By David Rosenberg| Slate.com
Over the past three years, photographer Lindsay Morris has been documenting a four-day camp for gender nonconforming boys and their parents. The camp, “You Are You” (the name has been changed to protect the privacy of the children and is also the name of Morris’ series), is for “Parents who don’t have a gender-confirming 3-year-old who wants to wear high heels and prefers to go down the pink aisle in K-Mart and not that nasty dark boys’ aisle,” Morris said with a laugh.
It is also a place for both parents and children to feel protected in an environment that encourages free expression.
“[The kids] don’t have to look over their shoulders, and they can let down their guard. Those are four days when none of that matters, and they are surrounded by family members who support them,” Morris said.
Morris has stated that her photographic goal for the project is “to represent the spirit of these boys as they shine.” Some of the ways in which the kids shine is through the talent and fashion shows at camp that are popular and for which the campers come well-prepared.
“Some practice for the talent show all year, and others create their own gowns with their mothers or friends of the family,” Morris said. “The focus and enthusiasm is really pretty incredible. Also, it can be very emotional for the parents, especially the families who are new to camp and are experiencing this kind of group acceptance for the very first time.”
Although it is unknown if the kids at the camp will eventually identify as gay or transgender—or even if the way gender and sexuality are defined throughout society will evolve—the camp allows the kids to look at themselves in a completely different way.
“They get enough questioning in their daily lives, so it’s a great place for them to express themselves as they feel. … I feel we hear so many of the sad stories and how LGBT kids are disproportionately affected by bullying, depression, and suicide, and it hangs a heavy cloud over them and kind of dooms them from the beginning. I’m saying this is a new story. This is not a tragedy.”
Morris hopes to eventually publish a book of her work and also launch a large multimedia show that travels the country and the world to show a new face of LGBT youth. The children featured here and in Morris’ project are photographed with the permission of the their parents. Her ultimate goal is to start a foundation that raises money to help underwrite the cost of camp for kids unable to attend. She also hopes to add even more dimension to the project, concentrating on producing more portraiture and documenting the transition the kids experience upon arrival to the camp.
“I would really love to follow the kids into adulthood and see what kind of relationships they develop,” Morris said. “I want to witness the evolution, knowing from where they started and see how life is going to play out for them—hopefully happily—and I think they’re going to have a better transition into adulthood than the generation proceeding them.”
An anonymous commentator wrote: I don’t normally comment on articles, but I just wanted to add my voice to say that I think this camp is incredible and these parents are fantastic for being so supportive.
And to y’all who are freaking out about how it will “turn them gay” or whatever, that’s not how it works. The clothes you wear or the gender-stereotyped activities you like to do don’t affect your sexual orientation or your gender identity.
If that were the case, all boys who like having long hair and enjoy baking would be women and all girls who prefer jeans and love sports would be men — and that’s obviously absurd. Look around you and you’ll see straight, cisgendered (meaning their internal identity and their bodies match up, as opposed to transgendered people) men and women everywhere who do things that defy traditional gender roles.
Plus, if any of these boys are actually gay or trans, they’ll still grow up to be gay or trans whether or not they play dress up for a few days a year. The only difference this camp makes is that it means they’ll grow up with parents who clearly support them. They’ll be less likely to drop out of school, do drugs, or self-harm.
As to transgendered children, it’s definitely a sensitive issue and there would be a lot for any parent to consider, but if you’ve ever done any research on the subject you’ll know that it isn’t as simple as parents “letting their kid chop off their genitals.”
In fact, HRT and reassignment surgery are rarely done before 18 and therapy/psychological evaluations are always a mandatory part of the process. It’s a long, difficult, thoughtful journey for everyone involve — not a quick superficial decision.
And personally, while I would never force someone to do something they’re truly uncomfortable with, I encourage everyone to cross-dress at least once in their life just to broaden their perspective about gender identity.
You’ll realize that wearing a wig, a dress and heels doesn’t magically change your sense of self — or who knows, maybe it will and you’ll be able to be happier