Alethea shed rigid stereotypes about the gender binary, rigid stereotypes about trans people, and rigid stereotypes about transitioning, to finally find her own gender.
Online resources were quite valuable for me in finding my way and resolving parts of that conflict, but one thing that was especially huge for me was getting the chance to meet genderqueer and trans people in real life.
I’ve attended the Gender Odyssey conference for the past three years and it holds a special place in my heart. It’s a wonderful, supportive and community-oriented conference where gender diversity is emphasized and celebrated. GO has a played a huge role in my own process of understanding my gender and deciding to transition. I definitely plan to keep going back.
Gender has always been a fairly confusing thing for me for a long time. I grew up in the American deep south in the 80’s and there was very little acceptance for people who didn’t conform to the gender binary. So I did my best to act like a boy and fit in socially. Over the years I internalized a lot of rigid beliefs about gender stereotypes. Despite what I believed (or wanted to believe, to fit in with my world) I’ve always had gender issues. Those gender issues became louder and louder over the years until finally, in my mid-thirties and living in California, I admitted to myself that I thought I was probably transgender.
That realization kicked off a big period of confusion and fear and lots and lots of research for me. My gender feelings came into direct conflict with my internalized transphobia and my beliefs about the gender binary.
Online resources were quite valuable for me in finding my way and resolving parts of that conflict, but one thing that was especially huge for me was getting the chance to meet genderqueer and trans people in real life. I was lucky to be able to attend the Gender Odyssey conference only a few months into my “gender crisis” period, and I was delighted and relieved by the diversity, kindness and acceptance I found there.
My first year at Gender Odyssey was 2011. I really had no idea what to expect, either from the conference or from myself. One of the things I found was that I kept being drawn to the genderqueer track. I sat in many sessions where GQ people from the audience got to share their backgrounds and experiences. I remember one of those people told me they had always planned to transition to “intermediate” (rather than to male or female) and that many years ago they had started hormones, taken them for a while, and then stopped once they got to where they felt good. That wasn’t an option I’d even considered. It seemed to go against the accepted “official” wisdom I’d found on the internet about what it meant to be trans, and it broadened my view of how one could be trans*. That experience was a big part of what gave me the courage to start hormones originally. I knew that if I didn’t like them, or if I just wanted to stop at some point, I could.
Another thing that was really valuable for me was meeting people from various walks of life. I met all age groups of genderqueer and trans people, from seniors to seniors in high school. It was very powerful for me to hear stories from people who had not “known since childhood,” but rather had determined they were trans and/or decided to transition later in life. That helped me feel like my own gender experience was more “legitimate” and that transition could potentially be for me even though I’d only started to feel trans later in life. That was another huge hurdle for me in (ultimately) deciding to transition.
In addition to learning about the diversity of gender-interesting people at the conference and in the world, I also met new friends who I knew I was excited to keep seeing in future years. The GO conference has many opportunities for attendees and volunteers to mingle with one another, from the set lunch hour to the after-hours conference events to the big picnic at the end of the weekend. Making new friends there was one of my favorite parts of the conference.
After enjoying the conference so much in 2011, I went back in 2012 and I got even more enlightening and valuable experiences and information. I still hadn’t started my transition, but I was pretty close to being ready. I went to a number of the excellent sessions by surgeons about their various surgical techniques. I also met the first explicitly “butch” trans woman I’d ever met. Meeting her was really significant for me because it became clear (in a visceral way) that I could transition from male to female and I could keep dressing and acting in ways that felt comfortable and natural for me. Somehow meeting someone who paved the way made it feel more real for me to want It felt like she was paving the way for me to be the butch trans dyke I felt like inside.
It wasn’t long after the 2012 conference that I was finally ready to transition and by early 2013 I had started hormones. By the time the conference came around in 2013 I wasn’t confused and searching in “gender crisis” anymore, but I’d fallen in love with Gender Odyssey and knew I had to go back. It was still just as good, and it was especially wonderful to see people who by that point were becoming old friends, and also to meet people I expect to be friends with for years to come.
All of this is a very long winded way of saying thank you to the Gender Odyssey conference organizers for crafting an event and holding a space that attracts such wonderful speakers and attendees, and that encourages kindness, understanding, education, acceptance, and the building of long-lasting friendships. I feel like Gender Odyssey has been a tremendously important factor in my ability to figure out my path and my decision to transition and I look forward to going back year after year.
Alethea Power is a technology professional living in California. She began her gender transition from male to female in her mid 30’s and she identifies as a genderqueer butch trans dyke.