Imagine living in a world that didn't understand who you were, that called you weird or strange or sick. Now imagine a camp where you could go and hang out with other children who were just like you, a haven where you were safe to be yourself.
Speaking with PolicyMic, Morris, who is now writing a book, said she was trying to document the visual stories of children from the camp, which she calls "You Are You" for the purposes of the project (the name has been changed to protect the privacy of participants).
The camp, which has been running for nine years, is organized by parents, Morris said. The campers range in age from 5 to 12 years old, and are from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, religions and regions. But they all share one thing in common: a desire to explore nontraditional gender expression.
The families who attend camp "You Are You" are also all members of a web-based list-serve that allows them to be thoroughly screened for safety and privacy purposes. In fact, the camp was founded as the result of online conversations among parents who were looking for a way to get their kids together in a more "comfortable setting," away from society's binary (and, at times, blatantly discriminatory) gender guidelines.
Morris has spent the last six years documenting this unique camp and is now in the final two days of a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the planned photobook. Her goal is to spread awareness, so that other young people with nonbinary gender expressions can know they are not alone.
Morris said she refers to the campers as "non-gender conforming" because of the range in age and awareness levels. "The more mature kids self-identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum," she said. "I believe that they have the tools to describe this because camp and parental support have provided them with the confidence and the vocabulary."
A highlight of the camp is the annual talent show, an event that many of the campers take seriously.
"Some practice for the talent show all year, and others create their own gowns with their mothers or friends of the family," Morris told Slate in an earlier interview. "The focus and enthusiasm is really pretty incredible. Also, it can be very emotional for the parents, especially the families who are new to camp and are experiencing this kind of group acceptance for the very first time."
Ultimately, Morris hopes that people who read her photobook will come away from the experience with a more humanized perspective on young, non-binary children. She said many people still express extreme discomfort with cross-identified children, perhaps because they have not had a lot of exposure to what Morris calls a gender-creative childhood.
"If I have accomplished anything with this book, I hope that it serves to nurture understanding," she said told PolicyMic. "That these are people like you and I, they are parents who are attempting to construct a truly inclusive society.
"That all children, regardless of how they identify, are not just to be accepted, but celebrated and consequently will choose to live long, happy, productive lives."
Image Credit (all): Linday Morris