I boarded the Hilton hotel’s airport shuttle behind a mom and her tween. I wasn’t sure if they’d flown into Newark or taken the train like me. But I knew without exchanging more than a smile that they were headed to the Youth and Family Day at Gender Conference East, same as me. As a co-presenter, I wanted to come the night before to attend the Family Meet and Greet.
The mom-tween pair slid into the first row of seats and as I sat down behind them I had the eerie sense that I was seeing counterparts of Harry and me, if he were now 12 years old instead of 27. The child looked like a younger version of Harry, with long, curly hair, chiseled features, soft eyes, and an easy smile. They wore a purple, green, and yellow print pencil dress over thick neutral-colored leggings. The look could have been pulled right from Harry’s wardrobe. The mom, petite like me, wore jeans and sneakers, with her thick wavy hair pulled back.
“I’m really excited to be here,” the child said. They rested their head on mom’s shoulder. “Last year I was nervous, but now I’m excited to see the kids I met last time.”
The mom might have been nervous the year before, too. I remembered how lonely and in search of support I’d felt being the mother of a young child whose gender identity and gender expression differed from the majority of kids — those that fit society’s established gender norms.
A sense of loss washed over me for not having had what this mom and child were about to experience.
A dull ache filled my chest and I got a little misty. I dabbed the corners of my eyes, not understanding the sudden rush of sadness. A sense of loss washed over me. This mom and child were about to experience something I did not — a full-day conference designed to provide support, nurturing and empowerment for parents, youth, families and caregivers.
I stood behind Harry’s and my doppelgangers at the hotel check-in desk. I reveled at physical proximity and loving touches. They reminded me of my still close relationship with Harry. I wanted to embrace this mom and her child and say how happy I was that they could be in such a safe, welcoming place of community.
Eager to see all of the kids and connect with some other parents, I dropped off my bag and went down to the hotel ballroom for the Family Meet and Greet. Dozens of happy, noisy children, doing art projects filled the room of wall-to-wall tables. Some hung new works on the wall. Others giggled as they chased each other, weaving in and out of standing adults.
Without a young child, I was definitely the observer.
I left after a few minutes of taking it all in, infused with the aura of love and goodness that comes with quality family time. Without a young child, I was definitely the observer. I know I would have been one of those parents two decades ago. Maybe they could have been you, too. Or maybe they are you now.
There were 540 people at Gender Conference East, including nearly 200 children, ages 3 to 16, all brought together by the good folks at the Ackerman Institute’s Gender & Family Project, PFLAG and Hetrick-Martin Institute.
I attended multiple Family and Youth Day sessions, choosing presentations that allowed me to hear firsthand more about the issues facing families of trans and gender diverse kids, and witness all of the support that exists for them and among them. Other programs I sat in on definitely informed my my advocacy and activism of behalf of these gender-revolution kids. As a result, my desire for their bright and safe future was fortified that day.
At the conference closing I saw the same child with whom I’d shared a ride to the hotel. They stood with two other kids, eager to meet up with a third who’d just entered the room. “There’s Sam,” the child from the shuttle said. “She looks so pretty!”
I caught my breath to hold back the tears that often come with progress. These kids had found other kids like them, with whom they could just be themselves. And it didn’t matter whether their pronouns were she, he or they. I had a feeling they would most likely become BFFs. And most likely the parents of those kids had found their own community that day, too.
DOZENS OF GENDER & LGBTQ+ CONFERENCES AROUND THE WORLD
In addition to Gender Conference East, there are at least nine other trans-youth focused conferences as compiled by Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER), including one in the UK. If you’re the parent, family member or caregiver for a trans, gender nonconforming or nonbinary child, I encourage you to find a conference that’s a good match to your geography, calendar and pocketbook. Or please share this link with someone you think could use a strong community of support and validation for all their doing right for their child.
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