At The Care Plan, we approach healthcare from a holistic and person-centered perspective. The factors that make up someone’s sense of health are many, from social connection to diet to living conditions and beyond—we each know our own bodies and needs best. I learned just how effective a person-centered care approach can be during the years I was a full-time caregiver for an older transgender man in my community. As I witnessed what it takes to access and balance multiple health factors when faced with the daunting task of navigating aging and illness, our intergenerational connection through the LGBTQ community became a source of mutual strength and healing.
In our current times, when a sense of social alienation is so common, connections across generations and outside of biological family can be hard to come across. It seems to me these intergenerational connections are the friendships that have the most potential to enrich our sense of self, history, and community, especially for those of us within marginalized communities.
Conor and I met when I was 23 and he was 47, though having both only come out as transgender a few years prior, we were in similar and also very different places in life.
Conor and I share a few unique life experiences: growing up as tomboys, spending time in lesbian communities, and coming out and living as trans men. We also come from very different socio-economic backgrounds, and have had different lives in many ways. It was both the differences and the commonalities between Connor and I that fueled a friendship across the twenty-four year age disparity, and that would lead us to become chosen family.
When Conor approached me to be his official caregiver I was honored and ready to step into the role. A lifetime of transphobic discrimination and mistreatment from authority figures, including medical institutions, had left Conor with complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). My role as a caregiver was often to act as the go-between or mediator with medical professionals. During the next five years, Conor experienced an unexpected barrage of health issues, including four major surgeries in two years, a misdiagnosis that resulted in a year of unnecessary chronic pain, and many episodes of PTSD. As a team of two, we quickly learned how to do our own research when diagnoses seemed inaccurate or contradictory, to charm doctors into releasing prescriptions in order to cut down on arduous trips to the medical center, and generally how to navigate our way through the predominantly cisgendered and heteronormative medical system as a unique care team of two transgender men.
This experience gave me a deep first hand insight into the value of peer-to-peer care. In moments where Conor felt challenged in explaining an aspect of his experience or body to a medical professional I was able to speak on his behalf, avoiding extra stress and PTSD triggers for him. While Conor was in chronic pain and on a waiting list for a hip replacement, I was able to provide him some pain relief through massage–I was the first person he had trusted to touch his body voluntarily in twenty years. Conor often spoke of the significance of our shared transgender experiences. We both felt that our shared identity and similar histories brought a higher level of trust and familiarity to the dynamic, which enhanced my ability to provide vital care.
I wouldn’t have the sense of self I do today, grounded in a bigger context and history than my own, without this experience of caring for a community member from an older generation. Officially speaking, I was the one providing care for Conor, but in reality, the flow of life-affirming insight, advice, emotional support, sharing and love has always been cyclical, benefiting me as well. This is where we found sustainability, which is the key to healthy caregiving, and healthy community.
As we face a time where human connection seems both harder to access and more urgent, and under a federal government that shows less and less concern for the health or well-being of its people (let alone the people in the margins), it is essential that we nurture healthy communities. Intergenerational care occurs in many different ways, but always has within it the potential to not only provide support for one person, but to strengthen entire communities.
Please contact us to learn more about the intergenerational work we do at The Care Plan. 877-6WE-PLAN