As Ezekiel wrote, we’re heading to Family Week 2014 in Provincetown next week. I find that my thoughts in anticipation of the trip are a bit complicated.
We first went to Family Week when our daughter, Leigh, was a year old, and we had a great time. We met primarily two-mom and two-dad families, with babies and with older kids. We observed the great COLAGE programming, and vowed that our daughter would attend the COLAGE camp as soon as she was old enough. We came again when our son was a baby, and again we connected with other parents like us. We again imagined the day both of our kids could participate the in the COLAGE activities, and speculated about how great it would be for our daughter in particular, to learn advocacy skills in the presence of other kids like her.
Now she is actually old enough for that COLAGE camp, but she’s no longer like the other kids. In her regular life, plenty of people know her dad is trans, and she even knows a handful other kids with trans dads (including one her age who is a close friend). But on the whole, her family is different from other families. Now we are bringing her to a camp that I long envisioned as the place where she would get to be ordinary, and she’ll still be different. I am hopeful that she might meet a kid or two her own age that has a trans parent, but I’m not positive that she will.
She has had to explain her family before, even to kids of queers, and it is not always comfortable for her. So I wonder how she will feel, but I also know she’s a fantastically adaptive kid. While I don’t know for sure how she will fare, I do know for certain that I have the problem I’m worried she will have. I’m trepidatious about Family Week. When I first went, it was so awesome to be in a town full of families like mine. Everyone “got it.” I felt like I was known and my family was known. We didn’t have to explain ourselves. Now I am a bisexual woman, married to a trans man, and interfacing with a community of people who might well not understand my family at all. Even if they are kind, and well-intentioned, they are living a life that is very different from mine in important ways.
These days, the larger umbrella LGBT spaces are in some ways harder for us than straight spaces. In straight spaces, we are often read as a straight mom and dad with two kids. That can be a little uncomfortable for me because I am a bisexual woman, but at least all of our genders are correct. In lesbian space, Ezekiel is sometimes mis-gendered, and we are sometimes assumed to be a two-mom family with an extra-butch mom. Even when people use the correct pronouns, Ezekiel doesn’t always feel like he is actually seen as a man. Cis LGB people don’t always really understand trans experiences and issues, even though they are most often well-intentioned and often think that they do understand. I worry that Family Week isn’t my event when I see things like the separate Mom’s and Dad’s family happy hours geared to gay and lesbian parents — my family has one of each, so we don’t exactly fit. Neither do we completely fit the happy hour for people with gender-non-conforming family members, because both of us and both of our kids are actually pretty gender conforming. When he was little my son wore dresses, and when he lived as a woman, my husband dressed like a man, but that’s all in our past.
A couple of months ago, my family went to the Philly Trans Health conference. The conference was great, even though the only official things I went to were a talk about gender in children’s literature and Janet Mock’s keynote. The keynote was great, but what was really awesome about the conference was feeling known. It was wonderful to be in a place where everyone understands ongoing struggles with gender dysphoria and the rollercoaster of medical and social transition. I loved the glimpses of partners and families of trans people, people who had lived some of the same struggles and triumphs as I have.
So I know what it feels like to belong, and to feel known and understood by other people, at least in some key aspects of my life, even before I speak. It is something I used to love about Family Week, and I am afraid that I am going to miss it. But we are going anyway, and I am going to try to reach out and find a community, to look for the ways this is a place where we belong, even if that’s not quite as easy as it once was. And at the very least, I’m going to take my nervousness as a reminder that it is always so important to look to the margins of whatever group may be gathering, and do my part to be explicitly welcoming, so I’ll be doing my best to connect with other families who might feeling a little bit on the outside of family week, in hopes that they may feel a bit more on the inside.
Update: This post was edited at Leigh’s request to take out a conversation she reported to us. I had meant to ask her about it before I shared it, but I forgot. I’m Sorry Leigh.