by Q Wilson, Senior Program Associate | I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Gender Odyssey held annually in Seattle, Washing ton. Last year was my first time attending and I was inspired so much to continue doing the work I do. I have been an activist since I came out 20 years ago. The majority of my activism has centered on lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues. There were so few people in my sphere of influence, early on, that identified as trans…actually there was no one in my sphere of influence who identified as trans early on. I’m not quite sure when that changed in my world, but I am grateful that it did.
Identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual is hard enough in our culture. Identifying as transgender, in my opinion, can be an even tougher path to walk. There are some unique issues that come with identifying as a transgender person…from the bathroom issue to whether or not to go stealth*. Transgender people face possible physical violence from the general public, the possibility of being ostracized by members of their own community, and a greater possibility of being under-employed.
Gender Odyssey is an opportunity for members of the transgender/gender variant/gender non-conforming community and those who support them, to come together not just to support one another, but to learn what is being done to effect change for their community when it comes to issues like health care, employment, housing, and the law.
When I attended this event last year, I was profoundly moved by something I had not given much thought to before…transgender children and their parents. Gender Odyssey has a family track that is designed for these children, their parents, and children of transgender parents. They have a kid’s camp to provide activities for the kids when their parents attend workshops. It wasn’t until lunch time that I caught my first glimpse of the kids. There were children as young as five or six who were already socially transitioning**. They were having a great time just being kids. There were teenagers being aloof, some travelling in packs…giggling, flirting, and generally being teenagers. There were younger kids enjoying having their faces painted and deciding which balloon animal they wanted…like kids do. It dawned on me that these kids were typical in every way except that they were acutely aware that their assigned gender does not match the gender they felt internally. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what that must be like, to have that knowledge so young. Not only to have that knowledge, but to be confident in it. I also started to think of the parents. How challenging must it be to have a child who is transgender/gender variant/non-conforming? To be a parent who has to decide whether to let your child to start on hormone blockers as you grapple with an even bigger decision of if you’ll allow your child begin hormones to help their body come into alignment with who they are internally?
One of Gender Odyssey’s keynote speakers was Janet Mock. It was great to hear her share her story and her plans to continue being an active and visible part of the transgender community. Janet spends a lot of her time connecting with people via social media. You can see some of her conversations by following her on Twitter or by searching #girlslikeus on Twitter.
I also had the opportunity to chat with S. Bear Bergman about his two newly published children’s books, The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy and Backwards Day. These books are not a trans-narrative written as kids books. Both of these books are children’s books written for gender independent children. I picked up a copy of each book to add to our small, but growing library at Out & Equal.
I met Noem, a transgender person from the Netherlands who, until seven years ago after watching a television interview with Aidan Key and his wife Kristen, thought he was the only person like him anywhere. Noem set a goal for himself to find a way to make it to Gender Odyssey someday, and this year, with the help of his friends he did just that.
There are so many more things, big and small, for me personally that happened over the weekend that I could continue to write about, but I will stop for now. Gender Odyssey is a small, but amazing and necessary event. I am grateful that I had the opportunity again this year to work on the planning committee, and look forward to seeing what is on the horizon for Gender Odyssey next year.
*Going stealth means to live as a gender without other people realizing a person is transgender.
** Social transition: name change, wearing clothing seen as gender appropriate, disclosure to family, friends and usually at the workplace and school.