In this article we’ll be defining gender identity, gender expression, how they differ from each other, and ways they’re presented in the summer camp environment. Also, why pronouns are important and how you can incorporate gender inclusive language into everyday camp life. Even if you may not agree with the idea of different gender identities and expressions, we’re hoping that you can agree that camp should be a community where all campers feel safe and acknowledged. We would like to clarify that this is not a tool to label your campers. It’s simply to have a better understanding of how your campers may identify and what you can do to support them in being the best versions of themselves. Note that gender and sexuality are two totally separate things.
Defining Gender Identity VS. Gender Expression
Gender identity is one’s own personal sense of gender. Someone’s gender identity can be associated with their assigned sex at birth, or it could differ from it. Think more inner self.
Gender expression can be voiced in many ways from clothes they wear, mannerisms, hobbies, and even their behavior. Occasionally explained as feminine, masculine, or gender neutral. (We’ll talk more on that here shortly.) Think more outer self or external manifestation of one’s gender.
Common Gender Identities
Agender– A person who does not identify with any gender, or intentionally doesn’t follow expectations of gender.
Cisgender– A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is, therefore, an antonym of “trans-.” A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say, non-transgender people.
Transgender– An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms — including transgender. Some of those terms are defined in this glossary. Use the descriptive term preferred by the person. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.
Gender Non-Conforming– A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming.
Non-Binary– A used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary. Non-binary is sometimes shortened to enby or NB.
Genderqueer– A term used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as genderqueer.
Gender-Fluid– Someone for whom gender identity and presentation is a spectrum. A gender-fluid person doesn’t confine themselves to one gender, or even a few. Instead, they may fluctuate between presenting as feminine, masculine, neither, or both.
Gender Creative– People, usually children, who don’t conform to gender stereotypes but also don’t necessarily identify as transgender. They are sometimes also called gender non-conforming.
Camp is among our favorite place to watch campers express themselves freely. Whether in the bunk, on a sports field, arts and crafts, and of course during campfires. Our camper’s imagination can vastly transcend our understanding.
Gender roles are often expressed creatively during camp activities which is healthy and natural but should be careful not to be pointed at or at the expense of specific campers or staff. Portraying masculine and feminine roles are a long-standing part of some camp traditions during plays and skits. If a camper feels comfortable to express themselves differently, that should be encouraged in a positive non-targeting fashion.
Once again, we believe it’s important not to label your campers. If they communicate to you that they identify differently than you acknowledge them, ask them what pronouns they prefer. Traditional pronouns of he/him or she/her may not apply as some rather they/them when referring to them. Yes, “they” and “them” can be vocalized or written when referring to a singular person. You might already use it without even realizing. EXAMPLE: What bunk are they in? What activities would they like to participate in? We’re just waiting on them to finish up lunch. If you’re unsure, ask. “What pronouns do you prefer?” Questions to avoid: What are you? Are you a boy or a girl? What bathroom do you use? Seemingly obvious, yet you’d be surprised how many times those who may identify differently may hear these questions.
Gender Inclusive Language
When speaking to groups as a whole, try neutralizing references to gender or sex by using “they” instead of “she” or “he”. Instead of “you guys”, try “you all” or even “Y’all” for the southerners trying to be gender inclusive. These changes may seem small, but they can create an environment where your staff and campers that may identify differently to view you as an ally. Which hopefully, you are.
If there’s anything you believe we missed or have questions about how to integrate this into your specific camp environment, feel free to comment below. We’ll assist you the best we can or point you in the right direction.
Your unofficial co-counselor,