When Robina Asti opened the door of her apartment in New York City to me for the first time, I was shocked by her smallness. Her white hair was curled up in a hairpin, and turquoise earrings hung over her slightly slanted shoulders.
When she walked into the living room of the Upper East Side apartment, her slippers made a soft sound on the wooden floor. The living room was filled with art works of her late husband, including her portrait by the airport runway-this was for her For flying airplanes, even at the age of 92. In another corner, the computer screen displays the stock price she is following, which is a relic of her life as a trader.
“So, what do you want to know about me?” She asked with the swagger and unique accent of a rare bird of New York native. This is my first clue that her petite body contains an extraordinary personality.
The second time was when she talked about some of the places she took her to during her nine decades on Earth: the Pacific Theater as the commander of the U.S. Navy during World War II, as the vice president of a major mutual fund and behind the scenes In the early days of women, a cosmetics counter in a department store.
But so far, her favorite place is flying thousands of feet above the Hudson River as a flight instructor. Although she is old, she still indulges in this pastime most weekends.
I first met Robina in February 2014, when I was working as a reporter for Al Jazeera TV. I heard that she was competing with the US Social Security Administration for the benefits of a widow as a transgender woman, and came to interview her. When she was sitting on an antique red sofa embroidered with flowers, she picked up a photo of her late husband Norwood Patton when she was young, and handed it to me with a cheeky smile.
“I’m sure that when he was young, women would chase him frantically!” She smiled. “I’m very satisfied with him. I like that man.”
Robina’s love for Norwood is at the core of her struggle with the US government. The couple fell in love in the early 1980s and spent decades together before getting married in 2004. After Norwood’s death at the age of 97 in 2012, Robina applied for the benefits she deserved as Norwood’s widow.
One year later, the government did not respond. Then, instead of receiving a check, she received a letter in 2013 stating that her application was rejected because she was a “legal male” at the time of the marriage. All of her documents—including her Veterans Affairs Card, pilot’s license and driver’s license—show that she is a woman. Robina was provoked.
“I live my life as a woman,” she told me. “I am a woman.”
Before that, she didn’t talk too much about the transformation she experienced in 1976, “the prejudice was many times bigger than it is today.” But the refusal of welfare ignited her heart, and she contacted Lambda Legal, a non-profit organization dedicated to LGBTQ rights, for help. The group fought for Robina and won, and she received the social security benefits owed to her in February 2014.
“I checked my account on Valentine’s Day, and there was a lot of money in it, and I said,’Thank you, Norwood!’ This is a gift he gave me-and it was on Valentine’s Day, because he is that kind People,” she said. “In our lives together, he came forward and there was always a little spark.”
Until then, Robina’s life has been peaceful. She was born in New York City on April 7, 1921, and boasted that she grew up in Greenwich Village, which was still lit by a gas lamp. She left high school at the age of 17 to join the Navy and became a test pilot during World War II.
Few people outside her circle knew of her transformation, and to the people in the apartment building that she had called home since 1965, she was just a sweet little old lady who smiled happily.
But talking publicly about her struggle with the Social Security Administration changed Robina. She realized that she has something very important to share with LGBTQ people, who are trying to find recognition in the world: to prove that things will get better over time. She began to parade in the New York City Pride Parade, give A Ted speech in 2016 and became a voice advocate for LGBTQ rights in his 90s.
research shows, Suicide rate The proportion of transgender people is higher than that of the general population. Robina tells the young man that life is worthwhile and she is credible-she has been recognized by her friends and mother, and she was initially confused and frustrated with her decision. And she also experienced what it’s like to survive in the depths of despair – and made the choice to move on.
Robina’s decision to transition was made after her son Pepe died in a snowmobile accident in Utah in 1972, when he was only 8 years old. He died in the arms of his 12-year-old sister Coca, and Robina and her wife Eva were devastated.
“When my child died, I felt that I couldn’t use this as an excuse to end my life, but I couldn’t find any reason to prove that I was alive,” Robina said. “I finally thought of the idea of ??changing my life and becoming a woman.”
For the next three years, Robina started dressing up as a woman at night after returning home from her job as vice president of mutual funds.
“I will drive there to work as a man, and then I will go home at night, and I will be a woman,” she said. She said it felt like “tearing myself.”
Robina aspires to live a fulfilling life as a woman, but the decision to change is not just an emotional and physical decision; it also means leaving her lucrative financial job, which was not a job in the United States in the 1970s. Not held by women or transgender people.
