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July 16, 2013 8:23 AM   Subscribe

"You are you" looks at a gender nonconforming camp for boys.

More photos from photographer Lindsay Morris.
posted by yeoz (66 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
they look a lot happier than I ever was at any summer camp
posted by rebent at 8:27 AM on July 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wonderful project and beautiful photographs. Thanks, yeoz.

posted by fight or flight at 8:33 AM on July 16, 2013 [10 favorites]

This is really interesting, and the mere fact of its existence says a lot about how the discourse around gender-identity has changed. I might have missed this in the linked article, but does there exist a similar camp for girls? I suppose that the existence of the "tomboy" identity as a socially acceptable life-phase makes the need for this sort of kids' camp seem less urgent, but I hope there's something in the works anyway.
posted by LMGM at 8:35 AM on July 16, 2013

Very cool. Maybe military camp is this for girls? ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:41 AM on July 16, 2013

LMGM, I feel like a similar camp for girls would end up looking just like any other summer camp. Which says a lot about how society feels about performing femininity, really.
posted by fight or flight at 8:43 AM on July 16, 2013 [15 favorites]

I appreciate the framing of the camp and the article as being about the joy of gender expression, rather than about "tragic" lives.

I also appreciate the recognition that a person--child or adult--can identify as male but prefer a feminine gender expression. People so often assume that gender identity and gender expression need to match, which is silly--and I myself know a young boy who is both very clear that he is male, and very, very glittery and feminine in his presentation. He's lucky enough to have parents who support him in his desire to wear what makes him happy, and correct others who say "what a lovely girl you have" in a matter-of-fact manner.

All of that said, I see that this is a camp that really is for kids who were male assigned at birth and who enjoy feminine gender expression, whatever their gender identity. I presume, as the article notes, that some of these kids are transgender. Framing a transgender girl as a "boy" troubles me, as does calling all the kids "he".
posted by DrMew at 8:44 AM on July 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

What does it mean that a camp like this is "for boys"?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:45 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I presume, as the article notes, that some of these kids are transgender. Framing a transgender girl as a "boy" troubles me, as does calling all the kids "he".

I was wondering about that, too. I note that some of the captions avoid the use of pronouns and I feel that, given she works with LGBT youth, Morris is sensitive enough to have asked the kids how they want to be presented in the final work. Still, I agree that it's something to keep in mind.
posted by fight or flight at 8:47 AM on July 16, 2013

Better name : Camp Camp.
posted by w0mbat at 8:52 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I see what you did there, but Camp Camp's already a thing.
posted by resurrexit at 8:57 AM on July 16, 2013

Everyone deserves to dress up and be pretty. Also, since it is a summer camp, I hope they are braiding lanyards (do kids still do this?). Also, possibly, hijinx against the mean kids across the lake.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:04 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I realise that some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of trans kids, but the photographer's use of "gender nonconforming" as a euphemism for "trans" is really not very helpful.

Ironically, labelling trans kids (which the article hints many/most of these kids are) as "gender nonconforming" both hurts the actual trans kids (by implying that they're just social rebels, rather than acting out a deep-seated identity) and kids who defy stereotypes but aren't trans (by implying that unless they are part of the tiny minority of trans kids, they don't deserve support for defying stereotypical behaviour assigned to their gender.) It's also inaccurate in this case: all but something like 2 of these photos (by my subjective count) don't show kids who are "gender nonconforming" - they show what appear to be trans kids largely happily conforming to the stereotypes of the gender they feel they actually are.

I suppose that the existence of the "tomboy" identity as a socially acceptable life-phase...

Not nearly as acceptable as it once was - little girls who fail to conform to stereotypical female behaviour seem to make both other kids and parents much more nervous now than they did 20 years ago. Next time you pass a playground, count the number of boys vs girls actually using playground equipment, and then look what percentage of the little girls are prevented from doing so because they are dressed in ways that make it impossible / impractical, for example.
posted by Wylla at 9:13 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

That's so cool that that exists! How great for those kids--they look so happy.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:16 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the gender terminology in the article has been adjusted so that it can be processed by the average Slate reader's brain which, judging by the comments section, is probably severely disabled.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:18 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Camp" has been traditionally an activity for gender-nonconforming girls to start with. Even back when skirts were still the norm in many social situations, you could get away with wearing shorts at camp. You don't have to wear makeup to fit in, at camp. Generally, you don't have hair dryers at camp. Etc.

If there's anything that strikes me as weird about this, it's basically just the 'dressing up at camp' thing.
posted by Sequence at 9:19 AM on July 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I realise that some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of trans kids, but the photographer's use of "gender nonconforming" as a euphemism for "trans" is really not very helpful.

