When Brett, a 69-year-old man from St. Paul, Minnesota, went to visit his dying mother in a nursing home a few years ago, he began to worry in earnest about his later years.
“I’ve been in institutions most of my life,” says Brett (his last name has been withheld to protect his privacy), who spent his teenage years in a series of foster homes and juvenile detention centers, estranged from his family. “It never scared me. But I won’t get to be in a nursing home like my mom was.” His own experience, he fears, will be much different.
Brett, who is transgender, has a full beard, a low speaking voice, and has had his breasts removed. But he never had sex-reassignment surgery, meaning that his transgender status would quickly become obvious to a nursing-home aide charged with bathing or dressing him. Like many transgender seniors, he worries what this will mean for him once he enters a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
Currently, there are more than 1.5 million LGBT people over 65 in the U.S., a number expected to double over the next 15 years as the population ages. But precise statistics on older transgender adults—or, for that matter, transgender people of any age—are hard to come by. One 2011 study using health-survey data estimated that the country’s transgender population was around 700,000; this past May, the Census Bureau published a study that analyzed the number of “likely transgender individuals” based on the people who had changed their name (around 90,000) or sex (around 22,000) with the Social Security Administration.