Sporting a mohawk tousled on top and a black Antischism T-shirt, Damien talked about what camp has meant to him. “Here, I realized there isn’t anything wrong with me and there were people like me,” he said. In fact, transgender topics don’t come up all that often at camp, he said. “It’s like it’s not even there, but if we want to talk, we feel totally safe talking to each other.”
His mother said the camp has changed her son’s life. “It saves kids’ lives,” says his mother, Tori, who is now on the board of directors of Aranu’tiq. “It’s the one place on this Earth that he can relax and be just like any other kid — to romp and play without judgment or ridicule.”
In fact, she reports, since camp ended in late August, her son has been “Skyping and chatting with his bunkmates nonstop.” Many of the campers remain in close touch and some get together during the school year.
Damien, like some of the others, had been on hormone blockers to keep the estrogen at bay and last year started taking testosterone.
Two years ago, Nicole Maines arrived at camp an anxious 12-year-old and is now the campus queen, known for her dramatic bent. She has an identical twin brother at home in Maine but has always felt that she was a girl.
At the talent show this year, Nicole led a group who wrote, directed, costumed, and performed a skit based on the game and movie, “Clue.” Nicole was Mrs. White — the role played by Madeline Kahn in the 1985 movie. She was funny and melodramatic, and got loud feedback from the audience.
“We’re all trans here,” she said. “There’s nothing different among us. We don’t have to worry about that.” This year, she was “big sister” to a new 8-year-old camper, checking in on her regularly. “She’s having a good time,” Nicole reported.
At Aranu’tiq, the “Girls” and “Boys” bathroom signs are covered by signs that say, “All Camp Restroom.” But the bunks are segregated by “gender spectrum,” Teich said: “the masculine spectrum or the feminine spectrum.”
About half of the campers identify as girls, the other half as boys.
They will tell you they knew from their earliest years that they were assigned the wrong birth gender. At camp, the adolescent girls — born boys — look like girls: clear faces, some budding hips, nail polish, earrings, pony tails, shaved legs, bras. The boys — born girls — look like boys: baggy shorts, T-shirts, the occasional hat, some stubble.
But some are “in between,” Teich said. These “gender-variant” kids are not quite sure where they fit in. Like the teenager who’s a boy at home but at camp can get his nails polished and carry a purse. Or the little girl who feels — and looks — like a boy but hasn’t yet started to live as one.
“Gender isn’t always as cut and dried as people think,” said Teich.
If the kids are self-conscious anywhere at camp, it may be at the pool. Gender-reassignment surgery, if they choose it, is not done until at least age 18. At Aranu’tiq, campers are allowed to wear what they please in the pool.
The girls tend to wear bikini tops with shorts or little skirts, while the boys wear knee-length swim trunks but leave their T-shirts on. Some, Teich said, wear a binder to flatten their chests. The few who have had chest surgery display bare chests — with horizontal scars.
Jordan Koronkowski — “Korn” at camp — said he felt suicidal when he finally decided two years ago that he had to live as a boy. “Ever since I was born, I knew I was a boy,” said Koronkowski, 13, who lives in California. Other children tease him and, he said, he has few friends outside camp.
This was his second summer at Aranu’tiq in Connecticut, but he also attended the new California camp. Last summer, he met his best friend at camp, and the two keep in touch during the school year. “Me and him, we talk about anything,” said Koronkowski. “If we have girl trouble, we talk about it. He told me I was like a brother to him.”
At Aranu’tiq this year, he developed a crush on another camper. “She held my hand and kissed it,” he said. “I think she likes me.”
Another camper, Chris Redick, who lives in upstate New York, met his girlfriend at camp last summer; she was back this year. “People here like me for who I am,” said Chris, 14.
Who is he? “I’m an artist, a poet, a musician.”
Like most camps, Aranu’tiq has its little romances. There is also gossip, and kids who don’t listen to counselors. “Adolescents are difficult,” said Teich. “It’s not about transgender. It’s just your typical adolescent obnoxiousness.” That particular day, in fact, counselors had to deal with hurt feelings and apologies after one girl had written something snide about another.Continued...