Stacey attended her first Gender Odyssey conference in a dual role: as a mental health professional, and as a partner.
If you stick with it, the long-term prognosis is good, and includes liberation, a deeper understanding of gender (not just trans folks’ gender but everyone’s – cause we all have gender!) and being in community with some fierce, brilliant and beautiful souls.
As a psychologist who has been working with trans clients and their families for about a decade, I’ve been meaning to attend Gender Odyssey for years. In 2012, two events propelled me to finally go. I had the pleasure of meeting Gender Odyssey Executive Director Aidan Key and learning more about what GO is all about; and, my partner of 18 years, who is in her own gender exploration, wanted to attend with me. I knew that this dual perspective of both mental health practitioner and partner would be heady and difficult to navigate at times… and I was right. But it was so worth it!
The first day I attended was the pre-conference GO Professional, which is a new addition to the Gender Odyssey line-up. Getting to hear from some of the leaders in the field – Laura Edwards-Leeper, PhD, Johanna Olson, MD, and attorney Asaf Orr, to name a few – was incredible. It was also great to network with other gender specialists from a variety of disciplines so as to refer to one another and share resources. But what moved me the most was the panel of youth speakers facilitated by Megan Kennedy. These youth spoke of their own experiences with gender, sexuality, peer and family acceptance or rejection, intersecting identities, and what they need from adult allies with articulateness, honesty, and a sophisticated understanding of privilege and oppression that just blew me away. So, GO Professional was a great day all around, but I was able to pretty much keep my “treatment provider” hat on all day long. Then the real fun began.
On Friday my partner and I began attending the regular Gender Odyssey conference together – first time for both of us. With different interests we split up and went our separate ways, meeting for quick breaks and lunch. My first workshop was the Jewish Caucus. Hearing stories from families who are being asked to choose between their religious practice and their child was terribly poignant, but seeing them gain strength from others’ stories of integration and reconciliation was empowering.
GO has a separate track of workshops for partners of trans and genderqueer individuals, and I attended several of these workshops over the course of the conference. Skillfully facilitated, the first workshop asked us to grapple with shifting identities and grief as our partners’ gender expression changed. What does it mean to identify as lesbian when one’s partner’s presentation, body, voice, sexuality, even smell are changing and becoming more male? What does it mean for one’s personal and feminist politics to now be “read” as a heterosexual couple and to acquire the privilege associated with that status, privilege that was previously denied to the same couple when they were living in the world as two women? These were just some of the sticky, complex, and fascinating questions we began to grapple with in this workshop.
The day ended with the beautiful spoken word, song, and performance of Gene Tagaban, who shared with us the sacred Raven Dance of his Tlingit heritage. Beneath the story and performance was a strong message of validation, acceptance, and love toward self and others. It was a perfect ending to the day, and as I looked around at the many families with young gender variant children whose world will, hopefully, be different due to the work of organizations like Gender Odyssey, I cried healing tears for myself, my partner, and my clients and friends who have been harmed by homophobia and transphobia.
My partner and I returned home that evening (we live in Seattle so “home” happily meant our house and dogs instead of a hotel room) and found that we could barely speak to each other except for necessary communication (“Want some dinner?” “Sure”). We both felt exhausted, our heads and hearts were full, and we needed to rest in order to return the next day for more learning and stretching.
While Day 1 primarily engaged my professional brain and Day 2 felt more personal, Day 3 found me alternating between the two in rather rapid and head-spinning fashion. I got to see the renowned pioneer Dr. Marci Bowers present on gender reassignment surgery, participated in a discussion of the evolving role of mental health professionals in trans healthcare, and attended another partner track workshop, this one on sexuality. While there was serious discussion in the latter meeting, there was also deep laughter, as we discussed the challenges of maintaining intimacy with changing bodies and changing desires for both trans folks and their partners. This was the day that challenged me intellectually the most, with exploration of concepts such as “gender binary privilege” and “asexuality,” both of which I was familiar with but which gained greater texture and depth through Gender Odyssey workshops. The concept of liberation from the gender binary in particular – and binaries in general! – is one that continues to engage my thinking. Joining friends who had also attended the conference for lunch that day, my head was spinning and again, we found that we weren’t able to discuss our experiences (at least, not very articulately) but had to let them sink in and percolate for a while.
The day ended with keynote Janet Mock, staff editor of People.com and trans woman, who told her story of her own gender journey beginning in adolescence. Another great way to end the day, Ms. Mock provided a model of barriers overcome, empowerment and authenticity found.
In sum, Gender Odyssey is a powerful experience, so be forewarned – side effects may include lightheadedness, laughter, tearfulness, and fatigue. But if you stick with it, the long-term prognosis is good, and includes liberation, a deeper understanding of gender (not just trans folks’ gender but everyone’s – cause we all have gender!) and being in community with some fierce, brilliant and beautiful souls.
Stacey Prince is a psychologist and activist, happily married to (and pictured here with) her partner Teri Mayo, and the doting owner of two beloved canines. She and Teri co-founded Beyond the Bridge, a community education and grant-making organization dedicated to eliminating LGBTQ youth suicide.