How Housing Works at OTC for Transgender Campers

How Housing Works at OTC for Transgender Campers

Transgender camper in front of cabin

Just as gender identity can feel complicated, housing at camp for transgender and gender diverse teens can feel that way as well. I remember ten years ago when the first openly transgender kids starting coming to camp everyone’s big question was, “where are we going to house them?”

Looking back, our concerns seem a little silly and maybe overblown, but for those trans and genderqueer teens (and their parents), coming to a camp for the first time, safe housing is definitely something on their minds.

As a camp with many trans and non binary teens, it’s crucial to create the safest space we can. Housing, bathrooms, programs and the culture we create all play a role in that. I may never understand everything about gender, but by hiring a staff that includes plenty of terrific gender diverse counselors, we can ensure that every camper is respected, included, and celebrated at camp.

Cabins that feel “gender-less”

Today many camps are offering some gender-neutral cabins. Although we have more teens who identify outside the gender binary than most camps, right now we do not offer gender-neutral cabins. If campers expressed a desire to have gender-neutral cabins we would try to accommodate them, but they have not. I can see the pluses in offering gender-neutral cabins, but I also think having cabins separate from our binary cabins (traditional boys and girls cabins), could create a sense of “othering,” and emphasize gender in a way that might make a bigger deal out of it than it has to be.

A trans male camper who has been coming to camp for many years, who stays in a “girls” cabin told me his reasons for this are because that’s where his friends are, but he also says that the counselors in the “girls” cabins have consistently done a great job creating cabins that feel “gender-less,” where there are no gendered activities that make him feel uncomfortable. He feels that our AFAB (assigned female at birth), cabins feel as if they are gender-neutral because of the lack of emphasis on gender, and also because of the number of other trans campers and counselors living there.

A new perspective

I used to tell parents of AFAB teens who were either transitioning or questioning their gender identity that they might feel more comfortable in a girls cabin. I said that because I saw some trans boys at camp wearing hoodies and binders on very hot days and I thought they might be more comfortable in a girls cabin. I don’t say that anymore because I have seen AFAB teens do just fine in an AMAB cabin. So much of this decision depends on the teenager themselves and where they are in their gender journey. It’s a process, it’s an experiment, it’s a dance and when camper needs to switch into a cabin they feel more comfortable in, it’s never a problem.

There is a gender revolution going on, and ideas around gender are changing quickly. I don’t think there are necessarily any experts on the subject, nor is there one right way to do things.

Today at Odyssey we have girls cabins and boys cabins and campers can choose whichever they most identify with. They can also move from one cabin to another if that’s what feels best, (and teens do it pretty often). Everything is changing and I would not be surprised if the way we do housing at camp changes as well, but for now I think the more we can create gender-less spaces where everyone feels respected, accepted and celebrated for exactly who they are the better. 

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

Registration Deadline for Session A

Day(s)

:

Hour(s)

:

Minute(s)

:

Second(s)

What’s It Like to Run a Summer Camp with Many Transgender and Gender-Expansive Teens?

What’s It Like to Run a Summer Camp with Many Transgender and Gender-Expansive Teens?

Friends at Odyssey Teen Camp

Twenty years ago I was a middle-aged guy with a corporate job that never felt like a good fit for me. Today, I run an unconventional summer camp where up to one in four teens identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming. The journey has been an unexpected one.

An idea of a camp for teens

In 2002, I started Odyssey Teen Camp as kind of a hippie camp for teens. At first, maybe it was more the staff that were hippies and the campers were typical creative, insecure, sensitive, confused, and wonderful teenagers. I knew nothing about gender pronouns and, if you were to ask me then, I’d probably have said that I thought there were boys or girls and that it was biological.

Shortly before I started camp I was floating around searching for something that would give my life purpose. I was in a men’s support group and, one day, I asked the members, when did they first became so stuck in their anger and sadness? Most of them replied that it started when they were teenagers. I was suddenly struck with an idea: I should spend my time starting a camp for teenage boys. I thought perhaps I could create a place where they could feel safe, free, and encouraged to show their best self. I came up with a catchy tagline, “A great place to be exactly who you are,” rented a space, and we were off.

Watching camp grow

I was plenty naive, knew very little about teenagers and even less about running a camp (you know, Board of Health type stuff). But the kids came and kept coming, and now, nearly two decades later, it’s been a wonderful ride. Naturally, since the day we opened, my original vision of a camp for boys has been replaced with a camp that is 65% girls. I’m not sure what made me think all these boys would be flocking to a camp that featured yoga, dance, and art.

Our staff has always been made up of plenty of people who identify as genderqueer and, within the last few years, more and more teenagers who are coming to camp are uncomfortable and unwilling to be put in a gender box. They are determined to come up with the gender that feels best to them: their true gender self.

At camp, these young people have been able to create a safe new world for themselves, where the judgment and bias they often experience in the real world doesn’t exist, at least for a few weeks. While we offer typical camp activities like art, dance, sports, music, nature, swimming, and boating, there are also many unique Odyssey activities like firewalking, trance dances, sacred geometry, political discussion groups, tarot, henna, and hip-hop appreciation classes.

Creating space for gender-questioning kids

Over time, things at camp have changed. One weekend each summer used to feature a boys and girls day, where we would separate by gender. That stopped making sense for us a few years ago, and now we have a third group for teens who are more comfortable with a gender-expansive group.

