At Camp “You Are You,” a four-day getaway held every year for gender nonconforming children, all adults on hand worked to pitch in for the weekend. Long Island photographer Lindsay Morris’s job was to document the fun. Her inspiring photos reveal the rare experience of children simply being themselves in a world that often won’t accept them.
Camp “You are You” (this is not the real name, to protect the attendees’ privacy) was started nine years ago by parents who organized on an online listserv run by the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Morris explains that the camp—now held once every year in different locations around the country—is intended as an opportunity to give kids under 13 the chance to express their identities alongside others like them, culminating in a fashion show at the end of the weekend.
“It’s a chance to get them face-to-face and give them an opportunity to see that they are not alone,” says Morris. “These kids often feel really isolated. No matter how much support you have at home, you still have to go to school. ... It’s the first time they are being celebrated, rather than questioned. They don’t need to explain themselves.”
She says for many of the kids, being there is a life-changing experience. Many families come back year after year. “It’s almost like a reunion. It feels like a bunch of friends who have this one common thread: Their boys enjoy dressing like girls,” says Morris, who has taken photos at the camp over the last four years.
Since she began her work, Morris’s photos, made public with families’ permission, have taken on a life of their own. One was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, which generated more media coverage in Europe and some in the U.S.
The publicity comes at a time when the conversation about transgender and LGBT rights and life experiences is changing. Many consider her photos controversial, but even in the year or so her work has been getting attention, reactions have become more positive and accepting, she says. “A lot of people feel this is the civil rights issue of our time,” she notes.
Her photos are already helping to contribute to awareness. She recently raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter to publish a book in the next year, and they will also be on displayed at shown exhibitions in Brooklyn and Atlanta this year. Everyday, her email box is now flooded with notes from parents, activists, and older transgender adults. She’s talking with parents at the camp about creating a handbook so similar places can be easily set up elsewhere. “These camps can really exist in every city and every state in the country. Statistically, these kids are out there.”