Long before my son was born, my dear mother turned to me and said, “your kids are going to turn out so conservative.” I think this was her special way of saying that 1) my activist lifestyle is a little kooky, and 2) kids inevitably rebel against parental extremes by becoming the opposite.
While I tend to disagree with her on the first point, I have met plenty of families who seem to prove the second point. Now that I am a parent, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to share my values in a way that’s helpful rather than oppressive. Whatever Waylon grows up to be, I want to bequeath him all the best tools from the queer survival toolkit: building community, making art, acting up in the public sphere, valuing difference. I want him to remember his activist childhood fondly.
So last week we took Waylon to Dallas for Creating Change, the Task Force’s National Conference on LGBT Equality. Will he remember it fondly? That remains to be seen.
Creating Change is one of my favorite conferences. I love the emphasis on multi-issue politics and alliance building. I love the leading role played by youth and people of color. I love the sense of camaraderie. I love the playfulness. And I think Sue Hyde is totally hot.
Last year, I saw a woman at Creating Change with a young child, and I realized that childcare was available for conference participants. Childcare at activist events is one of my favorite second wave feminist interventions, and it seemed like yet another indication of CC’s awesome intersectional politics.
As it turns out, however, the childcare in Dallas was a bit of a mixed bag. At six years old, Waylon was one of the oldest kids in the room. And the services were really just traditional babysitting: there were some toys and books and movies, but nothing really engaging or interactive. After the first morning, Waylon was bored and didn’t want to go back.
To be fair, our expectations were high because Waylon has had great experiences attending the Gender Spectrum kids camp at Gender Odyssey and participating in COLAGE-sponsored programming at other activist events. Those programs focused on getting kids to interact and express themselves and make stuff.
Luckily, I’d done a little background research on fun stuff for kids in the Dallas area. My partner, Katy, and I were able to make a deal with Waylon: he would spend a few hours at the childcare each day and each day we’d leave the conference for a few hours to do something that he wanted to do, like visit the aquarium or shop at the Lego store.
Our compromise with Waylon meant that I missed most of the plenaries. Since I didn’t get to go to those big sessions, I missed some of the feeling of community that I’ve loved about Creating Change in the past. I didn’t get to go to as many workshops as I normally do. I didn’t have the same feeling of cruisiness that usually makes CC so fun. I was in bed by 9pm almost every night.
On the other hand, the diversity of ages and bodies at Creating Change sparked some great conversations with Waylon about ableism and how to talk about physical characteristics without using value-laden words.
Waylon: “I just meant ‘weird’ as in different, not ‘weird’ as in bad.”
Mama: “Then just say different.”
[Later] Waylon: “Mommy, you look…different.”
We had other important discussions as well. Coming to a compromise about the childcare gave me the opportunity to explain why it was important to me to be at the conference in the first place. And after we left, Waylon initiated an on-going conversation about African American cultural traditions that led us into talking about histories of slavery, cultural appropriation, and resistance.
For me, the best part of the entire conference was attending the Sunday plenary brunch with my immediate and extended families. From the moment I first read the conference program, I was super excited to see that Vogue Evolution would perform. Waylon loves to dance and loves to watch dance. I knew that voguing was going to blow his mind.
In the end, the closing event was even better than I could have imagined. The members of Vogue Evolution are activists and historians, committed to documenting the origins of voguing in African American communities going back to the 1920s and earlier. I teach some of this history in my LGBT film class when we watch Tongues Untied. I was deeply moved to know that several of my former students were there in the audience too, learning more and seeing that history in motion.
Feeling their youthful presence, and knowing that my young son has a near-photographic memory for dance moves, I felt so grateful to be part of the relay of queer generations, the passing on of the queer survival toolkit.
Just now, I asked Waylon to recount his favorite things about his weekend in Dallas. They were 1) the Lego store, 2) the aquarium, 3) the picture he colored at dinner Friday night, and 4) “the dancing.”