No one deserves to be invisible.
No one deserves to be forgotten.
No one deserves to be erased.
It is in the nature of being human that we seek to make meaning in our lives through the relationships we have that mirror back to us a sense of ourselves. If that mirroring is absent or misguided, then too often we are as well. When that mirroring is positive and loving, our selves flourish and are seen within our various communities. Currently we older adults who are transgender are under threat of having the Trump administration try to make us invisible once again.
This year, the Trump administration determined that it would not include questions regarding issues that impact our LGBT older Americans. LGBT Americans were being erased from the survey. Not to be shut out, SAGE, a national advocacy and services organization for older LGBT adults, and other organizations organized and protested our exclusion; through these efforts the administration relented and agreed to include questions addressing LGB older Americans but maintained its exclusion of trans elders.
SAGE refuses to let our community be divided and is engaged in a timely political action. We in the LGBT community must rise together. The T in LGBT won't be erased. We must act now for one another.
Sixty-three years ago, on the day I was born, I became a ghost when these words were uttered: "Congratulations, it's a girl!" I became invisible to myself and others for 60 long years.
You see, I am a person who is transgender, and although the signs were present throughout my life, the conversation and knowledge about trans folks were not a part of mainstream life in the U.S. Instead of belonging, I felt invisible because what people saw was a body that was assigned female at birth, and so in many ways they did not see me. There was no mirror held up to me that demonstrated that I belonged.
In fact, I didn't see myself either until I undertook a journey of self-discovery and affirmation several years ago, culminating in my professional and public announcement in January 2016 that I would be affirming my gender as male. Even though this journey to self-knowledge began far later in life than most, I took my first steps on the path to accept, love, and become proud of who I am -- to become visible after six decades of a liminal existence in the "in between" -- there but not there, a ghost moving among the living.
I was making progress when a little more than a month ago, I entered a contest sponsored by SAGE and Airbnb. The question that they asked was "What it would mean to participate in NYC Pride as an elder member of the LGBT community?" To my great surprise and joy, I was selected to be their special guest at the New York City Pride Parade this year. This Pride weekend transformed my life as I had the honor of riding the SAGE bus down Fifth Avenue soaking up the love and acceptance of hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets. This is what I was seeking after all these years. A place to belong, a place to be seen, a place to no longer be invisible; I received all of those things in droves as thousands of people held up their mirrors of love and acceptance for me to know I finally belonged.
Because of this newfound love and belonging I will not bow down to the Trump administration's attempts to erase our trans selves from the National Survey of Older Americans Act. Results of this annual survey provide the data through which funding decisions for services for older adults are made. The services provided include funding for nutritional support for elders, adequate housing and health care, home health care services, and many more in order to provide a sustaining and flourishing quality of life for older Americans. Because of the different challenges faced in the LGBT community, it is imperative that all LGB as well as T elders are included rather than being absent in the eyes of our nation.
While I currently am not in need of the services that our elders need, I know that I will be walking in the wise shoes of trans elders in the years ahead. While we are delighted that LGB elders will have "voice" in this year's survey, we as trans elders remain invisible. Clearly, trans folks face much of the same hate and discrimination that our LGB community does; in addition, there are unique challenges for trans folks, and these will become more pronounced as trans people age.
In recent years we have seen the emergence of trans people such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and the filmmaking duo of the Wachowski siblings, but we must remind ourselves that most trans folks do not live with the resources that these role models have. Many trans people struggle throughout their lives with substance abuse, facing violence, and lack of housing as they are often rejected from their families. The social isolation is devastating. Financial stability that is at the base of nutritious food, health care, and housing is often missing in the lives of trans folks.
So where will trans elders be? Who will see us with our unique and pressing needs? With attacks on Medicare and Medicaid, will we be able to access our specific trans-related medications? Are the physicians and nurses and other health care professionals working with older folks knowledgeable and compassionate about the unique health care needs of trans elders? Is there availability and access to safe and clean LGB and T-friendly housing? And if housing in health care facilities are divided by the binary of gender, where will we find ourselves?
No, Trump administration...
You will not make me invisible again.
You will not make me forgotten again.
You will not erase me now or ever.
I am here; we are here and will raise our voices until all of us, brothers, sisters, siblings, comrades in the LGB and T community are ALL counted and included.
To become more than an ally, but to become an accomplice in the fight for full equality and justice for the T in our LGBT community, please take a moment right now to sign the SAGE petition at https://sageusa.org/transelderscount.
THEO HUTCHINSON is a supporter of SAGE.