Ashley Kate Flanagan
Today’s transgender (trans) and non-binary older adults are some of the first 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals to live openly with diverse sexual and/or gender identities (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders & Movement Advancement Project, 2010). As a result, we can also expect to see the greatest number of trans and non-binary older adults ever recorded; trends that reflect Canadian population growth (Witten, 2003). Despite the growth in number of trans and non-binary older adults, the need for trans and non-binary folx to negotiate ageist and cis/heteronormative societal expectations for gender and aging becomes more, not less, relevant. Specifically, histories of cis/heteronormativity may come together with, and are compounded by: (1) general fears and concerns for aging, (2) challenges finding community support within the LGBTQIA2S+ community that is inclusive of aging and old age; and (3) challenges finding community support for aging and old age inclusive of trans and non-binary identities. Actual and perceived forms discrimination, harassment, and/or violence, which stem from transphobic, ageist, racist, classist, ableist, and homophobic attitudes and stereotypes, impact opportunities and barriers to community support and influence one’s ability to age “well” (Bauer & Scheim, 2015; Cahill, South, & Spade, 2000; Fabbre, 2015). As a result, trans and non-binary older adult bodies manifest a distinct social location, which create barriers for easily finding and accessing community supports that value these interconnected identities. Community supports (i.e., family relationships, friends(hips), online forums, formal programs and services, pet companionship, self-care), when experienced through bodies that are old or trans and/or non-binary bodies, often have a positive impact on wellbeing (Mock et al., 2020). In particular, literature on engagement with community supports cites benefits such as; reduced risk of mortality and depression, better cognitive and psychological health, and better self-perceived health and health behaviours (Gilmour, 2012). Given this recognition, it is reasonable to assume that community support may become even more relevant to counteract experiences of ageism and cis/heteronormativity lived together by trans and non-binary older adults (among other labels of interconnected discriminations). Building on findings from Bauer Pyne, Francinio, and Hammond (2013), I approached this inquiry that sought to hear experiences of community support as a social justice issue impacting the well-being of trans and non-binary older adults who live in communities across Southern Ontario. Using a scaffolding of queer and critical gerontological theories to think with, this case study (Thomas, 2011a, 2011b, 2013, 2016) explored how the interconnections of aging, old age, and gender identity influence (and are influenced by) trans and non-binary older adults’ experiences, perceptions, and desires of/for community support in Southern Ontario. I conducted: (1) unstructured narrative interviews with nine trans and non-binary older adults, (2) semi-structured program evaluation interviews with six community organizers, (3) over 20 hours of observations took place in various settings, and (4) initiated collection of over 140 documents for analysis. By (re)presenting the data that emerged as an interactive story (i.e., branching narrative or “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” story), we begin to see the multiplicity, complexity, and juxtaposition of trans and non-binary older adults’ experiences, perceptions, and desires of/for community support. Through the multiple branches of the interactive story, we will explore the kinds of community support that exist—or are perceived to exist—within the lives of trans and non-binary older adults, in order to better understand the aspects of community support that are affirming, beneficial, detrimental, unfulfilled, ignored, or imagined from the perspective of transgender and non-binary older adults and community organizers. In so doing, we catch a glimpse of how community support functions (or not) within the lives of trans and non-binary older adults in relation to sense of aging, gender identity, and wellbeing. While this inquiry centres living narratives that embody the interconnections of aging and gender identity, I also acknowledge and take-up discussions of race and class as they connect to the lives of trans and non-binary older adults. Ultimately, working to understand the triumphs and challenges presented by the interconnections of aging, gender identity, and community support opens up opportunities for transferrable knowledge about community support that enables a re-imagining of the ways trans and non-binary older adults engage with their communities—within and beyond Ontario.
Flanagan, A.K. (2020). Do we really get to choose our own story? (Re)imagining community support with transgender and non-binary older adults. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/16404