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5 posts from July 2015

July 30, 2015

Why We Need Our Elders to Take the U.S. Trans Survey

Pony Knowles, SAGE Center Midtown Program Coordinator
Pony Knowles, SAGE Center Midtown Program Coordinator

I was one of perhaps three trans people at the small liberal arts college I attended. One stayed stealth throughout all four years, and the other chose not to transition medically. I was out. Very out. You can well imagine the kinds of questions I found myself asked by my fellow cisgender classmates. Aside from all of the more terrifying or rewarding aspects of being visibly trans—and those are, for many of us, manifold—the most tiresome is the bombardment of inappropriate questions from well-intentioned cis people. Worse yet, there is a temptation to translate the responses they hear from any one trans person into a kind of 'official' trans narrative, applicable to all trans people, of all walks of life.

Back on that college campus, the answers I gave varied from day to day, depending upon my exhaustion at serving as a public fount of knowledge, especially when I myself was still discovering my community and my place in it. Suffice it to say, my answers, I’m sure, differed significantly from the hypothetical responses I can imagine my fellow trans classmates issuing—and those would likely differ greatly from each other as well. I couldn't speak for other trans people then. I can't speak for them now, but I remember them always. In the decades since, I have found myself thinking often of a woman who knew that she must remain stealth in order to get her education, particularly as an older nontraditional student. And I think of a young transmasculine student of mixed race and from a rural town in Georgia, who was not closeted and who was asked different questions than I was. And then there's me– a white, college-educated, middle-aged trans guy, who lives in a bustling metropolis– the questions that I am asked and the answers that I can give must not define an entire nation full of trans experiences, trans joys, and trans dangers.

The temptation to designate exemplars who appease the most normative standards of what trans can look like weighs heavy upon those of us who meet with the double bind of being marginalized within our own communities. Silence too often is meted out to those who are transgender and older, or not white, or poor, or geographically isolated. Particularly as the trans rights movement gains momentum and begins to focus itself upon the political goal that will unite and define us in the eyes of the nation, all voices must be raised and counted, safely, and with great compassion and intention. If we focus solely on our trans youth who are bullied in schools, who commit suicide, who don't have enough trans role models to support them— we must not risk losing sight of all of our trans foremothers and forefathers who have already spent their entire lives in the shadows of the LGBT community.

“We as older trans people need to engage and to educate younger generations of our experiences decades ago. As someone who transitioned in the 1970s, we had fewer resources, but we more readily made lemonade out of lemons.  Transitioning as an older adult means having a tougher battle than younger trans people. We need to address the issues we face, and we need to be visible, to show how we can also find happiness—whether one achieves ‘the surgery’ or not.”
                                                   -Frances, SAGE Constituent

The diversity of lived experience is striking when you speak to a trans youth in their teens or 20s, and to an older trans adult and their 60s or beyond. The dangers faced are very different, and the social realities are remarkably disparate. Transition dates also change everything: an older adult transitioning today will meet with a different set of challenges than someone of the exact same age who transitioned decades prior. That said, it is almost always the case that those of us who transition at any time and at any age need, more than anything else, to find ourselves in a legacy of support created by other transgender trailblazers, who light our path of discovery at every turn. Our genders are never created or sustained in isolation, and we owe our deepest debts of gratitude to those who have come before us. Too often do we overlook older voices, and too often are older members of our community less likely to step forward and make themselves vulnerable.

The wealth of narratives available to trans people about our history and our present remains enormously restricted— on one hand, by a simple lack of unified knowledge and, on the other, by a lack of access to the voices that must strain most to be heard. This is why the National Center for Transgender Equality has put together the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, a follow-up to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that was completed by nearly 6,500 people across the United States. It is imperative that this survey, conceived as a broad effort to outline information about the lives and experiences of trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary identified people, reach as far as possible into the most silenced pockets of our community. The fact that the survey can be completed anonymously, and that it is conducted by a trans-led organization, are the greatest guarantors that the information gathered by us will be used for us— to inform systems of support and advocacy, and to better the lives of trans people across the country.

Without a collection of pure data that seeks to weave together all of the constraints and desires and lived experiences of the trans community at large, we will continue to see a lack of services tailored to the needs of our communities. We will continue to see trans voices coming from the most diverse regions of our communities pushed out again and again. If, as they say, knowing is half the battle, then let us engage. 

