“What Was It Like? Stories by LGBTQ Elders” is a new program by I’m From Driftwood, in partnership with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults. Learn more about the program here.
All 6 Video Stories and transcripts from Cecilia can be seen below.
“It Doesn’t Matter What You Think. You Go To The Boy’s Bathroom.”
The life expectancy of a trans woman of color, actually I think it’s like a trans person, but I identify as a trans woman of color I like to say, the life expectancy of a trans woman of color is in between 32 and 35 years old. So I am 44 so I already stole like 9 years from life and that’s why I identify as a transgender elder and I am very proud and okay with being called, calling myself an elder.
I don’t remember exactly if it was Kindergarten or 1st grade, but around that time it seems like I was going to the girl’s bathroom all the time, and somebody noticed that. So one day, I needed to pee and I went to the bathroom. And the girls didn’t say anything, really. But it was like a teacher’s thing, so my teacher followed me when I went to the bathroom and she went after me to the bathroom and she grabbed me out of the bathroom and said, “No, you can’t come to this bathroom. You have to go to the boy’s bathroom.”
And I didn’t understand, I thought she was crazy. I was like, “Why is she saying this?” Right? So the day after when I got to school, I went to my classroom and they told me not to go to class, to go to the principal’s office. I got into a room that was mostly wood, and libraries on both sides, and there was the principal next to me, there was my teacher, and next to him there was my mom, and next to them was what I learned after that they were psychologists and psychiatrists.
They explained to me that I was using the girl’s bathroom and that wasn’t right, that I wasn’t supposed to do that. And I was like, “Why?”
So they started opening these pictures of human bodies and then all the pictures of closer to what it was, like a penis. And another one was a vagina. And they explained to me that boys have penises and girls have vaginas. And they asked me what I had and I said, “Well, it looks closer to that one.”
And they said, “Yes! That is a penis. And that makes you a boy. And that’s why you have to go to the boy’s bathroom.”
And I go like, “But I don’t think that’s right.”
And they go, “It doesn’t matter what you think. You have a penis, you go to the boy’s bathroom.”
And it was shocking to me, like I didn’t understand what was going on. And it was, an understanding of all these rules I had to follow and I said, “Okay, if that’s what you need me to do, I will use the boy’s bathroom.”
So from that point on, I started going to the boy’s bathroom, or restroom. The thing is that, I was very feminine. All the boys used to taunt me and to make fun of me. And the restroom is the place to do all those things, right? It was fun and funny to go to the boy’s bathroom knowing that it wasn’t right, and it was awful at the same time.
“I Am A UFO Child That Was Left Here By Mistake.”
I’m from a really small town in Argentina, called Galvez and sometimes we would travel to my grandma’s house which was in an even smaller town called San Martin de Las Escobas. So when I was about 5, 6, 7 years old, that area where I am from was known for having some UFO activities. And I was kind of obsessed with the topic. I felt like it was so cool to have people from other planets come to see us. So one time we were driving to my grandma’s house and we were driving, it was night, and when, in the moment we were crossing a railroad and my brother told me, “I have something to tell you.”
And I said, “What happened?”
He said, “You can’t say anything to Mom because she doesn’t like to talk about this.”
I’m like, “What is going on?”
He said, “You promise it’s going to be a secret?”
I said, “Yeah, I won’t tell Mom anything.”
So he told me, “Did you see those railroads we just crossed?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Well, that’s where we found you.”
I’m like, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Yeah, like 5 years ago, we were crossing the railroad when we were going to Grandma’s and we looked on the side of the railroad and you were there. We saw you. And we stopped and Mommy took you with us.”
And I’m like, “How is that possible?”
And he said, “But you can’t tell Mom.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, what do you mean?”
He said, “Yes, you are not part of our family, we found you.”
And I’m like, “Oh my God.”
I had all these feelings of thinking that I was a girl, knowing that I was a girl and everybody telling me that I wasn’t. And this area is infested, in my head, it’s infested with UFOs and my brother tells me that I was found in the railroad there. And I put two and two together and I felt like, that’s it. I’m from another planet.
I couldn’t tell my mom anything but I felt that I could talk to my grandma about this. My grandma was pretty awesome. So I went and said, “Grandma, I know what’s wrong with me.”
She said, “What’s wrong with you?”
And I’m like, “Claudio just told me that they found me on the railroad. This area is full of UFOs and you know…I am weird. So I know what happened. I am a UFO child that was left here by mistake.”
