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GAY AND GRAY: A Tangled Web of Gender

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif I enjoy being around mature transgendered people. When someone has fought their way through identity confusions, their own and other people's ignorance about and consternation in the face of gender elasticity, and the sometimes hostile or silly reactions they receive from others, the adult individual has usually acquired a rare self-understanding that is pleasant to encounter.

This isn't about chronological age, though arrival at this happy state of self-knowledge and acceptance sometimes accompanies getting older.

In light of this, I found it interesting to read, "Is Your 'T' Written in Disappearing Ink? A Checklist for Transgender Inclusion" distributed by the Transgender Aging Network (TAN).

This is a self-evaluation form for agencies that aim to serve L[esbian] G[ay] [Bi-] T[rans] people. Too often, this sort of resource bombards "helping professionals" with what come off as demands for a mechanical correctness. This particular specimen of the genre seeks earnestly to explain. For example, do you really mean to be available to the needs of the trans community?

If you only discuss "sexual orientation," you send a message to transgender persons and their partners that they are only welcome if they are perceived as lesbian or gay male, that you only serve transgender persons on issues related to their perceived sexual orientation, and/or that your program does not address the unique prejudices and issues faced by trans/SOFFA [Significant Others, Friends, Families and Allies] of elders.

If it is, in fact, the case that your program, publication, or policy is designed only for lesbian-identified or gay male-identified transgender persons, perhaps you should consider dropping the "T" from your materials and instead explicitly state that you welcome transgender persons who are lesbian- (and/or gay- ) identified. That way confusion is lessened and people are better enabled to find services and supports that fit their needs.

Or are you ready to deal with the complexities that arise among transgender persons and their families?

In contrast to lesbian and gay male couples, many transgender persons are coupled with someone who may not feel she or he is included under the LGBT umbrella. Such partners may be women who identify as heterosexual but who are partnered with an MTF [Male to Females], men who identify as heterosexual but who are partnered with an FTM [Female to Male], lesbians and gay men whose partner has transitioned (resulting in a couple that now looks like it's an "opposite"-sex couple), and others.

If your program strives to support, accommodate or address the needs of LGB couples and families, it needs to carefully and explicitly address how partners and families of transgender persons who are (or are perceived to be) heterosexual will be welcomed.

The life stages of trans elders can be a little different that those of lesbians, gays and bi-sexual folks. The handout continues:

It appears that a much higher proportion of transgender persons (particularly MTFs) than lesbians and gay men "come out" in later life. That means that older transgender persons may not only be dealing with all of the issues older lesbians and gay men deal with, but also with coming out at work, to the kids and grandkids, to the neighbors, to service providers, etc. If your program offers coming-out supports, make sure it has transgender- and SOFFA-specific materials on coming out, as some of the issues are different and some transgender persons and SOFFAs may not feel that LG-oriented materials adequately reflect their issues and needs.

Particularly look at whether you can support the partners of newly-out transgender persons. These couples, some of who have been together 30 or 40 years or more, may have no idea that other long-term marriages and partnerships have survived one partner's gender transition. Even if they do realize staying together is theoretically possible, they may be unable to conceive of how they, personally, will cope with the myriad social, professional, and internal changes involved.

There are a myriad of issues in people's lives that we don't automatically take into account unless they are our own issues.

None of this stuff is easy for any of us. We really want the genders to be clear cut, binary and obvious. Have you ever walked across a street, seen someone coming the other way whose gender you couldn't immediately place? Did you feel a little unease until you felt able to mentally assign a gender to the the person? I've had that experience as recently as yesterday.

I think we do this far more of than we are quite aware of, especially in big cities. Those of us who seldom or never have the experience of being the cause of others' gender unease do need to be aware that whatever momentary distress we feel is something the other people have to learn to live with. That's all just part of being human.

If interested further in this topic, here are links to a couple of recent posts I've done about trans people in my life: A Trans-Gender Eucharist and Switch: A Community in Transition.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: My Love Affaie with European Trains


Hello Jan,

I want to thank you for taking the time to explain all of this to us.

I was born in 1928 and until about 1975 I had never heard of homosexuality; and then I heard only whispers,criticism and misinformation.

I feel fortunate to have someone like you giving me the straight (no pun intended)information.

Thanks! I always read you and learn from you;and I am all the better person for it.

Food for thought. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could live in a world where gender, race, and disabilities were a non-issue?

Like I replied to Ronni this morning in a personal email, life deals whatever hand you're gonna get in life; no re-shuffling the deck howevermuch we would desire it.

Judging other people is a trait I aspire to lose, but it's surely hard.

You have made a subject that seems to be taboo in the mainstream press understandable. With knowledge comes tolerance and acceptance.

Thank you for the information, Jan.

Thanks, Jan, for opening up discussion of this complex area. Walking past a transgendered person on the street disconcerts me. I'm not proud to admit it, but it's true. Reading your post left me wondering whether in the years left to me whether I will have the chance to know someone which will be the best way to move past my unease.

Yes, most people like to fit others into nice little boxes with stereotypical label names and pre-conceived ideas about the characteristics those labels include. I became acutely aware of that in regard to individuals (children and adults) with special needs, later with friends trying to understand their own later-in-life gender issues. A colleague in private practice has worked with transgender individuals adapting to voice changes since our society has very definite ideas about this topic. Your sharing information here does help others appreciate human differences.

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