Alan Guño has been touring the country, attending (pretty much) all LGBTQ conferences, and found something special at Gender Odyssey. He is a strong and welcome ally to the transgender community.
A good deal of my time at the conference was spent trying to be a stronger ally by learning as much as I can about our transgender and gender-variant friends and their experiences. Gender Odyssey was an immersive and focused opportunity for me to do just that.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when I came to Seattle to attend my first Gender Odyssey conference. But as an advocate who had been making the rounds of the national LGBTQ advocacy conferences, I knew that this was certainly one that would be different. And I also hoped that it would be an opportunity to become more engaged with the transgender and gender-variant family and become a true ally for the community.
It was an eye-opening experience to enter the conference area for the first time. There, in one place, was a forum and a safe space for discussing and engaging transgender and gender-variant issues. There were tables for organizations providing services and advocating for the community. There were people discussing the important issues of the day. And there were wonderful advocates leading the way for a weekend of togetherness and learning.
In my visits to other LGBTQ conferences, I discovered the unfortunate truth that many of the issues related to the “T” and “Q” members of our LGBTQ family are often relegated to “optional” or “additional” status – and sometimes not given much focus at all. There is so much we can learn about our friends in the transgender and gender-variant families, whose experiences can be very unique and different from those who are LGB. I was happy to see that at Gender Odyssey, those issues would finally be in the spotlight.
Certainly, the medical, social, and cultural issues of the transgender community give rise to a whole different world of experiences. I was able to attend workshops that dealt with medical issues – from general wellness to hormones to transitions to gender reassignment surgery. It was fascinating to see the remarkable advances that have been made in this regard – but these workshops also explored the complexity of the advances, the need for education, and the economic difficulties of accessing medical care.
Social issues were also a common topic in the workshops. The discrimination that the community faces is very often more severe, more violent, and more marginalizing than experienced by others. And certainly the issues that accompany gender identity and expression – pronoun usage and non-usage, public vs. private expression, name changes, etc. – create a social environment that can be very complex for an individual to navigate. As a cisgender gay male, I often caught myself thinking how invasive and ever-present these issues could be – and how it requires a very special type of courage to deal with the complexity and quantity of these situations.
A good deal of my time at the conference was spent trying to be a stronger ally by learning as much as I can about our transgender and gender-variant friends and their experiences. Gender Odyssey was an immersive and focused opportunity for me to do just that. However, as with the LGBTQ community as a whole, I doubt that the transgender/gender-variant communities would appreciate being defined solely by their needs and difficulties. Because certainly, this community is not just one of struggle – but it is one of celebration as well!
One of my favorite moments of the conference was the keynote presentation by Gene Tagaban – who reminded all in attendance of their special place in the world. His performance was an inspiring reminder that this community has a historical presence in our global and national cultures – and that the stories of this community continue to unfold in each and every person that endeavors to live their truth.
I was not only inspired by the conference speakers, but also by those people who graced the conference with their own individual identities, stories, and experiences. I will never forget encountering a couple, who met each other much later in life – and with one partner transitioning at an older age – their passion and energy rivaled that of any younger couple!
I will always remember those who shared their darker stories and struggles, but now have that special light in their eyes because of their efforts to find their personal truth. And that is the most lasting impression that I brought home from my first trip to Gender Odyssey.
The truth about the transgender and gender-variant community is that it really is a living and vibrant culture! It has its own history, its own uniqueness, and its own wonderful diversity within its rainbow. It also has its own historical heroes as well as its role models of today. It possesses stories of both adversity and strength, is influenced and changed by the individuals that comprise it, and is continually striving towards its goals for a brighter tomorrow. In a way that I found personally at Gender Odyssey, it is composed of people who are actively and wonderfully taking a role in bringing this community into the future. And I consider myself very fortunate to have found them.
Alan Guño is a finance executive with business degrees from the University of Michigan and UCLA. Originally from Michigan, he now lives in California – and considers the birth of his LGBTQ advocacy and activism to have occurred in the aftermath of Proposition 8′s passage. He continues to share the message of equality as both a singer and songwriter.