LGBT Seniors Grapple With End-of-Life Issues

From The Bay Area Reporter:

by Matthew S. Bajko
Wednesday Dec 5, 2018

While enjoying her seventh decade on the planet, Donna Personna knows her remaining days are numbered. Yet the prospect of her demise doesn’t scare her.

“The end question. ‘The end.’ It’s not a touchy subject for me. I’m irreverent,” said Personna, a transgender woman who grew up in San Jose and now lives in San Francisco. “I have been on the planet for 72 years. I learned long ago this was going to come.”

Personna, a beloved drag performer, playwright, and hairdresser, credits her Mexican heritage with teaching her that death is a part of life. She pointed to the annual Dia de los Muertos holiday — the Day of the Dead in early November — as one example of how, from an early age, she was taught to embrace one’s mortality rather than fear it.

“I am not worried about it. It doesn’t scare me,” said Personna, who graduated with honors from San Jose State University and, for years, owned her own hair salon in Cupertino, which she sold a while back but continues to cut hair at once a month for longtime clients.

Born into a large Baptist family with 16 siblings, Personna remains close with several of her older brothers and their families in the Bay Area. She is confident she can rely on them in the case of emergencies or if her health deteriorates.

“Some of my nieces said, ‘You can live with us,'” said Personna, who has designated one of them the beneficiary of her estate.

Her Plan B, however, is to move into a pueblo outside Guadalupe, Mexico where her Social Security check and personal savings will be worth more.

“I want to spend the rest of my days in Mexico. I don’t want to die in San Francisco,” said Personna. “I am longing to go there.”

Confronting the end of one’s life isn’t easy for the majority of seniors, whether LGBT or straight. Most have not declared an executor for their estate, let alone discussed with their physician what sort of care they want in their dying days.

“It is rooted in the death phobia that North American culture has,” said Brian de Vries, a gay man and professor emeritus of gerontology at San Francisco State University who is a leading expert on end-of-life issues among LGBT seniors.

There are an estimated 2.7 million Americans who are LGBT and 50 years of age or older. Of that age group, 1.1 million are 65 and older. By 2060 LGBT elders in the U.S. are expected to number more than 5 million.

This generation of LGBT seniors differs from its heterosexual counterpart in significant ways, according to aging experts. Most of the LGBT seniors experienced discrimination not only in their day-to-day lives but also in medical settings due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Antisemitism and LGBTQ+ Hate Are Spiking — So We Must Come Together

From Out:

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After Years of Fighting for Trans Kids, Lawyer Mia Yamamoto Came Out Herself

From Broadly: Vice:

Mia Yamamoto was born in a Japanese internment camp and served in the Vietnam War. Then, after she became a leading criminal defense attorney, she came out as transgender.

by Zackary Drucker
Dec 7 2018

Mia Yamamoto, in her own words, was “born doing time.” She started her life in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona in 1946—a circumstance that eventually moved her to dedicate her life to social and economic justice as a poverty lawyer and criminal defender.

Mia identified as trans long before she began presenting as feminine in her 50s. She recalls finding herself while reading about transgender pioneer Christine Jorgensen in the newspaper as a child, but keeping her identity a secret while later serving in the Vietnam war, and eventually, when she began working with homeless trans youth as a lawyer, covertly going out at night to discover bars catering to trans women on Hollywood Boulevard.

Being exposed to the dangers of trans life in the 20th century and enduring the toxic masculinity of the military may have slowed Mia’s personal coming out, but it did not prevent her from supporting trans people in her capacity as a leading criminal defense attorney. For years, holding her transness deep within, she selflessly sacrificed her own authenticity to better serve marginalized individuals navigating the legal system and the prison industrial complex. Her fierce fighting words for the President (“You’re just a punk politician, I’m not afraid of you”), and her deep commitment to dismantling structures of oppression, are a rallying cry—encouraging us to push through fear to discover our courage and potential for resilience.

ZACKARY DRUCKER: Tell me about your personal journey around transness.

MIA YAMAMOTO: I was in the closet in terms of being trans until my actual coming out transition, when I I had already been a lawyer for a while. It’s different for me. I came up, though, around trans people who were kicked out of their homes as teenagers. It’s common, at 12 or 13; the family is outraged at your gender expression, they throw you out of your house, and you have to fend for yourself out there. I was always around folks like that; those were the only people that I could possibly identify with—especially coming up as a poverty lawyer working with oppressed and marginalized communities in many colors and different origins. The trans folks were excluded from almost every minority group. I remember my therapist saying that he had various queer clients, but that trans people were the queerest of the queer.

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