When There Are No Elders


When I was coming out as transgender I was desperate to read everything I could get my hands on. I especially wanted to read personal narratives: how did people figure out they were trans? How did they come out to their friends and family? How did those friends and family take it? If they were partnered, what did their partners do?

But also, what was it like to transition medically? How did they find the right therapist and doctor? How soon did they start medical stuff? How soon after they started medical stuff did they feel a difference?

I wanted to see photos (comparison photos of before and after especially) so that I could maybe start to envision what my life would be like.

I wanted every scrap of information I could find. So first I went to books and there were…. not that many. There were a couple of memoirs (Jamison Green, Max Wolf Valerio, to name a few). There were more books about transgender women and more books by transgender women’s partners/spouses. There were some gender theory books. And some medical books about transitioning. But that was about it.

My saving grace was Livejournal. An online community of personal blogs that had the added bonus of groups that you could join and post in. And post people did. They shared their stories, asked questions, shared photos. I could read and read and even reach out to people if I had more questions. 

I was able to read what partners of trans men were thinking and asking about. I was able to see people’s results after starting testosterone or having their chest reconstruction surgery. I was able to start to envision what my life might be like in a year, or two years, or even five.

I remember five years feeling like some kind of marathon finish line. Most of the guys in the group who had been transitioning the longest were around five years. I don’t know if it’s because guys dropped off the group after five years, or if I was just part of a class of trans men accessing care at around the same time, or if that was just the age of livejournal or what, but five years seemed like this magical number. A number when I would be fully perceived as my correct gender. A number when maybe I wouldn’t be frantically counting every single new facial hair that sprouted. A number when I would maybe be at peace?

I’ve been in several spaces recently that have talked about the lack of trans elders. Both have followed up their statement on that lack with some version of this: “Because we don’t live that long.” One person saying this was in their 40’s. They talked about being the oldest transgender person most people knew.

What happens to a community when they have no history? When there is no one to carry the history forward? When people are too busy desperately trying to survive to do things like write blogs and books and make movies? When the people who want to do those things are shut out of the means to do them?

What happens when we don’t have easy access to our elders?

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Photo Credit: sparkle glowplug Flickr via Compfight cc

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