I don't claim to be totally immersed in how the intersection of gender, style, and conformity works, but I think the whole point the article is trying to make here is that we don't know if these kids are trans. We don't know if they identify as "girls" or if maybe they just really like dresses and makeup. There's nothing inherent in putting on a dress that means someone automatically must identify as female, any more than putting on pants means that a female actually wants to be male. And for the sake of the kids, it's useful to have a place where they can go to live this sort of kid-oriented, non-sexual life without being forced to choose "man" or "woman" or "boy" or "girl". They don't have to choose anything more than "I think I want to wear this dress today" or "I prefer my barbies, thanks," choices they rarely get to make openly in the real world because those choices are considered subversive by mainstream society even without any gender or sexual component.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 9:20 AM on July 16, 2013 [40 favorites]

I presume, as the article notes, that some of these kids are transgender.

Where did you see that in the article? The only explicit reference I saw was this:
it is unknown if the kids at the camp will eventually identify as gay or transgender
It seems to me that this camp is pretty clearly aimed precisely at "gender nonconforming boys": i.e., boys who have not yet determined that that are "trans" per se, but who enjoy stereotypically feminine forms of gender expression. Not all boys who enjoy wearing dresses and being the princess are trans. No doubt some of these kids will eventually decide that that is who they are, but it doesn't seem any better to force that identity on them than any other.
posted by yoink at 9:21 AM on July 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Everyone deserves to dress up and be pretty.

Clearly, I was too charmed to be sufficiently precise. There are also those people (of all ages) who would prefer to dress up and be handsome, which is not a traditional "summer camp" activity, but it would be great if it could be.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:27 AM on July 16, 2013

The slideshow in the "more photos" link: wow. #27 is so great.


This must be so terrifying for those people. I mean, it's challenging on so many levels, but for some folks it's actively terrifying.
posted by mediareport at 9:27 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first thought was to be struck by how much girlier these kids look than the ones in the photos from my several years at Girl Scout Camp. Part of this is just fashion, though. I've noticed that feminine clothes for kids today are much more garish and colorful than they were in the 80s.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yoink and Wylla come to opposite conclusions reading this article: either seeing the kids as mostly trans* girls, or seeing them as mostly self-identifying as boys.

My perspective is that from the article and from looking at the pictures, none of us can tell how these children identify. Some of them may look just like cis girls to us, and others we may perceive as clearly male-assigned-at-birth children wearing dresses. That has no relevance at all to gender identity. Some people who have gender transitioned look like cis people, and some of us are visibly trans* our whole lives. The only way to tell a person's gender identity is to ask them.

I understand that this is an article for a Slate audience, but I don't think it would be very difficult to say, "'You Are You' is a camp that lets children who were assigned male at birth enjoy the freedom to glory in feminine dress in the company of others who enjoy the same thing. Camp organizers don't care how these children will identify in adulthood--as gay or straight, as cis or trans*, as genderconforming or gendertransgressive. The camp just gives these children a space to enjoy themselves as they are now, however they identify."
posted by DrMew at 9:31 AM on July 16, 2013 [14 favorites]

Gender non-conforming is fairly well established phrase to use in situations like this, for all the reasons already mentioned: we don't know how they identify. GNC is the standard term to handle this for children.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:35 AM on July 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Next time you pass a playground, count the number of boys vs girls actually using playground equipment, and then look what percentage of the little girls are prevented from doing so because they are dressed in ways that make it impossible / impractical, for example.

Let's see. When I went to the park yesterday with my two daughters (ages 3 and 7), there were about 25 neighborhood kids, slightly more girls than boys, ranging in age from 2 to 13, swarming over the playground equipment. The percentage of little girls prevented from using the playground equipment because of their clothes was indistinguishable from zero.

What sad part of the world do you live in, Wylia?
posted by erniepan at 9:36 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who has not dared to read the comments: This is really wonderful. And the towel-as-long-hair thing! I had no idea other kids did that.

I grew up with a gender-nonconforming brother whose entire universe revolved around donning the frilliest frocks, sparkliest shoes, and gaudiest quarter-machine jewelry. Thankfully, this meant I always had someone on whom I could unload all of the stereotypically feminine stuff that church groups and well-meaning extant relatives tried to pawn off on me as a child, from Barbies to my first communion dress. It was spirit-crushing when he was forced to start dressing in "boy clothes" once kindergarten started -- it really seemed to take the light out of his eyes, which is exactly what happened once I started being forced into "girl clothes."
I'll never, ever forget the soul-despairing tantrum he threw when he was told he couldn't wear his favorite skirt to his first day of school, and how confused I was that he wasn't just allowed to don the accoutrements in which he felt most comfortable. I had a very dim awareness that neither of us were capable of fitting into the boxes we were assigned at birth, but never had (and still don't have) any idea why it was such a damn problem.

