All across the country parents are busy getting kids ready for summer camp, reviewing what-to-bring checklists and making last minute dashes to the store to buy must-have travel size containers of toiletries they know deep down their child will never use. I’m not one to gamble, but I am willing to bet those parent’s biggest concern is whether they have packed enough warm clothes, undies and sunscreen.
Oh, for that to be our only worry.
When your child is transgender you also need to worry about whether you tell the camp staff and the parents of the kids your child will be bunking with that there is this little detail (in the scheme of things), which they might not understand (trans what?) and oh, by the way, might very well infringe upon their comfort zones (he’s really a girl?). Welcome to our normal. Do you err on the side of full disclosure, thereby risking rejection or do you proceed without exposing your child’s biology because it really shouldn’t matter, right?
Such was the case last summer when Sam went to camp for the first time as a boy. To tell or not to tell, that was the question. We wrestled with the decision, polling friends, reading between the lines of camp application forms looking for loopholes, and running through a hundred ‘what-if’ scenarios.
What-if the bathrooms are not private?
What if someone walks in on him when he is changing his clothes?
What if someone knows that he was born female and tells all the other campers?
What if…what if…what if?
In the end we decided to be upfront with the staff and parents. We cleared the first camp administration hurdle with amazing ease – their position was that they would follow our child’s lead – if Sam wanted to room with boys then they would support his decision. What an unexpected (to say the least) and pleasant surprise. Up next: the roommate’s parents. For me, approaching them was more intimidating because their stance could be a deal breaker. Sam had his heart set on going to camp and if the parents of his potential roommates were not accepting, he would have to stay home or we would have to make separate (and by separate I mean he would be alone) sleeping arrangements. Neither being an option we wanted to exercise.
We have found with situations like this that it is good to involve an intermediary – good for the people we are interacting with because they do not have to worry about offending us with questions, comments or concerns, and even better for us because rejection from an intermediary somehow hurts less than receiving it directly from the source. With that in mind we enlisted the help of one of the camp chaperones. She told us she knew the perfect roommate for Sam and even better yet, knew his parents. In a reassuring tone she said, “…no worries, I’ll talk to them and get back to you.”
And so we waited. And worried. And obsessed. And wondered if it would be possible for these people to give Sam a much-deserved chance to go to camp just like everyone else.
Within a day she was back to us, eager to share her conversation with the boy’s father. As she assumed the conversation would go, she wasn’t even able to finish the question before he interrupted by saying, “…Nicole, thank you for giving our son the opportunity to get to know someone who has a different life path.” And as if that wasn’t good enough, he followed up with this email, which she happily forwarded on to our family:
I spoke with our son. As you thought, he didn’t have a clue about Sam’s transition. In his typical way, he led us to believe it wasn’t a big deal for him so we took this as a great opportunity for us to talk with him about being aware of how living out our family, religious and community’s values impacts the world he lives in. Going forward he says he has no questions and no issues. He summed it up saying he enjoys Sam’s company and is looking forward to having more fun with him. Please pass this along to Sam’s mom and let her know we are impressed with his courage and their support for him.
To say we were overwhelmed by their letter, their kindness and compassion would be an understatement. Because of their acceptance, Sam got to experience camp for the first time as a boy…sharing a room with another guy, staying up late talking about god-only-knows-what and making bodily noises that are only entertaining to the male gender. He got to be himself at camp, and for the first time we got to send him off with only one worry on our minds…whether he packed enough warm clothes, undies and sunscreen.
Post note – I wish every gender variant child and their family could have the same experience we did sending Sam to camp. A possible alternative to ‘traditional’ camp that I have heard wonderful things about is Camp Aranu’tiq, a weeklong overnight summer camp for transgender and gender-variant kids ages 8 through 15 located in Southern New England. According to the camp website, the name comes from a Chugach (Yup’ik, an Indigenous people of Alaska) word for a person who was thought to embody both the male and female spirit. Aranu’tiq people are often revered and thought to be very lucky because their existence transcended traditional gender boundaries. You can find a link in my Resources section or simply click on the camp name in this post.