What’s wrong with five-year-old boys wearing dresses, lipstick, and high heels?
Camp “You Are You” offers safe haven where “gender non-conforming” and transgender biological boys can freely express their interpretations of femininity alongside their parents and siblings.
The camp is for “Parents who don’t have a gender-conforming three year old who wants wear high heels and prefers to go down the pink aisle at K-Mart and not that nasty dark boys’ aisle,” says photographer Lindsay Morris who has been documenting the camp for summer camp since 2006.
Gender nonconforming is a term that refers “feminine” boys, “masculine” girls and those who are perceived as androgynous. Psychologists describe this “condition” as gender-atypical, gender-fluid, gender-variant, and gender-creative.
The boys at “Camp You Are You,” some as young as three years old, “express themselves” as girls through high heels, make-up and lots of girly colors . They are encouraged to wear, dresses, nail polish, tiaras, tote unicorn backpacks and to apply, remove, and reapply makeup.
Each day wardrobe changes are constant. The boys also participate in talent shows, fashion shows and beauty pageants at night.
“Some practice for the talent show all year, and others create their own gowns with their mothers or friends of the family,” Morris explained. “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.”
The project differs from other LGBT based projects and is unprecedented because the subjects are so young, says Morris. “The more mature kids self-identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum,” she said. Some of the camp’s alumni, when they reached puberty, went on hormone blockers to begin transition from boy to girl while others have decided they were gay.
Morris has photographed the camp in order to create a photo that will ultimately “assist in untangling the perception of LGBTQ” and to “represent the spirit of these boys as they shine.” She hopes her photo book will push the normalization of gender-confused children into the mainstream.
“These images represent the spirit of the children as they shine in an atmosphere of support. Here they can be true to their inner nature without feeling the need to look over their shoulders,” says Morris.
The real name of the camp has been changed to protect the privacy of the children and parents is also the name of Morris’ series.
Camp “You are You” has been running for nine years, is organized by parents and moves around the country depending on the geographical location of that year’s organizers. The families who attend the camp are all members of a web-based-list-serve at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) that allows them to be thoroughly screened for privacy purposes.
Morris reached her goal of raising $35,000 to fund her planned photo book last Wednesday and now has surpassed her goal with $41,665 through her Kickstarter campaign. The additional funds will be go to help children who can’t afford the camps so that every child can have access to a safe place to explore their gender.
The political persuasion of the parents who rebelled against gender stereotypes were socially liberal, quick to defend gay rights and women’s equality and to question the confines of traditional masculinity and femininity, even before they had a gender-creative boy, says Edgardo Menvielle, head of a program for gender-nonconforming youth at CNMC in Washington.
One father of a “binary” boy told ABC news that he first realized his son’s gender confusion when he was only a toddler.
“The first time it came up was when he was 2 ½ in the shoe store,” says the father “He was running around refusing to take pink tennis shoes off his feet in preschool, we bought him some dress-up dresses and a nightgown.”
The “quickest way” his 10-year-old explains himself to others is: “I know I have long hair and wear girls’ clothes, but I am just a boy who happens to like pink and purple.”
Today the ten year old boy from Jersey City, N.J. is comfortable in his skin and attends summers the camp for like-minded boys annually with his parents and his siblings, aged three and four go along as well.
These are some materialistic toddlers. How many four and five year old kids even care about what they are wearing? Children that young understand only what they are taught or exposed to.
Parents teach children how to count, how to recite and write the letters of the alphabet, how to identify squares, circles and triangles, eye nose and mouth. Parents teach their two, three and four year old children how to identify colors. Parents themselves teach their kids about what it means to be a girl and to be a boy. What these children are being taught at home is likely creating the identity crisis. If a four year old walks around using profanities, they must have been exposed to that language somewhere. Does the environment and upbringing not play a role in gender identification as well, at least at the impressionable ages of two to ten?
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