This year I went to 3 conferences.
Gender Spectrum is about transgender and gender diverse youth, but who it’s really for is the parents. I was there primarily as a volunteer , and it was nice to be in a support role, the tree trunk parents that can lean on. It was like a family reunion, seeing people I remembered from last year, who had then approached me in tears and panic, and who made it back this year with a glow and smile. So much had changed for them. Not everything was sparkly great, but there was a world of difference.
(Gender Odyssey also features comprehensive family programming in a separate family conference, though I was not participating in that so I can’t comment. But all the kids looked happy and the parents overwhelmed, which probably means the workshops were pretty effective).
Philadelphia Trans Health Conference
Two years ago was my first time at Philly Trans Health. Trying to retain and make sense of the huge information dump I was subjecting myself to, I took pages upon pages of notes, collected piles of pamphlets, amassed emails and websites. As I look back at those notes, it’s comical how basic they seem to me now, stuff like “Hormones: Testosterone” and “look into WPATH.” Over the next two years, key information has re-surfaced in its own time, just when I’m ready to absorb it.
Given those high expectations, I left with the sense that I hadn’t learned much at the conference this time around. It had that familiar feel, everything was deja-vu. There are so many workshops, it’s extremely hard to pick which one to go to, and sometimes they are really hit or miss.
It is still the largest transgender conference (in the world?) with 2,500+ attendees, 200+ workshops. Being so large, there is an incredible energy and power to the mass numbers. But the drawback is that it’s more impersonal, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. The physical space of the conference is a long narrow corridor, which prevents congregating, lingering, and spontaneous socializing. Despite knowing quite a few people there, it was hard to meet up or reconnect.
Even so, if you have the chance, you must go at least once. It’s also free, and Philadelphia is quite a pleasant city to visit. For me, it provided a much needed excuse to go back and catch up with old friends.
Contrast that experience to Gender Odyssey. Being at the end of the summer tour, with so much going on in my life, this was the conference I was least excited to attend. But boy am I glad I did! I was challenged, emotionally tasked, drained, exhausted and entirely depleted. I learned so much, and not necessarily stuff I can lay out in bullet points (though you know I’ll try).
Before leaving I decided we are definitely returning next year, because while the content won’t change, the people will – myself included – and that’s what made it so special. It was more about the intimacy and connections and closeness rather than the information. It is a much smaller conference than Philly Trans Health, so after the first day you can name most of the people, since you’ve already seen them repeatedly in workshops and in the hallway. It’s easier to get introduced to others through that one new acquaintance.
The crowd in general is a little different as well. It used to be an FTM only conference (actually, I believe that it’s called Gender Odyssey because it started in 2001 – get it?). There are a lot of older (both in trans and real years) transpeople who already have connections in the community. And once you meet one, they introduce you to the rest of the group. There are also less workshops overall, which means more time for picnics and meet’n'greets and more time to really get to know other people (and more energy for them).
I really truly connected with a lot of people. These are people I would fly back to Seattle for next year. A week later, there is still so much to process.
When I do something I go all out – so this summer I attended 3 conferences (ok, ‘all out’ as far as my budget would let me). I think I set off with the excuse of presenting a non-binary transition workshop, but my secondary intention – perhaps not as conscious at the time – was to take this work to the next level.
I’ve been blogging for over a year and a half, but I don’t like to call it a blog anymore. It’s not my personal journal, though I do occasionally document my gender journey; it’s more like a collection of essays and articles on being transgender, non-binary, transitioning, and what that means in the world. I don’t know what to call this collection yet. I also do lots offline advocacy work, like the conferences and the local speaker’s group. Moreover I get a handful of emails every week which I take the time to personally answer, usually with a very long and detailed answer. I’ve amassed this collection of trans knowledge, where if you ask me a question I probably know the answer, or can point you to it.
Not to mention I’ve never really “told my story.” Sure, you can comb through the entire archives and you find a mention here or there about my parents, perhaps my brother, definitely my girlfriend, but very little about discovering being trans, my childhood, my multiple coming outs, etc. Even in person I don’t reveal much; whenver there’s a question, I deflect it and give a very general, objective answer. For all the intimate stuff I publish here, there is still a lot I keep guarded. I realized I’ve not had the time – and space, emotionally – to get to the place where I can explore this, and thus I’ve kept it locked, wrapped. Someday I will get to that, but for now it needs to remain in its own compartment. I trust my girlfriend to keep it safe (because I really don’t remember half of it).
So what next? I don’t know. So many more projects in my head, hopefully one will soon spring to life.