[note: I am not affiliated with Camp Out and all opinions and views and very funny jokes presented in this piece are entirely my own.]
Today The Australian posted an article Happy student campers told to queer their ideas (don’t read the comments) in which the author spends the first 15 paragraphs quoting the Facebook page and website of the collective ‘Camp Out’ in what could easily be mistaken for journalism.
In a brilliant non sequitur it is then followed by a plug for an article the author posted the day before which details students in another state being taught about sexual personal ads and how to construct their own concise original written piece, (incidentally a lesson unit that The Australian might find useful).
While the content of this article leaves little to be critiqued (as indeed there must be content for there to be criticism) the intention of this article is clear, and follows the ongoing pattern of suggesting that anything even slightly related to LGBTI issues and activism is inherently sexualised. It doesn’t matter if it’s about marriage equality, anti-discrimination law or literal minors on a camp for actual children, within 24 hours there will be an article explaining how it’s actually just about sex (unlike cisgender straight people, who never have sex, ever).
This is a common dismissive technique that’s used to marginalise non cisgender and heterosexual people as deviant and other, and as inherently worthy of less rights because we’ve dared to show pride in our difference, that we don’t consider ourselves as lesser because of who we are. Camp Out takes a group of LGBTI kids and teaches them radical ideas like that they’re ‘valid’ and ‘worthwhile’ and ‘allowed to exist and take up space’, which are notions that the religious right take offence to.
A moment of disclosure, last year I was a crew member for Camp Out and helped organise and run the week long camp event. The ‘crew’, or camp leaders, are very clear that the camp experience is not about us and what we get out of it, but it’s impossible to not feel a great deal of pride at the, well, pride that is visible in the campers and each other.
Yesterday I returned to camp to be part of a panel about transgender identity and a camper asked us about the value of ‘stealth’, a once popular notion in transfeminine circles that a person, upon coming out, should cut all ties with their old life and with their transness and assimilate into cisgender heterosexual culture. Incidentally, ‘stealth’ is often sold as the highest form of safety. A fellow panelist noted that stealth is a process that makes our lives easy for cis people and difficult for us, and that if you were to ask almost any queer person, the greatest safety comes from our community, and from us supporting each other.
The Australian article this morning was a weak piece of unimportant journalism, but it’s indicative of the wider narrative around queer identities and communities — that they are ideally not to exist, and if they do, they’re deviant and not to be shared or celebrated. I have spoken to many queer adult friends about camp in the past several years, and every single person has remarked on how their life would have been improved by attending such a camp, or simply being told that they were okay to exist.
In an ideal world we don’t need Camp Out, and the homes and schools and friendship circles that these kids occupy accept them as openly and easily as their fellow campers. Unfortunately, we’re apparently on bizarro earth, where politicians openly express their hatred for gay children and enact laws banning gender diverse folk from peeing (which as we all know is something only cisgender people do, unlike sex, which they never do).
On the final day of camp last year, a camper came up to me and said that Camp Out was the first space they’d been in, ever, where they felt 100% accepted, and I’m going to ask you to stop and reflect on how not okay that is. If a child has spent 16 years in a home, and over 10 years in schools only to just now have their first experience of acceptance, maybe that’s an indictment of this society and the harmful messages our queer kids are taking in their entire lives.
Maybe this is queering their ideas, but it should never be a radical notion to tell a child that they are loved.