‘Transgender lives may require mixed strategies—not only healing and an achieved coherence but also the ability to represent and to inhabit temporal, gendered, and conceptual discontinuities.’
– Kadji Amin
I’ve recently had a chapter published in a new book about LGBT ageing: Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People: Minding the Knowledge Gaps, edited by Andrew King, Kathryn Almack, Yiu-Tung Suen and Sue Westwood. My essay is titled Trans Temporalities and Non-Linear Ageing.
This blog post includes an extract from the introduction to the chapter (updated slightly to reflect my advanced age from the time of writing – what temporal webs we academics weave), along a link at the end where you can download and read a free version of the entire essay.
At the time of writing, I am 12 years old, 16 years old, and 32 years old.
I was born 30 years ago; in chronological terms, I have lived for 32 years. Chronological time is, however, just one means by which ageing might be understood (Baars, 1997). When we talk about age in terms of chronological time, we make a number of assumptions. Most importantly, we assume that our journey through the life course is linear, progressing from birth (at the beginning of the journey) to death (at the end). But my age can also be understood in terms of trans time. As a trans woman, I have experienced non-linear temporalities of disruption, disjuncture, and discontinuity.
By temporality, I refer to ‘the social patterning of experiences and understandings of time’ (Amin, 2014: 219, emphasis mine). Through conceptualising time as a social phenomenon, we might think about other beginnings and other ends, as well as wider temporal shifts and discontinuities across the lifecourse. It is not unusual for trans people do this: for example, through talking about age in terms of trans years in addition to years since birth. What if we were to regarding my coming out at the age of 16 as a beginning (and, for that matter, as an end to my ‘previous’ life)? In this case, I might say that I am 16 years old in trans years. This does not, of course, change my chronological age: I am both 16 and 32. Or, we might regard my commencement of hormone therapy as a beginning, in which case I am 12 (but also 16 and 32, still).
Importantly, trans years are not necessarily linked to chronological years. For instance, two different trans people who are both aged 80 in chronological years might have aged quite differently in trans years: perhaps one of them came out many decades ago, while the other has only been out for a couple of years. These individuals are likely to have had vastly different trans temporal experiences, which belie their apparently similar chronological age.
In this chapter I explore the consequences of trans temporalities for ageing. Non-linear ageing is not simply a matter of theory, but an approach which can enable us to ‘do justice to the complex ways in which people inhabit gender variance’ (Amin, 2014: 219). As Louis Bailey, Jay McNeil and Sonja J Ellis note in chapter 4 of Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People, ‘Mental Health and Well-Being amongst Older Trans People’, trans people tend to face a range of specific challenges as they age, and may fear accessing mainstream forms of care, such as mental health services. It is therefore vital that academics and service providers alike understand how temporal phenomena such as trans years can shape trans identities and experiences.
I begin by outlining theories of queer and trans temporality that help to make sense of community terminology such as ‘trans years’. I then show how trans people may experience ageing in a variety of quite different ways, drawing on a range of literature as well as findings from two qualitative research projects. Finally, I detail two common features of non-linear trans ageing:anticipation, and delayed adolescence. These discussions draw primarily on evidence, issues and challenges that have been identified in Western European and North American research.
This is an open-access version of my book chapter – you are welcome to read and share it freely. However, if you are a student or academic, please do cite the published version of the essay, and encourage your library to purchase a copy of the book if they have not already done so.
For further reading, I recommend Trans Temporalities, a 2017 special issue of the journal Somatechnics. You can also read more from me on the topic in Chapter 5 of my book, Understanding Trans Health.