9 posts categorized "Quick Chats"

May 18, 2015

Quick Chat: How to Be a Trans Ally

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants, volunteers and staff offers a first-person perspective on our community. This month, we spoke with Monica Pedone, a facilitator of our successful "How to Be a Trans Ally" workshop. The monthly gatherings are led by transgender facilitators who guide discussions, field questions, and build understanding among trans and cisgender (non-trans) participants.

Monica_PedoneAt age 62, Monica is a Cross Sector Technology Leader at IBM, a martial arts enthusiast and mother of two adult children. She transitioned at age 30, and says that before that “I was so deep in the closet I was finding Christmas presents! My divorce allowed me the freedom to find myself, and I began finding my people in the community.”

One of the topics discussed in the “Trans Ally” workshops is surgery and the idea that  questions about gender-affirming procedures (sometimes referred to as “sex change” operations) are usually inappropriate to ask  strangers about, especially since surgical and medical decisions are kept private by many trans people. At the same time, “Trans Ally” workshops are not intended to shame participants or discourage them from asking questions. In fact, Pedone says she’s enjoyed the lively conversations she’s experienced as a facilitator. “There were a lot of people there who were curious and inquisitive and have interesting points of view,” she remarks. “It was fun to interact and hear their perspective. I didn’t want to just be a talking head up there—it’s nice to have a dialogue.”

So how does one become a trans ally, exactly? Pedone has some wisdom to share. “I think that part of it certainly is learning the ‘ten things you don’t say to a transgender person’, but I’m not worried about people saying something as long as it’s coming from a place of learning rather than resentment or anger. You have to be a good person and say what’s in your heart. And if you make a mistake and call someone the wrong pronoun it’s OK, don’t make a big deal of it but next time try to do it right. Treat transgender people the same as everyone else, and also understand that there might be some gender cues that are slightly different.”

Pedone finds the approach of SAGE’s “Trans Ally” workshops to be especially impactful because “it allows trans people themselves to lead the conversation, and to meet and interact with people. Participants learn that trans people are just like them—they have mothers and pets and homes, they have trouble paying their bills. These workshops open the community up to new conversations, and new friendships. We shouldn’t box ourselves up into little groups.”

--Posted by Kira Garcia


March 17, 2015

A Quick Chat With SAGE Participant Brenda Culhane

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community.  This month, we spoke Brenda Culhane, a 74-year-old lesbian and SAGE participant in Portland, Oregon. Brenda came out a bit later than some, at age 39, and is now an active LGBT advocate and spokesperson. Brenda spoke with us about her struggle to live openly, why she values her community, and the changes she’s witnessed in her lifetime for LGBT people.

Brenda culhane

At what age did you come out? Can you describe that process? 

I came out later in life.  I had thought that I was different when I was in college but was too afraid to act on it. I got married to prove I was not different.  I came out after that marriage was over...I was 39. This was in the 1970’s. 

Who are the most important people in your life?  

My friends—many of whom I met at SAGE.  We all work to support each other, especially if someone is ill or going through a hard time.  We are there for each other because most of us do not have family nearby or wanting to be involved in our lives.

I have one friend, Sherri, who is developmentally delayed who lives up the street from me. My mom used to live in the house where I’m living and Sherri took an interest in her and checked on her every day. I was my mom’s primary caretaker and so I really appreciated Sherri, it took a big load off me! After my mom died we became friends. It felt like we had the same mother at that point so we call each other ‘sis’. She checks on me. She has a lot of prejudice against gay people, and she really struggles with the fact that I’m gay. She’s getting more exposed to my friends. So I think in her head, at this point, she thinks it’s ok for women to be gay but not men. It doesn’t seem like it would make that much difference in the world what her opinion is, but she is getting more educated. 

The conservative neighbors down the street have a teenage boy in Catholic school who came over and wanted to interview me. I said “why?” and he said “we’re interviewing different people” and I said “you mean gay?” and he cringed and said yes. So even the Catholic schools are doing that! 

That’s promising! So just by being open about who you are, you are educating and enlightening people around you in a one-on-one way.

Yeah! In the 60’s and 70’s the message was ‘everyone come on out come out!’ It was so terrifying to do that. I’m kind of a wimp on some things. So every time I came out my stomach was in knots.  Even now, coming out to my doctor is still hard. 

But do you find that you’re met with more love and respect than you used to be, when you come out?

Yeah. When I was first coming out to myself, I got married because I was too afraid. Then I got a divorce and came out. I lost some friends. The people who had a really hard time with it, in retrospect, were questioning their own sexuality. Looking back now, that makes sense. 

