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Leslie Lagerstrom Headshot

A Happy Camper

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All across the country parents are busy getting their kids ready for summer camp, reviewing what-to-bring checklists and making last-minute dashes to the store to buy must-have travel-size containers of toiletries that they they know deep down their child will never use. I'm not one to gamble, but I am willing to bet those parents' biggest concern is whether they have packed enough warm clothes, undies, and sunscreen for their campers.

Oh, for that to be our only worry.

When your child is transgender, you also need to worry about whether you tell the camp staff and the parents of the kids your child will be bunking with that there is this little detail (in the scheme of things) that they might not understand ("trans what?") and, oh, by the way, might very well infringe upon their comfort zones ("he's biologically female?"). Welcome to our normal. Do you err on the side of full disclosure, thereby risking rejection, or do you proceed without exposing your child's biology, because it really shouldn't matter, right?

Such was the case when Sam went to camp for the first time as a boy. To tell or not to tell, that was the question. We wrestled with the decision, polling friends, reading between the lines of camp application forms looking for loopholes, and running through 100 "what if?" scenarios: What if the bathrooms are not private? What if someone walks in on him when he is changing his clothes? What if someone knows that he was born female and tells the other campers? What if... what if... what if?

In the end we decided to be upfront with the staff and parents. We cleared the first camp-administration hurdle with amazing ease; their position was that they would follow our child's lead, so if Sam wanted to room with boys, then they would support his decision. What an unexpected (to say the least) and pleasant surprise. Up next: the roommate's parents. For us, approaching them was more intimidating, because their stance could be a deal breaker. Sam had his heart set on going to camp, and if the parents of his potential roommate were not accepting, then he would have to stay home, or we would have to make separate (and by separate, I mean he would be alone) sleeping arrangements, neither option being one we wanted to exercise.

With situations like this, we have found that it is good to involve an intermediary -- good for the people we are interacting with, because they do not have to worry about offending us with questions, comments, or concerns, and even better for us, because rejection from an intermediary somehow hurts less than receiving it directly from the source. With that in mind, we enlisted the help of a camp chaperone. She told us that she knew the perfect roommate for Sam and, better yet, knew his parents. In a reassuring tone she said, "No worries. I'll talk to them and get back to you."

And so we waited. And worried. And obsessed. And wondered if it would be possible for these people to give Sam a much-deserved chance to go to camp just like everyone else. Within a day she was back to us, eager to share her conversation with the boy's father. As she assumed the conversation would go, she wasn't even able to finish the question before he interrupted by saying, "Nicole, thank you for giving our son the opportunity to get to know someone who has a different life path."

Because of their compassion and acceptance, Sam got to experience camp for the first time as a boy... sharing a room with another guy, staying up late talking about god-only-knows-what, and making bodily noises that are only entertaining to the male gender. He was able to be himself at camp, and we got to send him off with only one worry on our minds: Whether he'd packed enough warm clothes, undies, and sunscreen.

P.S. I wish every gender-variant child and their families could have the same experience we did sending Sam to camp. Alternatives to "traditional" camp include North Woods Youth Retreat, an overnight camp in Maine for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth ages 9 to 17, and Camp Aranu'tiq, a weeklong overnight summer camp for transgender and gender-variant kids ages 8 to 15, with locations in California and Massachusetts.