He's all grown up now, wildly professionally successful and engaged to a wonderful man, but I'll always remember how sunny his smiles were whenever I would hand him something sequined. These photos take me back to those days. Thanks for the FPP.
posted by divined by radio at 9:41 AM on July 16, 2013 [30 favorites]

Dr Mew - Agreed on the content of the pictures, and that would be a better (and seemingly more accurate?) description of the camp. The photographer's own language in her artists' statement, however, implies that these are mostly trans kids (She even refers to them as "LGBT" in the Slate article.)

vibratory manner of working, that makes much more sense of the use of the term - thanks! Without knowing it's the standardised language, it can read strangely, as if non-conformity was being conflated with trans identity in a more general way.
posted by Wylla at 9:43 AM on July 16, 2013

Maybe Slate's being liberal with the ban-hammer, or maybe the good guys are just out in force, but (despite a few really awful ones), the comments are generally far less horrible than I'd imagined they would be, overall. Maybe the world is actually getting better?
posted by Wylla at 9:48 AM on July 16, 2013

(She even refers to them as "LGBT" in the Slate article.)

My understanding is that the T- in LGBT encompasses the entire Trans Umbrella (link is to Scottish website, so preferred terminology is slightly different) or in the US sometimes called the trans* community, but I guess I can't presume to know her intended meaning.
posted by muddgirl at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2013

Kids are fascinating. Our son is not yet two, and the things he has picked up on his own, and the things he has latched on to, are really interesting to me, as a straight but not so manly man. In high school, I liked to skip around the school (because skipping is a lot of fun, especially when you really get going), and I took jewelry class but ended up wearing the rings I made.

Anyway, our son really likes his mom's earrings, and wants her to put makeup on him like she wears. We got him his own potty, and he picked out a pink one with Abby Cadabby on it, because he really likes Abby's Flying Fairy School. But he also loves big trucks, and loves to roar like a lion/ monster/ whatnot. We haven't pushed him to anything, he's just latched onto these things.

I'd love to see a follow-up to this series 10 years from now, to see where the young people have gone. I'm thrilled to see this supportive place for them, and I love how supportive their parents are. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, as muddgirl says, here in the U.S., the term trans* includes a wide spectrum of people, including (inter alia) binary gender-transitioners, people who identify outside binary gender, and people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, but enjoy gender-nonconforming dress. So all of these kids fall under the trans* umbrella, which I should have acknowledged more clearly--their gender identities notwithstanding. Hence it's appropriate to call any of these kids LGBT+, if they're happy with that.
posted by DrMew at 9:56 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

It amazes me how things have changed. My internalized homophobia would probably have flipped out when I was a pre-teen. I was neck deep in denial and even today, I'm probably a bit more repressed and inhibited because of things like the Lawrence King shooting. It's a largely irrational fear but one that sticks with me.

I have a nephew who's all into pink, art, and glitter, and I hope that he's not forced to bury that for the sake of survival as he grows up.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:06 AM on July 16, 2013

Thanks DrMew and Wylla for bringing up the thing that kind of makes me feel a bit strange about this (the "gender non-conforming boys" framing when a lot of these kids might be trans*; there should be a space for the former, certainly, but they'll be along rather different tracks and if some of these kids are trans, celebrating their being "gender non-conforming boys" probably just cements the whole "You Can't Be Trans" narrative they're going to grow up with and have to fight against their every waking second in life).

(* Just to keep you all on your toes, I am actually using the asterisk as a footnote here, instead of a wildcard! I should be clear that I mean transsexual above; as an umbrella word, "transgender" is not particularly useful as there are just too many things that fall under it and too many of them don't overlap or intersect at all.)

Also: about tomboy presentation not being as acceptable as it used to be, that just blew my mind because, yeah, actually, I have seen that even in my own social circle of young adults. I have one friend whose gender identity is (probably?) pretty female, but who usually presents in a masculine style. I don't think anything of it--she looks good, it works for her--but I have noticed that's not really something a lot of people greet with positivity. It's still considerably more socially acceptable than someone assigned male at birth presenting femininity, but now that I'm thinking about it, I am seeing how there might be a pushback against tomboys. Which is sad and frustrating; but then seeing stuff like this always shows that at least some people are willing to fight back against Stupid Gender Roles, which is all right. Humanity isn't a total wash.
posted by byanyothername at 10:14 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

((Also also, things have changed in a minority of places for a minority of people. IMO. Stuff like this does not, in my experience, reflect the majority of US culture. It's good that it exists, but transgender issues are not a solved thing that can be carried forward through sheer positive inertia at this point. They are still a very vicious, very bloody fight for basic dignity, decency and human rights.))
posted by byanyothername at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

erniepan - can I hang out at your playground? In my neck of the woods, it's far more common for a playground to contain 3/4 little boys on the playground itself, with large groups of girls sitting on the benches around them, usually because they are wearing short skirts(and therefore can't climb) or because (if they are little kids) they are wearing princess costumes of some sort (the ones from toy stores, or - on a playground I was at yesterday - a party dress with a plastic tiara!)