“Because my salary for wearing that suit is pretty good, I’m not necessarily ready to give it up,” she said. “I need money, I want to raise a child and so on. But in the end, I just said,’I have had enough. I can’t do this anymore, I must change. So I quit and I became a woman.”
When she told Eva of her transition decision, “Of course she was shocked, but she acquiesced,” Robina said. Eva wants to have another child before Robina transitions. In 1976, they had a second daughter, Eamonn, and they separated.
Robina said that Eva “helped me, in fact, she became my role model.” The couple divorced in the mid-1980s but were still friends, and Eva, Coca, and Eamon moved to Florida.
This allowed Robina to start “another great adventure” alone in New York City. She lived alone in an apartment a block away from Donghe, doing jobs that women could do at the time: cleaning the house, selling cosmetics at Bloomingdale’s, typist, cutting hair, “all these she explained, women are doing rough jobs.
This is a far cry from her important work in mutual funds, but “I learned a lot. When you go out to work, you have to work harder, and then learn how to work hard,” she said. She often listens to friends playing the piano in a nearby bar at night. There, a man caught her attention.
“One night, this man walked into the bar, dressed well, he was Norwood,” she said of their meeting. “He said he has… [an art] The studio is on the street. We talked a few words and became very friendly. We went out for a few simple dates and I started to like him. “
But Robina struggled with how to tell Norwood about her transformation.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a success or failure for me-either I told him he left, or I told him he stayed,” she said. “But he was very frustrated because he never thought such a thing would happen. So I said good night, I said goodbye, I think I will never see him again.”
“Within a week, he came back to me and said,’Robina, I love you. I don’t care. You are a woman, I never treat you as anything else, and I will never treat you as anyone else. .'”
The couple spent the next three years together. Along the way, Robina was recognized by her mother and Coca. She was only 16 years old at the time of the transition and fought against it. This is different from Eamonn, who has always regarded Robina as a woman since she was a baby. It is this acceptance that makes Robina feel comfortable telling young LGBTQ people that things will get better-because she herself has walked that way.
“Don’t lose patience, no matter what they do.” If they kick you out of the house or kick you out forcibly, go-but don’t close the door,” she said. “Send a birthday card to your mom and a card to your dad. Remember Christmas and New Year. . If you are Jewish, please remember Jewish holidays. And even if you know they threw it away or they sent it back to you, they know you sent them a card. “
Robina also began to enjoy parade in New York City’s grand and vibrant Pride Parade, which included lawyer Dru Levasseur who helped her fight for the welfare of the widow and become a friend. Seeing her beloved city alive in music and dance, and celebrating everyone’s right to love the person of their choice brought great joy to Robina.
Robina and I have been in contact for many years, and I have the opportunity to interview her again to learn about her extraordinary life. In 2017, during one of our visits to her Upper East Side apartment, I confided to her that I wanted to be a parent. She smiled and looked into my eyes and said, “This is the most beautiful and terrifying experience you can have, once, all the time.” She was right.
During the pandemic, Robina moved to California to live with Coca, reading, laughing, practicing yoga and reflecting.She certainly did not spend all of her time on the ground: in July 2020, she put There are two world records for the oldest flight instructor and the oldest active pilot.
As her legacy project, Robina launched the Cloud Dancers Foundation with her grandson in 2019. Together, they set an ambitious goal of raising US$100,000 to realize the aspirations of LGBTQ seniors. “I realize how invisible I am,” she said of getting old. “The recognition of me as me has been lost.” She hopes to give others who have experienced so much harm and adversity in their lives an experience of celebrating who they are.
So far, the foundation has raised $10,000 and realized two wishes: one is to allow the 80-year-old to complete the operation related to his transition, and the other is to provide transcription services for the 57-year-old who is writing a story . Transgender elderly.
Last time we talked, Robina told me that she was looking forward to returning to New York City to meet my son. She called him “a new friend who is 97 years younger.”
Robina died in her sleep on March 12, 2021, less than a month after her 100th birthday. Whenever I run along the waterfront in the morning and see a small plane buzzing over the Hudson River, I stop to think about Robina and her advice to me: “Go live and enjoy it. If We look at it in the right way, then all life will be full of fun.” Through her extraordinary life, she has taught many of us the joy of living as a true, true self-even if it takes decades to achieve.