A bumpy ride to my own Barbary Lane


It comes to most working people, but I’d never really considered retirement. After all, as long as I was mobile, my brain still worked and I enjoyed what I was doing, so why would I want to retire? Unfortunately, my employer didn’t quite see it that way. Out of the blue I got a “position discontinuation” notice.

I’d been continuously employed for 48 years since college, and this left me totally devastated. For about a month, I was just numb. Eventually, I came to terms with it. While I was employed, I’d had an employer-sponsored health plan, which allowed me enormous latitude in choice of physicians and facilities. Now retired, my options were dramatically changed and, for an elder trans woman, that’s of enormous importance. I didn’t know what Medicare would or would not cover and this reduced me to a state of panic, as I’d been struggling for two years with a serious illness. A visit to the family physician, who had provided my primary care for the last 20 years, gave me the reassurance that, once I signed up for Medicare, most of my needs would be covered. She was able to recommend a supplementary plan that would cover the rest.

At this point, I still had no idea what my financial situation would be in the future. I regularly pass an SSA.gov (Social Security) billboard on I-95 that asks, “Are you one of the millions who’ve signed up for retirement online?” For me, the answer was a resounding NO! After a fruitless attempt to sort things out online, I tried the phone number they provided. In retrospect, I think that contacting Comcast to cancel cable service might be just marginally less time-consuming.

I made an appointment to visit my local (20 miles away) Social Security office. After four appointments, the last with an English/Chinese interpreter, I had gotten no further. In desperation, I called the lady who had been my HR representative while I was working. She suggested I just use a different Social Security office. I went to the University City location at 42nd and Market streets and after one 45-minute appointment, I walked out signed up for Medicare and retirement benefits, with details of what my income would be and a date for when the first payment would be made.

There’s a lesson in this for others.

For the previous 15 years, I’d lived in a small town outside of the city. I had socialized with colleagues from work and LGBT community friends in the city. Suddenly, I found myself in a situation where my budget would no longer cope with as many trips into the city and I began to feel increasingly isolated. The solution seemed logical. Move! But when I began to browse the ads on Craigslist, Back Page and in the South Philly Review and to talk to Realtors and others, it became obvious that, since I’d last considered relocating, rental costs had increased dramatically.

I began to explore other options but was unable to find something where I felt that I could be both safe and comfortable. This was extremely depressing and eventually a friend asked if I’d considered the John C. Anderson Apartments (JCAA). In truth, I hadn’t and, in fact, had been a little dismissive of it. The only time I’d ever been there had been on a wet, gray November day and it had seemed depressing. However, after having been invited to a couple of events and doing a book reading there, I developed friendships with a number of the residents and saw some of the apartments. I gradually warmed to the idea of living there. Eventually, I got around to applying and was over the moon when my application was accepted. I’m now excitedly planning my move.

A friend recently asked me what my first impressions were and my response was, “I can see similarities between the residents of JCAA and the residents of 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco,” as immortalized by Armistead Maupin in “Tales of the City.” “Well then,” she responded, “sounds like you’ll fit right in.”

You know, I think she’s right. I will!

Dawn Munro is a biologist who was born in the United Kingdom and worked in Europe and the United States. She has a long history of social activism and was active in the Gay Liberation Front. A resident of the John C. Anderson Apartments, she serves on the boards of the LGBT Elder Initiative and PFLAG. She’s grateful to the Big Bang for giving us Planet Earth and to Italy for giving us gelato.