And she looked at me and said, “Well, maybe you are. But you know now, you are part of our family. What your brother told you, it’s not true. You are part of our family. You are our family. And I don’t know, because I didn’t see you come out of your mom, so I don’t know if you are, your mom had you or not, so maybe you are a UFO, but you live with us now. And that’s what it is and that’s what you have. And we are your family. And I love you. And I’m happy that you are part of our family. And if you think that you are a UFO that was left here by a mistake, let’s make the best out of that and find your happiness.”
And that somehow formed me to add some fantasy to my life and to make it more livable. It kind of helped me to find an idea of happiness that sometimes is not a reality, it’s just an idea. But that helped me a lot to live my life.
The “Boy” With The Bow.
When I started high school, I was about 12 or 13 I think, they gave us these uniform guidelines. So you have to wear grey pants, you have to wear a white shirt, you have to wear black shoes. You have to wear a tie, like a blue tie. And I’m like, “Oh, God. I just don’t feel comfortable with the tie. I can deal with everything else but the tie is a problem.”
My grandmother played a big part of my development as who I am today. So they got me everything, the white shirt, the grey pants. She took the time to kind of sew them in so they were kind of like tight so they look more feminine. And I loved it. And then the problem was the tie. So she tried the tie on me and she told me how to make a tie, the how do you call that, the knot. So she taught me and I looked at myself in the mirror and was like, that’s not, no. So she went through the guidelines and then she said, “Wait a minute. Here it says that you have to wear a tie, but it doesn’t say that you have to wear the tie in your collar. What about if we make it a bow, right? And we put it on your hair?”
And I’m like, “Oh my God, that would be so cool!”
So she made a bow and sewed it in and everything and put it on my hair with a clip and she sent me to school with a bow. And when I got to school the teacher was like, “What’s going on? What’s…what’s going on with that thing on your head?”
And I’m like, “It’s a tie.”
She’s like, “But ties are supposed to be worn in your neck.”
And I’m like, “Well, the guidelines doesn’t say that, it only says that I have to wear a tie.”
So they call my grandmother and she fought. She said, “No. If you want the child to wear the tie, you have to change the whole guidelines.”
And they weren’t going to do that because it was a lot of work. So for a long time, they let me wear a bow in my hair. And that’s how I went to school. That’s how I started high school.
So because of that look, it was very hard. High school was hard. People didn’t understand this “boy with the bow” but it was okay. My grandma said that I looked beautiful.
My grandmother was very clear with, when she would support me with all these things, like wearing a bow in my hair, or things like that, she was very supportive but at the same time she was very clear that these may be a problem with people. So she was always very much into like, “You have a decision to make. I can solve these tie problems by making it a bow. But that is going to come with certain consequences. Do you think…what do you prefer? Do you prefer to wear a tie in your shirt and everything will be okay? Or you really want the bow, and face the hardship of what comes with it?”
So she kind of put those choices in there and I chose. And that’s important though. That was important for me.
“The Place That Talks Volumes About You Is New York.”
When I was in high school, it was a project. A school project. I think I was 13, 14, I’m not really sure which year it was, but it was a school project where you had to choose a place in the world and do something about it. So these kids would choose India and they did this Indian dance. Some other people chose Germany and they made strudel with the recipe. And nobody wanted to work with me because I was very weird. So somehow I had to do, they were all groups, and me, by myself. Which I was really okay with it because I thought it was pretty lame and I didn’t want to be a part of those lame projects. So I go to my grandmother and she said, “Well, I think the place that kind of like talks volumes about you is New York.”
At the time, it was this Nina Hagan song called “New York.” And I thought that was amazing because it was like, not like the most normal song that you hear, it was kind of like, very weird. She would sing, “New York, New York!” And I thought it was amazing. So she said, “You should do a show with that song.”
I thought about, “What am I going to do about my looks?”
She was like, “Don’t worry. I’m going to work on this.”
So she said, “Your Aunt Maria has wigs. In a drawer.”
She explained to me where the wigs were. She said, “She has wigs. I know that she has an appointment next week to the doctor’s. You have to find out what time the appointment is and we’re going to go and we’re going to steal her wig.”
At 9:30 we see her leaving so we go and we go into this box, like huge box, and we open and all these wigs were there. She said, “No time to try it on. Choose the one that you want and we’ll make it work.”
So I grab the blonde wig and we go to my house and she said, “Okay, let’s try it on.”
So I put the blonde wig on and it was kind of like this and it was to here and I look at myself and I know, I’m like, “Oh my God, this is how I want to look.”
