Robina Asti, the trans trailblazer who soared high as a Second World War pilot and bravely fought for equality, dies aged 99

Josh Milton March 19, 2021
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Robina Asti smiles in a denim shirt as she sits on a chair

Robina Asti. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Robina Asti, the adventurous aviator who soared high as an esteemed Second World War test pilot and history-making trans woman, has died. She was aged 99.

Asti died peacefully in her sleep, her relatives confirmed to Out magazine, after a life of triumph over the odds.

She was a veteran. A tireless trans pioneer. A flight instructor. A “little jerk” (her words). A person willing to take on government agencies. A Guinness World record holder hopeful. A TedX speaker. And the founder of an LGBT+ outreach group.

To her family, she was “mum” and “grandmother”, a woman who “lived her life fully and in vivid colour”, her daughter, Coca Astey, told the publication.

“The kid from New York grew up to chase rainbows, hurricanes, and travel across purple mountains as an aviator. She worked with artists and political leaders and as an activist for the LGBT+ community.”

Robina Asti lived an incredible life of both literal and symbolic highs

Born in 1910, Robina Asti dedicated her life to rallying for those who feel invisible, a feeling she knew all too well.

Indeed, headwinds were not something she just weathered as she flew aircraft across Midway Island in the throes of the war, or piloted the Catalina PBY ‘flying boats’ as she scoped for Japanese warships.

Out of the cockpit, Asti grappled with feelings of gender dysphoria. She married, had kids, picked up a job in finance and lived the soapy suburban life in the 1970s.

Until the death of her nine-year-old son, that is. The tragic loss deeply rattled her, making her reflect on the life she had led and realising she has not lived it as her true self.

Asti divorced her wife of the time and came to remarry in 2004, she once told Out, recalling her first date with her husband.

Asti arrived at a bar ten minutes early – Norwood Patton was already there, eagerly looking out for her.

“After ordering two dirty martinis, he took my hands and held them in his and said: ‘Robina, I have never met a more special and loving person than you. Frankly, there is no other woman I would rather spend the rest of my life with than you. Please forgive me for being such a fool.'”

Patton passed away in 2012 aged 97. A heartbroken Asti was then forced to tee up her next fight against the Social Security Administration — she won.

The agency denied her widow welfare because she was not legally recognised as a woman, but, with her courageous spirit, she won the right to be recognised as a trans woman. It was a life-changing victory, emboldening her to finally live openly.

In her finals years, Asti sought to “grant the wishes” of her fellow queer seniors by fundraising for the Cloud Dancers Foundation – named after her time flying planes for the Navy during the war. It provides life-changing experiences while fighting for LGBT+ and civil rights, the foundation’s website states.

Asti was grounded for most of last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, hunkering down in California with her daughter.

Looking up at the skies each morning, Asti knew that, one day, she would be back among the clouds.

“I’m so lucky, I am still qualified to teach flying,” Astitold last year.

“I will be 101 when I have to do it again. Maybe then I’ll retire. Maybe. I’ll see how I feel.”

Her own age, 99, didn’t mean much to her.

“It’s a number that means 100 years ago, in 1921, some little jerk was born,” she joked. “And that’s me.

“I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is see out the window that it’s daylight, and I think: Hey, I survived the night. Isn’t that great? I got a day to look forward to.

“I don’t care what happens, I’m going to enjoy this day.”


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