Friday, January 8, 2016

Our Philly Trans Health Conference Experience

I wrote a previous post about finding community.   Another way to learn and be around a LOT of people who share your story is to attend a transgender focused conference.  There are a variety of them around the country and they vary in size.

We have attended 2 of them in the last couple years so let me first share our experience with the Philladelphia Trans Health Conference.

The Philly Trans Health Conference is one of the biggest in the country.  It's a free 3-day conference (yes, I said FREE... as in $0) and is typically held each June.  It's free because it's run by The Mazzoni Center in Philly and there are many big name sponsors (such as Cigna insurance, TDBank, and others).  This year will be their 15th year holding the conference and will be held June 9-11, 2016.

I registered to go last year without telling TN I was going.  I had no idea what to expect and was very hesitant to just bring him to something like that without fully knowing what we were getting into.  I realize that may sound odd, but this is such a different world we've entered, I'm just extra careful.  So I told him I was going to Philly for a conference (I do that for work all the time, so it wasn't odd) and went up there the night before it started.

That morning, I walked into the Pennsylvania  Convention Center and realized this was a BIG conference.  There were about 5000 attendees.  That's definitely large!   Everyone running the event was super friendly and helpful.  When you check in, you get a name badge where you write your name and your preferred pronoun on it.  I won't lie, it just felt so odd to do that, but I learned that it makes things a lot less awkward for everyone involved.  I still have a tough time with non-gender conforming folks who want to be referred to as "they/them" because the grammar police in me can't stand that.   There's a movement to create gender-neutral pronouns (like ze/zir instead of he/him) which would help a lot.

Over the 3 days, there were over 100 sessions available.  It was difficult to choose sometimes.  After attending a couple sessions and meeting some really awesome people (and seeing that this place was full of "TN's people") I called my husband and told him I wanted him to put TN on a train to Philly that afternoon to join me.  Let me be honest, here.  If you are used to living in your fairly normal suburban bubble, this conference will be stepping out of your comfort zone.  The range of people there was incredible.  Everything from "normal" looking people (who may or may not have been trans...you'd never know!) to people who clearly wanted to be the other gender but weren't there physically yet to people in drag.

Oh and ALL of the bathrooms were gender neutral bathrooms.  So anyone could go in any bathroom. I'm actually totally fine with that EXCEPT I honestly don't like going in men's rooms because they just aren't kept as clean as the women's rooms.  And, yes, I've been in many men's rooms in my lifetime so, yes, I do know.   LOL!   Anywhoooo....

Along with offering sessions, there were lots and lots of tables setup by various organizations with information, books you can buy and people you can talk with about all sorts of topics.  I was personally excited to swing by the FTM Magazine table and meet Aydian Dowling because he's sort of an icon in the FTM (female to male) world.  He was runner up in the Men's Health Magazine's cover competition!  :-)   At any rate, we had a great conversation and had some good words of encouragement for me as a mom of a FTM teen since he'd been there, done that as a teen himself.  There are so many people at this conference who are willing to share their stories, answer your questions and give you the support you need.
Aydian Dowling

You should prepare yourself, though, because they have a section that is more hidden in the back full tables selling/demoing "personal" type stuff.  This is sex toys, packers, STP's ("stand to pee" devices), underclothes, and additional products that you may not want your younger kid seeing.  Most teens see or hear of that stuff by middle and high school so it's not too shocking for them.  It can be eye opening and educational to learn all of the options for  FTM and MTF's to "function" as the gender that they feel they are.

You can visit all of these tables all 3 days all day long so don't feel like you need to hit each one right after you register.   You'll definitely have some time slots where there won't be a session you want to attend, so you'll have time.  Now, onto the sessions!

Unfortunately, I wasn't blogging earlier this year so I don't have a lot of notes on the sessions I attended.   Like I said, there were a ton of sessions.  Here are some that I attended:

  • Safe schools for trans students
  • Trans Employment Law 101:  How to protect yourself legally
  • Changing Your Identity Documents
  • Coverage Still Denied:  How the Affordable Care Act Impacts Trans Healthcare
  • Important of Emotional Support During Transition:  Perspectives from the community and professionals
  • Keelee MacPhee, MD transgender surgery
  • FTM Gender Confirming Surgeries
  • Parent Support Group:  Support and Resources for Parents of Trans Youth ages 12-18
  • Getting Your Trans Care Covered:  Insurance Navigating & Financing Alternatives
  • Know Their Rights:  How to Advocate for Your Child in School

There were some others, but I can't remember right now.  Even some that seemed to have similar titles had differences, so if you want to focus on your kid and school, I'd suggest attending multiple sessions related to that because there will be different facilitators, different parents and different questions asked.

The medical sessions were very interesting because some went into great detail as to how they do top surgery, recovery process, timing, cost, etc.  And the insurance sessions were eye opening because I didn't realize that if TN changes his gender marker to male, he could be denied care related to his uterus, for example.  Now, there's appeal processes and typically those get fixed, but it's still good to know what to do if and when that happens.

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