At the time, I had no idea why I was so drawn to, and was devouring day-by-day, Amy Bloom’s beautiful collection of short stories, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. I couldn’t stop telling friends about it and even shipped a copy off to my daughter, who identified as lesbian, at college. It was autumn 2001, a frightening time to be living in Manhattan as we did, and 2-1/2 years before the day my beloved daughter told me she was really a man. She started that conversation by leaving that very same book on my bed, in June 2004, with a Post-It attached saying, “This is about me and we have to talk.” There were also notes handwritten on the Table of Contents page. You see, the first story in the book is about a mother who has accompanied her brave and wise transitioning child for gender reassignment surgery.
She had done all the homework. I just had to read. She was kind and sensitive to my needs and reactions. Eventually I found my way to a PFLAG NYC meeting and my life found a new purpose. I met other parents, we talked and supported and helped one another, and my search for companions who shared the same story lead me to the advocacy that eventually became the focal point of my life.
As time went on I started meeting, and hearing about, families with young trans kids. In 2007 ABC and 20/20 did a groundbreaking special called My Secret Self, about families with school-age, gender non-conforming children. I knew all three families through a listserv I’d joined and I’d been reading the conversations about whether or not the families should participate. Would these precious kids be treated like freaks? How could they be protected?
In the end, the show was fantastic with Barbara Walters at her compassionate best, but I thought a lot about those families ― those parents who had such an enormous responsibility to make decisions for their children – decisions I never had to make because my child was an adult.
Could transgender children ever find acceptance at school? How does a parent make decisions about hormone blockers to prevent puberty when your child is a preteen (or even younger)?? Can kids “socially transition” without being ostracized by their friends and classmates? How on earth do you deal with close friends and family members who tell you that you are a) crazy, b) cruel, or c) downright abusive, for “letting” this happen? What does a family do when their faith community makes it clear that they are no longer welcomed, or even expels them? How do you handle sleepovers??
There were already some great resources for transgender people in various places around the country. The only conference I’d heard about on the East coast was the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, an extraordinary resource that attracts thousands of people. But what about the families? What about the children?? As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one wondering if the kids would be all right.
So early in 2014, a Maryland mom who’d flown out to the West coast for a family-based conference, convinced Gender Spectrum in San Francisco to come East and help recreate what they were doing in other parts of the country. The result was Gender Conference East, now about to have its third run this coming November.
After two years north of Baltimore, this conference, which was designed to be a movable feast of experts and workshops in the fields of medicine, social work, psychotherapy and family support, is coming to the tri-state area.
For professionals who want to learn more about gender-based topics pertinent to trans and gender-nonconforming youth, up to and including young adults, there is Professional Symposium Day on Friday, November 11th. For families wanting to learn more, and especially wanting to meet other families with gender-expansive kids, Saturday is Family and Youth Day, complete with supervised Kids’ Camps and special high school and young adult programming. We even have Daycare for the little ones, so parents can learn and mingle with like-minded moms, dads and care-givers in a stress-free way. The day allows families to form friendships and connections they might have never thought possible.
That Maryland mom, a member of our Leadership Team, remembers Tony, who started Family and Youth Day slumped over and afraid, and ended the day literally jumping up and down shouting, “Best. Day. Ever!”
Another team member has a favorite memory from our first conference; a mom only a couple of weeks into the journey, shared that she was feeling overwhelmed and scared, but then turned to look at hundreds of people in the room at the closing session and said, “…but I look out at all of you and know everything is going to be okay.” Families come to the conference feeling different and alone, and leave knowing that they have a community.
Gender Conference East is a magical place filled with vital information and the chance to find extraordinary connections for parents, caregivers and youth. To find out more go to: www.genderconferenceeast.org where workshop descriptions are already up. Tickets and some scholarships are still available.
And as for my son, I can report that he is happily married to a talented and beautiful young woman, and is also rigorously employed in the profession of his choice. And he will tell you that loving acceptance from family and friends made all the difference during those transitional years. With more and more support and information available, in many different forms, all you have to do is grab onto one of the golden rings and hang on for the ride that will transform your child into his or her best self.
People sometimes ask, “Don’t you miss your daughter?” and I say that I have the best possible version of my child, just in a slightly different and much happier package.