Team WAF at Camp Gender Benders Yr 7
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On the morning of Friday August 2nd,
we departed for Camp Gender Benders, not knowing what to expect, but excited. After over four hours of driving filled with endless musical bops and strategic planning, we found Camp Mikell, the place where Camp Gender Benders year seven would take place.
Amidst the green hills of Toccoa, Georgia and houses bearing T$%#& 2020 signs, Camp Gender Benders was immediately welcoming. As we drove up the hill into the camp entrance we read the signs that said "We love you already!" The camp was embellished with flags holding the familiar colors of pink, white, and blue. We all appreciated the intermixing of trans flags with the background of trees, creeks, and hills. Queerness and nature are one.
After checking in and placing our items in our rooms, we explored of course! We walked the creeks, painted our nails, and caught golf cart rides to the different areas of camp while eating icees. We made ourselves comfortable, which was not hard to do. All the campers and camp organizers greeted us and welcomed us in.
Our first workshop was Healing Justice, led by Nijeeah and Vanity of The Transformative Teaching Collective. By discussing the harms done to our communities and how we deal with this harm within our bodies, this session focused on accountability, restoration, and healing. It was day one and we were already building bonds with other campers through transformative justice.
What do you bring to this space?
“I bring radical acceptance & love” - A Healing Justice participant
What do you need from this space?
“I need grace.” - Another Healing Justice participant
For the rest of the day we moved from dinner to breakout sessions to a night swim, which was cut short by the rain. Even so, we all gathered under the shelter and continued to talk, mingle, dance, and play with sparklers! The rain could not stop the magic. The warm introductions, smiling faces, and personal stories continued to flow.
After a while we sauntered off to our dorms and cabins. It was difficult to sleep as we grew excited about the festivities to be held the next day.
Saturday was a day packed with constructive activities.
Following the Open Space Technology session, where we formed groups and visioned together about what kinds of efforts could lead to liberation in our communities, Campaign for Southern Equality led a grant making workshop to help fulfill some of these dreams with their Southern Equality Fund. During this session we not only learned that the Campaign for Southern Equality gives out 10% of their budget (they call it tithing), but they also implement an approach called trust based grant making. They try to make the process of applying for grants simple - reducing barriers is a major way in which they show solidarity and support community.
“LGBTQ+ folks will be the the architects of our own liberation. We will transform the south. This isn’t about a one shot check - this is about a movement. Money is one part of the movement. The south has been systemically underfunded.”
-Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of Campaign for Southern Equality
Everyone in the room got the opportunity to apply for a grant, as individuals, as partners, as a community. The WAF team came together to write a grant to to provide free binders onsite at Closet Case Thrift Store. We were all approved for our grants. The movement shall continue!!
Soon after the grant session, all campers headed to some wooden bleachers to take our group pictures. Everyone huddled together to get a snapshot of the powerful group we had formed. The WAF team took some staff photos of our own too (which you can view above). Wondering what we should do with our free time before the next session, we (and many other campers) decided it was time for round two of the pool party.
The pool held many adventures for us all. From unicorn floats to dancing to basket weaving (Ivy’s mother Debbie was leading basket weaving during the camp - so there was underwater basket weaving in the pool!!), we had many ways to have fun and bond with others. For many the water was freeing. The bodies of queer and trans folxs are constantly policed and criticized, so for many this translates into queer and trans peoples not getting the opportunity to publicly swim.
BUT YOU CAN AT CAMP GENDER BENDERS !!! There you could be as you are and take up the space you deserve.
Who knew enjoying the pool could be an iconic and political event?
The Holistic Health and Herbal medicine workshop held by Community Roots, was our next endeavor. The leaders of that session informed us on the exclusions of queer and trans folxs from the western medical industrial complex and provided us with knowledge on herbs that could assist with promoting estrogen or testosterone production, dealing with the side effects of hormone therapy, and mental health support. One of the many takeaways was the restructuring of language surrounding “reproductive” organs:
“Generative organ/systems (sometimes referred to as “reproductive organs” ) goes beyond reproduction and includes sensation, power, pleasure, and more. Everyone cannot and will not use these organs for reproduction.”
-The Community Roots team
With this new information, we moved right into dinner. Right after dinner, we had the Talent Show, which was kicked off by a ground shaking twerk competition that lasted over an hour. With our minds still blown, the show went on!! There were cultural songs of resistance, wonderful drag performances, energetic and emotional poetry pieces, sing-a-longs, and more. Through our laughs, tears, cheering, and more, we experienced the entire spectrum of emotions. When the performances were done, we all dispersed. Some stayed and danced. Some gathered and talked. Some ventured off. Either way, we all got the chance to experience someone new, whether through deep conversation or dance moves. That night ran into the next morning.
Sunday, August 4th
Waking up on the last day of camp, we were tired from late night conversations, but ready to enjoy the last bits of time we had at camp. We packed our belongings, and joined the cleaning efforts. Between climbing hills to gather flags and snapping final pictures with new friends, time was quickly passing. The last convening of campers was the Warm and Fuzzy Yarn Circle. In this space, we took turns telling short stories about what our best moments were during camp. What or who made us feel warm and fuzzy?
“I have been intoxicated by your energy .”
- A memorable piece of Becca’s (hairstylists at camp) warm and fuzzy statement.
Whoever spoke had to wrap the yarn around their hand before passing the ball to the next person. This formed a web that was a physical representation of the connections we created and the space we shared. As everyone shared their thanks, goodbyes, and emotional statements of appreciation, we all knew that, for the seventh year, something monumental had taken place. Camp Gender Benders Year Seven had joined together more people who were better prepared to engage in transformative work in their communities. After the yarn was cut, we were given beautiful camp bracelets by Wynston (a leader of Gender Benders) and we headed out to our final lunch where we said our goodbyes and promised one another to meet up again. And we shall. Like Rev. Jasmine said, this is a movement, so we have to do all of this again… and more, RIGHT ???
Gender Benders Team, Everyone who had anything to do with organizing the camp, Ivy’s parents, The Knights and Orchids Society (TKO), Community Roots, Everyone who led sessions, Aqua Zumba Instructor, Becca as the Hairstylists, Twerkers & Everyone who participated in the Talent Show, the Listeners, the Criers, the Laughers, people who had kind words for others, QueerMed, Transformative Teaching Collective, Campaign for Southern Equality, the lifeguard, Wynston for being a great DJ, Roc (of Rooted Resistance) for giving away t-shirts, Jenson (of Human Love) for giving away t-shirts, the people who cooked us food, and everyone else who came, participated, and shared space!!!!!!