This is what we asked participants in our Gender Spectrum workshop: Creating Visibility and Acceptance through Writing. In about five minutes we had a list of about 40 words that represented concerns, emotions, questions and more from parents of transgender individuals as well as trans and non-binary young adults.
The workshop was different from many of the sessions at the conference. Most required nothing more from attendees to sit and listen, take some notes (optional) and snap a few pictures of presenters’ slides. Unlike these other sessions, Janna Barkin, my co-presenter, and I did very little talking. What we did do, however, was to motivate, inspire, encourage, hold space for and support these emotionally fragile individuals so they could find their voice and put down on paper their deepest fears, concerns, dreams and hopes.
One courageous trans man wrote about how sleeping on his stomach, his preferred position, triggered his dysphoria. Sleeping on his stomach was a nightly reminder of the chest he loathes; of the puberty he didn’t want.
Another father, racked with heartache, wrote a letter to his trans daughter about how he would always be there for her and hoped there would always be a place in her life for him. His tears flowed freely; his pain was palpable.
Two moms each spoke about their trans children; ironically, they were sitting next to each other and they both are trying to uncover the mystery of parenting not one, but two transgender individuals. They are a minority within a minority.
We were privileged to witness the raw emotion of one trans man who began to cry just minutes into the session. We gave him the gift of safe space; he gave us the gift of trust.
A letter shared with us by a young mom hoping for major societal shifts, directed her wishes and desires to our country’s leader. She is desperate for a different world in which to raise her little girl who was assigned male at birth.
Many of our trans children, family members and friends don’t feel seen by us. Lack of acceptance breeds invisibility. Our goal, as presenters, was to give the workshop participants new tools to create acceptance; to show a loved one that they “see” them. We wanted them to walk away with additional skills to take on the challenges they face daily.
This workshop was a highlight of the conference for me. One participant shared that, “this was one of the most powerful moments of the weekend.” We allowed the attendees to find their voice. For many, it’s a process that doesn’t come easy and brings with it deep rooted pain. For 90 minutes, they were given the opportunity to let go, let out the pain that they’d been burying deep inside, hidden from view.
It’s impossible to know what people are carrying around. And, until you walk in another’s shoes, you will never understand what it means to be in their situation. I am mindful of the fact, that no matter how supportive I am of my transgender son, I can never understand what it means to be him, to have been born in the wrong body and always feel different or “other.”
Be kind to one another. Open your hearts and minds to possibilities. Love your children unconditionally. Every day is a collection of fleeting moments. Don’t let a single one pass you by.