On Camp: Being Queer Wasn’t a Big Deal, My Privilege Was

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image courtesy power of hope

Power of Hope was different from Camp Fire or YMCA camp. It was a week-long art camp that attracted nerds, weirdos, and queers. Instead of gluing pipe cleaners onto Dixie cups, we had drum circles. Instead of hiking, we had belly dancing classes. We exuberantly created, painting murals with fern fronds and playing each other’s musical instruments. I loved it because the adults trusted us to make our own decisions instead of forcing us into group activities.

This was my third year at Power of Hope. I was seventeen years old. I had been out as bisexual for about 6 months. My relationship with my boyfriend was falling apart, although I didn’t really want to admit that yet.

Many of the usual suspects were there that year – the Rastafarian drum teacher, my mother’s colleague Charlie who had helped found the camp, the group that drove up from inner-city Oakland every year, the local islanders who didn’t have much else to do. There were also new faces – lots of other kids from the Seattle area, plus a group from an LGBT youth center in Portland.

There was one person from Portland in particular who caught my eye – a short, shy young man who wore a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. He kept to himself, sitting in corners and sketching. Folks around me whispered rumors that he “wasn’t always a boy.” And I’m not going to lie – I thought he was abso-fucking-lutely gorgeous.

I don’t remember the names of most of the people I met that week. Except for his: Tuck.

One day we were sitting around, me and the other queers (both from Portland and from the general camp population) talking about our experiences. For me, coming out had been relatively easy – even the friends I pissed off were more angry that I had cheated on my boyfriend than that I had done so with a girl. But things weren’t so rosy for some of these other kids.

“I haven’t told my mom. I’m afraid she’ll kick me out of the house.”
“My dad thinks it’s a phase. He keeps asking me why I don’t have a girlfriend yet.”
“My friends at school… they don’t know because I think they’ll kick my ass.”
Then Tuck spoke up, his voice quiet. “My mother doesn’t believe that I’m a boy.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. No one knew.

He continued. “She told me that I need to start acting like a girl, and if I don’t… I’m out of the house.” He looked away for a second, then back to his sketchbook. Someone cleared the silence. “That’s fucked.”

We all agreed that it was, indeed, fucked.

“You shouldn’t let her bring you down,” I said. “You’re awesome.”
Tuck smiled his small, shy smile. “Thanks.” But there was still pain behind his eyes.

As the days went by, Tuck and I became close, by which I mean that I did everything I could to be close to him. I admired his sketches, which really were very good. We even walked hand in hand sometimes, which gave my heart a thrill. I knew I had a boyfriend back home, and that I had already betrayed his trust once, but he felt so far away.

“I’m sure your mom will see the light,” I said to him. “Parents are supposed to love their children.”

He sighed. “I don’t think so, D.C. You’ve never seen the way she looks at me. In her mind, I should be wearing skirts and gossiping about boys, not binding my chest and lusting after girls.”

I didn’t have any words that could make that better, as much as I wanted to.

dina at 17

I didn’t have words back then for the experience that I was having. Now I can say that it was one of the first times I ever confronted my own privilege. Power of Hope was excellent for that – talking to my friends from Oakland about their experiences with siblings and friends joining gangs and getting hooked on drugs and getting shot were as far from my white middle-class suburban life as one could get.

But listening to Tuck tell his story made me aware of an entirely different kind of privilege that I have – the privilege of being raised in a liberal household. My parents had gay friends that they introduced us to without shame. While my schoolmates and sometimes even teachers passed around misinformation about what it meant to be gay, I could think back to people who I knew. Never once did I have to fear that my parents would kick me off the street and stop loving me for who I was. When I came out to my mother, the first thing she said was, “Did you think I didn’t know that already?”

But that didn’t exist for my new friends, especially not for Tuck. As hard as I found it to be newly out in a world that didn’t think much of queer people, I had so much more than they did.

As camp drew to a close, we exchanged addresses. Tuck didn’t have an email address, so he gave me his mother’s address. When I got home, I wrote him a long, thoughtful letter telling him how glad I was that we had met and how happy I would be if we could keep up a correspondence.

After a couple weeks, the letter arrived back in my mailbox with this scrawled on the front: “No one by that name at this address. Return to sender.”

It’s been twelve years, and I still think about him. Not in a romantic way – I have a wife – but I do worry about what happened to him. Did his mom ever come around? Did he escape to his dad’s place or to a shelter, or was he unceremoniously dumped on the street like so many are? Was he able to find help and support, or did he end up as one of Portland’s many homeless youth? Is he okay today? Is he a statistic?

Listening to Tuck taught me that all people deserve dignity and respect from their families and friends. All people deserve to be heard – and, more importantly, to be listened to.


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

Avatar of Dina

I am an American expat living in Sydney, Australia. I like science fiction and video games more than is probably healthy. I have a beautiful girlfriend and two little grey cats.

Dina has written 5 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    This is excellent, a narrative that is well written and yet also accessible and yet also shares and teaches.

    Thank you Dina, I was so excited when I clicked on to the site and saw you’d written an article!!

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    This brought me to tears. The live and acceptance of who we are by friends and family is such an invaluable resource. I am so thankful to have this kind of support in my life and I realize so many LGBT youth (and adults) are forced to live their lives in fear becaue they don’t have it, which is terrible. I hope that as a generation, we bring more tolerant an accepting families ion the world for the Tucks of the future. Wherever he is, I hope all is well.

