Rose always knew she wanted to be a girl. She wanted to dress like a girl, play with dolls and wear pink clothes.
Secretly, she could be a girl at home. But outside of her house, she lived a lie and her life as a boy. Rose wasn't safe enough to live her truths and authentic story.
"I was unhappy and sad before I transitioned," explains Rose in a beautiful letter. "I wasn't who I thought I was to be."
Her life drastically changed when she went to Camp Ten Oaks, a one-week, sleep-away camp for children and youth from LGBTQ identities, families and communities. Camp Ten Oaks is part of the Ten Oaks Project, a Canadian organization that engages and supports young people from LGBTQ communities through camp.
That first exciting summer, Rose went to camp as a nine-year-old boy. It was her first time at a sleep-away camp and she had never met another trans person her age before.
On the second day of camp, everyone played a game called, Across the Grass. It starts with someone saying, "Please cross the grass..." and then participants walk across the field if they identify with what is said.
Rose's life changed when they asked the campers to cross the grass if they identified as transgender. Rose says she stood firmly in her spot and wasn't sure what she was going to do until some people began to walk to the other side of the field.
"It's hard to take that first step," says Rose. "But once you get to the other side, you're standing with people who are just like you."
Something changed in Rose at Camp Ten Oaks. She was in a supportive environment and surrounded by others like her, which gave her the courage she needed to live as a girl.
"In that moment, I could see a different future for myself," Rose says. "If it weren't for camp, I think I'd still be a boy. And unhappy about my life."
When I think about the young people who go to Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn (Ten Oaks' other camp for youth), my heart is filled with so much joy. These young people can experience community, belonging and live their truths.
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have those experiences.
I was one of those people who didn't live my authentic story for many years. Instead, it was a story of silence, shame and belief that I could never come out.
I think of the Jenna of my past and how my life would've been so different if I had a place like Camp Ten Oaks or Project Acorn to call home. Perhaps I would've seen a different future for myself at a younger age, which would've helped me accept all the pieces of my story sooner.
Although I didn't have that opportunity, there are so many young people like Rose who need these places to grow into their beautiful and fabulous selves.
For a week, these children and youth don't feel the pressure to assimilate into heteronormative culture. There's no fear or the need to explain who they're attracted to, how they express themselves or if they have two moms. They can simply be and connect with a supportive community of people who understand their experiences.
The sooner these young people can experience this freedom, acceptance and belonging, the sooner they can blossom into the beautiful roses they are meant to be.
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