15 Photos Reveal The Joy Of Gender-Nonconforming Children At Summer Camp

Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
This article was originally published on September 25, 2015.

For the past eight summers, Lindsay Morris has photographed gender-nonconforming children and their families as they attend a four-day camp. When asked why she chose You Are You as the title of this project, Morris says it "just made sense." We happen to agree. This camp, which will remain nameless for privacy, was created to provide kids with a safe space to explore their gender identity with their families' support. Here, the children can be who they want to be — themselves — without fear of judgment.

At first, Morris took these photos just for the families' personal use, until it dawned on her (and the children's parents) how much good they could do if shown to the public: "The parents share a common belief that only through visibility are we likely to move the conversation [about gender-variant children] forward," she explains. What makes these photos so moving, however, is how relatable they are. They depict familiar, even nostalgia-inducing, scenes of an idyllic summer camp where kids can swim, play dress-up, and not have to worry about how people see them.

Morris shared one parent's story with us over email. This mother, writing to Morris to thank her for her work, said that her transgender daughter has made incredible strides in self-acceptance and self-advocacy after participating in the camp:

Your project was the first step for [name withheld] in developing trans pride. Before that, she hid herself. Since she agreed to participate in your project...she has been photographed, interviewed, and has taken steps to be quite an insightful and vocal advocate... She is proud of who she is today.

Like any with any summer camp, "the last day of camp comes too soon," Morris explains, noting that while it's always a bittersweet goodbye, it's easy to find something to look forward to. "Everyone's a little tired and definitely sad, but it's gratifying to see a confidence boost in some of the newer or younger children in such a short span of time... And of course, there's always talk of next summer."

You can purchase the book version of You Are You here. Click through for more photos and to read more about how these children find themselves at camp.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"At first, I was shooting casual images of family, but as other children moved into the frame, a certain poetry began to evolve."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"What appeared I can only describe as a celebration of these children in a nonjudgmental environment. We were witness to a new community forming that we would come to know over the years as a second family."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"Some of the children 'socially transition' very openly at school with the assistance and support of school administrators, family, and community. Others are not so lucky and harbor secrets or attend schools [that] are less supportive."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"More and more, schools are bringing themselves up to date, but regardless, having to explain yourself or stand up for yourself daily is a great deal of responsibility for a child and can be quite taxing."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"Life at camp offers none of these challenges and hopefully provides a well of courage to draw from over the year."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"There have been a few children who have felt hesitant to participate, who have later approached me on their own to express with a certain amount of pride that they have nothing to hide — that they want to show the world, or a parent or a friend, who they really are."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"It's important that the children know that they are supported, not only by their families, but by a whole community of people from across the country and from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. I think this helps normalize their situation and help them learn coping skills for public life."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"These kids are our educators and carry a great responsibility in advocating for themselves. Camp provides them with the tools to do so."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"We actually have a rule that the children guide the conversation... This is their time to relax and be free of having to explain themselves."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"Also of great value is the opportunity for their siblings to witness affirmation from others. They, too, benefit from the verbal skills to stand up for their siblings if necessary."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"In the evenings, there are activities such as the talent show, karaoke, and on the last night, the eagerly anticipated fashion show. For most of the kids, everything revolves around the fashion show!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"There's also a lot of down time, where the kids can just hang out and talk. They have this very complicated thing in common, and it's helpful for them to communicate with each other their personal experiences."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"[The children] have all become accustomed to my documentation process. They know I'm a member of their community for the past eight years and that I give the children their space and privacy. They have a long history with me, and I think of it as more of a collaborative process."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"I hope that people will look into the eyes of these children and experience their bravery."
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Photo: Courtesy of Lindsay Morris/INSTITUTE.
"[Their] parents are ordinary people with a basic desire for happy, productive children [who are] no longer destined to become a statistic, but to go on to lead authentic lives. Who wouldn't want this for their own child?"
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