Aging is a process we all experience whether we are very mindful of it or not. From the moment we are formed, we begin to encounter the material and psychic impacts of a body governed by time. These experiences, nested within cultural, historical, and sociopolitical contexts, evoke myriad thoughts, feelings, and sensations across a lifespan.
In the U.S., experiences of age and aging are shaped by cultural notions of utility and disposability, youth and beauty, ability and disability, and more, creating in-groups and out-groups. The out-groups are most often comprised of non-dominant bodies including Black, indigenous, and brown bodies, queer, gender non-conforming, and intersex bodies, bodies assigned female at birth, disabled bodies, very young bodies, and very old bodies. Socially constructed messages of out-group “otherness” conjure a sense of separation and isolation that leads folks to question their very worth, value, and belonging.
The stereotype of the “Boomer,” for instance, has been on the rise in the U.S. as American culture encounters polarization across many domains. Divisions, both real and perceived, between the “young” and the “old” become memes and touch off divisive exchanges between “us versus them,” deepening the divide and keeping us locked in exclusionary discourses. Although discriminatory political and economic realities arising from historical contexts cannot be lightly set aside, the trope of an out-of-touch older adult feeds narratives of obscurity and obsolescence. This stereotype disregards the elders among us who are pushed to the fringes for their politics or gender expression and who, from those locations, possess experience and wisdom that matters in these times.
Elders who defy gender norms as they age often possess such experiential wisdom but are all too frequently burdened by increased rejection and separation from families of origin, prejudicial practices within medical and care settings, diminished earning capacity secondary to hiring discrimination, and internalized shame and polarization about their sexuality and expression. The reverberations from these encounters result in a unique experience of being-in-the-world which can contribute to feelings of liberation through resistance, yes, but also to isolation, otherness, and devaluation.
Meaningful, mutual, and affirming conversations around the impacts of these shared experiences can restore a core sense of connectedness, worthiness, and belonging, clearing space for resilience and vitality to shine. When we gather with the intention of sharing our stories and listening deeply to one another, we are invited to touch into our true nature and our sense of self can expand. Community-led affinity groups can offer support of this kind but availability of such groups is often limited for transgender and gender non-conforming older adults.
Beginning February 5, 2023, LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center will offer and I will facilitate a once-monthly 55-and-older transgender and gender non-conforming support group. We hope to bring together folks with these intersecting identities in support of sharing experiences, deepening connection, and growing community.