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.
I’m Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let’s connect, discuss, engage…