I generally hear the word "tomboy" used as a negative, from parents in my son's toddler playgroups explaining what they see as bad behaviour ("She's such a tomboy, running around instead of sitting still and listening to the music!") and I've even heard it given sexual connotations it flat-out didn't have when I was younger (with the implication that a tomboy does 'boys' things in order to flirt with the boys and get attention from them, so tomboy = a sort of toddler 'fake geek girl!')
posted by Wylla at 10:18 AM on July 16, 2013

I apologize for including the 'for boys' text in the FPP. It was more-or-less a direct quote from the Slate article. I thought it looked weird too but I decided just to leave it be. :/
posted by yeoz at 10:23 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re: language. "Gender nonconforming" is one of the preferred terms among families and practitioners, since not all kids who don't comply with gender expectations are trans, and you really can't know until they get older. "Gender creative" is another one, but I don't like it because it suggests that kids who are comfortable with their assigned gender are somehow less creative than kids who aren't, and it doesn't apply to some kids, like my five-year-old son (assigned female at birth) who, having decided he was a boy, became the World's Most Typical Boy. There's nothing creative at all about his gender expression. I'm fond of "gender-variant" myself.

I recognized some of these pictures as having appeared in a New York Times magazine piece a year ago, What's So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress? It's a better article than the Slate one, which I didn't care for because of its seemingly un-nuanced use of pronouns and assignment of identities to the kids. Lisa Wade at Sociological Images responded to the NYT article, and I responded to her.

Trans camps are a big deal for trans kids and their families. We haven't been, but I expect we will at some point. There's a camp that meets at locations in Massachusetts and California that runs whole family weeks, that I'm iinterested in; it includes activities for siblings.
posted by not that girl at 10:57 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Er, I meant to apologize for 'gender nonconforming' up there too. Since it seemed to get all deraily because of that. I'm not sure how I left that out in my previous comment. My brain must be broken today. That said, I use gender-non-conforming to describe myself sometimes too...
posted by yeoz at 11:03 AM on July 16, 2013

As someone whose exceptionally accepting summer camp (very much designed by Hippie-Episcopalians to actively perpetuate that culture) formed a substantial part of my adult identity, I'm glad these kids are getting this experience.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:18 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a camp specifically for trans and gender-variant kids, Aranu'tiq. I can't tell if this article is about that camp or not. Seemingly not, because Aranu'tiq has a public website and doesn't seem to be restricted to "boys", but then the article could just be skewed in its representation.
posted by jiawen at 11:43 AM on July 16, 2013

From the sociological images article.

> Their poses are also striking, for their portrayal of not just femininity, but sexualized femininity.

Wait, the comfortable (at least for me) act of crossing your leg at the knee is sexualized femininity? I've always crossed my legs that way because I don't have the hip flexibility to be comfortable with the masculine ankle-on-knee pose. (A quick google image search indicates that my sitting style seems to be back in fashion for men in stock photos.)

I think the Slate piece puts more focus on the talent show than the full exhibit, and the photographer is certainly making choices about subject matter as well.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:49 AM on July 16, 2013

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a meteorologist. It's an interest I've lost now, but it meant that for a few years, I spent a lot of time reading books on weather, and carrying around weather instruments and even going to a summer camp about meteorology. Like I said, for me it's an interest that totally passed. I wonder about the other kids who went to that camp, though: some of them surely knew from when they were very young that they always wanted to be meteorologists, and ended up that way. Some are probably like me. Some may not have ended up meteorologists, but still like to spend the occasional Sunday staring up at clouds or measuring barometric pressure. Maybe some of them did something totally different, and will wake up in 10 years and realize how important being a meteorologist was to them, and make a change.

All of those are okay, so long as they're happy. Are these kids trans? Are they gay? Are they just gender-nonconforming boys? Will they get reassignment surgery in ten years, or twenty? Fuck if I know. I see a bunch of pictures of happy kids. In the present moment, that happiness seems to be the important part.
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:59 AM on July 16, 2013 [13 favorites]

I see a bunch of pictures of happy kids. In the present moment, that happiness seems to be the important part.

I think this is a great attitude. Sadly, one of the most entrenched and deeply seated ideas people, even very well-meaning people, have about parenting is that parenting is about forbidding, denying, redirecting, taking away, and saying no. And that, in turn, is because children by definition don't know any better about anything at all, including how they feel or who they are.

Listening to children, giving children control, and relinquishing the facade of total authority are scary and can make parents feel like they're failing to do what they should be doing. A lot of the cultural foundations of parenting, both lay and religious, define the parent as the subject and the child as the object. Most people don't see the contradiction in saying something to a child along the lines of "I respect you, so I will do what I think is right for you, even though that's not what you want." You may be right, you may be wrong, in most cases parents do know better, but that is not respect. It's just more "this hurts me more than it hurts you" doublethink.