SAGE Center Midtown will host a Trans Coffeehouse Social on Saturday, Sept. 12th, from 2-5 pm. The Cyber Center will be open to anyone who wants to complete the survey. Volunteers and staff will be on hand to assist; the space is accessible and designated for trans-identified members participants and guests all day. Please call (646) 576-8669 for more information.

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--Posted by Pony Knowles, SAGE Center Midtown Program Coordinator

July 14, 2015

Positive Momentum: Reflecting on Yesterday’s White House Conference on Aging

I’m excited to report that yesterday’s White House Conference on Aging included some major breakthroughs for SAGE and LGBT older people across the country. In recent months, SAGE has prepared diligently to ensure that LGBT voices would be heard at this influential conference, held every ten years. As I listened to an inspiring and impassioned statement to conference leaders from iconic LGBT aging activist Sandy Warshaw, who called for anti-discrimination protections and voiced her refusal to be closeted in old age, I knew that we had succeeded on that score.   

Highlights from the day included a critically important announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  that the federal government will take decisive steps to end discrimination against LGBT elders in all government-assisted housing.  Given that housing discrimination against LGBT elders is rampant in senior housing, the HUD announcement was a huge advance.  A second important announcement came from the Administration on Aging (Ao), which announced a new partnership with SAGE to convene key service providers in the aging sector, collect data on how LGBT elders are being served, and identify action steps AoA can take during the last year of the Obama Administration to make aging services more LGBT-friendly.    

Thinking back on the last White House Conference on Aging, held in 2005, I’m truly amazed by how far we’ve come in ten years. We’ve moved LGBT issues from fringes of the larger conversation on aging to its very center. As one example, the needs and experiences of LGBT elders were specifically referenced at the conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations. It’s inspiring to see that LGBT older people have truly been granted a seat at the table.

Sandy Warshaw, SAGE Delegate at The White House Conference on Aging
SAGE Delegate, Sandy Warshaw, raises her concern about facing discrimination as she ages as a lesbian at The White House Conference on Aging


In the weeks to come, we’ll be talking more about what was accomplished at today’s White House Conference on Aging, and what SAGE’s federal advocacy game plan is moving forward.  We did a lot at the White House yesterday.  Looking ahead, there is so much more that we need to do!  

-- Posted by Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE 

July 13, 2015

Taking Our Voices to Washington

How can we ensure that leaders in Washington, D.C. hear the voices of LGBT older people? While SAGE considers this question every day in its national advocacy work, today's White House Conference on Aging is a particularly important moment to make sure we're heard and represented. This important conference convenes national leaders to discuss the state of American aging every ten years--and SAGE is bringing LGBT voices to the table. Want to join us? Check out a live stream of the conference, available online here

In advance of today's conference, SAGE conducted a survey of LGBT older people to learn more about the most important questions and concerns facing our communities today. Watch this video to hear some of what they had to say. 

July 7, 2015

Finding Fathers in Surprising Places

This essay was originally posted on June 17, 2015, in Nylon Magazine's My World, My Words series. Special thanks to the author, Rae Angelo Tutera, for letting us republish it on our blog.

I had a friend named Lee, who was sweet. The world can be perfect in some ways, so Lee's last name was actually Sweet. We were matched through SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) by a woman who deemed us, very correctly, compatible: You're both collectors, she noted.
 
 
I was an archivist who fantasized about moving into my then-girlfriend's (now fiancée's) brownstone and collecting beautiful things together, and Lee was a retired graphic designer who already had a brownstone full—damn full—of beautiful things, the most exquisite things. I believe he was born discerning: As a boy he asked his dad for a Chippendale for his birthday; I think he was given a baseball mitt instead.

My own grandpa, who raised me, passed away when I was 25. Joining SAGE as a friendly visitor was something I did with very specific tenderness, and an awareness that I might end up having my feelings hurt—I didn't want to lose anyone again. But my desire to connect with someone from my Pop's generation, especially someone like Lee—someone who was critical but sensitive, an introvert whose sudden, cutting wit reminded me of Flannery O'Connor, a gentleman in his 80s who had been in the Army during World War II, who was incidentally gay—eclipsed my anxiety. And all I had to do to meet him and spend time with him was hop on the G train.