How did you find out about SAGE? What kinds of SAGE activities do you participate in? 

I belonged to a group here in Portland called Gay and Gray that became affiliated with SAGE a few years ago.  I am involved in the SAGE housing committee.  We all have had friends who have had to go into assisted/independent living and they do not feel safe coming out in that environment.  They have all gone back into the closet.  It is so sad.  This committee goes around to the various senior living residences and asks them to be part of our brochure for LGBT seniors.  This month the group put out our second brochure and it has 4 more residences included—we’re very proud of that. We’ve faced challenges because most senior residential places would rather not deal with this issue.  We are all proud of our newest brochure.  

I’m also on a speaker committee that talks about LGBT issues to any group requesting SAGE services.  I have spoken at high schools, colleges and conferences so far.  I enjoy going to these venues and educating people about us.  And of course I love our yearly gatherings, like our Valentine party, our Holiday Party and our summer BBQ.  I have many friends whom I only see at these events and it is wonderful.

Why is SAGE important to you?

I feel emotional support from the staff and enjoy the yearly gathering with lots of other LGBT folks.  It is a lot of fun. 

What makes you smile? 

My dog Emmy, a good book, a great movie, a wonderful meal, a sunset, the smell of spring flowers, and having a butch flirt with me.

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

February 10, 2015

A Quick Chat With SAGE Participant Sheila Slaughter

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community.  This month, we spoke with Sheila Slaughter, a 51-year-old bisexual New Jersey resident and participant in our SAGEWorks employment program. Because workforce discrimination can begin as early as the 40’s, SAGEWorks serves participants who are aged 45 and up. Sheila is a recent graduate of our two-week SAGEWorks Boot Camp program, an intensive training course that provides skills needed for job placement. She spoke with us about her personal philosophies, creative projects, and what SAGEWorks has meant to her. 

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Sheila! How did you first become aware of SAGE?

I found out about SAGE as part of my job search process. 

And what kind of work are you looking for?

My career has been predominantly in the nonprofit sector. I’m an office manager and have worked with runaway homeless youth, substance abuse prevention, and other kinds of organizations. I enjoy diverse work experiences and I think support work really lends itself to a lot of different environments. 

Sheila Slaughter at the SAGE Center Midtown


How long have you been in that field?

All my life! It kind of found me. I was a runaway homeless youth and the Educational Alliance's Youth Board Program had an 18-month residence for young women. The Director took me under her wing and got me my first office job. That was in 1981. 

What else do you do? Any hobbies or creative pursuits?

I’m a blogger! I blog at bohemianwomanrising.com 

I love the title!

Thank you! If you look up “bohemian”, it means people who challenge spurious social constructs. We ask “Why do we dress girls in pink and boys in blue?” for example. My blog celebrates women’s intellectual history, health and wellness, and spirituality / spiritual sovereignty (as opposed to religion). 

So when you found SAGEWorks, you were on a job hunt…

I still am! LOL! 

And what’s your dream job?

Working with elderly people or youth—I need to be around people. I think both elderly people and youth are marginalized. If you’re not working our society doesn’t see value in you, because you’re not making money and contributing to the economic infrastructure. 

So you are pursuing work that addresses that.

Yes, work that helps others feel empowered. My ideal job would in some way bring the two groups together. There’s much we could learn from each other. If that were to happen I think quality of life would improve, and hopefully preconceived biases diminished. 

Do you have a guiding philosophy about work?

Just keep moving forward—it doesn’t matter if it’s a baby step or a giant leap—just keep moving in the right direction. Mostly, we tend to identify ourselves through our work, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that defines us. 

I agree! So, what was the most important thing you took away from the SAGEWorks Boot Camp?

Camraderie. It was encouraging to be around other 40-plusers. When you’re in our age group and looking for a job, it can be isolating. So the support group and connection to a cohort was important. The facilitator, Howard Leifman was highly knowledgeable. He imparted great information. Michele and Zoraida [SAGEWorks Staff members] were awesome too! The program was a welcome relief from the angst of the job search. 

Anything else you want to add?

I’d like to thank the SAGEWorks team yet again! 40-plusers entering the job market can encounter culture shock—so much has changed. SAGEWorks helps to ease the transition.  

-- Posted by Kira Garcia 

January 21, 2015

A Conversation with Newlyweds and SAGE Tulsa Participants Ray and Eduardo

It’s never too late to celebrate love! After more than a decade together, SAGE Participants Ray Mahoney, 66, and  his partner Eduardo Saurez, who is 86, were married on October 12, 2014 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Eduardo Saurez, Serena Worthington, SAGE’s Director of National
Field Initiatives, and Ed Mahoney

Ray and Eduardo met by chance, or “destiny” as Ray says, at a local food store one day. Ray remembers being struck by how tall Eduardo was. And Eduardo was impressed by Ray too, so he asked Ray for lunch the next day, and they immediately hit it off.

