Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This One Time At Camp

I have experienced so many things over the course of the last five and a half years.

From thoughts, to emotions, physical changes, highs and lows.

So much so that, while surprised at times, I just did not think I could feel anything that would overwhelm me anymore.

At least not like things did when I was figuring all this out and struggling with all of it.

I have largely been furiously happy, enjoying life and even the down moments are no where near as bad.

As they say transition can be like a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs.

Yet just like a rollercoaster I thought all the big stuff was mostly done with(GRS being the only large thing left) just the smaller bumps and twists as I settle into life.

I could not have been more wrong.

Since I learned first hand there will still be moments that will be extremely profound.

Several of these happened during the first week of July.

Through a few channels, I discovered last year, the existence of a camp for transgender youth. The idea of it intrigued me greatly. I reached out to the camp organizers last year and was notified they would contact me the following spring once they had their schedule set.

I had actually forgotten about it until I got an email in mid to late April. They needed more counselors and wanted to know if I would be interested in interviewing.

I jumped at the chance and said yes!

And wow did I ever have to interview.

I had several email exchanges, one phone interview and one skype webcam one. I had to provide three references, professional included, along with a health form filled out by my general practitioner.

After all that, I got the green light to go!! Which surprised me a little since I had never been to a sleep over camp personally(only day camps). Never been a counselor at one either. All I really had was two winters as an assistant girls basket ball coach(eight and nine year olds). Other than that it was babysitting my nephews when they were smaller.

All I could hope to do was learn and bring as much energy and passion as I could. Then just hope for the best.

Thus I had to scramble around and find a decent airfare to travel to parts unknown.

Well not entirely unknown, but the location of the camp is never published for obvious reasons. I was just given an airport in California to fly into.

(I am not worried about revealing the California locale since it is such a big state. I could have been anywhere.)

I was able to find something reasonable and proceeded to get all the rest of my info and packing done.

Not to mention I had a crazy two weeks prior to leaving at work since we had a host of servers to exchange out on a lease refresh and they had to be shipped out by the 28th of June.

Still I was able to get ready to go and off to the West Coast I went.

The counselors had to arrive a day early to met and learn about how the camp would operate. Things we were and were not allowed to discuss with the kids.

We did this through early Sunday afternoon when we got a break before the kids arrived later that day.

There are so many moments that I witnessed over the course of the week. Yet seeing these kids come in with their parents, particularly my cabin, was truly something.

I was assigned to ten, eight and nine year old trans girls. I will call them girls because honestly they were. Every single one of them.

It was really amazing to see them just being themselves. More on this later.

What really touched me deeply was watching the support of the parents who were bringing them in. There might have been some trepidation and uncertainty but I truly got a sense that most of these parents were really trying to understand it and be supportive.

Others were just totally on board and just wanted to be the best parent possible.

Case in point was the little girl who was one of the last to come into my cabin(before anyone panics there were three counselors staying in my cabin. This includes myself, we were also fortunate to be sharing our cabin with one of the two nurse volunteers on staff that week) with a low fever.

Now if the fever persisted it was not going to be possible for her to stay. Still her mom had medicated her before they left and I was asked by one of our A-Team counselors(hey it is what they called themselves) to take her to the infirmary and keep an eye on her until dinner. Which included a few more temperature checks.

It was during this that I got to spend a lot of time with her and talk her Mother, Father and little brother. (He was a total cutie and a complete character.)

Her mom just talked with me for quite a bit and kept checking in on her before and after her parent meeting. She was just so focused on making sure she was ok. As she really wanted her daughter to stay and not have to go home.

It was just so cool to see her treating her daughter as a normal child.

However since I did not know how we were going to pass the time just yet. I grabbed a deck of cards and headed to the infirmary with my charge in tow.

First checkup her temp was normal. Without knowing what to do and not being able to let her run around. I asked her and she suggested we head down to the Art & Crafts area.

