For the month of February, each writer’s post will begin with the same line, which we’ve borrowed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

Dear Gabe,

All of this happened, more or less. I’m writing to you so that you don’t forget.

Today, I arrived at training after sleeping my way through a long drive in Ford’s little-car-that-could. When we arrived at the training camp the air was cold and heavy, as if the dew continued all the way up to the clouds. I began to learn people’s camp names—Sphinx, C3PO, Koala Bear, Primo—and the wide array of pronouns that they use and I sometimes avoid using in case I mix them up and hurt someone. I felt that familiar weight in my chest of not knowing how this new place ticks and doubting how long I can last here.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

As a social justice camp, we attempt to hold society and ourselves accountable in all areas, not only in regards to LGBT+ issues. This means we spend a lot of time talking about race. During these talks, we’re encouraged to prioritize the voices of people of color, which means that I fight my natural Hermione instincts to “win” a group discussion and channel my energies into my other Hermione instinct to take pages upon pages of notes.

The concepts we discuss are difficult—how our culture is set up by white people for white people, the need to acknowledge our own inescapable racism, white fragility, camp’s own inhospitality toward brown voices—and I repeatedly push down my urges to push back and instead try to pull the discomfort closer and see what it can teach me.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

Today was the last day of training, and we finished it in a field-sized circle. I was exhausted from the rain and the introductions and the constant deconstruction of my pre-dispositions, but in the exhaustion there was a satisfaction in having met people unlike any I’d known before and feeling like I’d distilled discomfort into some small progress.

Then, our final wrap-up activity was interrupted by news of some racist behaviors at camp and the circle collapsed in on itself. There was pain and anger and yelling and cursing, and something inside me cracked. All the progress I thought I’d fought for seemed to slip away, and I cried. I didn’t move or look up. I just cried into the dew. And what I didn’t have the heart to tell anyone was that I wasn’t crying for the racism or the pain of others. I was crying for myself. I was crying because I was tired and cold and just wanted to be at home in a warm kitchen in Michigan talking to my mom and because I learned this week that I’m supposed to be less fragile but something inside me cracked anyway.

As I left training, every time someone said my camp name, I was reminded that I’m not the same person here as you are at home. I just wanted to get back to Josh and Will—my white, straight, cisgender boys—and give them a big, uncomplicated hug.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

It’s the first day of camp! Today as I walked up past the boathouse in my Chacos and wool socks with a backpack slung over my shoulder, Maggot told me that I looked like a camp counselor, and I could feel my face light up. Being a counselor has long been a life goal of mine, and today it would be realized.

As big yellow buses thundered down dirt roads, I felt my intestines dance with nerves. A few minutes later when AJ and I were sitting awkwardly around a picnic table with a group of bashful boys, I reminded myself that the dream might not be realized all at once.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

Today for our afternoon cabin time, we met with Prancer to have a social justice discussion. At camp, there’s no holding back in any conversations, and within a few minutes we were analyzing the concept of rape culture and exploring how men and boys can step up to help dismantle it. A couple campers laid across picnic table benches, evading their discomfort by staring at trees, but the rest spoke honestly and earnestly in a way that fourteen-year-old Gabe never could. I was very proud.

After the discussion, we jaunted back up to the cabin and spent the next half hour breaking open AJ’s glitter packets, laughing, and sprinkling them into each other’s hair until we all shimmered rainbow, deciding that this was a moment we wanted to find glimmering on our clothing for months to come and learning that acknowledging the horrors of misogyny and celebrating the joys of the craft box are not mutually exclusive endeavors.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

Sometimes I feel like a Republican here. In school chapels and youth group growing up, I remember always hearing about a hypothetical “someday” when I’d be the only Christian in a situation. Then I’d really be tested! I remember laughing under my breath and thinking to myself, “Yeah, right. Like that’s ever going to happen!”

It’s happening. I keep meeting people whose lives are so different from what I learned to be the ideal and feeling the gut reaction to devalue their beliefs in an attempt to preserve and protect my own. I feel a disconcerting sympathy for my friends’ homophobic parents and my conservative cross-country teammates.

But I make a habit of fighting my gut and instead wonder how to reconcile my deep respect for the volunteers here at camp and for your role models back at home when their beliefs seem irreconcilable.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

I think my favorite part of camp is connecting with the young campers. Tonight at dinner on the back field I listened as an adorable camper recounted with the roundest, brownest, most earnest eyes the true story of how he saw his grandma get eaten by a werewolf. When I told his counselor, they rolled their eyes and said that he was inconsolable during a full moon earlier that week.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

Remember those days of Sunday school and hard church pews and ham sandwiches in the fellowship room? Well, during our candlelight dinner, I had to respond to an issue of a trans* camper being misgendered and having their Satanist beliefs rejected by their cabinmates. The camper requested to eat outside with one of my own campers, and I was asked to supervise.

When I went to set my plate down at the picnic table with them, they asked if I could go sit somewhere else. So, I perched on a log within eyesight but not earshot and ate my candlelight dinner alone, watching Anthill chase a rogue camper around the grounds and retracing how life brought me from those ham sandwiches to here.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

Today our first week campers left, and I teared up a bit watching my boys disappear into big yellow buses and then big beige plumes of dust.

However, once the dust settled, we counselors re-grouped quickly and began to strategize about how to spend our twenty-four precious, camper-free hours. I managed to snag a seat in a car with Anthill, Mocha, and Sprinkle who all agreed that we should get as far from camp grounds as possible. We drove up the coast to the public beach and, when there was no parking there, drove further to an abandoned house with a gravel driveway and beach access.

We put down our things on a hobbled picnic table and waded out into the warm, salty water, floating in the sun. Five minutes later, we were back on the beach, wiping rivulets of blood from our shins and feet and laughing at the surprises in life, be they secret beaches or razor-sharp oysters.

On the way back home we stopped by a grocery store. There’s nothing like bustling down the baking needs aisle with a week’s supply of Oreos yelling out for “Anthill!” to make you realize you’re not currently leading a traditional life.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

For the second week of camp, my cabin consists of five trans* guys and first-time campers. Part of me felt ill-equipped to serve them until I saw how well they served each other. They traded stories about their families and their treatments and the daily quirks and struggles of their shared identity, and I felt myself witnessing something beautiful.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

Tonight, I came into the cabin to find that my campers had all dragged their mattresses onto the ground into what is here called a “cuddle puddle.” These campers, like my previous batch, consented to letting me sing them a lullaby once the lights were out, all of us knowing that it was probably more for me than for them. When the pillow talk about plans to meet up after camp was finally stifled by sleep, I laid still amongst the echoing breaths of my campers and felt like the Milky Way was drawn tight around me.

Love,

Gander

~~~

Dear Gabe,

It’s the last day of camp, and I volunteered to ride the buses home with the campers and help return them to their families. I spent the morning marching back and forth between a multi-purpose room housing the gradually dulling conversation of campers and the school gym where their parents waited to retrieve them.

One by one, I escorted familiar faces to their resemblances, until only one was left. One of my campers. While the camp director tried every phone number he could find, another volunteer and I sat with the camper and played Go Fish, trying to conjure an enthusiasm that could counteract the fact that he’d been forgotten.

Finally, the camp director got a hold of the camper’s aunt and said they’d go to the camp headquarters and wait for her there. I said I’d go with my camper, but the director said it wasn’t necessary. I felt guilty but said goodbye to my camper, and I think that we were both wondering how life would be different from here.

Love,

Gander

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