I spent Labor Day weekend at the Gender Spectrum Family Conference in Berkeley, where I led a workshop for parents of gender-nonconforming kids. Much of the focus of the Gender Spectrum conferences, so far, has been geared toward parents of transgender kids–children who insist, consistently and persistently, that the body they were born in does not reflect their true gender. There’s been less space devoted to kids who, like my son Sam, are happy with their bodies but prefer the clothes, manner of play, toys, and playmates (not to mention accessories) typically associated with the opposite gender.
The workshop came out of conversations I’ve had over the years with Gender Spectrum’s Director of Education and Training, Joel Baum. One of the things Joel and I have discussed is that being–and parenting–a transgender kid has a huge number of challenges. But being–and parenting–a kid who doesn’t quite fit into either the male or female box has its own set of challenges, some of which are quite similar to those of trans kids, and some of which are quite different. So last year, Joel and I hatched the idea to create a space at this conference for parents of gender-nonconforming kids to talk about the issues that our kids face, and that we face as their parents.
In my workshop, I encouraged the fifty or so parents in attendance to just talk, and to listen to each other. We talked about our kids being hassled in the bathroom, confusion in the classroom and on the playground, conflicts with school administrators, trouble with pronouns, talking to family members who don’t understand. Parents shared resources and ideas and support, talking more about their successes than their failures.
As we talked, it dawned on me that I’d unconsciously expected the discussion to be a real downer, as we reviewed all the ways that we’d all fought and lost trying to make space for our kids to be themselves. What surprised me is how much progress parents are actually making in homes and schools across this continent to broaden the definition of what it means to be a girl or a boy in an otherwise binary world. And what I clearly saw was how much love these parents have for their kids, how hard it is to exist in the not-knowing about where their children are headed, and how little they think they know—and how much they really do know.
And what we all learned was this: we are not alone.