Finding my community at the Genspect conference
It’s not that I was on the fence about going to the Genspect conference in Colorado in early November. I bought the ticket for the event and the flight months ago. But then, the night before my trip, I was suddenly, and strangely, nervous.
What would it be like? Would trans activists be there raising a stink? Would someone take my picture and put it online to expose me as a transphobe? Would I be cancelled? Or would I just spend the whole time crying?
Seeing my hesitation, my husband said, “Go. You’ll be with your community.” I laughed.
More than five years ago, my daughter declared a trans ID out of the blue. She said all the things. She was born in the wrong body. Had a boy brain. Needed top surgery and HRT to be her true self. No discussion. No debate. She was 14.
For her, from that day on, there was community in real life. A gay-straight alliance at her high school. Flags and pins and parades and Pride months that felt like they would never end.
For my husband and me, there were tears and confusion. We were scared, angry and bewildered, and we bore the burden alone, telling no family or friends. For me, there were desperate internet searches and then, Genspect. There have been years of Zoom calls with other parents. In secret, of course. Whispered calls from the bedroom, from the bathroom with the water running, from the car. These days, I’m in the Substacks, with pseudonyms providing cover.
Now, finally, it was time for me to be with my community.
I flew to Denver on Friday evening, got to the hotel and then planted myself in the cafe in the lobby. I was in awe. All around me were the people I’d been watching and listening to for five long years. Did I really share an elevator with Benjamin Boyce? Jesse Singal is sitting right there. Are you kidding me, the woman who started 4th Wave Now is two tables over. There’s Lisa Selin Davis and Jamie Reed. I couldn’t help myself; I interrupted their conversation, but they smiled and welcomed me anyway.
Stella walked by two times and then I ambushed her on the third with a hug and a thank you. She gives great hugs. Have you talked to other parents? she asked. Be sure to talk to the other parents. I think Stella even sent someone over from PITT to say hello.
The next morning, the conference started with wristbands, a bag search and a metal detector. Author Michael Shellanberger said in his talk it was more security than he’d seen at any conference that he’d attended, and this is a guy who knows about eco-terrorism. It was a grim reminder that some considered this gathering – and the psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, activists, scientists, trans women and men, detransitioners, parents and others who attended to discuss why we need an alternative to medical gender transition for minors – dangerous and believed it should be stopped.
Was it dangerous? I can’t say. All I know is that it was the safest, freest and most secure I’ve felt in five years, since tumbling headfirst into this waking nightmare. I’ve never been so eager to make a name tag. Then I – happily – added a yellow sticker to show that I am a parent to a ROGD kid. And suddenly I was in my community.
Among fellow travelers, there was no need for small talk or awkward explanations or pronoun gymnastics. We looked each other in the face and shared our pain. My daughter. My son. My eldest, my youngest. My only child. How long? Eight months, five years, 10 years. Sons and daughters who hadn’t yet started high school. Or went off to college – Ivy League schools! – and came back as someone else. Emails from schools with a name you don’t know, texts, screaming matches, elephants in the room, relationships hanging by a thread. No contact.
What was there for this embattled group of experts and parents to learn? It turns out, quite a lot. I can hardly find the words to explain how glorious it was to sit in a room listening to so many smart, committed people offering answers to some of the most perplexing questions. What will it take for the broader public to understand the abuses coming out of WPATH? How did the stealth push for trans rights make it more successful, while being far less popular, than the decades-long civil rights movements for women, Blacks, and gays? How is it possible that mainstream media has fumbled the ball so badly on this? How could a once esteemed science journal like Nature publish articles about human sex being a spectrum?
On Saturday, there were two separate moments that I will never forget: following an afternoon panel discussion, a man in the audience stood up and told his gut-wrenching story of losing custody of his two-year-old son after he objected to the boy being subjected to gender transition. Adam Vena, of California, said the court has issued a five-year restraining order against him. That evening, as Stella and Sasha interviewed detransitioner Chloe Cole, I could hear a woman sobbing, two tables over.
At Genspect, it all seemed so painfully clear. Of course, it’s not possible for human beings to truly change sex, and telling children otherwise is a lie. Of course, gender affirmation treatment is akin to lobotomies. Of course, the world will soon wake up and realize this, and put a stop to it.
Surely this is not just the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end.
A postscript: I came home with this piece for PITT half-written. Sliding back into my regular routine means being a mom to my two other teens, taking care of my elderly mom, who’s starting to forget important things, and my 9-to-5 corporate life. It means always bracing for news from my daughter that she’s decided to move ahead with hormones and surgery because, after all, she’s 19 now. It means biting my tongue when my company’s DEI team insists on commemorating the Transgender Day of Remembrance because I need my job. At home, I’m about three weeks behind on everything. I’m perpetually dragged down by heartache and worry, even when trying to finish a piece of writing that I’m excited about.
Back in my day-to-day life, there are no easy answers. My daughter now lives away at college, where she uses a male name and wears a binder. She is celebrated. I am still quiet. But now I feel more hopeful, and much less alone. I made new friends in Denver; their phone numbers and email addresses are in my phone and their stories are in my heart. I have my community.