“Like last year, remember? Where I went to meetings while you played with all those kids and the fun camp counselors?”
“Yeah, they had good activities. I made a cool mask.”
“Well, we’re going again this year – next week. And your papa is coming, too.”*
The “gender conference” is Gender Odyssey, held annually in Seattle, and it is, well, a godsend for people like me and M. For one weekend each summer, families from around the country gather for discussions and seminars on, well, everything we face as parents of transgender kids: How to support our kids and keep them safe, how to cope with our own fears and our grief, how to deal with school districts and doctors and neighbors and family members who have no idea what “transgender” actually means. We learn a lot from the experts and from each other (I take a lot of notes), but it’s more than a time to gather information. It’s also a homecoming. It’s the only time, ever, that everyone else is just like us. This is a precious and rare feeling. I don’t know why that’s so important, that sense of belonging, but it is: Humans need a tribe, I guess. We’re social animals. For all the other days of the year, we are isolated, sprinkled fairly thinly throughout the towns and cities of this country, emailing each other, connecting through Facebook and listservs. But at the conference, we get to see each other face to face. We get to meet one another’s children. We hug and hug and hug. We cry quite a bit. We get angry. We find peace and hope. We can’t wait for next year.
M. was pretty oblivious to all this last year. I told her that the conference was “about gender,” but from her perspective, it was just a really fun summer camp full of kids who looked like all the other kids she knows. This year is different. She has a much clearer sense of herself as a certain kind of girl, as a girl who’s different from the other girls at school. She now knows what transgender is, and she knows that word refers to her.
“So, everyone at the conference is either transgender, or they have a family member who is transgender,” I tell her.
Her eyes get wide. She’s incredulous. “Really? Everybody?”
“Can we go right now?”
* I haven’t written much about M.’s dad in this blog. That’s because we’re divorced and I want to respect his privacy. But he’s a great dad and is extremely supportive of M. being who she needs to be.