May 9, 2016
Robina Asti is exhausted, but you wouldn’t know it as she opens the door to the Upper East Side apartment she’s called home since 1965. She’s dressed in a green top and tan slacks, her white hair is swept up in barrettes, and two turquoise earrings dangle from her ears — the first pair her late husband, Norwood, ever bought her.
“I’m sorry, I think I overdid it a bit yesterday,” Asti says. “But it was just so beautiful out.”
Asti got home late Sunday night after six hours in the air over the Hudson Valley. At 95, she still works as a flight instructor and tries to spend every weekend she can piloting planes, much as she has since she was a teenager. She laughs that insurance companies seem to shy away from her these days.
“But you know what? Every morning that I open my eyes is a good day,” she reflects.
Much of her nine decades have been spent leading a quiet life of flying and family. She was born in 1921 and grew up in New York City. When the U.S. joined World War II, she signed up for the Navy and served in the Pacific. She married, had children, and was the vice president of a major mutual fund. Then, in 1976, she transitioned from male to female.
At the time, hers was a decision few understood; she faced serious discrimination at work and strained relationships with her children. But soon after, she met the “love of her life,” artist Norwood Patton. The pair would spend decades together before finally getting married in an old airplane hangar in 2004.
“He was a proper man. He always had breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a martini at 5 o’clock,” she says, smiling. “When he was in the hospital, I even snuck a Coca-Cola bottle full of martinis I mixed for him.”
Her apartment still overflows with Norwood’s art: everything from little sketches to oil paintings, including a beautiful portrait of her. After Patton passed away in 2012, Asti applied for the standard widow benefits from the Social Security Administration. She was shocked and angry when they wrote to tell her that she had been denied because she was not legally a woman at the time of her marriage.
Asti decided to fight back. Since then, she’s been a volunteer and advocate for transgender rights, working with LGBT-advocacy nonprofit organization Lambda Legal. Ahead, Asti shares her remarkable life story and her advice for young people transitioning today, with Refinery29.