Aidan Key has spent almost 20 years standing in front of a room full of strangers—kids, parents, educators—and speaking frankly about the complex nature of gender identity. In many ways, he says, it’s gotten easier because we’re finally reaching a tipping point of acceptance. But the West Seattle resident is still quite aware of the ripple that passes through the room when he brings up his own experience: His birth gender was female—with an identical twin sister, to a single mother—and he lived in that body for more than 30 years before finally transitioning.
An ambitious, empathetic person by nature, in 2007, Key launched Gender Diversity, an organization dedicated to creating supportive, inclusive environments, both physical and emotional, for transgender and gender-nonconforming children. When it began, the organization helped just a couple of families of transgender children navigate those uncharted waters. Now, it runs a network of about a dozen facilitated parent support groups within a 200-mile radius of Seattle, and Key says the need for more resources is escalating at an exponential pace. So much so that this year, Key and his team set up a virtual community, TransFamilies, to connect families across the country with resources and with each other.
A large part of Key’s business is consulting with school districts and businesses that want to find ways to be inclusive toward transgender kids. (He’s visited hundreds of schools and businesses all over the country.) When he speaks with them, he uses simple, relatable language that works as well for grown-ups as for children. Sometimes, his audiences are receptive, but even when the crowd is confused—or confrontational—there’s something to be gained, he says. “I try to approach everything with curiosity, gentleness and respect, even the responses of others. I want to understand where [they’re] coming from. It helps me do my work better and be a better person.”
Matter of Necessity
“I loved being a strong woman in the world,” Key says, explaining that his steps toward gender transition weren’t necessarily about becoming a man. “But the reality was my relationship to myself, my body, was never the way it should be…it got to the point where I couldn’t not do it anymore.”
Key says that people are most eager to talk about gender-separated spaces, like bathrooms and locker rooms, and he “provides a space to explore both the complexity and the simplicity [of the issue] inspired by these conversations.”
A Quest for Identity
In 2001, Key launched Gender Odyssey, a conference for transgender families held annually. Also, in 2016, Key and his team introduced a professional conference in Los Angeles that offers programming for better serving transgender and people of color communities.