They love a good road trip and have seen a lot of the country in their years together. Ray remembers traveling to see a space shuttle launch in Florida, only to have a rain storm roll in and delay the big event. They’ve also visited Memphis, where they took the Civil Rights tour and visited Graceland. Visiting Nashville is also a fond memory for Ray, who says “It’s a fun town—there’s a party going on everywhere you go!”

The idea of getting married was initially proposed by Eduardo, who says, “I had to persuade him! But I didn’t argue with him.” Once the decision was made, the ceremony was performed by Toby Jenkins, executive Director for Oklahomans for Equality. The happy couple celebrated afterward at SAGE Tulsa with friends, food, and their favorite music.

A theme emerges consistently in conversations about marriage with Ray and Eduardo: security. They both feel a sense of relief knowing that they’re now legally protected and won’t be separated if they have to go into a nursing home or assisted living facility. Without children or other family members nearby, they are each other’s primary safety net.

Ray’s sister Louisa has been supportive of him, but wasn’t encouraging about the wedding at first, saying “you can always back out”. Despite that, Ray and Eduardo show no signs of splitting up. When faced with marital arguments, they’ll tell you they don’t fight—Ray jokes “you don’t argue with the judge!” They tease each other, and Eduardo says they “kid around a lot, but [we] don’t insult each other.” They agree that mutual respect is the key to their success as a couple.

Eduardo is grateful for the protection of marriage, saying that “If I pass away, whatever money we have, goes to each other. I thank God that we trust each other and get along fine!”

Ray shared a portion of his wedding vows to describe his feelings about getting married, saying that “Nothing can equal having someone to be sure of, having someone to believe in, to share a good life with. At the end there are neither riches nor fame, only past remembrances of the few people we’ve shared spiritual unions with.” He added that “If you live your whole life and you find one person you can believe in and trust, you’ve done something!”

Cheers to Ray and Eduardo! May they have many more adventures together.


November 17, 2014

A Quick Chat with Paulina Garcia

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community.  This month, we spoke with Paulina Victoria Garcia, a Mexican-American volunteer, who is both legally blind and deaf, issues that affect many LGBT people across the country, especially as they age. Paulina comes to the SAGE Center Midtown in New York City from the Helen Keller National Center’s Vocational Training Program and started off working in the kitchen. She soon found another use of her many talents and currently runs a sign-language class for participants at SAGE Center Midtown in New York City.
PaulinaThanks for taking the time to talk with me Paulina. How long have you been coming to SAGE Center Midtown in New York City?
I’ve been coming to SAGE since August. I worked in the kitchen at first. I help my coworkers set up the space for dinner, prepare the food and then I hand out the meals when dinner is actually served. Since I am hard of hearing, I asked if I could start a sign-language class to help people communicate better.
What a great idea! How many people take your class?
My class is on Thursdays from 3-4 and about 22 people take my class. We start off with the basics of communication—always carry a notebook and a pen is the first lesson! We then move on to basic signing—ASL, or American Sign Language. Communication for people who are hard of hearing encompasses more than one method and I try to teach that from the very beginning. I’m trying to create ways for the deaf community to become more involved with SAGE and for people to be comfortable with me and others like me as I am transgender. That’s my main purpose.
Impressive! Is the class going well?
I am lucky in that new people are coming into the SAGE Center Midtown from the deaf community all the time and that people here want to communicate with them and each other. I have people in the class who are \ all are interested in either learning basics or learning more sign language. Some people who are older are becoming hard of hearing and they want to learn some ASL to help them communicate better. I also feel like people are very accepting of me here and I feel comfortable in a way that is very empowering.
What do you teach in the class?
Basic ASL–the ABC order, basic vocabulary, like colors and every day words like “happy,” “sad,” and other feelings. Especially since I work during dinner service, they use a lot of food words with me. I really try to teach them to not use their voice when signing so to experience what deaf people deal with daily.
Can you tell me top 5 good signs to know?
The most popular phrase for the class is “what’s your name” and then teaching them to sign with the ABC’s. Also popular is “good night”, “good morning”, “thank you,” “hello” and “my name is __________.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Paulina!​
--Posted by Christina DaCosta
October 10, 2014

A Quick Chat with Rubin Gonzalez

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community.  This month, we spoke with Rubin Gonzalez, a 59-year-old artist whose wide-ranging interests include sculpture, jewelry-making and painting. Despite his struggle with cancer, Rubin is staying active. Recently, his work has been on view at the Casa Frela Gallery in Harlem, and was included as part of the Harlem Art Walking Tour.

