Blog  How Camp Gave Me the Courage to Be Myself

How Camp Gave Me the Courage to Be Myself

by Tyler, Olim ’17 camper

I have been going to Crane Lake Camp for seven summers and for six of these I was in a girls’ bunk. But within the past few years, I went through the process of coming out as transgender from female to male. Every summer I had been in a girls’ bunk, and it took me some time to realize that I felt slightly out of place. The group of girls of my bunk greeted me warmly each summer, welcomed me to the bunk, and teared as I left the Lake Field at the end of the session. The kind camp community swallowed our bunk during the warm months. While it was all very appreciated, it did slow down my in-camp realization that I was somewhat different.

Throughout the day I would not be as present during bunk time, more secluded on my bed reading a horror novel than on a bunk gossiping and making friendship bracelets. My Shabbat prep really only took a few minutes in comparison to the outlets in the bathroom hoarded by hair straighteners or curlers. I wore basketball shorts instead of Soffes, baggy T-shirts instead of tank tops.

Other than all these minor things, not once did I feel like camp wasn’t the right place to be. It was at home where I realized maybe I wasn’t exactly female. During seventh grade, I began trying to work out my sexuality. As I delved through label after label for the perfect one, I read through a list of identities, pausing on the word transgender. This description seemed to fit. But it was the summer before my freshman year of high school before I finally decided to come out at camp.

By the third week of camp my Upper Chaverim summer, Summer 2016, I realized I had to tell my community. I felt like I was skirting around the corners in a world I did not belong to, and I knew that camp should be the place where I could be the best version of myself. The first person I told was my counselor. The next step was coming out to my bunk. It was quite odd to hear my voice bouncing through the empty space around us. But the girls stopped me mid-speech for a group hug which warmed any chill that could have settled in the awkward silences. They asked questions, which made it better. I understood that I could tell these girls everything and be just as trusted as before. I fit in with them whether or not my labels did. Until it was time to come out to a wider group, my bunk and I whispered so the attached bunk wouldn’t hear. By the end of the week my face was sore from smiling. I could feel the unconditional love and support from my bunkmates and counselors in every moment.

During the school year before, I had come out to close friends in one-on-one conversations, so I knew telling my entire unit would contrast strongly from that experience. But I was prepared for this. I came out to all of Upper Chaverim right after an evening activity. I remember clearing my throat. And then I told my unit that I identify more as male than female, that I would rather live as a boy than as a girl, and that this impacts them because I may be living in a bunk with the guys the next summer. I don’t think there has ever been a more awkward moment for me, ever.

But the summer went on. The girls in my cabin were still extremely relaxed around me and showered me with praise. The guys seemed impressed by my courage to tell the unit. The counselors kept coming up to me telling me how proud they all were. If this past summer has anything to say, they still are. Camp became a place where I could finally be truly me.

As I left camp I was hit with a new daunting task. Preparing for high school meant coming out on the internet so all would know what was going on during the first day of school, and so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself too many times during the first week or so. Knowing I could come out so awkwardly and formally at camp to over sixty people and still have them be supportive of me made the first FaceTime calls with my relatives, and later Facebook and Instagram posts to my high school community, so simple. Camp was the perfect safe environment for me to feel accepted as who I am, and to build the confidence to share it with the outside world.

The school year passed with subs calling the wrong name, friends forgetting pronouns, and awkward talks in class when someone would start talking about anything LGBTQ and then glance at me. Halfway through the monotonous school drudge of misgendering. I got a welcome break in the form of planning to move into a boys’ bunk for the upcoming summer, my Olim summer. We had to arrange where I’d sleep, where I’d shower, and which bathrooms I should use around camp. Next came the forms. It was a beautiful moment to write “Tyler” on the pages and mark male before marking Olim.

Walking into a boys’ bunk this past summer for my Olim summer felt so much more natural. Despite it being our last summer, and feeling a little like a new camper in my bunk, I fell into the rhythm of daily Olim boy life so easily. The rhythm had never been as easy to fall into with the girls’ bunk, and it truly lifted my energy to the highest it has been in a while. If anything confirmed my gender identity it was this summer, at camp with the guys, how much easier it was, and how much greater the time. I felt I had truly found my place, and it made the year’s efforts and struggles all worth it as it all summed up with the best summer of my life.

Tyler is a transgender Olim ‘17 camper from Connecticut. He loves to play trombone and write.