I think one would be really unlikely to raise a happy gender-nonconforming child without letting the child take charge.
posted by Nomyte at 1:03 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of what Appropos of Something and Nomyte have to say, I think it's very important to affirm that children are people who are living their lives fully right now. They are not potential people whose current experiences are unimportant, and who will only become "real" as adults.

This comes up with regard to trans* kids when adults say, "Well, your feelings may just be a phase. If you still identify as a boy/girl/other sex when you are 18, then I will call you he/she/zie and you can wear what you want. Just wait ten years." Or, even more negatively, "You're a kid, you don't know who you are, I do."

To deny that you do a child harm when you deny the reality of their feelings, identities and/or interests is folly.

I do look forward to a day when we as a society approach a child's variant gender expression or identity, or passion for meteorology or gymnastics, with honor and delight as their full lived reality at this time in their lives.
posted by DrMew at 1:51 PM on July 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

There is not a single way that the photographer could have used English words that would not be judged objectionable, insensitive, or otherwise nefarious by some.

It's blatantly clear she is celebrating a camp that celebrates children who would, in most camps in America, suffer abuse and alienation if they let loose this much.

But by all means, let's attack her for her particular attempts at thoughtful word choices, instead of rejoicing with her.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:16 PM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Most of us discussing the language tangent so far actually fall somewhere under the transgender umbrella, so please take my word when I tell you we are sincerely trying to sort out the least hurtful, most empowering way to view children like these and give them the support they need to be happy, healthy kids. I have a bit of a bitter taste regarding the phrase "gender nonconforming boys" because maybe some of them aren't, and being called that will hurt them. I really have no idea--there's not enough context--but the potential is there, and I know that's something that would have hurt me.

Having a space for these kids is a good thing, but there's not enough context for me to tell how fully the camp or the photographer or the Slate writer embraces and understands their identities. If I'm a bit twitchy, well... I've been kicked a lot. I was kicked just last night. Part of me is jealous and bitter and overly defensive because too many people are too eager to kick. I don't want kids like this kicked, even in seemingly unimportant, accidental ways.

(And yeoz, please don't apologize! The post here is fine, and it's obvious that the framing belongs to the original article.)
posted by byanyothername at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's something that very vaguely troubles me about this. I love that these kids get to express themselves however they want and I'm completely supportive of that. I guess I also think it's reinforces the stereotypes of what it means to be a girl or a woman. It's probably the same discomfort I get sometimes when I see men in drag. As a female and a mother of a daughter, the feminine idea that they are expressing just isn't me or my daughter and seeing that reinforced as the ideal eventually does make it harder for my daughter to be the tomboy that she is. Maybe? I don't know. I'm struggling to explain it. Maybe I just wish that the kids at the camp had more feminine role models than just the fancy dress, high heels, long hair, sparkly accessories model.

I'm pretty sure someone will tell me why this is a bad thing to think or be upset that I think it but it's there in my head.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:41 PM on July 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Holy fuck, I believe there are literal neo-nazis in the comments section. I had to look, and then had to stop reading.


I'm not trans, but I was that boy who wanted to play with dolls and talk about books or tv, or play pretend, or do anything that didn't involve throwing a ball, or catching a ball, or hitting a ball. And i can remember when, every now and then, I'd meet another kid like me, dear god, it was bliss to have company. I understand the joy these kids are feeling -- they found other members of their own tribe!!
posted by MoxieProxy at 5:47 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure someone will tell me why this is a bad thing to think or be upset that I think it but it's there in my head.

Me, I just want to be around in 50 or 100 years, when our society either develops a more sophisticated idea about gender expression or just drops the idea of a two-pole gender system entirely. Sparkly sequins and heels for girly girls and soldier uniforms or cowboy garb for manly men is pretty tiresome, and I consider it unfortunate that some people have to resort to these extremes to signal how they would like to be treated.
posted by Nomyte at 6:58 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see kids in less frilly flannel and tie-dye in the background of some of the photos and in the foreground of photos that were not included in the Salon piece. In my opinion, (since I work a bit with photographers who talk about this sort of stuff) there's likely a documentary bias toward "interest" and "contrast" at work here. And that's historically been a problem when it comes to photographic coverage of LGBT people.

I'm more inclined to trust that the camp staff are actively involved and engaged in having these conversations, partly because I know of very few people willing to do the work of running a camp like this who have not lived these conversations.

I don't fully trust Morris's objectivity because a large portion of the photos seem to focus on the talent/fashion show, which seems to be all about costume. I certainly don't trust Salon here because every single photo on their page involves some form of gender taboo-breaking. And that is a shame because some of my favorite shots of the collection got dropped.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:33 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

The more I look at Morris's galleries and the Slate article, the more unanswered questions I have. So there's a show (maybe two). Who's the audience? Who are these kids showing off for? Where are the shy kids who are not showing off? We get a few hints of this on the periphery of some shots, but not enough for me to fully understand what the event is about?

