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When the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis support to LGBTQ+ youth, asked young people what brings them joy, some of their answers included “Happy LGBT Elders,” “Queer role models” and “Learning I’m not alone." A number of proposed anti-LGTBQ bills has many younger queer people on edge, and we hope to highlight individuals they can look up to and see themselves becoming in this occasional series.

TransNetwork's co-founders reflect on what it means to be a 'Queer Elder'

Two men sit side by side on a brown couch. They're both wearing purple shirts that say "cisn't" repeating across them.
Daylina Miller
Andy Citino and Tristan Byrnes are the co-founders of TransNetwork,a grassroots organization in the Tampa Bay region that seeks to build alliances and partnerships, and organize a network of resources to help support, empower and care for the trans and gender expansive community.

TransNetwork is a Tampa Bay area organization that is building community for transgender and gender expansive people, and educating allies on how they can help support them.

When the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis support to LGBTQ+ youth, asked young people in 2022 what brings them joy, some of their answers included “Happy LGBT Elders,” “Queer role models” and “Learning I’m not alone."

WUSF's Daylina Miller spoke with TransNetwork's Andy Citino and Tristan Byrnes about the importance of queer elders, and what they hope to share with the youth.

Daylina Miller: What does it mean to be a queer elder? And why is it important for the younger folks in the community to have those elders?

Andy Citino: "We come from a time when, let's say there was a performer that's transgender ... would not own their transness on stage, would call themselves a man in a dress as to not lose any of that privilege. And it's just been over like 10 years that that shift has changed. And now they're owning their transness. These people with microphones that have those voices are owning it.

So, recently, a lot of the young people want to talk to us want to sit down and be like, 'Oh, my God, I've been waiting to talk to someone that's older and that's done this.' And that's exciting. And they want advice. They want to know what it was like then versus how it is now. And now they get to see their reflection pretty much everywhere.

Ironically, that's how I transitioned, was because there was a documentary on Logo 22 years ago with a trans man. Had I not seen that trans man ... he's the one that I was like, 'Oh, my God, I'm a dude.' That's how I knew who I was. I knew something was wrong. But I didn't know what. And so seeing my reflection saved my life. And so I felt very strongly in paying that forward, in being very, very visible, and very vocal."

Tristan Byrnes: "Yeah, I think being a trans elder is about our history, is about knowing kind of where we came from. And there is taking what we knew back then, and how we made it through and being able to talk to the younger people today struggling with the slate of hate to be like, 'Listen, this is where I'm at, this is how I got to where I am.'

Was it harder then? I don't know, to be honest. And it's being able to sit down with those young people and have that conversation. And as Andy said, it has come up in a lot of our discussion series and a lot of people coming to TransNetwork even saying, 'I just want to meet someone who's gone through this. I want to have that conversation. I want to know I'll be okay. I want to know how they survived it. I want to know that I'll be okay because they're okay.'"

Miller: What words of wisdom and what advice do you have for younger queer and LGBTQ plus, folks?

Citino: "When coming out and being new, and being queer, nonbinary, trans ... we know the difference between being disrespected, and a mishap with a pronoun or a deadname. I wasted too many years feeling angry and disrespected by my parents just because they couldn't get the pronoun right. They weren't being disrespectful. They supported me in every single way. And I wasted a lot of time being angry at them, when really they're transitioning, too. And that is so important to give your family the time and some leeway."

Byrnes: "When you're freaking out in your head, take that deep breath and remind yourself that you're doing this for you. Not for society, not for anyone else. It doesn't matter if someone gets your pronouns wrong in the grand scheme of life. Yes, there's a respect thing, but you're really doing this for yourself. And if you can look in the mirror and like what you see in the mirror, that's the number one piece of the puzzle. And just focus more on what you're getting out of it, versus what everybody else is doing, saying, or otherwise because that's what matters."

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.