September 2005, Assen, The Netherlands
I’m home and stretched out on the sofa: it’s a couch potato kind of day. The Oprah Show is on. Today’s subject: Identical twins and transgender issues. On the show are Aidan Key and his sister Brenda. This is not just any ordinary Oprah Show. It’s the show that—after so many years of not knowing what’s the matter with me—makes me realize that I’m just like Aidan, transgender, born in the wrong body.
After watching the show a couple of times, I google Aidan and call him. It’s the beginning of a long distance friendship. Aidan tells me about the annual Seattle conference he organizes and going to the conference becomes number one on my to-do list.
August 2012, Seattle, WA, USA
I made it! My friends in the Netherlands put money together for me so I could buy a plane ticket to Seattle. I never knew the West Coast is really that far from Amsterdam—it was a seventeen-hour flight! I have the best hotel in the world. I’m staying with Gil Rich and his partner Moss Green. Gil is a veteran Gender Odyssey conference volunteer, soon to become my buddy.
Being an arts and science teacher in elementary school in The Netherlands, I volunteer to work at the Gender Odyssey Kids Day Camp. For me the most wonderful thing about working with kids is helping them discover their talents and develop a healthy sense of self-confidence. The natural curiosity kids have at that age is a constant inspiration for me when preparing my lessons.
Registration day, Silver Cloud Hotel
This is my first encounter with the families attending the conference. I see families who are as new to the conference as I am. I am touched by their nervousness, their eyes showing they are fearful of what is to come, having to raise a transgender child. I talk with the kids and one of the brothers says: “we are only here for her,” pointing to his sister. I sense the struggles mum and dad must have gone through to organize the trip to Seattle, to explain to their kids where they were going and what the trip was about. Later that weekend the big brother who was “only there for his sister” tells me he is having a great time. I see families come in who are attending the conference for their second, third, or even fourth time. They look like they are home again.
At the Family Meet & Greet later that day I talk with the dad of a teen who only a week before had told him: “Dad, I’m not the daughter you always thought I was; I am your son.” Not fully understanding, but very aware of the pain his child was going through, and the courage it must have taken the kid to tell him, the dad immediately started to learn more about the subject on the internet. They found out about the conference, which happened to be in their home town, Seattle. So the two of them show up at GO, the son a bit shy and apprehensive, the dad only eager to learn how he can be a good father to this special son. What a fantastic parent!
Saturday, Kids Camp
Working as a volunteer in Kids Camp is amazing. I notice that at this age, one doesn’t see which kids are the trans kids and which are the siblings. It creates a world without prejudice. I think it is nice for the kids there to know that some of the adults they are interacting with at Kids Camp are also transgender. This grown up they might look up to a little bit gives them confidence that they don’t have to worry about the future, that there is a future if you are transgender.
My very first Gender Odyssey conference is ending, the first time I have met so many people like me. I feel stronger, more loved, more appreciated, and more confident, and I feel that from now on I can handle anything, knowing that I have so many new friends that will always support me.
As a trans kid, I grew up in a very hostile environment. I would have loved to have my parents be proud of me, love me for who I am, see what a great kid I was, accept me and stand up for me.
At the family conference, this is what all of the families have in common—their love for their transgender child and the pursuit of their child’s happiness and well being, even if, as a parent of a special kid, they may feel that supporting their transgender child is risky and scary and might leave them isolated from family or friends who are less understanding or even disapproving of the way they stand up for their child.
Meeting the parents, talking with them, seeing them with the kids, seeing how they educate the siblings, made me proud of them. Do they know how much of a difference they make in this world? How much they mean to this world? We need these parents that open their minds to learn about a subject that is still such a taboo amongst the majority of society.
As a parent of a transgender child, on a bad day, getting the opposite message from most people in your lives, you might often wonder: Am I doing the right thing?
I’m telling you: yes, you are wonderful! Yes, you are doing the right thing. This is the best thing you can do for your child, for your child’s future well being. There is nothing more important for a child than to know: my parents love me unconditionally, no matter who or what I am. My parents will stand up for me and support me, even when things get tough.
I hope to see you at the Gender Odyssey family conference this August!
Noam ten Bosch