Rubin_gonzalezBlogThanks for taking the time to speak with me, Rubin. Can you tell me how you first came to SAGE?

I was hoping to get help with computer skills, and I met Reyno Francisco [a SAGE social worker] and he was a helpful and very positive person. I like people who express an emotional connection to their job—he did that. Then Tom Weber [SAGE’s Director of Care Management] contacted Lawrence Rodriguez, who owns the Casa Frela Gallery, and he wanted six pieces of my art!

That’s fantastic! When did you start making art?

My art comes from poverty. I was ten when my dad died, and I was one of ten kids. I didn’t have toys, so I said ‘let me make my own.’ I carved an elephant out of soap in grade school, and the teachers at my school started buying them. So I said ‘ooh I can make money doing this!’

My brothers used to tease me and call me ‘big head’ and ‘martian’, etc. But then I realized I have something they didn’t have. My artistic skills got me noticed. So I kept pursuing it.

You’ve done many different kinds of art, is that right?

Yes, I’ve done sculpture and painting and I’ve cut glass and cast silver. I’ve also done upholstery, made my own clothes, jewelry, and leather bags. My teachers always told me to specialize, and I said “No I can’t, I love everything!” People tell me, “Your work is good, but it looks like ten different people did it!”

My “Harlem Heroes Collectibles” was my first attempt at a business. They were wearable art representing Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.

I also did a series of self-portraits at age 40—me and me alter egos—me as a white guy, me as a Black guy, as a martian, as a cyborg, and as an Aztec  king.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m an optimistic artist. I work with what I have. Garbage, to me, is like art—I see something different in objects than other people. At Casa Frela I am showing sculptures based on Native American and African American tribal headdresses. It was a challenge to replicate them in miniature.

And what does this show at Casa Frela mean for you?

This is like an answer to a prayer.  I am very interested in my legacy, since I’m living with terminal cancer, and my partner of 29 years, Rafael, passed away in May. To give myself purpose, I’m focusing on preserving my artwork. 

You’ve struggled a lot recently.  I’m so sorry about the loss of your partner. I’m really moved by your strength, and I can’t wait to see your show!

Thank you!My legacy is my motivator right now. I want to give my artwork a home, and make people happy.


September 23, 2014

A Quick Chat with Natalie Kenvin

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable people who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Natalie Kenvin, a 72- year-old Chicago resident who has been a SAGE participant through Chicago’s Center on Halsted for about four years.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Natalie. When did you first become aware of SAGE, and how are you involved?

About four years ago. I walk through the door [of the Center on Halsted] and all pretenses are gone—it feels like a second home. I’m part of the Senior Action Group there. I’d like to see a little more activist presence, so I’m building a link between the Center on Halsted and local activist communities. I’m trying to get people more involved with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus [a senior activist organization in Chicago].


What kinds of issues are you working on?

Well, through the Jane Addams Caucus we are trying to get an ordinance passed to better regulate federal housing money in Chicago, to improve access to housing for low-income seniors. We have more than 13,000 people waiting for low-income housing in Chicago! When Cabrini-Green [the Cabrini-Green Public Housing Project, now demolished] came down, everyone was promised housing. But they never got anything. People who are not people of color, and who are middle class, don’t have this problem.

That’s amazing! Housing is such a critical issue for people across the country right now. Can we get to know you a bit better? Where are you from originally?

I was born in Philadelphia, but my family moved frequently. We lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Canada, and Michigan—Detroit. It was an intellectual family but also one that was violent.

When I hit adolescence we were living in a run-down area in Detroit, but I was going to a kind of snobby girls’ school. During that time I really exploded sexually, and my grades started to slide. So my parents took me to psychologists who gave me two diagnoses: depression and gender confusion. I ended up being hospitalized in a state institution. I remember a psychologist saying, ‘I bet you spend all your time playing basketball with the boys!’ I was totally uninterested in basketball!

But then I caught a break. The psychologist changed and the person I got was a wonderful man. He layed off of the ‘gender confusion’. I had taken a test to see whether you were gender-confused and I saw the result [in my file]. It said “Patient is Pathologically Female”! It had questions like, “I like to wear flowered dresses—true or false?”

[Natalie and I both cracked up at the thought of this]

My parents would visit and they’d get so upset. The doctor said to me, ‘you’re not going to see them and you’re not going back to that—you’re going to college.’ I went to Wayne State in Detroit.

