In 2018, we offered our first gender-expansive cabin option (in addition to boys’ and girls’ cabins). We are really glad we did it, and we plan to continue this option. Here’s a few of the things we learned:
Our camper families were WAY more supportive than we thought they might be. They weren’t just “okay” with this—they were amped about it
We don’t have changing rooms or bathrooms in any of our camper cabins. We ordered a simple changing tent from Amazon, and now I want to order one for ALL our cabins. It is easy to set up (pop-up), portable, and helped make campers feel comfortable with the changing situation. Under $30-- order here!
We also modified a bathroom to be an “everybody” bathroom this summer, and made sure the gender-expansive cabin was close by. We used tall stalls (almost floor-to-ceiling). This bathroom was open to all campers who felt more comfortable using it.
This cabin was designed to help gender non-binary, trans, or other campers feel more comfortable at camp, but of course those folks were also welcome in a girls or goys cabin if that felt more comfortable. This cabin was not designed to exclude or separate gender non-binary folks, but rather recognize and affirm their identities.
In order to have enough campers to fill the space, it was also open to cis-gender campers who felt like it was a good space for them. I had to approach a few families specifically in order to get enough campers signed up, but I don’t anticipate having to do this in the future now that campers know what it’s all about.
We had multiple campers who attended camp ONLY because this cabin was an option. You probably have some, too. We didn’t know who we were excluding with the binary model until we broke out of it.
We had very experienced staff members lead this group. Both happened to be gender non-binary, but we think cis folks could also lead the space well with proper support.
When I wrote a letter to our families explaining it, I had all parties I possibly could read the letter first (board members, parents, staff members, fellow camp directors). This helped me make sure I was addressing all concerns, being proactive, and using the most inclusive language I could. I also read the letter aloud to the whole staff right before our teen sessions began, to remind them of the reasons behind the decision.
There’s a wonderful website you can point confused parents to—www.genderspectrum.org.
In case it’s helpful to you, here’s the text of the letter we sent to families!
I am writing to you about a new cabin option we are piloting at Friends Camp during the Fell Session this year. As a Quaker camp, we affirm our campers and families of all identities—this means we work hard to affirm your child for who they are when it comes to family background, racial identity, religious beliefs, gender identity, and more. To affirm and nurture our youth, we are going to offer an optional gender-expansive cabin in addition to our boys’ and girls’ cabin units.
We are proud to be a camp for kids of all genders, where campers are free to make platonic friendships with others regardless of gender. At the same time, we value the opportunity for single-gender spaces, especially with our teens. Our young adult counselors are well-positioned to be role models and provide guidance to campers who are developing their identities as young women and men. To be with others experiencing similar challenges and joys around growing up can be an important factor in youth development. We value our girls’ and boys’ cabins and do not plan to eliminate this element of our program.
While we value single-gender experiences in our cabins at camp, some of our campers don’t fit in the boxes of “boy” or “girl.” In order to offer a gender-identity affirming experience for all campers, we will offer a cabin for campers who identify outside the gender binary where they can be with campers and staff members who also identify outside the binary. Some campers might describe their identity as “non-binary,” others might use terms such as “a-gender,” “gender-non-conforming,” or “genderqueer.” An umbrella term used by many engaged in our society’s work for gender justice and inclusion is “gender-expansive.” We hope that by creating a gender-expansive cabin option, campers who are often targeted by misunderstanding or forced to conform to gender expectations not true to who they are will be able to fully be themselves in a safe and supportive space.
If you and your camper are interested in them being in a gender-expansive cabin this summer, contact me before July 15th. This cabin is open to all interested families. Even if your camper does not identify as gender-expansive but you and they feel this cabin would be a good place for them, please do let me know. If you don’t contact me, your camper will stay in a cabin of the gender specified when you registered for camp.
A few questions you might have:
- I’m not familiar with the term non-binary gender identity or gender expansiveness. What is all this about? According to www.genderspectrum.org, gender-expansive is an umbrella term used for individuals that broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, roles, and/or other perceived gender norms. Gender-expansive individuals include those with transgender and non-binary identities, as well as those whose gender in some way is seen to be stretching society’s notions of gender.
- My camper is a boy (or a girl) and isn’t questioning their gender identity. Is that still going to be okay? Is this decision going to change their time at camp? Unless you specifically ask for your camper to be in this cabin, he or she will stay in the cabin you specified when you signed up for camp. We are offering this option to our campers who opt in. We work to make sure that all campers going home from Friends Camp have had an affirming experience, including your camper who loves being a boy or being a girl!
- Is this definitely happening? It is subject to interest. We would love to have enough interested campers to make this a reality, but we are not 100% sure it will happen this summer. If we don’t have enough campers enroll to fill a cabin, I will be in touch with interested families to make a plan.
- Why this session? Why now? For a while, we have hoped to be able to offer this option at Friends Camp. Our Camp Committee felt this year’s Fell Session was the right time to give it a try, since we have some wonderful staff members excited about helping out and we have had some families specifically request this option.
- How will my camper maintain their privacy in this cabin? Our cabins are all one room, without a changing room or bathroom. We will provide a changing screen in this cabin, to increase camper comfort. Campers are always welcome to change in the private bathrooms at camp, as well. (We hope to have these in all cabins someday!) Consent and appropriate boundaries are taught and required everywhere at camp.
- What if my camper says they want to be in the gender-inclusive cabin once they arrive at camp? While we recognize that teenage identities are often in flux and may change, we aren’t able to change a camper’s cabin assignment once they are at Friends Camp. If your child is interested in this option (and you are, as well), we need to hear by July 15th. Of course, it is up to you as a parent/ guardian which cabin assignment is right for your camper.
- My child is interested in this cabin option, but I don’t want their experience at camp to be ALL about gender. This cabin will simply be a “home base” at camp, and all campers will participate in the normal program at camp. We hope this space will allow them a chance to have some conversations about gender if they want to, but more importantly to just be themselves and enjoy the regular parts of the camp experience.
It has always been and still is okay to be yourself at Friends Camp, whether or not we end up having a gender-inclusive cabin at camp this summer. As always, I am happy to speak with parents about any concerns related to this issue. You can reach me at (207) 445-2361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anna Hopkins is the newest facilitator for The Summer Camp Society Semester.