15 Things That Happened at Gender Odyssey

I just came back from 10 days in Seattle, 5 of those days spent in the Washington Convention Center at the Gender Odyssey Conference, an epic gathering of transgender people and the ones who love them.

Gender Odyssey Professional 2015 - micah

This was the biggest year yet: over 1,000 attendees. You could certainly feel the energy, the depth, and the commotion.

Here are 15 things that rocked my world.

1. Gender!

It’s pretty much the entire point of the conference. Yet it’s not just transgender talk; we’re here to talk about Gender, in general, for everyone.

Gender Unicorn made an appearance in several workshops.
Gender Unicorn, created by TSER, made an appearance in several workshops.

What is Gender? What does it mean to be a man or a woman?

Transcending Boundaries - Talking to Your Kids About Gender
TRANScending Borders present “Talking to Your Kids About Gender”

Most folks go their whole lives without giving Gender a second thought. Lucky for them, we’re here to change that.

2. History

In the many trans conferences I’ve attended, I kept seeing this old guy walking around, and wondered what he was doing there. Well, “this old guy” is none other than Jude Patton, who transitioned over 40 years ago!

I finally got to hear Jude’s story in one of the sessions. He’s been a vocal advocate of the trans community for longer than most of us have been alive, in a time when it was extraordinarily dangerous to speak out.

Despite having made history himself, Jude claimed we are still making history right now.

3. #TransProud

This family happened.

4. Art Auction

There was a station for kids to collaboratively create paintings on canvas.

Gender Odyssey Art Auction

As the paintings were being displayed to the audience, somebody suggested auctioning them off and donating the proceeds. A few pieces garnered well above $300!

5. Parents

There were tears… from dads, mourning the loss of their sons or daughters.

There were tears… from moms, recounting stories of discrimination from family, friends, teachers.

There were tears… from grandparents, wondering how they could protect their family from a hostile world.

There were tears… from parents, processing the inner conflict of loving their child as they are, despite society telling them it’s wrong.

There were tears… from trans adults, seeing themselves in these young children, thanking parents for showing up, for supporting their kids.

There were tears… of joy, enveloped by support, love, and happiness.

6. Andrea Jenkins

The first keynote on Friday night was led by Andrea Jenkins, a trans woman of color with an impressive resumé and even more impressive accomplishments in her Midwest community.

Andrea Jenkins, coming up to wow the crowd
Andrea Jenkins, stunning looks and stunning words

7. Kate Bornstein

Kate’s a legend, and rightly so. Her speech was … so many things.

It was emotional.

It was celebratory.

It was political.

It was bossy.

It was non-binary.

It was sarcastic.

It was funny.

It was theoretical.

It was embracing.

It was packed.

Kate Bornstein packs an audience at Gender Odyssey conference
Kate Bornstein packs an audience at Gender Odyssey conference

You can listen to the last 10 minutes here, or follow Gender Odyssey Twitter stream where we live-tweeted both keynotes and a few sessions with the hashtag #GOCon2015.

8. Aidan, the Key to GO

Gender Odyssey doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Great care goes into it by Aidan Key, and his wife Kristin, to plan, organize, put together, round up, and run the conference.

Aidan and Kristin, Tammy and Micah
Aidan and Kristin, Tammy and Micah

The conference is Aidan’s year-round job, along with leading local support groups, school or company or government trainings, and finding the time to comfort every single individual who gets in touch.

It’s meaningful for me to know this organization is run by a transgender person. He listens to the needs of the community, partners with other trans organizations, and provides a smiling face to the fear many parents have for their children’s unknown future.

9. Significant Others

KB said it best:


No, I did not mess up the ordering of this list.

18 names were read, 3 times over. 18 trans women have been killed so far in 2015. 18 trans women, nearly all of color.

Violence in our community is a reality.

Debbie Jackson ended the night with a speech about her advocacy after the murder of Kansas City trans woman Tamara Dominguez. Everyone was moved to tears, if they weren’t sobbing already.

11. Coming Out

The conversations around Stealth held a different air about them this year. Instead of swapping strategies for maintaining a trans identity hidden, the discussion centered around…

the spectrum of disclosure

and how to balance a desire to come out

with maintaining something they’ve kept private for years

in order to make a difference.

The tide has turned.

12. Meeting My Readers

It means so so so much to me when people come up and say “I read your blog, and it helped me.” The work I and many other trans advocates do happens almost entirely online. I frequently get discouraged; it can be difficult to get validation that the words I type into a computer screen actually change someone’s life, even in a small way.

So thank you for reminding me that speaking up about our experiences is important. There’s a real person on the other end of the line.

13. Kid’s Camp

Do you know what 100 rowdy kids sound like?

The decibel level of the Kid’s Camp room was noticeably louder than the hallways, where impromptu conversations – exchanging quick hello’s or sharing deeply personal stories – are the norm.

