No Family Need Take their Gender Odyssey Alone, Not Anymore

06/11/2016 11:24 am ET

There is a lot of discussion in the media and certainly in schools and living rooms around the country about our transgender children. Not only does Jazz Jennings, a trans teen, have her own reality show, the Obama administration is recognizing the reality of the many trans and gender non-conforming children in America. Not so long ago, many families felt isolated and without resources, but it is a brave – and better – new world for families going on a gender journey with their children.

Recent recommendations from the Departments of Education and Justice on how to support these children in schools made national headlines and flew in the face of anti-trans initiatives and attacks happening across the country. But we have a long way to go to make the world safe for all children who are transgender. Many professionals are feeling uninformed and unsure as to how to work with these kids, in schools and in medical practices. And unfortunately, given its inflamed nature, the conversation does not always help professionals understand these children, or how best to serve them.

But the Gender Odyssey Conference does (www.genderodyssey.org). It’s been supporting families with trans children for 15 years now. And mine was one of them.                                                                 

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 we saw told us our child was anxious and depressed, but never mentioned gender. So we learned how to parent an anxious and depressed child, but we continued to disallow girl things and only allow blue and green colors. Our child went to a very dark place. He lived online where all his 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 in Seattle: the Gender Odyssey Conference. 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.

With all the kerfuffle swirling around these children, now more than ever, a safe and professionally-led space like Gender Odyssey is critical to help trans adults, children and families explore their journey, and to help the professionals who serve them do so armed with the latest research and tools.

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