And you went on to have relationships with women, men, or both?

With women and men. When this came up, I thought I must be the worst person in the world. That I must be crazy—‘I’m attracted to women and men!’ I thought of it as a pathology. I married a man early on and when that began to disintegrate I began relationships with women.

Are you in a relationship now?

No. I wish! I have a girlfriend but she doesn’t want to make it a sexual relationship. When she said that I thought ‘Oh dash it all!’ She is a lovely, positive, life-loving woman. She’s my age and came from a background like mine. We are both bisexual. When we first met she said ‘I have something to tell you—I’m bisexual.’ And I said ‘me too!’ we laughed and high-fived. 

And what about work—are you currently working, or are you retired?

I taught English; my degrees are in Comp Lit. I won an NEA award for my writing [in 1995]. I've worked less since I’ve been ill in recent years but now I’m feeling better and having a bit of a renaissance.

You are doing amazing work! I wish you the best of luck. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, Natalie!

Thank you!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

August 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with SAGE Participant Dorrell Clark

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable folks who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Dorrell Clark, a 62-year-old retired train operator who lives in the Bronx with her wife. When she’s not at SAGE, Dorrell also dabbles in dance and acting.

Thanks for talking with me Dorrell. How long have you been coming to SAGE?

Oh a long time—for over ten years. I participate in the women’s meeting in Harlem, also Fabulous Fridays, and the bereavement group, which is a great support system. Recently I also went to the Saturday Cool Out gathering. We talked and shared old pictures—it was a joy! The programs are gratifying to attend because you’re in your own place—you’re safe. It’s always good to be with people like you because they know where you’re coming from.

Dorrell Clark

So, what do you do professionally?

Well, I’m a retired MTA train operator.

That sounds fascinating! Did you enjoy it?

Absolutely! I loved it. The best thing was that every day I went to work I learned something new. I was a work train operator. We worked with the people who repaired tracks and stations.

In your opinion, how has being LGBT changed since you came of age?

I identify as an aggressive. Back in the day, if you could pass as a male (and I sometimes do), people wouldn’t bother you. Even today people call me sir until they look close. But nowadays, it doesn’t matter. Women walk down the street holding hands, and no one bothers you! Back in the day you couldn’t do that—you’d get harassed.

Most of the time, no one disputes that my wife and I are married. But she has been sick and at the hospital recently, there was this one nurse who looked at me and said “Who are you?!” and I said, “I’m her wife.” The nurse answered, “Well, I have to ask her,“ meaning my wife, who confirmed—she will tell you she’s my wife before I tell you I’m hers! But then the nurse asked her “Do you feel safe?” as in, “Do you feel safe with her?” That hurt—the cancer had put her in the hospital, not me. But in general, things are better than they were.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Dorrell!

Thanks for calling!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

May 15, 2014

A Quick Chat With SAGE Participant Michelle Malloy

May is Older Americans Month! To celebrate, we're launching a series of conversations with SAGE participants on our blog.These 'quick chats' will reveal a bit more about the fabulous folks who enjoy the incredible array of programs offered by SAGE. Our first chat is with SAGE participant Michelle Malloy, who has been a SAGE participant since 2010. She is a 55-year-old bisexual New York City native who has been out since 1977. We caught up with Michelle at our Women's Group in Harlem. 
Michelle (left) and her partner Karen at SAGE Harlem


Thanks for talking with me Michelle! So when did you come out?

I came out at age 18 in 1977. My cousin Cynthia [a SAGE staffer] was already out; she paved the way for me. We had a lot of fun going to clubs together in the city, like the Loft and Paradise Garage.

And you’re here with your girlfriend, is that right?

Yes, my partner Karen Massey and I have been together since 1991. She’s my best friend. When I fell down in the train station in December she was the first person I called. We help each other. People don’t always think we’re a couple though. As we get older, people look at us differently. Sometimes people think she’s my aunt or my mom!

And what do you love most about her?

She’s honest—about everything!

What do you do professionally? Are you out at work?

I work part time as an Executive Assistant in a neurosurgery office. I came out at work in 1985. I didn’t really experience any difference in how I was treated after I came out. I’m looking forward to retirement at age 62!

Exciting! What are you planning to do with your retirement?

Travel--to Vegas, or any country with a casino! I love to gamble.

What was your biggest win?

I once won $6400—it was $4200 after taxes. I used it to pay off my credit card.

That’s so practical!

Yes, you’ve got to be!

Any advice for our readers?

Live your life to the fullest—it’s so short! Don’t let anyone tell you how to live it!

Great advice—thank you Michelle!

-- Posted by Kira Garcia