A summer camp for transgender children

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More and more initiatives are springing up around the world to accept and welcome trans children and to help them transition into the gender they identify with (if they identify with any gender at all). One such program has formed the subject of photographer Lindsay Morris' latest project, You Are You. Showcasing the lives of trans girls and gender non-conforming boys at an unidentified summer camp structured specifically for their needs, You Are You has been unfolding over the past three years. The resulting insight into the lives of these children is both beautiful and bittersweet.

Morris' photographs are diverse. In one, a typically girly child mugs for the camera, their yellow blouse set atop a green, frilly skirt. In another, a more boyish child with short hair and long basketball shorts sits concentrating on a make-up compact, a brush poised in their hand above their cheek. A third shows a small child dressed as Merida, the courageous princess from Disney's Brave.

The fact that all of Morris' subjects are biologically male is the least interesting part of a tableaux that explores fantasy and imagination. As Slate's recent profile on You Are You states, "it is unknown if the kids at the camp will eventually identify as gay or transgender" but Camp 'You Are You'; "allows the kids to look at themselves in a completely different way."

Places like Camp 'You Are You' (whose name has been changed to protect its members and their families) are instrumental in providing a safe space for trans kids to express themselves freely, without fear of persecution or bullying. The American Camp Association has taken a decidedly pro-trans stance, highlighting the role that the American camp tradition can play in creating safe and welcoming spaces for trans kids; Camp Aranu'tiq  has been welcoming trans kids for years.

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As Bedford Hope, the father of a trans child, wrote in 2010, “The camp experience is surreal, a trip to a planet where we're normal. The kids run wild, doing kid stuff, including improvisational theatre and dance, lip-syncing to Lady Gaga. They prepare for (and fret over) the weekend's climax - a fashion show in which each child, in turn, will march down a runway in a get-up of their own devising. Until they run themselves ragged and then sit in circles in our rooms painting their nails and telling poop jokes. For once, we don't hover over them. It's safe here.”

It's safe here.

Of course, there remains a cohort of people frightened by what might happen should we let this marauding band of boys frolic freely in mounds of pink glitter and swathes of organza. We're talking Old Testament! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

LifeSiteNews quotes Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, who told the Christian Post he "fears well-meaning parents may be doing more harm than good by bringing their boys into an environment that reinforces and celebrates their gender confusion."

The historical and ongoing existence of trans people is evidence enough to show that gender identity can't be dictated by outside forces. Instead, trans people experience discrimination and heartbreaking levels of violence and depression. And people like Sprigg worry that parents, accepting as they are of their children's gender variance, "may be doing more harm than good".

Views such as Sprigg's reflect a hysterical fear of biological masculinity blending with stereotypically feminine traits and pursuits. We have words that can be conveniently apply to girls who prefer the supposedly rough and tumble play of boys. Mostly, we call them tomboys. Because the pursuits of femininity are considered frivolous and dull, the cisgendered girls who claim more of an interest in the exciting activities of boys are often spoken about with a hint of pride and (especially if they grow into effortlessly attractive, straight women) rewarded for this early rejection of the superficial froth that characterises their gender.

But no such system of reward exists for boys and men who reject the tropes of their sex. What do we call biological males who play with femininity, or enjoy 'girly' activities? Society has a vast array of hateful language designed to diminish them, and by extension the femininity they align themselves with. Sissies, pussies, wimps. Fags. They are less, because to be a woman is to be less.

A biological male child who wants to wear dresses, play at being princesses and run fashion shows shouldn't be thought of as an aberration, or the product of a confused culture that wants to destroy masculinity and brainwash its young. As Kate Doak, a journalist and trans activist, says, “Gender is only one small part of what makes a person who they are. Experimenting, challenging ourselves and opening up doors are all natural and normal parts of life, regardless of who we are or where we live.”

Camp 'You Are You' and similar provide a much needed outlet for trans and non gender conforming kids. Morris' project shows how beautiful it looks when children are given the liberty to express themselves without fear of repercussions or shaming.

But won't it be marvellous when society reaches the point where all of its members can feel free to express themselves as they like without the rigidity of gender expectations oppressing them? Where a little boy can dress up as a Scottish princess and feel brave not because of the anatomy of his body but because of his heart?

14 comments

  • "LifeSiteNews quotes Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, who told the Christian Post he "fears well-meaning parents may be doing more harm than good by bringing their boys into an environment that reinforces and celebrates their gender confusion.""

    That's what he sees because he's viewing the situation through his own bias, something most of us do.

    I see it as 'bringing boys into an environment that allows them to either explore their gender confusion or forget about it for the time being and just be themselves'.

    That's because he seems to believe these boys can be influenced one way or the other, perhaps even thinking they'll 'grow out of' this thinking IF everybody keeps quiet about it. I don't.