I’m not exactly sure what made our camp attractive to so many transgender or gender-questioning teens, but I think it has been a great thing and that they add so much fun, kindness, creativity, vulnerability, and leadership to our community. I am continuously learning how we can best support the LGBTQ+ teen at camp. I am learning that gender stuff is complicated and that a person’s gender is a weaving together of nature, nurture, and culture. I am learning that an individual’s true gender identity has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with what is between their ears.

I’m happy we can create a space for everyone at Odyssey, particularly gender-expansive teenagers. Housing can sometimes feel a little tricky but we work hard to put everyone in a cabin that feels right to them, and despite the fact that we are living in close quarters we are conscious of the needs for privacy when changing, showering, etc.

Showing teens that they are not alone

I think a big source of healing for gender creative teens at camp comes from being with slightly older counselors, many of whom themselves are transgender or identify as genderqueer, and who have lived through a lot of the same feelings these teenagers have. They are kind, loving, empathetic role models who show the younger campers they can live full, rich, and exciting lives as whichever gender feels true to them. It is also helpful for these teenagers to be with other kids their own age who may be sharing similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Campers recognize they are not alone, and teenagers in particular benefit from connection and friendship with their peers.

Ultimately, supporting all the transgender and gender creative teenagers who come to camp is no different from what we’ve tried to do for every teenager for the past eighteen years: give them a place where they can feel seen, loved, accepted, respected, and honored for exactly who they are.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

×

Thoughts on Gender and How Kids Can Help us Grow if We Allow it to Happen

Thoughts on Gender and How Kids Can Help us Grow if We Allow it to Happen


 

I love this segment with Amy. It’s short, but she touches on several things that we as parents would be well served to keep in mind.

When talking about gender and sexuality Amy says, almost as an aside …

We are who we are and we love who we love. - Amy FrischClick To Tweet

I love that she said that and it is something I will keep in mind and will repeat to others when we are trying to create the most inclusive community we can at camp and trying to make certain our LGTBQ campers are being respected.

Our children are mirrors

I also like when Amy verbalizes something in this segment that I imagine on some level every parents knows, which is that the realities of who we are as parents and who our children are, will always be a little, (or a lot) different from how we imagined it would be. That difference does not make it any less wonderful and amazing.

Being a parent is a great opportunity to see who we are and where we can grow. I think there is gold to be found for us in every parent child relationship, but we have to have the humility and self compassion to accept our shortcomings and learn from our mistakes.

“Consciously Parenting Teens” Video Series

I hope you enjoy the video above. If you haven’t yet subscribed to see the entire series, it’s well worth it Amy’s words will stay with you and potentially shift the way you may see things. Here’s the sign up form again.

 

Enter your email to see the entire 8 part video series with Amy Frisch

One short segment will be delivered to your inbox each day for 8 days. Occasional notifications for new videos will follow. Your info is sacred and will never be shared.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

An invitation to discuss Gender

This is a topic that comes up a lot at camp and I would love to hear your thoughts, fears and stories on gender. I encourage you to leave your comments below and I will respond.

If you want to here more on this subject from campers and counselor, check out our LGTBQ page.

Helping Every LGBTQ Camper to Feel Safe, Respected and Honored

Helping Every LGBTQ Camper to Feel Safe, Respected and Honored

A group of campers playing a game with a large air-filled rainbow ball

About eleven years ago, a counselor named Erik, who is gay, called me into the middle at one of our community meetings. He told me I needed to do more to support the LGBTQ community at camp.

I remember feeling a little defensive, and thinking “what does he want me to do?” Looking back, I think that Erik recognized there was a lot more myself and our camp could do. We want to make sure everyone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community feels safe, welcomed and honored to be exactly who they are at Odyssey.

I think if Erik came back to camp today, he would see that we’ve come a long way in supporting the LGBTQ community.

One thing I have done is hire several great counselors who happen to be Gay, Transgender, or identify as gender non-binary. Hiring these counselors has been a great thing for our camp. They’re important work as role models, teachers and leaders each summer has made them a valuable part of our community.

At camp, we also offer many LGBTQ discussion groups led by our qualified staff. In these groups, everyone has the opportunity to openly discuss issues around gender and sexuality in a way they may never have before. We’ve heard from many of our teens that these discussion groups made them feel less isolated or alone. We’ve even had a gay pride parade at camp. We decorated our golf carts, made signs, and drove around our field. It’s a little silly, but a lot of fun, and an important demonstration of the respect and friendship we have at camp.

We’ve had quite a few transgender campers and campers navigating their gender identity. We understand that it can all feel confusing, and difficult for teenagers who are establishing their identities. We accept that not everyone feels on the inside like the gender they may look like on the outside. 

We recognize the importance of using preferred gender pronouns and make sure those preferred pronouns are respected at camp. And we also want to put every teenager in the cabin they will feel most comfortable in. If gender is a spectrum, we want our camp to be as open and expansive as possible. We are very clear that we do not want to put anyone in a box, or in a group where they do not feel like they belong.

I’m glad Erik had the courage many years ago to share his opinion. And I hope people will continue to give honest feedback to help us improve our community and the lives of the campers who come to Odyssey Teen Camp.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

×

Book a call w/ the Director