When Lee became sick suddenly, I started visiting him in the hospital instead of at his brownstone. I was having a late twenty-something crisis—what did I really want to do? I was becoming a Jack of all trades and what I really wanted was to do one meaningful thing. I said to Lee, "You're old and you're wise." This made him laugh. I continued, "What do you think I should do?"

At the time, he couldn't speak. Remembering this pains me, but also I smile when I think about the fact that Lee and I had become intimate enough for me to compress his tongue to help him strengthen it so he could start speaking again. He wrote down his answer to my existential question, telling me I should go back to the frog pond because I was happy then. 

When I was a kid, my grandpa and I would go "frog hunting" together at the pond down the road. We would roll up in the middle of the night and Pop would shine his bright police light (he was the retired chief of Scarsdale) at the pond and we waded into the water together, bravely disregarding the snapping turtles that were big enough for me to catch a (terrifying) moonlit ride on. I was seldom seen without a bullfrog in those days, or without a net attached to the end of a broomstick, duct taped to another broomstick, voyaging out into the water. Call me Ishmael.

It's no surprise that I told Lee about the frog pond, since it's single-handedly my favorite thing to remember from my childhood. But I couldn't believe that his answer to my question was to conjure this memory, and at first I felt grief that I couldn't go back to the pond, and that I couldn't be with Pop anymore. But I realized that my grandfather had taught me to be patient, get dirty, respect nature, use my body as a tool, to make weird jokes, to love—a love big enough that it included (and includes) tadpoles.

And I realized that as much as I wished to go back in time and be with him again and to learn those things again, what I wanted more than that was to keep moving forward toward a future where I would teach those things to my own child.

My aunt once gave my grandparents (her parents) tiny tapes to record the stories of their lives on. If I remember correctly, my Gram passed on this; she's always been a living, moving thing—like a shark—who, while poised and charismatic is, not at all narcissistic and not at all the type to slow down to record any of her pithy or sentimental remarks. My Pop, though, recorded things like this: "If ever you want to attain immortality, have a little of your better self rub off on a child, for a child is the father of man and he is an image of yourself."
 
The nostalgia I have around frog hunting persists. But Lee gave me a new lens on my beloved childhood memory: I began to see it from my grandfather's perspective in addition to my own. It was a paradigm shift. Over the past weekend, I was up by a lake, the lake my fiancée learned to swim in. It is a fine lake where the gulping sounds of bullfrogs can be heard coming from both the grass and the water. I took off my shirt, and crept along the edge of the lake, until I took off my socks and boots and walked in. I don't mean to brag, but I still have it: I caught a frog with my bare hands, and walked the big guy over to my fiancée to show her while grinning so hard my face hurt. I am 30 now —I'm, as I always joke, the oldest I've ever been. And I've learned I have the capacity to channel my former, frog-hunting self, and my former, frog-hunting dad.
 
Dedicated to the memory of Theodore Tutera and Lee Sweet.
July 2, 2015

"Go, get married! But before you do..."

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decreed that marriage equality for LGBT people was a constitutional right. That night, in front of the iconic Stonewall Inn and hundreds of revelers, Edie Windsor, marriage equality heroine, teamed up with SAGE to share a special message in light of the Court's decision. As she says, "by all means—go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walk." Watch the video and learn more about Talk Before You Walk in a letter Edie wrote below.

 
Letter from Edie Windsor
 
I am unequivocally proud to stand in celebration today with my friends and family at SAGE. Together, we salute our LGBT colleagues and allies whose leadership and tenacity have achieved this extraordinary moment. A new day has dawned - one in which I am humbled to have played a role through my own victory before the Supreme Court exactly two years ago. The pride and courage of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges have brought the freedom to marry to all Americans.

By all means--go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walkSAGE and I are partnering on a new campaign to make sure people, including LGBT older people, can find the information they need on marriage. Check outTalkBeforeYouWalk.org to find out what marriage may mean for you.

The momentum of this decision propels tomorrow's work forward. SAGE returns to the task at hand: ensuring that LGBT people can age with the safety, dignity, and affirmation that every human being deserves. The Supreme Court's decision amplifies my love and appreciation for SAGE's vital work -- because this work is the next step in our community's onward march toward equality for ALL. 

With utmost pride,

Edie Windsor