I was lucky enough to attend the “Ally Meeting” of friends of ours recently. Their child had decided to transition and they were gathering a group of friends, to help them learn and understand and feel comfortable. It was so beautiful and supportive – a room filled with moms and educators. Some were a bit nervous and but all were openly wanting to be there for this family. It reminded me of the Ally Meeting we had when E transitioned.
Every kid is different. Every transition has it’s own flavor and flow. Every family has their own comfort levels around the complex issues that accompany a child socially changing genders. So maybe an Ally Meeting is not a crucial part of the process for all. But for us it absolutely was.
It was a cold winter evening, a Monday night at 6pm. I knew it was an inconvenient time, but it was what worked. I didn’t exactly know what to expect as I invited the parents of E’s friends as well as E’s coaches, individually, via email. I told them the truth: that we valued them as friends and E valued his relationship with their child. We were going through something as a family that I wanted them to understand. I explained it. And they all came, every one that was invited.
E was tucked away at a friend’s house. As the parents entered, they hugged us, tentative and eager. We gathered in our kitchen and by the time we settled in, the room was full. Every chair in my house was used, every spare stool, and still some of us had to stand. It was okay. Our friends made it clear that they understood the importance of what was happening and were glad to be part of it. The start of the meeting was emotional for me. We had prepared a letter that explained E’s story and my husband read it. I knew wouldn’t be able to get through it without tears, and as it turned out neither could he. But there were not many dry eyes in the room so we were not alone.
Everyone introduced themselves. One by one they said how they know us and what E means to their child, what our family means to theirs. This is not a moment most parents get to have and I wish they could. While there are many challenges to having a trans kid, the benefits far outweigh them. This is one benefit that was selfishly just for us as his parents. To soak in that kind of love and affirmation around your child, to know what people think about your child, is a powerful thing. It was unexpected and it moved me beyond words.
J was there to lead us and we couldn’t have been in better hands. He set the exact right tone, creating an ease with material that was tricky and new to many in the room. This was before Caitlyn Jenner and the current ideas about gender, the difference between gender identity and sexuality, the historical perspective of gender expression was something many had never heard before. But J guided them through it in way that made them land in a place where it all felt okay. They had questions and he had answers. He engaged my husband and I when it made sense, but he did the heavy lifting. It was open and collaborative and as the meeting progressed there was a release of energy in the room. A common understanding taking place that drew the participants together. They got it. They were on board.
My husband and I had a theory. If we could get the families of E’s friends to understand and feel comfortable, their children would be supported in their own understanding and acceptance. We were gathering allies, building a troop.
We needed them and they showed up. We have not stopped feeling grateful for that.
When I think about this past year, and everything that we have been through as a family with E, a few moments stand out in my mind. My mother’s face as she told me about the kids reaction to E the first time he saw them after they were told about him. The tiny screen on E’s iphone, Facetiming his friends on that day; they were jumping around and screaming and holding a sign saying “We Support E.” The gentle flip of my computer screen as the emails came in reaction to our news. And that beautiful night in our kitchen when our friends listened, eyes glistening, to the letter that E wrote. He asked for their acceptance, and he got it.