Aging presents challenges for everyone, but they can be particularly acute for transgender and gender-nonconforming older adults. While many of those issues are shared more broadly with all people, many are unique to older trans adults.
Understanding exactly what those challenges are–and having the resources to overcome them can empower trans seniors to navigate aging with dignity.
Older trans adults “came of age during decades when transgender people were heavily stigmatized and pathologized,” notes “Improving the Lives of Trans Adults,” a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). “Some came out and made gender transitions during these years, while many others kept their identities hidden for decades and are now coming out and transitioning later in life.”
The challenges for trans adults generally fall into three categories: social support, health care, and aging services.
Isolation is a problem for all older Americans, but it’s especially a problem for trans older adults. According to “Maintaining Dignity: Understanding and Responding to the Challenges Facing Older LGBT Americans,” a report by AARP on the experiences of LGBTQ elders, the support systems that make aging easier are often not available to trans seniors.
“Transgender or gender-expansive individuals are least likely overall to be connected to sources of social support, including family,” the report notes. “Although more than half of transgender or gender-expansive survey respondents have children or grandchildren, this group is least likely to say they consider gay or straight friends, family, or neighbors part of their personal support network, which exacerbates the level of risk implied by possible discrimination as they age from health care providers, long term care service providers, or housing facilities.”
Fortunately, there are multiple resources available to help battle isolation. Whether it’s a volunteer opportunity or a phone call from a trained volunteer, trans seniors can ensure that they are not at risk of being cut off from other people.
For trans people of any age, the health care system is one of the primary challenges. Too often the system fails to provide the culturally sensitive and clinically competent care that it should. A 2011 survey of 6,450 trans adults found that nearly one-fifth reported being denied medical care, with the number even larger for trans people of color. Half of the respondents said that they had to educate their providers about transgender care.
Such barriers present a special burden for trans seniors. Because of past experiences or lack of insurance, trans patients may be less willing or able to access health care. Yet trans adults frequently report more problems with their health, making good health care crucial, especially as aging can bring additional health issues. Yet geriatric specialists can lack the knowledge they need to provide the care trans patients should get.
“Research suggests that aging providers specifically are uninformed and culturally insensitive on LGBT issues,” the NCTE report says.
But you can find providers attuned to the needs of trans patients. Transgender Care Listings includes provider resources that can deliver just such care. A list of providers who are more broadly focused on helping all LGBTQ patients is available at Outcare.
It’s not just the health care system that can fail to help trans seniors. While there is a myriad of senior social services, not all of them are welcoming of transgender elders. Senior housing and long-term care facilities can be especially problematic. But just because someone feels they can discriminate against you doesn’t mean they have the right to do so.
Lambda Legal has an FAQ outlining the legal rights of trans seniors. Discrimination in senior housing is prohibited in programs administered by the federal government, while local laws also prohibit housing discrimination. The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act has special protections for trans residents in care facilities.
“The good news is that there are laws in place that protect older transgender people against discrimination in health care and housing,” Lambda Legal says. The group also suggests an extra layer of protection with legal documents, including health care proxies, powers of attorneys, and wills.
“Transgender older adults are strongly recommended to take advantage of these tools,” the group says. “Knowing your rights can make a big difference as you navigate through issues of housing, health care, and life planning.”
Taking control of your senior years can make aging not only a lot easier but full of the joy of companionship.