It was there she taught me to make vinyl lanyards. (I totally need to brush up my friendship bracelet skills for next year. My cousins taught me when I was thirteen. I think the last time I made one was around fifteen).

On the way down however we ran into her Dad who wanted to check in on her.

While talking he noticed the logo on my deck of playing cards.

They had the University of Michigan logo on them. Plus they were bright blue and yellow.

"Really? Michigan cards?" As he wrinkled his nose a bit at them.

"Well yeah, I live there. Let me guess you are an Ohio State fan?"

"No actually Notre Dame(not a fan of them either but at least it was not Ohio St). You live in Michigan now?"

"Yes. I have lived there my whole life."

"And you came all the way out here for this camp?"

"Yes I did."

"Why this camp?"

"Well I think it is a great idea and a worthy cause. Also it is a bit close to my heart being Trans myself."

I got a stunned second expression from him. I could tell that in that moment he had not placed me as trans. Simply one of the female counselors in his daughters cabin.

Nothing changed between us at that point. We still chatted about our college teams and discussed her daughter. I think this was a case with a number of parents, who seemed a little shocked when I told them something similar. Mostly because they would ask me if I was from the local area or state. To which I would reply no, I am from Detroit or Michigan.

{Really if my readers have not been able to figure that out where I live by know, I don't know what to tell you. For reals, I have posted pictures from two Red Wings games. Mentioned that it was the home team and the arena and city were printed on the ice in one of them. Sherlock Holmes would have a few choice words with you about your powers of observation.}

They would be surprised that I had come so far for the camp. I would tell them something like the story above. That the camp is a great idea, I feel these kids deserve a chance, and that because I was trans myself I thought it was really important to me.

I would get a quick second glance. It was again obvious to me that they had no idea until that moment that I was trans.

Nothing ever changed between us, but I think some parents were often wondering what kind of life their kid would have. Meeting someone like me who had her act together. Really just hit home that it was possible for their child to have a normal life. If they so desired. I think that because of a number of counselors are trans a lot of parent could walk away and think, just maybe that this is not so bad.

It adds a level of difficulty but it is not nor should it be as terrible as it is sometimes made out to be.

Now my patient and I bonded during that time. I know I am not supposed to have favorites and I did have so many amazing girls in my cabin. I laughed and cringed with them all. Other then one child who caused a stir doing something that they had never encountered before at camp. Without revealing details or the whole story I will just say she decided she did not want to be there and took matters into her own hands. I know what happened because it was on my watch.

Another had just way to much energy and no filter on her mouth. She would blurt out anything and everything. We constantly had to rein her in.

There was the Red Ant invasion Monday night that caused a lot of sleepless night for us the rest of the week.

Even with those crazy events I had a blast. I greatly enjoyed my time there. My Patient and I did a lot together all week as I was her activity director a number of times for her. We even did our swim test together. (you just have to prove you know how to swim to get an arm band and be allowed in the deep end). I laughed because she thought adults just knew how to swim. I told her not all do, we have to be taught also, but that I had known how to swim since I was little. Yet I still needed to do the test.

Which brings up an interesting side story. I had never been in a bathing suit or swimming since about 2008 maybe 2009 but I cannot recall. I had been having an awful time finding something I liked and felt comfortable in. As much as people tell me I have a bikini body(I do not), I am not remotely comfortable in one. I did manage to find a one piece that worked and I felt ok in.

This was something I was not sure I even going to be able to do. It came up Monday afternoon when I had to track down a counselor who I was helping put together the talent show on Friday. I located her in the pool and she suggested I go get my bathing suit and join in. I mentioned the above story to her and she challenged me again about it. I told her that I would build up to it, as I dangled my feet in the water, and that I was soaking in all the positive vibes watching the kids and other counselors.

She told me that if I needed encouragement later in the week to let her know.

Which I did and she did.

Day of, her and another counselor came down with me during their rest period and totally supported me. While I sat there, have a last minute twinge of doubt, She looked at me and asked what I needed.

