No One Deserves to Be Invisible

 In: Articles

DR. THEODORE J. HUTCHINSON teaches at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and was the winner of the 2017 SAGE/Airbnb Pride Contest. After his SAGE Pride experience, Theo became an outspoken advocate for SAGE and trans elder rights.

On the day I was born 63 years ago, I became a ghost when these words were uttered: “Congratulations, it’s a girl!”

I am a person who is transgender. Although the signs were present throughout my life, the conversation and knowledge about trans folks were not a part of mainstream life in the U.S. back then. I was invisible to myself and to others.

But I’ve come to realize that no one deserves to be invisible. No one deserves to be forgotten. No one deserves to be erased.

Theo HutchinsonIt is in the nature of being human that we seek to make meaning in our lives. This meaning often derives from relationships that mirror back to us a sense of ourselves. When that mirroring is positive and loving, we know we are seen and we flourish. If that mirroring is absent or misguided, then, too often, so are we. Too many mirrors have distorted who trans people are and have fed the fires of hate and bigotry. The Trump administration tried to make the trans community invisible by actions taken immediately after the inauguration.

First, they worked against a previous guidance that transgender students in public schools be allowed to utilize the bathroom that matches their self-identified gender. Trump claimed it as a “states’ rights issue,” effectively removing it from the national conversation. Next, it tried to remove LGBTQ+ people from a key survey that funds older adult services. With no small effort from many advocacy groups, and SAGE leading the way, we were able to reinstate LGB people into the survey.
But what about the T? The transgender community remained erased—and SAGE stepped up again. Because of this second comment period, led by SAGE, the 2017 survey included trans people. We still need to fight to be included in the 2018 survey. Finally, the Trump administration issued a directive to ban trans people from military service. That directive has recently been reaffirmed and is likely to result in a military depleted of its brave trans soldiers. Three for three. We are erased.

So why does this matter?

It was only four years ago when I realized who I was. I recall sitting in my therapist’s office and saying, “I have something to tell you.” I said these words in a tentative whisper: “I’m a boy.” Then a little louder: “I’m a boy…” and finally with a joyful grounded sense of myself, I declared aloud, “I’m a boy! I am trans!” And, for the first time, my life made sense to me. I naively thought I had “arrived” with this declaration, but it turned out to be only the beginning of my journey. It took another two years working through therapy, introspection, struggle and education to inch forward. Finally, in January 2016, I made my public and professional announcement that I would be affirming my gender—physically, socially and legally. The positive strides made by the transgender community at that time—in the media and in the social and political discourse—were my mirror. It seems ironic that in only one year, I would begin to be erased again.

So where will trans elders be? Who will see us with our unique and pressing needs? With attacks on Medicare and Medicaid, will we be able to access our specific trans-related medications? Are the physicians and nurses and other health care professionals working with older folks knowledgeable and compassionate about the unique health care needs of trans elders? Can we access safe and clean LGB and T-friendly housing? And if housing in health care facilities is divided along the gender binary, where will trans elders find ourselves? These are the questions I ask myself—and I am relieved that there is an organization asking these questions too. SAGE is here for the long game, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

No, Trump administration…
You will not make me invisible again.
You will not make me forgotten again.
You will not erase me now—or ever.

I am here; we are here and will raise our voices until all of us, brothers, sisters, siblings, comrades in the LGB and T community are all counted and included.

Read more from SAGE’s 40th: Robert Patrick and Miss Barbie Q and A Latin American Perspective, ESMULES Executive Director Andrea Ayala
Thea Cook, SAGE