My Experience as a Transgender Staff Member at Hawkeye

This post is courtesy of Chevy Whitson, a first year counselor at Camp Hawkeye in 2017 and a lifelong camp person.  It is based on Chevy's experiences growing up going to overnight camp, applying for a job at overnight camp, and flying across the country and working at Hawkeye last summer.  Great thanks to Chevy for sharing a little about his experience.  We've already rehired Chevy for Summer Staff 2018 and look forward to seeing him at Hawkeye then!

The first day of school is always going to be nerve-wracking. You're meeting new people who you'll spend eight hours a day with, five days a week, for thirty six weeks. As a new counselor, and new to Hawkeye, I couldn't help but flash back to those feelings on the drive from the bus stop, up the road to camp. I admit, I was scared. I had flown across the country to work with a ton of people from all different backgrounds, and I barely knew anything about any of them. I was already worried about who I would end up friends with. However, the worries were all for nothing. The car door opened, and I was seemingly rushed by a group of people, who I vaguely recognized from Facebook pictures or pictures off the website. That was the beginning of what was, without a doubt, the best summer I've ever had.

 As a camper, camp used to be a time where where I was able to get out of my shell. Camp was a place where I made quick friendships with people I’d end up trusting for a long time. Having been home-schooled as a child I hadn’t had the chance to socialize so camp was easily my favorite time of the year. In 2016, my last year as a camper in California, being out was a struggle. I had only been on testosterone for a few months and I wasn't very confident in myself as a person. I eventually hit a wall with the directors of the camp. They believed that it was a risk to put me in the cabin that was for the ‘boys’; not for me, but for the ‘other’ campers. It had taken persuading and an arrangement of an assigned bedroom, but I eventually was able to have a week at camp. Having known the other campers for four years before I came out, it wasn't the easiest transition. 

These previous experiences are part of the reason why I chose Camp Hawkeye to be my first experience at camp as a cabin counselor and transgender male.

At Camp Hawkeye, I didn't hold that fear and I feel that even if I had, it would have gone quickly. Every single person I met and worked with at camp was accepting with open arms. It was easy to become part of the Hawkeye family.

Before being fortunate enough to find Camp Hawkeye, I searched far and wide for summer camps that I hoped to fit in. I looked all across the country, from California to Maine. Not only were some camps starting before I graduated high school, but most required a full year of college to be a counselor there. As time closed in, I was worried that I would end up having a summer without camp. I called around to male-specific camps, checking to see if they had any experience with a transgender counselor or if it would be an issue. Finally after many phone calls, emails, and outreach I got a real lead. I called a boys camp in New Hampshire and told them a little about myself and what I was looking for – they referred me to Camp Hawkeye. That director told me Garrett would be a good person to call. I applied to Hawkeye the same day that I got a call back from him, and that was the last camp that I applied to after seven or eight attempts.

My favorite memories from the year of 2017 all come from Hawkeye; being with my bunk and finding a fish within a fish, being sorted, and seeing the cheery faces of my tribe, Iroquois, as we won the tribal competition for the first time in history!

I consider myself extremely lucky to have such amazing coworkers and campers as my family. Whenever one of my campers asked me a question about my gender identity, it was always asked with them knowing that I didn't need to answer if I wasn’t comfortable. All of my answers were always taken to heart and genuinely appreciated.

About a month into camp, a few of my campers were walking to get their medication with me and while the others were a few steps ahead. One of them stayed behind to ask me about being transgender. They were all questions I’d heard before such as “When did you know you were transgender?”, or “How did you know?”. None of these questions made me feel scared to answer. I told the camper the following; my story. When I was sixteen, I knew. I had moved to Oregon and went to a LGBT group in the town. I explored my identity in my own time and came to the realization that I was male.

Before coming to camp, I worried that being trans was going to mean facing questions about the legitimacy of my identity or having campers and parents be uncomfortable with me being there. Luckily as Hawkeye is a camp with an emphasis on diversity, I didn’t deal with any of that. Being transgender at camp wasn’t a worry for me. When I had to get my testosterone, I’d just go and get it at the Health Center. Our wonderful nurse was there for me too; safely, without judgment and in a caring environment. I got my meds with the same routine as a camper getting ibuprofen for a headache. My pronouns were never brought into question, and never had to be established. It was the most relaxed and least anxious I’ve been about my gender identity since coming out.

In my eleven years as a camper,  none felt like home like I do at Hawkeye.  Even going back to camp as a counselor, I felt that hit of familiarity, knowing I’d have the chance to grow, learn new skills, and create a family for myself. I ended up being able to do all of those things as well as live as a semi-independent adult. I may never know if it's just that I'm an adult now, or the people I was around, but I'm absolutely positive that I would not have traded my summer at Hawkeye, for anything, and I look forward to many more!


We interviewed Chevy about his experience at Camp Hawkeye, click here to read...

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