"Rebecca, I need you to tell me to get over my shit, get into the pool, do my swim test so that I can enjoy swimming the rest of the week."

With a twinkle in her eye she wonderfully replied with  "Kelli. Get over your shit, get into the pool, do your swim test so that you can have fun the rest of the week."

I laughed but appreciated the humor. As we already know I did get in and enjoy the pool a few times that week. It did not hurt that Patient X walked in right before I got in asking me how I did my swim test. Which I then prompted we do it together.

There are so many things I can tell you about that I have taken away from this experience but I will cover a few that stand out in my mind beyond what I already talked about.

First was the profound thought as I stood and watched these kids being kids. Really that was it to, I watched sixty boys and girls being boys and girls. COMPLETELY forgetting the fact that these kids are trans. It would just click in my head and I would be simply in awe of what I was witnessing. It just so seemed like normal sleep over camp. Yet all these kids were just like me.

Not to mention how supportive these kids were of each other. Yes there were a few personality clashes, some he said/she said/they said drama. Which is typical in any group of kids.

One truly touching thing was the camp pairs up older kids with first time attendees. It was heartfelt and a total tear jerker to watch all these older kids get into it and completely support the younger ones. Not only that but often I would see the older ones stopping to talk to some of my campers all week long. To see a community of kids support each other like that was freaking amazing. The rest of the world could learn a thing or two about supporting each other.

Or the fact that during the talent show one of my campers was signed up to sing a song solo, but during her performance she got stage fright. Thankfully one of the other counselors suggest to the other girls in my cabin to go up and help her(I was on the other side of the lodge helping run the show so there was not a whole lot I could do). Yet not only did five of my other girls go up the whole audience also stood up and sang with her. I think three of us were sniffling in the back it was so sweet and cool to see.

There were also the two older teen girls that I had to help escort back through the airport on the day camp was over. Several kids were placed with counselors who were also flying out that day, as the kids were flying as unaccompanied minors. We got assigned to them to make sure they did not get stuck for any reason and made it safely through to boarding.

Both girls were from the greater NY area and just really had their stuff together since they were 15 and 14 in ages.

We even had a laugh when they both had me holding their stuff animal pillows in the security line as they tried to dig out their IDs. The oldest told me when I asked why she was laughing.

"You are a grown woman standing with two big stuffed animal pillows in the TSA line!"

I laughed back and answered "I can think of worse things to be holding so I will manage with the pillows."

They both gave me a big hug and asked if they would see me at the second camp on the east coast. To which I sadly had to reply no. As I did not have the ability to do both camps. Still I told the oldest I expected to see her back as a counselor since she expressed the desire to be one some day.

The other really cool thing that I took away from the camp was the other counselors. There were thirty of us with about twenty being trans themselves. Not only that but they were trans people of extreme quality. This groups largely had their act together. Most being in their mid twenties, several in undergrad, graduate school, just finished and even one starting Medical School this fall to become a doctor.

For once I felt as if I was surrounded by my peers. There was not a person there I would not want to hang out with outside of the camp setting. In fact I got contact info for quite a few of them and have kept in touch so far through various means. I had so many interesting conversations with them. They also seemed quite surprised when discussing things that I did not seem aware of or was lacking experience.

I told them that back home a community with people of such high caliber was virtually non existent or really hard to find(my hometown area is so scattered and it does not help that our downtown is in such poor shape that there is nothing to pull us in together). So much so that my life was very hetro-normal and that was the world I existed in. That meeting them was just as big a deal to me as meeting the kids.

Truly it was an amazing experience. Even with the red ant invasion, crazy adolescent drama, the one or two problematic kids, it is something I would do again without hesitation. I have already expressed my desire to return numerous times and I think I will be extended an invite in the future. Schedule allowing I would always love to do one of these each year.

Even so it is an experience I will always cherish and never forget.

Is it time for camp yet?