What about the other parts of a camp? What are meals like? Is there a pool or a lake? Do kids go boating? Morris's gallery has two or three images of kids hiking, were those the only kids that went hiking? What's up with the kids on cell phones, green shirt kid, flannel shirt kid, and tie-die shirt kid? Who is drawing the picture that we see in one shot?

For a lot of fine art shows I'd be comfortable with the ambiguity in these questions. To me though, they point to a lack of documentary depth or focus.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:47 PM on July 16, 2013

I'm the mother of a son and a daughter, and it is waaaaaaay way way way way easier to be a gender non-conforming girl than a gender non-conforming boy right now. In my opinion, this is one more death squeal of gender-essentialism sexism -- sure, it's fine for a girl to aspire to masculinity, but why should any self-respecting red-blooded American boy lower himself to feminine pursuits? Thank god it seems to be changing, however slowly.
posted by KathrynT at 11:07 PM on July 16, 2013

In my opinion, this is one more death squeal of gender-essentialism sexism

Yes, but... to me at least, there seems to be some pretty blatant gender-essentialism going on here too.

I'm happy if they're happy, but calling this basically essentialist stereotype "femininity" would be considered un-progressive in any other context.
posted by moorooka at 11:40 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

At the risk of talking ignorantly, the media about trans people I've seen on MeFi suggests that some adults adopt very stereotypical blue-collar masculine attire, others adopt very stereotypically feminine wardrobes, but many people adopt a relatively neutral and subtle personal style. Maybe young kids get a rush of "I'm a girl, I'm a girl, I'm a girl!" and just jump in with both feet into every girly stereotype they see on the street, on TV, and at the mall, and as they grow up, they find more nuanced ways to express things about themselves.

Also, I'm pretty sure the "fashion show" was for the other campers and possibly their families. I imagine that's a typical activity for girls' day camp.
posted by Nomyte at 12:06 AM on July 17, 2013

Yeah we totally did fashion shows and plays at Girl Scout Camp. One where we sang "I am woman, hear me roar"! Hope these boys get to, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:17 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to address the complaint about the images of the fashion show being hyperfeminine, perhaps sexualized, in their femininity.

Let's consider adult dress and crossdress. In adult culture, drag queens and kings generally display an exaggerated femininity or masculinity that we call camp. It's not meant to be a portrayal of how everyday women or men look--it's performance, often ironic. It can explicitly address, acknowledge, and play with gender stereotypes, and pay homage to cis gender celebrities' gender performances as just that: iconic enactments of particular styles of embodying and displaying gender.

People who are unfamiliar with the genre of the drag show, like otherworldlyglow, may presume that drag queens (or kings, but as a culture we're much less fascinated by them) are attempting to embody everyday femininity (or masculinity) and not getting it right. But a drag queen performing a Lady Gaga routine is aware of the artifice of Lady Gaga's performance of femininity, and that the women she sees at the grocery store rarely look like that. So the concern is misplaced and comes from lacking the frame of reference.

Then there are adult crossdressers, who are not performing in shows, but dressing up at home. The key phrase here is "dressing up." A cis woman who is dressing up for a date often dresses in a manner not just more carefully considered than her everyday clothes, but more self-consciously feminine (the party dress, not the jeans). If someone is crossdressing at home for sexytimes, of course they're going to want to put on a sexy outfit. Because of the way our culture associates femininity with beauty and sexual attractiveness, even a very straight, very male-identified man may at times slip on a pair of thigh-high fishnets at home and feel sexy. He may be uncritical about the way in which articles of feminine attire are considered sexier, and how this constrains women in everyday life, but he's certainly aware that most women don't wear thigh-high fishnets every day.

And then there's the phenomenon we can call "Halloween crossdressing." Halloween is one day a year in which we're encouraged to costume in the U.S., and many people take the opportunity to crossdress and go out in public. ( I've found that while cis people tend to be a lot more comfortable with Halloween crossdressing, trans* women who have transitioned are often uncomfortable with it, because they encounter a lot of bro-ish men who base their costumes on their vision, not of cis women, but of some conflated image of drag queens and trans* women.)

And so we come to trans* folks. People who have transitioned are just living our lives in our identified genders (female, male, or some other gender). That is not to say that there's nothing performative about that, as we must often calculate how best to present ourselves in a manner most likely to ensure that others recognize and reflect our gender identities back at us--but cis people perform gender as well. Anyone needing proof of that should just spend a day at a middle school (egad: the selfconsciousness, the awkwardness, the hypermasculine grunting, the oddly-applied makeup). It's just that after reaching full maturity, many cis folks stop being aware of the performative nature of gender, as it's become as second-nature as riding a bike. And people who gender transition experience a similar trajectory: at first, there's a period of awkward exploration of one's personal style, but it eventually becomes second nature.

