Paige Schilt

Creating Change with a Kid

Filed By Paige Schilt | February 14, 2010 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, The Movement
Tags: child care, COLAGE, Creating Change conference, gay parents, Gender Odyssey, LGBT parent, parenting, Vogue Evolution

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."

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Great post, Paige. Sounds like you hit a good balance between your "grown up" activities and Waylon's kid interests--something I'm always striving for myself (with varying levels of success).

Legos are a universal for the six-year-old set, though, hmm? I can attest to that (though I'm not sure I've really outgrown them myself).

I remember when my son Eric was around that age and said something about me or someone else looking "weird". (He's now 18 and has grown up to be someone I am very proud of.) We also had that conversation about difference - though I used some other word that I can't now remember. I think at that age they are learning what it means to conform, or not to conform, and the rewards and penalties thereof.

I would expect more along those lines. When those mean words come out of the mouths of our own children, learned from the schoolyard, it is chilling. But they're just trying them out, and fortunately, we can talk to our children about them.

As far as how not to oppress children, my solution has been to explain my point briefly when I disagree with him, but not to insist that he has to agree with me. (Of course, I'm not talking about issues of health or safety.) When we have a disagreement, I make sure to show respect for his opinion. I tell him that I will think about what he said later on, and ask him to think about what I said.

I try not to suggest by words or attitude that he or his opinion are dumb or contemptible, or that I know better just because I'm older or smarter. Even though I may sometimes think it's true. But I think that's the way to show children that they should not think for themselves.

I often find, later on, that he has adopted my opinion and does not remember the earlier conversation.

Our relationship now is very sweet. We revel in each other's company when we are together. He is a rather typical adolescent and he doesn't answer my emails, phone calls or texts, and he also often thinks my opinions are wrong. But it has worked out well, and I am torn when I think of him going off to college next year. But, like Kahlil Gibran said, we do not own our children. They are not our property.

Fortunately, his photographs are mine and will stay with me forever, frozen in time. :)

Hey Paige,
Thank you for your comments and feedback about the child care offered at Creating Change 2010. I'm always glad to know how well/poorly our child care serves our attendees and I will check back in with the provider agency about their care and activities for children in elementary school grades. I am SO glad that you and Katy and Waymon were able to attend the closing plenary session featuring Vogue was an absolute highlight for me, too, at Creating Change 2010.
Hope to see you in Minneapolis for Creating Change 2011.