Our focus on gender identity and expression is unwavering...and we're thrilled to once again partner on Gender Conference East. Here, a reflection from PFLAG mom--and PFLAG National board member--Catherine Hyde.
There is much ado about our transgender children these days. The Departments of Education and Justice are trying to set guidelines for schools on how to support these children. And some schools and local municipalities are fighting back. Many professionals are feeling uninformed and unsure as to how to work with our children. And many families are feeling alone on their journey. Like we once did.
Our child was born in 1993, the happiest baby you ever saw. We named him after both of this grandfathers, and simply adored him. But it soon became evident that this was no ordinary boy. And at the age of four, he told me that something had gone wrong in my belly and he was supposed to be a girl. In 1997, there was no Google and the providers we saw gave us very bad advice. They told us to encourage boy play and discourage girl play, which we did.
Two years later our child was threatening suicide. The child psychiatrist told us our child was anxious and depressed, but never mentioned gender. So we continued to disallow girl things and only allow blue and green colors, and our child went to a very dark place: he lived online and all the avatars were female; he was self-harming and self-medicating, and attempted suicide twice. Our happy baby was long gone.
In 2008, I heard a radio show about transgender children, and it opened my eyes. By then, my kid was 15. And when we explored the concept of being trans with our child, we knew we had discovered something important, a key to our kid’s identity. We were living in Maryland and knew of no other families like ours. We could find no providers who had ever worked with a transgender child. And the only conference I could find that supported families and kids was across the country in Seattle: the Gender Odyssey Family Conference, with programming run by Gender Spectrum. We were blessed enough to be able to afford to travel there from Maryland. And there we found a wealth of information and support.
For the first time, our child met other kids like her. And my husband and I met other parents on this same journey. We found professionals to discuss an array of challenges. And I got answers to so many questions. Could I require the high school, which gender segregated so much, to allow my child to wear a drape for her senior picture instead of a tux? To walk with the girls in white gowns for graduation instead of in blue and with the boys? What about that bathroom-at-school issue? What are puberty blockers and how do they work? What about fertility and freezing sperm? What should I expect from estrogen? Where are other families like mine, and what are they doing? How do I create a local support system back home?
And my child found her tribe. Other kids like her. The collapsing in, as I call it, which we had been witnessing for years in our son, now became a slow blossoming out of our daughter. At the conference she also found professionals to talk privately with her about dating and disclosure, hormone options and her rights in school.
That conference was a lifesaver for my child and my family. As I flew home, I dreamed of a day when such a conference would be available on the East Coast, where families like mine and the providers who would like to serve them, could come and learn from each other about these magical children. Where our children could see they are not alone and could envision their future in the lives of older trans youth and young adults.
And I wasn’t the only one with that dream. At the same time, in New York City, another PFLAG mom had invited five parents she’d met at PFLAG meetings to have dinner at her home so they could talk about their dreams for their transgender teens.
Well, sometimes dreams do come true.
Six years later, those PFLAG moms, in partnership with Gender Spectrum and the NY-based Ackerman Family Institute, launched Gender Conference East. It’s designed to move up and down the East Coast, maybe spawning some local conferences as it goes. For two years, it was in Baltimore; this year, it’s in Newark, NJ, easily accessible by train, plane or automobile. And affordable to all. There is a registration charge, but we want everyone who wants to attend to be able to attend, regardless of ability to pay, so we offer scholarships funded by generous donors.
With all the kerfuffle swirling around these children, now more than ever, a safe and accessible space like Gender Conference East is critical to help trans children and families explore their journey, and to help the professionals who serve them do so with the latest research and tools.
Professional Day: Friday, November 11
Family Day: Saturday, November 12
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at Newark Airport, Newark, NJ