The Need for Trans Elders

Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein were together talking at Trans Pride L.A. this weekend; I was there whenever they were in the same room answering and asking questions. The last room slowly emptied of people; I gave Sandy a huge hug and thanked her, and then sat to wait for Kate with my beloved trans friend Kevin.

Kate and I sat facing one another; Kevin sat on my right. I suddenly felt like I was in a confessional; I somehow felt the need to tell her that I didn't live full time and still worked as a guy.

Kate paused, nodded slightly and smiled. "So you're trans."

A wave of emotion surged over me(writing now with tears in my eyes). I belong, I'm a part of, I'm on the team and most importantly; I know who the f**k I am.

I knew this intellectually. I've argued it. I've gone out of my way to prove it, but there's nothing like being recreated and seen for who you are by someone you love,respect and who has been through much.

Three words.

Kate is known to all of us as our "Auntie." She's our favorite aunt with a great laugh, great stories and an endless supply of gum. Kate is a survivor of Scientology and lung cancer, just to name two things. She's the author of the seminal book Gender Outlaw and seven others. She's full of laughter, life, sexual mischief and more than anything, unconditional love. She is an open book, and when I sat across from her, I opened it to the page marked "Darya".

There I was.

It's not as if others I deeply love hadn't validated me, or that I hadn't tried to do it myself. There's something about the wisest sorceresses of your tribe blessing you after a life of being shamed.

I was raised to be anything but queer, deviant, creative or unique; I was raised to fit in, and excel in approved ways. My dad wanted me to be captain of the football team, not to become expert in ways to make boys look like their inner girl, or match accessories with outfits. I read my mother's Vogue magazines as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was always who I am, but it was never safe to be that in a culture designed to hunt me down and destroy my desire to be myself, or as history has shown, ad nauseum, kill me outright. It took me over forty years to finally uncork who I really am, and being in Kate's presence proved to me that there's always more to flow out, more to accept.

Sandy Stone, legendary trans icon and activist, cautioned us from concentrating solely on content and intellect: "Don't listen to what I'm saying, necessarily; if you're in the first twenty rows you're subject to my ionic force field." We all felt it, and I'm feeling it still; she and Kate, such very different people; the trickster and the activist. They were hilarious together as well as stimulating.

Kate reminded us that many of our LGBT elders died in The Plague. AIDS devastated us and our culture. Zackary Drucker, brilliant artist and co-producer on the show Transparent, had a recent campaign to preserve the life and the collections of Drag Elder and Icon Flawless Sabrina for that very reason; she's our Transcestor. Elders have seen and suffered and survived. We live in a mass culture that sees elders of all types as disposable and bothersome; something to be warehoused and bought off with a card on Hallmark holidays. I'm as guilty of that as anyone.

The howls of criticism of trans people in opinion sections and blogs in the wake of current news is understandable; I'm certain the Dinosaurs howled as they watched small furry mammals scurrying away with their eggs. What is called "transgender" today will be unrecognizable in ten years. A little girl who transitions at age 6 will live the life of a little girl, then of a young woman, then of a full-grown woman and may not even think of herself as trans. The idea of keeping her out the women's restroom will seem as antiquated as burning a witch at the stake. I can never blame any trans person who chooses to blend into the binary structure of gender enforced by our culture; it would be sane if not for the fact that our culture is not.

I reconnected with an old friend I hadn't seen for years; she is a beautiful elegant woman who looks like a lovely, petite New York City resident of the upper west side. She was a Navy flier; the weapon control officer in an F-4. A lot of us older trans women had very traditionally masculine jobs and pursuits as we ran from ourselves. She blends into the wider culture as easily as a drop of rain in a pond.

She came to Trans Pride not because she's afraid of the cisgender universe but because she knows who she is, and who she loves. She turned to me in a quiet moment and said: "Isn't it unbelievable that this is where our lives are now?" I had to agree; few of us are perfect but we share a common bond; we trust an inner knowledge that is stronger than blood, safety or money.

I'm an elder too. The world has changed radically since I first went out in a dress in 1997; the lines between drag and trans were blurrier in those days when the only safe places for us were gay bars. Those lines may expand or contract again as we grow, speak out, argue and love.

Our community is beautiful, eccentric, chaotic, maddening, hilarious, tragic, deep, shallow, vain, selfless and always bold, alive and brave in the face of a culture designed to shame anyone who doesn't fit a deluded narrative of wealth, youth, hedonism and power.

Elders provide perspective, healing, insight, humor and forgiveness for things we didn't know need forgiving for. On reflection, what trans elders can do for us all is what both Kate and Sandy did; help us to trust and own what we already know.