And she said, “Okay, you’re going to look like that for one night. So are you ready to do this?”
I was like, “Yes, perfect.”
She took these pink-ish sweatpants and she said, “Pull them up!”
So I pulled them up to here, so she said, “I’m going to sew them in all around, like very tight. And we’re going to make a catsuit for you.”
So that’s what she did. She went to her machine and sewed it in so I put it up, it was hard to pull it up, I put it up to here, and she said, “So from here, what I’m going to do, I’m going to sew this bra that I have” so that it was kind of like a stiff bra. So she sewed the bra so it was like a catsuit, right? So she took all her jewelry and started sewing earrings in an even way so it was earring, earring, earring, earring, earring, earring. And then she sewed all these necklaces from here so I had all this movement.
I had this new catsuit. She said, “We don’t have shoes because your feet are too small so you’re going to have to pretend that you’re in high heels.”
So the whole show has to be in tiptoes, you’ll have to be tiptoeing because we don’t have shoes. I said, “Okay, no problem.”
“Something is missing,” she said.
I was like, “What?”
“I don’t know. It needs some kind of effect.”
My grandmother took this red satin sheet and she said, “I’m going to make you a cape with this.”
So she sewed it somehow and she made this cape that was like this, so I was like, I had my cape and we rehearse. And the day I went to the school and we got ready in one of the classrooms. And she put some makeup on, helped me with some makeup, and she said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
And I was like, “Yeah.”
She was like, “Okay, but maybe people won’t understand it very well.”
I was like, “Who cares?”
She was like, “Yeah, who cares? Just go and do it.”
So I came out with the Nina Hagan New York song and I did my show, “New York, New York! New York, New York!”
And in the moment, I look at the public and everybody was like, “What is going on? And I was looking at everybody and everybody was like this, and there was my grandma like, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”
She was so happy and clapping. My grandmother told me, “Don’t worry about them, who cares? They don’t know anything. They made strudels, come on. You were the best, that was the most creative and everything. So who cares about what they said, whatever. Don’t pay attention to that. Because I’m pretty sure this is a show today, but someday you will be living in New York. And that, I know, is going to be the place for you.”
So somehow when I came to New York it was kind of like a realization of all the influence that my grandmother had in my life. And it was magical to talk to her when I came to New York. “Hey Grandma, guess where I am? I’m in New York.”
She was like, “Duh.”
Coming Out As Gay, Then Trans, Then A Lesbian.
So I came out as gay around when I was around 12 years old. It was around the time that democracy came to Argentina, when the dictatorship went down and we chose a president and people started talking about alternative lifestyles. I told my mother that I was gay and that I like boys. And she had a real hard time with it, even though we were transitioning to a democracy. The way of thinking of people was still stuck in a dictatorship. So I don’t think she really had a problem with me coming out as gay, she had a problem with the idea that that involves. It involves the idea of having your child being different and how the system and society was going to take me. It took her like a couple of weeks, like we didn’t even talk and she was crying all the time. She was crying. But again, I think it wasn’t because of what it involved with that coming out moment.
Then when I was 17, I finished high school and I went to the big city of Rosario. I’m from Galvez which is a very small city in the middle of Argentina, so I went to a university there and I started going to school and that’s when I met the first trans person that I ever met, another trans woman. She was and still is gorgeous. And she kind of like embodied everything that I wanted to be, when it comes to looks. So I met her and I also found out that I wasn’t crazy. That being trans was an actual thing so everything made sense, all these feelings that I had in those 17 years kind of made sense all of a sudden. All these people like me, I can be this thing, right? That we call “trans.”
So it was more of a realization for me. So I came out to my mom as trans. And she was kind of like, “What do you mean? What is this?”
And I’m like, “Why are you freaking out? We had a meeting when I was 5 years old in school where they explained to me that I couldn’t use the girl’s bathroom. Doesn’t this make sense to you? Like, you know, I had always dressed in a certain way. Doesn’t this kind of coming out as trans make sense to you?”
She was like, “Yeah, it kind of does.”
So I came out as trans and she didn’t have any problem with that. She was okay with that.
And when I moved to New York, one of the first people I met was Nina, my very good friend Nina. But at the time, she became my girlfriend. And I realized that I wasn’t just into boys, that I was into people that I like. We were in a relationship for a couple of years. So I call my mom and I said, “Mom! I found love in New York! I’m in a relationship.”
She’s like, “Yay, oh my God, I’m so excited for you! Who is he?”
