Last weekend I volunteered the Gender Spectrum Conference in Berkeley, CA. It was very intense and lots of hard work, and I’ve been carrying the fatigue throughout this week. But I’m incredibly thankful to have been a part of such a wonderful endeavor.
As a quick summary, here’s what I spent the weekend doing:
- Greeting people, while directing them to obscure buildings on the other side of the hotel, while looking smart and friendly.
- Workshopping with tweens in the art room (but don’t call them tweens!) and letting them know that yes, of course they’re allowed to color outside the lines!
- Getting serendipitously invited to present at the teen panel, despite clarification that, at 25, I am far from qualifying as a “teen.”
- Getting barraged by parents after the panel with questions and thanks.
- Coaxing the girlfriend to come on Sunday, in order to exhaust ourselves by helping the littler kids launch home-made rockets.
- Turning down yet another offer for a sandwich, but sneaking in that extra cookie – they make sure you are well fed!
- Meeting a slew of different people, each with their own story and journey.
- As luck would have it, I was interviewed by two television series, and when I have more information we’ll all be able to relish on what I actually said (because by now I don’t remember, thank goodness).
- Talking to parents. Talking to kids. Talking to other volunteers. Talking to lawyers and doctors and psychologists. Talking to news reporters. Talking to myself. Talking, talking, and more talking.
There are three highlights I took away from the conference:
1. There’s love and there’s hope.
There were so many families there. Period.
Parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, caregivers – these families only want to do what’s best for their child, and their love surpasses any fears and reservations they have about having transgender or gender non-conforming child. The effort of attending this conference is commendable in itself.
2. Parents need reassurance.
Constant little pounding drops of reassurance. Big bear hugs of reassurance. Monumental speeches, piles of books, and one caring glance of reassurance. Some are scared, some are hesitant, some are doubtful, some have been doing this for years while others learned about it just a few days ago. But they all need to be told that their presence there is something to be celebrated, and that by just being open to the possibility of letting their child be who they are, they are doing the right thing. And that everything is going to be (most likely) OK.
I know I need to be told this over and over and over again, and if hear “I love you today” I need to hear it again tomorrow. Parents and family members with a transgender or gender fluid child are already going against the grain of society, their school, their own families; every day they are reminded, questioned, prodded, challenged, and harrassed about their child and their parenting. So more than anything, they need to hear that what they’re doing – letting their rainbow child be wonderful and happy – is exactly what they should be doing.
3. There’s a long road ahead.
Of the multitudes of transgender children, youth, and adults out there, only a select few receive the necessary support, and an even smaller cohort were represented at the conference. Society has a lot of catching up to do, or rather, it’s up to us to get them up to speed. Then there’s culture, which unless it’s US-white-middle-class, it’s way behind any other standard measure of progress. And the law, as always, lags even further.
There are still a lot of questions surrounding the when and the how of young transgender children, and most of those questions are unanswered because as of yet, nobody has been there or done that. It is the parents like those at the Gender Spectrum conference that are setting the precedent for this generation, as well as for future ones. They are venturing into unexplored territory, and along the way will probably have to navigate complex scenarios without a cheat code. But at least they are not alone, anymore.
A few people mentioned I should definitely do more public speaking on the issue, an offer I would love to take up if anybody has it, and a venture I am actively pursuing. When I started this blog six months ago, I never truly imagined I would be able to keep it going for so long at such a strong pace. (Of course, you promise yourself you will, but it never really happens, but this time it did!) From being a small stone in the long road of an individual’s journey, to hopefully having a bigger impact on public opinion or even laws, clearly, I am very passionately consumed by the issues of LGBT and specifically, anything Transgender. Hopefully my efforts will lead to more, as that’s where my heart is headed.
I can’t further express how much I enjoyed this weeked.
12 thoughts on “Gender Spectrum Conference”
Oh man, I wish I’d known about this–adding their site to my RSS for future awareness. What a cool thing to be doing.
There are other Transgender Conferences around the US, but we just missed all of them – there’s Philly Trans Health in June (Philly), Gender Odyssey in August (Seattle), and Gender Spectrum in July (Berkeley), and Southern Comfort. Gender Spectrum is targeted specifically for trans kids and teens.
This is great. I follow a blog on another website that had a link here and I’m happy I clicked on it. Is there anything simular to this in the Los Angeles area? I’d love to attend.
I’m also glad you found this blog!
There isn’t anything that I know of – after a little searching I did find the “TransUnity” event but it seems to be inactive. Los Angeles has lots of transgender resources though, and it’s relatively close to the SF Bay Area, and a lot of attendees of Gender Spectrum were from the LA area.
I had been curious how the conference turned out so it was nice to come back from my trip to find this. It’d be nice if this kind of thing became widespread so parents in lots of areas would have access to it. From what you said it sounds like a community of parents, even just knowing it’s there, could be helpful to people. Were there also resources on non-binary identities? Do you think you’ll go again in the future?
Yes, the community aspect is the most important part. However, there are many online communities for parents and youth (listed in the Resources section) and if you live near a major metro area it is highly likely there are meetups of some sort.
I didn’t really attend any of the presentations except one or two – most of the time I was volunteering, which means running around or hanging with the little ones. I would love to attend again, but I’d also love to present or facilitate a workshop.
So, given that I didn’t sit in much, I’m not sure about non-binary content. As far as I know there is not a lot, but there is always the stress on the child possibly being “gender-fluid” and not strictly transgender. (This probably garners a few summary posts on what I’ve read on trans children, since it presents unique challenges, making non-binary transition almost impossible.) Also take into account that some of the parents were barely learning the basics, being still confused between what “FTM” and “MTF” stood for.
Needless to say, nobody there knew what neutrois or gender-neutral meant and most were pretty confused at my gender identity. Only *once* was I asked for my preferred pronoun, and that was from a pre-med student. However, people were probably barraged with more information than they could handle in two days, yet extremely open to learn.
I attended most of the medicine/biology talks, and they were fairly well done. I definitely agree with your statement. 🙂