Recently, I hit the road again, joining partners, colleagues, and accomplices in the work at Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. There, I found moments of the kind of world we can create, in the now, as we imagine and work for a society where we all, finally, are liberated, valued, free to be, and have a dignified and meaningful place in a common world. The work is difficult and slow going. Sometimes, it’s hard to hang on to the reason we do this work: the belief that we really can, together, change the world.
Not every moment–or hour–was perfect. But there were moments, gifts perhaps, that rekindled my hope–a hope, lately, profoundly threatened.
These moments are reminders: if we are willing to practice what we hope for, we can create and model the world we imagine, even as we work for and dream it.
Here are four of the gifts I received:
1. The gift of collaboration.
When we mentally and emotionally commit to fostering collaborative spaces and projects, let our egos go, embrace our unknowing, and place our shared vision above our personal attachments, we really can work together. We can learn from one another, contribute, grow, dare to be changed, and create momentary revolutionary spaces. Those spaces, nurtured, can be transformed into lasting ways of being and acting in the world. Perhaps, then, moments can become hours; hours, days; days a new, life-giving cohabitation on a shared earth.
2. The gift of bravery.
In our current time, it takes a fair amount of bravery just to leave the house and do so expressing one’s gender self-sunderstanding. It takes even more to gather publicly–daring to hold communities of support, learning, sharing, and change-making together. This, alone, is life-giving.
But, when courageous, authentic presence is met with embracing the risky activities of listening to one another, holding conversations, challenging ourselves, and regarding disagreement and difference with grace and respect, seemingly small sparks of willingness can become flames that burn bright enough, long enough, to fight the fires of hatred with ones of love, mercy, compassion, and communal concern.
Bravery is contagious. Stand close, lean into relationship with a trans person, and you just might catch the spark.
3. The gift of remembering.
As trans and gender-expansive persons, we live in a constancy of tensions. There are many: Visibility. Danger. Invisibility. Exploitation. Isolation. Tokenization. Loneliness. Rejection. The list goes on. Remembering, too, is in tension: remembering as part of self-understanding; things we’d rather forget; remembering as part of healing; memories that are lost to us; remembering our fallen while working for the living; remembering our profound resilience while striving for fuller, healthier lives that look to and imagine our future.
Our past–personal and collective–is always with us. It shapes our present and informs our future. When we are held in community, we can remember in transformative ways. And, perhaps, we can be re-membered–put together in renewed self-understanding, repositioned, given a sense of place and belonging with ourselves and others.
4. The gift of imagining.
To my mind, our work for change is the work of imagining. So, also, the work of healing; the work of community-building; the work of relationship-building.
Essentially, being trans is about imagining. We dare to live in the raw material of our bodies and lives, look deeply, sense and feel our way, and imagine bursting forth into the selfhood already present within us–then, we dare to give ourselves life. When we come together, opening the flood gates on all our vision-crafting, we can envision a way forward that leaves no one behind. That leaves no one unseen, uncared for, un-imagined.
All these gifts of gathering came together for me in one poignant, amazing event.
Every year at the conference, there is a track for kids and adolescents. Many are trans in some sense of emerging self-understanding; some, the children of trans folks. They range in ages, races, ethnicities, family configuration, and personalities. Children abound.
In the afternoon of the last day, I was taking a stroll through the vendor tables. Suddenly, there was the sound of noise-makers, laughing, and merry-making. People began clapping and cheering. I turned around.
There, marching through the hallway, was a parade of children–glorious, gender-expansive, beautiful children, accompanied by youth and adults working with them. They waved rainbow and trans pride flags. Some were wearing rainbow tutus or hats. As they marched through the conference center, everyone stopped, took notice, and celebrated.
A roar of joyful, affirming cheers filled the building.
I watched them pass, remembering my own troubled becoming, aware of the gaps in my own memory. I took in their imagining made marvelous among us. For a moment, I imagined a world full of these children, grown and raising their own children, affirming them to be whoever is bursting forth within them. I envisioned what it must be like to be one of those children–to receive the collaborative gifts of those working with and caring for them, to receive being seen and celebrated by hundreds of trans, gender-diverse folks, queer folks, and allies. I reveled in their bravery. I remembered those whose courage and persistence brought us all to such a day.
With the clapping of my hands, with cheers I shouted, I gave thanks.
Through trailing tears, and an uncharacteristically broad smile, I gave thanks for those children. As I looked around, amid echoing cheers and clapping, I noticed I was not alone.
Liam Hooper lives in the deep south with his wife, Diana, a freelance publishing professional who keeps his calendar in line, and their teenage son, who keeps them on their toes.