(Photos) Awesome Camp Encourages Gender Exploration

Jun 09 at 12pm

Photojournalist Lindsay Morris has been documenting a very special kind of weekend summer camp – one organized by parents dedicated to supporting gender non-conforming and transgender biological boys – for a series titled "You Are You." The actual name of the camp and its location (which moves around depending on the organizers) have been shielded to protect the privacy of the 20-30 families involved, but Morris has a deep bond with the campers and their families. She's been involved with the camp for seven years, and for the past four years she's photographed the kids in intimate settings that captures their joy and freedom to explore their identity in a safe setting. Her photos are very inspiring, especially viewed in a city that actively supports such exploration.   \

After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a book from her "You Are You" images, Morris will be in San Francisco during next year's Pride celebration with a solo show and book launch at Rayko Photo Center. In the meantime, I asked her for the stories behind these beautiful photographs. 

What inspired the creation of the camp? 

The camp evolved as parents on an organized online list-serve, sponsored by the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., saw the need for their children to meet others who feel much as they do. The parents hoped that through this exposure they could help to alleviate some of the lonely feelings that the children experience throughout the school year, and as a chance for the network of parents to come together in support of each other.

Who is the demographic for the camp? 

Our demographic is broad. We are from all over the country, racially diverse, with an impressive range of political and religious beliefs, but with the one thing in common; our children do not conform to societies expectations of what a boy or girl should be. We all find common ground with this one solid fact.

When did you first become aware of the need for kids to have a place where they can explore issues around gender identity? 

Most of us noticed this gender-unique expression in our child around the age of 3. As the children become more verbal and begin to outwardly express their dissatisfaction with their born gender, it becomes clear that being very different from one's peers can lead to tremendous feelings of isolation. As parents, we want our children to be well adjusted and secure. What better way to achieve this than by providing a safe place of pure freedom of expression?

As a photographer, what drew you to photographing these kids? 

At first I was just documenting family life, just like anywhere else. Over time, however, I noticed that there was more to these images. There was a quality in the freedom of expression of these kids. At some point early on, I realized what was being revealed was an historic event; the first fully supported gender-unique childhood. 

Your focus is on gender nonconforming boys – are there similar camps for gender nonconforming girls? Or do you think gender nonconforming boys have different needs/issues than gender nonconforming girls? 

I believe the needs are very similar, perhaps more than you would think. The camp is open to biological girls. Last year there were two and hopefully this year there will be more. It would be wonderful to round out the essay documenting children on all points of the gender spectrum.

What are the bigger themes you hope people think about after looking at your series? 

I hope that these images serve to nurture understanding. That these are people like you and I, parents who are attempting to help. That all children, regardless of how they identify, are not just to be accepted, but celebrated and consequently will choose to live long, happy, productive lives. Perhaps those who have difficulty with acceptance, will have an easier time of mulling it over if they experience the images knowing that there are parents who stand behind these children, regardless of how they identify.

Has the press around your photos helped connect you with or inspire any likeminded camps? 

The press has inspired many parents of gender-nonconforming children to contact me inquiring about camp. I believe we will have new camp members this summer as a result of press. We try to keep the numbers manageable and are talking about creating a handbook for families in other parts of the country intent on forming a similar camp. It's all very informal, but we have learned a lot along the way.

Is there any chance of these camps being held in California? 

Certainly. If there are families willing to organize, we are here to give advice and offer our soon to be available camp "how to" handbook. Ideally, there would be six to eight camps nationwide accessible to all who would benefit.

Has anything changed for you or with your goals thanks to the success of your campaign? 

So much has changed for me. Although photography was my major in art school, I took a detour and designed and manufactured a line of women's clothing for 12 years. The camp guided me back to photography at a point in my life when I was ready to take on the responsibility of creating this very personal photo essay. This is the most important story I have ever told and if I can give the outside world a glimpse into this very special place of acceptance, they might gain some respect for the other person's predicament. I have been documenting now for six years, and each year my photographic story telling skills are evolving. I hope that these images will have some influence on the direction of our attitudes toward LGBT youth.

What are you working on next? 

This project is all encompassing. There's a possible documentary on the horizon. An opportunity to give the images from the book more context and a voice to the incredible parents of these children and the children themselves. They have a lot to say! I'm also photo editor of one of the Edible magazines so I've got a pretty full plate.

Are you working on a conceptual photo essay that might be a good fit for The Bold Italic? Email us at tips@thebolditalic.com

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