Beyond the Binary – A Speaker’s Journey

I start my presentation on gender with a snippet from Free to Be You and Me and an embarrassing personal story – the time I realized that I knew far less about gender than my children do, far less than I thought I did. The time I learned (again) that one of the best ways to guide our children is by listening to them, not trying to teach and correct them all the time.

When I speak, I tell my audience that I began writing about gender because I couldn’t find much in print or online from a parent’s perspective. And once I began writing, I was asked to speak on the subject – first to a retirees’ education group, a year later at a Jewish learning festival; I was asked to facilitate a discussion with local educators, and then served on a panel with college counselors and admissions officers from around the world.

Last year, I proposed the session for the Independent Educational Consultant Association’s annual spring conference, a place where I am known as the college essay lady, not the gender mom. But who knew? They respect my expertise; maybe they would give me a platform. Maybe I could fill a conference room.

And then, thanks to Covid, the conference went virtual. Instead of flying to Connecticut, members could join from their kitchen tables and home offices. Registration exploded. Hundreds of people streamed dozens of sessions.

By the time the conference ended, more than 500 people had viewed my session – far more than the 80 or so who would have selected it from the menu of in-person options.

The morning the conference started, I received an email from a colleague I know only peripherally; someone I like and respect, kind of a big shot in our professional community:

I’m 20-something minutes into your video and I just have to say this one of the most remarkable sessions I’ve seen at a professional conference. The content is so thoughtfully curated and the delivery is pitch perfect. And my first [conference] was in 1994 so I know what I’m talking about. Thank you for putting so much head and heart into this. What a great start to my day!

What a great start to my day.

I had no idea how this would go over. My experience as a parent, presented to a group of independent counselors. It certainly hit a nerve. I received heartfelt messages from people I knew and many I didn’t. Parents of trans and non-binary children. Counselors trying to support their student clients.

Another colleague, the Director of Learning and Development at CIP, a post-secondary transition program for young adults on the autism spectrum and with other learning differences, asked if I would present a similar session for CIP staff and families. I wouldn’t be talking about autism or learning challenges, but she said that gender was a big topic of conversation in their community. She would open it up to the public.

Again, amazing.

During that webinar, I talked about community support and engagement, about the ways in which parents, teachers, counselors and others can do more than simply accept gender non-conforming youth; how we can engage in learning and sharing related to gender. How we need to practice the names and pronouns of our children and students when they’re not with us, so we’ll get it right when we see them face-to-face.

Again, emails and thank-you’s.

If you’re interested in the webinar, CIP has generously made the recording available to the public. You can check it out here.

And let me ask you something too: Spread the word. Our children know more about gender than we do. Listen, learn and practice. Give them space to create the world they know they need. And then dig in and do the hard work of participating.


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