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    Dina, I truly appreciate your beautiful piece. To me, acknowledging the advantages we have in the scheme of things is an act of grace and giving. Yes, and if Tuck had met trans girls from the hood, he might have realized that he has his own form of multiple privilege (even if it didn’t feel that way at the time). The more we’re able to accept and admit this without whining about “Oppression Olympics (ugh, I hate that term) the more we’ll come to understand the overlapping nature of oppression and challenges each of us face without trying to appropriate those of others. And it’s then we can really empathize and start being true allies of one another’s struggles. I hope Tuck is finding his authentic place in the world and that he’s safe… at least Portland has a lot of services for trans youth.

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    I know that the idea of privilege is often a sore subject in this community. We as a whole are marginalized, but some people DO have it much better than others. Thank you for recognizing that.

    I got kicked out at 14 for 8 months. I lived in a park for 2 days, but got lucky enough to encounter the right people, and lived with an older drag queen and a PFLAG mom before my parents took me back. Things will never be great between us, but hey, its something.

    I do hope Tuck is ok. I hope he isn’t a statistic or a junkie. This really makes me realize that despite the tough times, I really am lucky. I turned out ok.

    Thank you for sharing such an incredible story. Brings me to tears.

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      I’ve been very lucky (fairly liberal parents who try to be supportive), and it’s good to remember that sometimes. I hope Tuck’s story turned out to be better than it appears.

      I’m so glad you made it through that time safely, Shannon. *hugs*

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        *hugs* Samantha. :) Thank you. It took a bit. Conversion therapy at 12. exiled from the house at 14 for being unable to change…the only reason my parents took me back is because my school found out I wasn’t living with them, and, of course, when I had problems with the other kids and an older black drag queen and a bombastic, opinionated white PFLAG mom showed up to take care of it, there were a lot of questions asked. Due to the legality of it all, they really had no choice.

        It was all very rough, and led to a lot of impulsive, self destructive behavior. Finally, after moving around the country, at 27, I sucked it up and came back home, and just got my degree in December. I have a job interview tomorrow, hopefully I get it, and things look up from there and my dream to move far away from here permanently materializes. :)

        You’re lucky, you are right, but I am still glad that you guys recognize the real horrors of those of us without families and environments that are kind and supportive.Sometimes that makes all the difference. I, too, hope Tuck turned out ok.

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          It’s great to hear things are looking up for you. :D Congratulations on the degree! What did you get it in? And good luck on the job interview. I’m sure you’ll wow them. :)

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          Thanks! Associate’s in Computer Science-Networking.

          Its the second interview, I’m nervous, I really need this job! Could be a whole other beginning.

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          Oh wow that sounds way over my head, haha. I’m much more humanities-minded. :P

          Well, second interviews mean they already like you, yay! All you have to do now is not make them hate you, and I doubt you could do that.

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          LOL this one is with the regional manager. Haven’t met this person yet. The store manager is cool, though, she likes me. It’s with a wireless store where I’d program and activate phones. Right up my aisle. I like playing with gadgets. :)

          And I actually am more of a writer naturally, but once you get the hang of it, computers are easy, and its a hella useful skill these days. :)

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          You’re right. It is a useful skill. *looks at my computer sadly* Yeah I write too. Not as much as I should, but I do. :P

          Good luck today!

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          Thanks, ladies. Once my foot is in the door in the industry, I’ll be fine. It’s just a crap economy. Like I said to Dizzy downthread, things went great, waiting on background check to come back. :)

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          “when I had problems with the other kids and an older black drag queen and a bombastic, opinionated white PFLAG mom showed up to take care of it”

          I hope this isn’t rude, but I seriously wish I could have been there to see that!

          Congratulations on your degree and your job interview and your generally amazing strength of character.

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          LOL dizzy, I know you didn’t mean it in a rude way. Was really pretty odd. Almost like something off a cheesy logo tv show, but, ironically enough,those stereotypes don’t come from nowhere.

          It really is lucky that I grew up right over the state line from Charlotte,NC. Its still the grubby, backwards south, BUT…its also a city. It’s also lucky I was a miser with my allowance and lunch money back then, so I had enough to make it to the city (which is only a 20 minute drive up the interstate, but with no public transport, that’s a problem for a homeless 14 year old).

          Wound up going into the one place with a rainbow on it,which happened to not be a gay bar but a very gay friendly little eatery. That’s how I found my saviors. :)

          And thank you. The interview went great, just gotta wait for background check to come back. nothing more serious than traffic tickets on there to the best of my knowledge, so…should be all systems go! Just a waiting game now. And you guys are ALL amazing here. Love this place and all our lovely queer net spaces. Talk about a lifesaver!

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          Hey, thanks,I might. Trying really hard to let bygones be bygones.

          I realize that religion twisted my parents’ thinking on this subject, and they are so deeply indoctrinated that they will never be ok with it on any significant level. I might wait until my mother retires from the public school system, and write at least part of it. I don’t wish to ruin them or anything like that, which is why, other than the gay internet comments like this, I haven’t outed them for what they did, and how they are. After all, two wrongs don’t make a right, and I certainly have no desire for vengeance.

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    This is so amazing. Never fails to frustrate me when my gay friends don’t get the restrictions placed on me and then they get mad at me. Yes I’d like to buy one type of clothes or join a gay youth club, I also like living in my house and being able to properly continue my education.

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      I’ve always hated that. It wasn’t being gay for me but everything. My mother was severely controlling and I wasn’t allowed to even want things she hadn’t pre aproved my wanting. My friends would always say disgustedly “well why don’t you do it anyway” as if it was that simple.

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        Same!!! While I’m (fortunately) not at the risk of being kicked out, my parents do help me out financially with school, and if I do “gay shit”, as we affectionately term it, I run the risk of serious consequences. It’s not as simple as sneaking out of the house to go to a gay club or organization, and I think some of my friends just can’t relate because they’re already on their own.

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