Defining The Problem
Our past and our future are linked. We know we wouldn’t be here without the work of our ancestors. Many of us even come from communities that understand time as non-linear: we always exist right beside our ancestors and descendants. We envision a world where all trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people of all ages are affirmed in their homes, school, public life, and communities. The world we want treats intergenerational care as the bedrock of our communities.
Many families learn transphobic violence from our dominant culture, which conditions people to be hostile to children who diverge from behavior associated with their assigned sex. While many of our families come from lineages that celebrated trans people, European colonizing entities have introduced transphobia into our homes, creating divides among generations. When violence occurs, government agencies don’t provide tools to help us heal and reconnect with our kin. Instead, many trans youth are forced to leave our homes. Many become neglected within the racist and transphobic foster care system that has long been used to tear apart our families. This cycle leaves many trans youth isolated from foundational relationships and in harmful environments that can lead us to attempt suicide, self-medicate with substances, and homelessness.
Despite being trapped into these coping mechanisms, we’re targeted by law enforcement, leading many of us to be incarcerated either as youth or later on in our lives. In addition, the last five years of harmful state legislation and federal action has threatened the lives of transgender youth. Many state legislatures are attempting to ban transgender youth from having medical agency and accessing necessary healthcare. Research demonstrates that trans-affirming care is both medically safe and life-saving by decreasing rates of suicide attempts. Some bills even make it a crime for doctors and parents to help TGNC youth obtain this care. On the federal level, the consistent racist, transphobic, and xenophobic actions of the Trump administration — like the reversal of the trans-inclusive guidance at the Department of Education or the threats to undocumented youth’s right to remain in the country — has left many trans young people scared and unsure of what their rights are.
In recent years, there has been an increased effort to address bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth in schools. Yet, this effort has placed white LGBTQ youth’s perspective on safety at the center, relying on ideas of safety that directly harm Black and brown youth. Increasing police presence in schools or requiring detentions or suspensions in response to bullying, for example, are punitive measures that target Black and brown youth especially. The cries to end police terror on our communities, including our schools continue to be ignored.
Similar to trans youth, trans elders are often disconnected from the community, and many experience intense isolation, particularly as they get older. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, of those participants who were age 65 and older, 97% of them transitioned after the age of 55. What we know of transition is that it can often lead many of our loved ones to alienate us. The lack of data on the specific experiences of trans elders speaks to the systemic invisibility faced throughout life. Transgender elders often rely on their chosen family as they age, both for social connection and finances. Yet, well-known elder-specific resources for the public at large — such as community centers, housing options, and aging-related healthcare — rarely include policies and practices that serve trans elders. Instead, they can become sources of discrimination and violence.
Defining The Strategy
The broader LGBTQ movement honors trans elders through lip service — without dedicating adequate resources to help trans elders thrive. More attention appears to be paid to annual parades than the well-being of the individuals who made those parades possible in the first place. Trans elders’ stories are history lessons that remind us of the resilience that runs throughout our community. They instruct us on how our movements should operate — shining a light on the importance of family, the horrors of policing, and the costly compromises that many in our community have made at the expense of those of us most marginalized. These lessons are rarely used as anything but soundbites.
Our movement must respect our youth and elders. Despite the isolation and silencing, trans youth and elders continue to challenge us to transform ourselves and the world we live in. They show up with their wisdom and courage, with their energy and sharp critiques. They show up to build a movement and future that is intersectional and anti-racist at its core, ensuring that we leave the best possible legacy for our trans family.
Our communities and our movement for liberation are only as strong as the connections we build across all generations and ages. As TGNC youth and elders, we will no longer accept demeaning forms of engagement that do not respect our wisdom, sacrifices, and ideas. As elders and youth, we hold the vital lessons and the innovative energy required on the path to liberation.
We are deeply grateful to the many people who generously contributed to, reviewed, and offered on Intergenerational Connection and Lifelong Care, including: Dee Dee Chamblee, Mattee Jim, Evonne Kaho, Cecilia Chung, Juniperangelica/Gia Cordova, Agaiotupu Viena, Mickaela Bee, Ash Stephens, Kris Hayashi, Xoai Pham, Emily Waters, and Shelby Chestnut.