OK, then, what about the kids at camp You Are You? Well, first of all, I'd point out that in the contemporary U.S., kids' clothing is more highly gendered than that of adults. I know that my cis gender daughter and her friends struck me as a pool of miniature drag queens when they were around five and moving through the Princess Phase, dressing up as their favorite icons of exaggerated Disney femininity and prancing about in glittery pinkness. Meanwhile their male-assigned peers ran around with masculine emblems emblazoned on everything (Batman, sports heroes, dinosaurs driving trucks emitting lightening bolts). It seems to me that our society teaches children to learn to do binary gender by sending them all to Camp Camp.

Now, the hypergendered nature of kids' attire drops off as they get older, though it re-emerges in a pseudoadult form at puberty. Many of the children at camp You Are You look to be in the "big kid" range, when boys and girls alike tend to run around at summer camps in t-shirts and shorts. But "dress-up" clothing for big kids remains highly gendered.

So my take on the kids at You Are You is that they are going to a special camp that allows children assigned male at birth to wear feminine attire. They could go to some other generic summer camp and wear shorts and t-shirts very easily--but here, they are allowed the freedom to glory in feminine expression. So of course they want to dress up! Perhaps some of them are trans* girls living full time as such with the full support of their communities, but I presume that this is not the case for many of the children. So maybe in their everyday lives, they can wear t-shirts designated "for girls" without harassment, but showing up at school in a dress is a very different story. This is their chance to do that. And remember: kids' dress-up clothing is often hypergendered. It's not that these children think, "real females must wear lots of flounces and makeup and heels instead of jeans, and mustn't play sports or build things because they'd break a nail." They're just dressing up in the same way cis girls putting on a fashion show for their friends would, in the attire our society sells for girls of their age.

As for the accusation that the children are acting in a sexualized manner, I think that's an adult projection. We associate crossdressing with sexuality in adult lives, and project that onto children who are just embodying femininity. (Trans* women often suffer from a similar conflation of ideas, and are rudely presumed to be hypersexual.) Yes, it is problematic that our society sexualizes femininity, but these children are not to blame for that fact. I find it creepily reminiscent of rape culture when people (often feminists!) accuse trans* girls and women, and feminine boys and men, of being sexually provocative. Any person of any gender and any age should be able to go out in a dress without being assaulted, and without being accused of "asking for it."

So: for those who feel uncomfortable with the photographs of the children at camp You Are You, please bear these things in mind. The kids are dressing up, and are aware of that fact, and how girls and women dress to go to the supermarket. The photographs we see are those that are most "dressy," because of our society's anxiety about, and fascination with, crossing gender lines. And we should not demand that those who are marginalized be the people who solve the social problems associated with gender, such as the association of feminine dress with sexual provocation, when those with gender privilege can wear the same clothes to go out to a party or on a date without the same demands being made of them personally.
posted by DrMew at 10:18 AM on July 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

Well, I started working on this comment before DrMew's got posted. It's a great one, and much more even and considered than mine. Still, I went this far and I don't really want to just delete it, so here's it anyway:


Trans (and other miscellaneous gender-nonconfroming) people did not create gender stereotypes, are not a large enough demographic to have much part in perpetuating them, and in real life do not participate in them more than cis people, aside from erring on the side of safety and also representation bias in how the media chooses what and who to focus on. That all goes extra for kids, and these kids in particular are explicitly *playing dress-up for a fashion show*. How many little cis girls would end up dressed like this in that context even if they're not like that in real life?

I am a bit touchy here because this is a common trope when attacking trans women, who historically have been forced into hyper-feminine gender expressions by their (male) doctors before being allowed to access needed medical care. It continues to this day; women who are denied care if they show up in jeans instead of a skirt, because well, they must not really be sure. Then on the flip side, they get criticized for being too feminine. The real fact of the matter is that trans people are not responsible for gender stereotypes, we just have to live with them, same as anyone else.


And then I was maybe going to say some more but really just read DrMew's comment right above mine instead of whatever I was going to write. He pretty much nailed it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:29 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not just Halloween. One of my co-workers reported that one of the few bright points of a family funeral was that her nephew was happy and proud to have a new suit with a blue bow tie that was just like his dad's.

Which got me thinking, where do these kids have the opportunity to dress up, since various degrees of formal wear have social and ceremonial functions? They probably won't get to wear church dresses to church, or dresses for their religious and scholastic coming-of-age ceremonies. They probably won't get a prom dress, or a wedding dress. If they do something like concert orchestra, they will probably be dressed in something like a suit or tux.

