If anybody has ever seen _Wet Hot American Summer_, then ze knows what my camp and most other non-specialized camps are like. Sleepaway camp is a hyper-sexualized environment in which children are encouraged to explore their sexuality beyond the leering gaze of their legal guardians. But my camp differed from Camp Firewood in at least one very significant way. Despite its liberal attitude towards sex in general, my camp is still a visibly heteronormative place. I can’t help but wonder if this heterosexism comes from the liberal administration’s traditional organization of sleepaway camp.
My sleepaway camp often segregates by gender/sex, as I imagine most camps in New Jersey do. While activities are often integrated, certain other activities—most often sports—are not. Primarily, campers are segregated during swim instruction when their bodies are most exposed. To me, this tradition says that the other gender/sex’s body is so tempting and distracting that an individual should not be able to concentrate in its presence. If campers were allowed to be together during instructional swim, nobody would swim. They would simply stare at and desire each other. Couple that with the paternalistic attitude that young people (usually girls) need to be protected from these leers and an integrated swim instruction cannot exist. So instead, young men and young women are kept from each other like forbidden fruit, which of course presumes that all young men desire young women and vice versa.
This climate also establishes mandatory conformity to gender roles. Once during an evening activity (a late night activity in which bunk groups of the same age compete against each other) we were told that the 13-year-old girls were going to “spa night” while the 13-year-old boys were going to play dodgeball. After much protest, the girls were allowed to go play dodgeball, but the boys were never permitted to go to spa night. Maintenance of their masculinity was paramount and the administration could not believe that the boys seriously wanted to participate in a traditionally feminine activity. Not to mention that, because bunk groups, dorms, bathrooms, swim instruction, and other activities are segregated by gender/sex, there was no space to be transgender.
The administrative framework of my camp makes it difficult to imagine any campers who are not cis gendered and straight, a fact that was both shocking and disappointing to learn about an institution that prides itself on inclusion and encourages (some types of) sexuality. Even though mine does not, there are summer camps that support LGBTQQIA youth. If you are interested in learning more about spaces for LGBTQQIA youth, a resource that can help you is: http://www.bonusround.com/gayyouth.