to open up about her secret to Heather.
“Even though Colleen only came out as transgender at 82, she told Heather in her early 40s,” the doco’s filmmaker Ian Thomson told News.com.au.
“They would draw the curtains of their suburban bungalow and have this secret life dressing up and going promenading under the cover of darkness.
“Heather was a true insight into human nature, about how we fall in love with a person not a gender.”
After Heather’s death to cancer a few years ago, Colleen found herself back in the depths of secrecy.
But after explaining her situation to her GP and other support services, Colleen was able to begin her transition with their help.
The documentary follows her journey with the help of social worker Rowena and Colleen’s youngest son John as she moves into full-time aged care.
Thomson said he was drawn to this documentary project because while trans visibility in the media is increasing, there are a lack of transgender stories from working-class people in regional Australia.
“[Colleen’s] was such a compelling story that I asked her if she would be interested in sharing and she said yes,” he said.
“I think at this point she was in her eighties and didn’t want to keep secrets anymore.”
After the MGFF screening of Becoming Colleen in Sydney on February 24, a panel discussion on diversity in aged care will be held including trans advocate and author Sandra Pankhurst.