We probably should have a debate about the double standards of various forms of formal wear and the social and ceremonial functions for which they are obligatory. But I'm not convinced it's fair to lay that debate on the kids who didn't create those ceremonies. (And again, I think there's significant bias in how the photo show is being presented to us.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:32 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

People who are unfamiliar with the genre of the drag show, like otherworldlyglow, may presume that drag queens (or kings, but as a culture we're much less fascinated by them) are attempting to embody everyday femininity (or masculinity) and not getting it right.

I assure you, I am quite familiar. I live in San Francisco, I have many friends that participate in the drag community. It still makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I totally get that it's exaggerated femininity and please, for god's sake, I know what camp is. No need to talk down. Unfortunately, to me, sometimes it veers into a very ugly parody of what being a woman means and I don't like it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:36 AM on July 17, 2013

They're just dressing up in the same way cis girls putting on a fashion show for their friends would, in the attire our society sells for girls of their age.

The real fact of the matter is that trans people are not responsible for gender stereotypes, we just have to live with them, same as anyone else.

I think I do understand both of these points-- but in this case, we're talking stereotyped behaviors that are not just harmful because they stereotypical, but harmful in themselves, no? My daughter's definitely in the midst of the hyper-feminine dress-up phase, and while I don't discourage her from play that helps her sort out her ideas about gender identity, I would also never never never send her to a whole camp that institutionalized sparkly dress-up and makeup and fashion shows and whatnot. Because, girl or boy, an obsession with how you look, what you're wearing and what other people think of it is likely to make you a vainer, less secure, less happy, more materialistic and consumerist person, no? So I still feel a little confused about the value of having an entire summer program that specifically encourages attendees to embrace their gender flexibility by just referring them to the very worst and most pernicious part of the opposite gender's stereotyping. Isn't that kind of like if you had a camp like this for girls that encouraged them to practice, I don't know, soccer rioting and gangbangs?
posted by Bardolph at 11:45 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, just because I have no place else to put this, take a look at the drag queen Radiohead performances that went down recently here. Amazing!!!! Get those camp kids in some robot costumes! (I guess there are some faux queens in there as well)
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:54 AM on July 17, 2013

... I would also never never never send her to a whole camp ... entire summer program ... Isn't that kind of like if you had a camp like this for girls that encouraged them to practice, I don't know, soccer rioting and gangbangs?

After spending probably more time than is prudent actually looking at the galleries, I don't have a clue as to what the "whole camp" is about separate from the Morris's focus and Slate's bias in presenting the show. I don't think you do either unless you have an additional source of information other than Morris and Slate.

Morris's images include ping pong, hiking, and art as activities, and fairly androgynous people as photographic subjects. However, they're not given as much attention as the fashion and talent shows, and they're almost completely dropped from Slate's editorial selection.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:58 AM on July 17, 2013

Yeah, it's entirely possible that you're right, CBrachyrynchos, and that I'm just reacting to a very biased presentation of what was actually a nice balanced experience (although I still think if I heard about a supposedly positive program for girls-- Girl Scouts, school, whatever-- staging even one adult-sanctioned and institutionally-funded fashion-and-makeup show, I'd definitely bristle.) But this may well be a case where the full story would be considerably less problematic than the slice we're presented with.
posted by Bardolph at 12:05 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry I offended you with my tone, otherworldlyglow. Frankly, my wife (who is also trans*) and I don't go to drag shows for a number of reasons. The central one is that my wife, who is visibly trans*, is often insulted by people who respond to her in everyday life by treating her like a sexualized drag queen in a very rude manner (yelling "You go, girl!" while slapping her posterior, and believing this is "supportive"). Secondly, a drag context is very awkward terrain for us. If we crossdress in the sexes we were assigned at birth rather than in our identified genders, people don't get it, and if we dress in our identified genders, that's not crossdressing. In any case, gender is serious business for us, and not just a matter of play. We emphatically DON'T live in San Francisco. People here generally don't know the difference between drag and gender transitioning at all, and transphobia is quite virulent.

CBrachyrhynchos, my cis gender daughter did get a chance to go to a generic summer camp, and the girls there dressed up and did shows and it looked just like the fashion show at You Are You, which is why you don't need a special camp for femme cis girls to go to. And I say this respectfully--comparing encouraging masculine girls or trans* boys to engage in "gangbangs" to the You Are You kids wearing glittery things seems waaaaay off to me.
posted by DrMew at 12:12 PM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sorry, CBrachyrhynchos , that comment should have been directed to Bardolph, not you.
posted by DrMew at 12:31 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the reply, DrMew. I think what I can distill this down to for me is that I spend a lot of time making sure my daughter has plenty of non-stereotypical feminine role models so it's just hard to feel really excited about reinforcing them for all kids here. But it's a really good point that my objections might best be directed toward Slate and maybe the photographer.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:12 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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