    Commenter
    bornagirl
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    July 26, 2013, 10:21AM
    • "Girls can wear jeans, cut their hair short. Wear shirts and boots - because its OK to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that -being- a girl is degrading. But secretly, you'd love to know that its like, wouldn't you? What it feels like, for a girl"

      As much as it pains me to say it, Madonna has all the answers.

      This ridiculous (dare I say it, hysterical) fear that the patriarchy has of the feminine is born of a deep-seeded terror; regardless of how hard the man tries. He cannot control the woman and he cannot understand nor sympathise with her position in this world.

      Most men are terrified of the feminine qualities that -we all- have within ourselves and it leads to sexism and misogyny.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 26, 2013, 10:48AM
      • You can breathe a sigh of relief Adrian - it wasn't Madonna who wrote those lines (although she did use them in her song) but Ian MacEwan in his 1978 novel The Cement Garden.

        And I can't take credit for knowing that. A facebook friend recommended I watch the movie adaptation, which included the line you quote.

        Commenter
        Clementine Ford
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 26, 2013, 2:52PM
      • Never knew this! Happily breathing now. Popstars should stick to what they do best. Falling out of cars sans underwear and pointing fake guns at audiences during concerts.

        Not provide thoughtful social commentary through music. Never that.

        Commenter
        Adrian
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 26, 2013, 3:38PM
      • Adrian,
        There is another view on this which is from a traditionalist masculine point of view, (which I don't share,) that men were ultimately responsible for providing food, shelter and safety for women and children. This responsibility was without regard to their own health, safety or life. Therefore, a man who took a feminine role would have been seen as a shirker who had failed in his manly responsibilities to protect and provide.

        Commenter
        JohnA
        Date and time
        July 26, 2013, 3:54PM
    • "without the rigidity of gender expectations oppressing them? "

      I enjoy the rigidity of gender expectations for men. A lot of men do...that's part of why they're still around and difficult to dislodge. That, and the more we encourage men to move away from those expectations, the higher the rates of suicide and depression seem to climb. Correlation != causation, but I doubt anyone has bothered to look into whether there is a causative relationship between removing the expectations from men and the increase in depression etc...

      Commenter
      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      July 26, 2013, 11:18AM
      • They're actually very easy to dislodge. Did you know that pink used to be considered a boy colour because it was related to red, thought to reflect the passion of masculinity? While blue, the more calming colour, was assigned to girls. Prior to that, little boys grew their hair long and were dressed in frilly white dresses until they reached a certain age, when they moved to short pants.

        http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html

        Men used to be free to express physical affection towards one another without it being confused for sexual attention. Prior to women entering public life, men behaved a lot differently - perhaps because there was no need for them to establish their superiority and masculine virility because it wasn't in question.

        http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/the-fear-of-male-to-male-intimacy-20120917-261za.html

        When you talk about gender roles and expressions being difficult to dislodge, it's simply not true.

        Commenter
        Clementine Ford
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 26, 2013, 2:57PM
      • Also, suicide is tragic in all circumstances. But it's also true that women attempt it just as much if not more so than men, but choose methods that are less likely to work.

        http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=84760

        Commenter
        Clementine Ford
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 26, 2013, 3:35PM
    • Lovely article, really brightened up my morning until I got to this part:

      "What do we call biological males who play with femininity, or enjoy 'girly' activities? Society has a vast array of hateful language designed to diminish them, and by extension the femininity they align themselves with. Sissies, pussies, wimps. Fags. They are less, because to be a woman is to be less."

      And then I felt a bit like crying. It's too true.

      I work with kids and I see this *all the time*. Parents are usually so proud of their tomboy daughters ("she can outrun the boys!"), but too many are concerned about their sons who like pink, want to wear sequins, or join a dance class. I've seen little boys instructed to put away certain toys ("those are for girls") and seen pink textas prised from their little hands, replaced with blue or black.

      And then there's the flipside, where little girls are told to sit down and play nicely, while little boys are encouraged to run around yelling like the little kids they are. "Oh, he's such a boy!", "Such a typical boy!", "But boys are like that, aren't they", these parents say. They sometimes look a bit confused or even deflated when I respond, "Because we socialise them that way from day one." They seem really want me to respond, "Why yes, your boy is a stunning example of natural masculinity - well done! Now let's get him another truck and a skull t-shirt."

      I'm glad the little boys at You Are You are seeing another side of things.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      July 26, 2013, 11:28AM
      • I grew up with the tag of 'tomboy' but in recent years have come to have the opposite view of it being complimentary.

        What it's saying when it's used in a complimentary sense is that hey, well done, you've allowed your 'boy' tendencies to rise to the surface. Actually, they were never boy tendencies, merely within the very normal range of girl tendencies.

        The 'middle ground' gets segregated into 'girls behaving like boys' (can be good or bad depending on who's viewing it) and 'boys behaving like girls' (never good).

        Commenter
        bornagirl
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 26, 2013, 2:48PM

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