13 October 2012

A Lifespan Of 30 To 32 Years, And A Lost Generation

Two decades ago, a widely-circulated report caused a lot of shock and disbelief.

Among its findings was this:  Black males aged 15 to 29 had a higher rate of mortality than anyone except people over 85.

But what caused perhaps the most consternation was the fact that black men in Harlem had a shorter life expectancy (51)  than men in Bangladesh (55).  At that time, as now, the average life expectancy for males in the US was 73 years.

(Aside:  At the time of the report, Bangladesh differed from any Western country in that males had a longer life expectancy--by one year--than women.)

I was in graduate school at the time the report came out.  Fellow students and faculty members talked about it for weeks afterward.  More than a few faculty members, I'm sure, were stunned to realize that they were near, or had exceeded, the numbers for men in Harlem and Bangladesh. And those--including my fellow students--who hadn't reached that age bracket knew that, barring some unforeseen tragedy, they were likely to live well beyond 51 or 55.

As terrible as those findings were ( I concur with those who said a "genocide" of black youth was, and is, taking place.), they paint a positively rosy picture compared to something I stumbled over a couple of days ago.

According to Argentinian psychologist Graciela Balestra, "Transgender people have an average life expectancy of 30 to 32 years."

That is less than the average life expectancy during the time of Christ, and about how long people could expect to live during the Dark Ages.  Even during the time of the Black Death, a person--assuming, of course, that he or she wasn't among the one in three who succumbed to the epidemic--could expect to live a couple of years longer than that.

And Dr. Balestra works closely with the transgender community in a country where, arguably, trans people have more rights and protections than in any other in the world!

When I think about it, I have difficulty rebutting her claim.  I know, personally, about two dozen people on the transgender spectrum, and have probably talked with about two hundred others, perhaps more.    Of the transgender people I know personally, about four or five are 30 or younger; the rest are 40 or older.  Of course, that last fact may simply be a result of being over 40 myself!  However, I can't help but to realize that all of the 30-or-older trans people I know--and, most likely, most of the ones I've met--began their transitions after that age.  In my experience, it's really unusual to meet a trans person around my age who started his or her transition thirty or even twenty years ago.  We are, as I said in yesterday's post, survivors of the Lost Generation of transgender people.  

So, while I know that today we have a more hospitable (though far from entirely hospitable) environment, I still worry sometimes about those young people who are making their transitions, and even having surgery, before their mid-20's.  While I am happy that they will be able to enjoy a youth in their true gender--an option too many friends and acquaintances, as well as I, didn't have--I still have to wonder just how long they'll live, and what their quality of life will be like. 

For all of the advances that have been made--at least in some parts of the US--to protect our rights and safety, a transgender person is still 16 times as likely as anyone else to be murdered.  One of us is also 20 times as likely to be assaulted.  Moreover, we have unemployment and poverty rates that are multiples of the ones suffered by any other group of people.  Even if you talk about the real, as opposed to the official, unemployment rates, we are three to four times as likely not to have paid work.  

And those of us who have employment, health insurance and safe housing are likely to have garnered those things before our transitions.  

Perhaps the clearest sign of progress we might see will be when we see gainfully employed, insured and well-housed trans people in their 30's and 40's who have attained those hallmarks of a stable life after, or not long before, beginning their transitions in their early-to-mid 20's, or even earlier. Until then, we will have a gap created by a lost generation of trans people. Having such a gap has devastated the African-American community for a long time, and could do something similar, if it hasn't already, to the trans community.


Freya said...

Excellent article, one of your best, please write more on this important topic of a lost generation of trans people.

Justine Valinotti said...

Thank you, Freya. More is indeed coming. My posts may be sporadic, as I want to take the time to treat this topic as it needs to be treated.