Posing for the photo booth
Posing for the photo booth

Most children were oblivious to outside emotions, instead engrossed in trying on costumes, crafting clay figurines, putting on a puppet show, or launching rockets. For many, it was the first time they were allowed to be themselves, or meet other kids like them.

Kid’s Camp would not be possible without Gil, Noam, Kit, and the myriad of other volunteer counselors and child wranglers who tirelessly kept up with these tiny humans.

14. Strength in Numbers

There were 100+ kids under the age of 12, and nearly 100 Teens. Last year there were around 50 kids, and the year before just 30. The sheer number of trans youth continues to double every year.

The Professional’s track saw an increased attendance of 75%, with more out-of-state providers, all approaching trans health with a more nuanced lens:

The programming has matured and presumes that people unfamiliar with trans issues and identities are very capable of going beyond the simplistic “hormones/surgery” and “should I, shouldn’t I” framework.

— Aidan Key, Director

The Community / Adult track also grew significantly, with 40% of folks receiving a scholarship for need-based financial assistance to be able to attend the conference.

15. You!

Above all, I collect experiences. Everybody has a unique, interesting, heart-wrenching and heart-warming journey that is unique and universally relatable to my own.

And now, dear readers, I want to know, what has happened in your Gender Odyssey?

12 thoughts on “15 Things That Happened at Gender Odyssey

  1. I keep using the description ‘family reunion’ in reference to my experiences at Gender Odyssey. There are dear friends I only see once a year at this conference. This year, true to form, I added to the list of people who I was able to build a heartfelt connection to over the course of 4 days.

    I love being a part of GO as a participant and presenter. I feel honored to offer programming that others want, need and feel inspired and supported by. Though I am thoroughly exhausted at the end of the conference, I’m also energized, inspired, looking for new ways to contribute and help the conference improve.

    Leaving for home is a wrenching experience. All weekend long we are immersed in a world of our own making. I call it ‘Translandia’. In Translandia, it is assumed that we have gender competence, that we will honor pronouns and identities, that we earnestly work to understand and check our privilege while working to end the oppression of others. In Translandia, we share one big restroom and don’t fuss about who is in line with us. In Translandia, we honor the truth of others and can ask to have our truth honored as well. In Translandia, we recognize the joy and pain of living outside the mainstream, we celebrate and revel in it while learning how to survive in the outside world. In Translandia, we weep for joy to see families supporting their trans* kids and partners supporting their trans* loved ones. In Translandia, we are all family and we all matter.

    When you attend Gender Odyssey, you are entering a special place, a sacred place. You have the privilege of being surrounded by people who are energetically working to change their lives and the lives of those around them. It’s hard to leave and go back to day-to-day life.

    I’m still processing the experiences I had this last weekend, many of which Micah describes in the list above. Every year I grow in significant ways as a human being and social activist. I am inspired by our volunteers, our organizers, the professionals working hard to make the world a bit easier for us, the teens who have so much to teach an old fart like me. The families who embrace their beautiful trans* children even when they don’t completely understand what’s going on.

    Significant moments: meeting a young man at the picnic on Saturday and realizing that in trans-years, we were the same age, even though I’m over twice his age. Meeting a father from the family side who was struggling to support and understand his trans son but knew that he loved him with all his heart and was there to learn what he could do to support him. The older Filipino couple that had some of us in tears as they spoke of their confusion and hurt at their child coming out as a trans woman in midlife… and their fierce commitment to their daughter and all the other trans people who in such danger of violence and death.

    I’ll stop now and maybe continue on my blog. Thank you, Micah for recapping so wonderfully. I’m still GO high.

    1. Oh man, I forgot about the Bathrooms! The one time there is ONE BIG BATHROOM for all.

      Beautifully said Cam. You are definitely one of those conference friends that turned into just a friend. Link to your own blog post here when it’s ready!

  2. Great post, but I have to ask…do you have permission from the parents to post those kids’ pictures? It’s a potential legal and safety issue.

    1. Yes, all kids shown signed waivers (well their parents did) and anyone featured on social media was asked for permission.
      Thanks for bringing it up though, it’s important to remember that at these events privacy is a serious matter and everyone should be sensitive to that fact. Even I am careful not to use my last name.

      1. Good to know. I’m glad the conference is growing, especially the Kids Camp, and that families of trans kids are out there sharing their stories!

    2. Yep! My kids and I (purple hair family), we are out in our town and my kids love to tell there story! Hope some day our story and photos will help others!

  3. It was our first year at GO and I had the privilege of meeting you in the most unfortunate circumstance. Thank you for being such a help and support to my kids & myself. We appreciate you! Fantastic article 🙂

    1. Jamie, you are a true hero. The way you kept it together for your kids, who were none the wiser to the chaoed. The other hero is Gil, an unsung angel who never hesitates to help, getting little credit for all that he does.
      Hope you and your family have made it back home safely. Lots of hugs to the little ones!

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