Finding Community: What Gender Odyssey Has Given Me

07/12/2016 09:45 am ET

I’m a huge word nerd. I love words. I can spend hours reading the dictionary and learning obscure, underused words. I get excited when I hear my kids use a word that seems much too large and complicated for their age, especially when they actually use it correctly! I appreciate the skill it takes to use small, simple words to explain big and potentially incomprehensible ideas and concepts. I love discovering the origins of words and expressions.

One word that I’m captivated by at the moment is “community.” We toss it around so casually these days. We all live in a community, we hear groups like the tech community, and of course, there is the LGBTQ community.

I recently looked up the origins of the word in the dictionary:

(n.) ate 14c., from Old French comunité “community, commonness, everybody” (Modern French communauté), from Latin communitatem (nominative communitas) “community, society, fellowship, friendly discourse; courtesy, affability.”

When my daughter, Avery, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the age of 4 and socially transitioned to begin living as a girl, we lost our friends. The people who had previously been around for birthdays, holidays, weekend get-togethers, and playdates vanished. There was a strain with extended family that led to less and less time spent together, and fewer calls to check in. Even our work environments changed. We became afraid of talking about her transition with any other adults, lest they decide that we were unfit parents.

Our community was gone.

More than a year later, as we started to venture out to make new connections and start new relationships, most of the people we met were in the LGBTQ community. I became friends with several trans adults who were happy to share their experiences with me and tell me how their lives would have been different had they had such open and accepting parents.

Through their relationships with others and roles in LGBT organizations, I became friends with even more people in the community. But I didn’t identify as any of the letters. I was a cis heterosexual woman, and several people made it clear that I could be an ally, but should never consider myself part of that community. That would be reserved for my daughter and her alone.

So there we remained; connected yet separated, allowed around the edges but never quite allowed in. We were allies to the community, but not considered part of the community. I understood but still felt lonely.

Then I met Aidan Key with Gender Odyssey. In our conversations, he said something about my role in the trans community.

In the community? Did he really just say that?” I thought to myself. I corrected him and said that I’m just the parent of a trans child, I’m not in the trans community. Here he was, opening the door to me and inviting me in, and I was unsure about crossing that threshold.

Aidan explained to me that he considers parents and siblings of trans kids just as much a part of the community as the kids themselves. Without the parent(s) there to help the child get to know other trans people and feel connected themselves, the child could flounder. Parents are vital to a trans child’s welfare, so of course we are part of the child’s community.

He then invited me to attend the Gender Odyssey Family Conference with my daughter to meet other families and to give Avery a chance to meet other kids like her. The three days we spent in Seattle at the conference gave us what we had been lacking for so long.

Community. Society. Fellowship. Friendly discourse. Courtesy. Affability.

Gender Odyssey is more than a conference that someone can attend to listen to speakers and sit in on workshops. It’s a place where people connect. It’s a place where kids hang out and play all day, free to be themselves and never feel that they are an “other.” It’s a place where families get together for dinner in the evenings. It’s a place where friendships are started and built upon. It’s a place of community.

I invite anyone who has felt like an outsider, who is longing for fellowship with other parents going through the same journey with their kids, who needs to be treated with courtesy and respect about their decision to support their child, to attend the Gender Odyssey conference. As a proud member of this amazing community, I am opening the door and welcoming you in.

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