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For aging transgender population, retirement can be bittersweet refuge

While it could mean the end of pretending, the golden years can also come with health care issues, intense isolation.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

27th February 2014 07:09

Alessia Valenza

At home, Alice can live as the woman she knows she is. But at work, she has to use her “boy name” — the one on her birth certificate. There’s a co-worker that has joked about using “fags and trannies” as target practice. The day she goes to work as Alice would probably be the day she quits, or gets fired.

At 60, Alice has been forced to make the choice between living an authentic life and living her retirement in poverty. Her firewall is more than a matter of principle — it’s a matter of survival. In Missouri, where she lives, Alice could still be fired for being transgender. That’s why there’s a firewall between home and work, and why she asked to be referred to only as Alice. Her firewall is her double life.

“The problem is, most of us who are older are looking at life after work,” she said. “And we realize that it could well be lived in poverty. We can be true to ourselves, but at what price?”

In the end, living an authentic life is a financial risk for transgender individuals. A 2013 study found that transgender workers report unemployment rates two times higher than the population as a whole, and are generally underemployed, more likely to have lower income and more likely to be in an unstable housing situation.

But there’s always retirement, right? Not always.

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