And I’m like, “Well, it’s not…a he. It’s actually a she.”
And she said like, “What do you mean? Wait. Wait a minute,” she said, “I had a son that was gay, became a woman, and now is a lesbian?”
I’m like, “Yeah, kind of like that.”
She was like, “I think you just like to piss me off. When I find a place that I’m okay with you, you just have to find something else to confuse me. I don’t understand. I don’t want to talk to you anymore, here’s your grandmother, talk to her.”
And I talked to my grandmother and I said, “Grandma, I found love in New York and I met Nina and she’s my girlfriend.”
And she said, “I knew that New York was going to be the place for you, I’m so happy for you. Can I see her? Can you send me a picture of her?”
For my mom, the problem was always people around her. I think in her mind was like, “How am I going to explain this to my friends?”
But at the time I think she was much more confident with everything and it was easier for her. But it was still problematic. But for my grandmother it was like, “Oh, okay.”
After Drugs, Sex Work, and Jail, “I Came To Have A Normal, Kind Of Boring Life.”
When I was 17, 18 years old, I finished high school and I left that small city that I’m from in Argentina called Galvez to go to college at the University of Rosario, which is in Rosario, to the big city. It’s not the biggest city in Argentina but it’s a big city. So I came to know the big city lifestyle. And I also came to know the first trans person that I ever met and she was a beautiful trans woman that kind of embodied everything that I wanted to be. And the way I wanted to look like. And she’s still a beautiful woman. So I met her and it was like, ahhh, I am not crazy. It is other people like me. And she was very receptive and helped me a lot.
So at the time it was certain ways of living as a trans woman. There wasn’t an idea of like a trans woman going to school or a trans woman being a lawyer or a trans woman being a teacher. And she was very clear. She told me, “Most likely this is how your life is going to be: You are going to be a whore. You are going to do drugs. And you are going to die young.”
Because that’s the way every other trans woman that we met at the time was living, by doing sex work and getting high and we really didn’t have many people that live long lives.
She was very clear about it and still didn’t seem like the perfect picture, but that was what I wanted. And I was like, “Okay, yeah, that’s what I’m going to do, I’m okay with that.”
And that’s what I did. I did sex work for many, many years. And for a long time I said that that was my choice, that I did sex work because I chose to, but now I kind of think that when you talk about choices, it’s like you have two. And you choose one. But I like to say that I, even if it was my only choice, I was okay with doing sex work and I believe that sex work is work, so I don’t want to sound like I am against sex work. Sex work is work. It wasn’t a choice for me to do. And I did drugs for many, many years and because of that, I got arrested many times and I ended up in Rikers Island in prison and in jail and after that, I was sent to Immigration Detention because I didn’t have a legal status so I was in Deportation Detention and they let me out with an ankle bracelet and with an ankle bracelet, I went to seek recovery. So I went to a long-term treatment for 17 months.
During those 17 months, I was able to get asylum in this country which was a wonderful thing for me. And during that process, I also got an internship at the LGBT Center where I started offering services to other trans people and that I found my passion to help other people. And that is when, you know, life started changing because I had possibilities when it comes to work and what I wanted to do with my life.
I do not do sex work anymore now, because I had a choice, right? It was like, you know, life changes and I have other choices so I chose not to do sex work anymore and I also am in recovery. I’ve been in recovery for six years and I don’t do drugs nowadays today. I’m not doing drugs for today. And I haven’t done any for six years. And I really do have plans to live a long life.
Somehow I do want, I came to have a very normal, kind of boring life. And I work 8 hours at a nonprofit and I come back home and I make dinner for me and my partner and I have a partner. I have a freaking 401(k). I never thought I would have a 401(k). I didn’t know what a 401(k) was. So you know I’m kind of like, have a very normal, American life and I plan for a future and things like that. And I never thought that was something that I could have. And you know, it was hard to adapt to this new kind of idea of what normality is. I never thought that I’d live to my age, which today is 44. So I didn’t care about a future or having a job or things like that. But I am pretty much enjoying my life now. It’s kind of boring, though. I’m thinking about having a cat or a dog. I never thought I’d do those things, but I am doing them now and I’m happy I am.
We say that the life expectancy of a trans person, a trans woman of color in my case, is about 32-35 years old, I exceeded the time for about 10 years. And that’s why I don’t have a problem with the elder category. I’m very proud and happy that I made it to this age, and if that somehow translates to being an elder, so be it. I’m an elder. Yay!