Butch Please: Butch Goes Camping

a-camp-may-2013-logo

There’s a photograph of me at age seven, barefoot and muddy-calved. My hair, which came out of the womb thick and black as a pelt, is between haircuts, tangling at my shoulders. I am standing on the edge of a lake, my pre-orthodontics teeth revealed in all their messy glory as I grin at the camera, shoving a palmful of pebbles at the lens. Somewhere a few feet from where the picture is taken is a tent my family is sharing, and the pit we’ve made from bigger rocks that houses last night’s fire. I am always trying to build fires. This is a desire I take into adulthood, carried into metaphor and infused in everything I do.

I would show the photo to you now but it’s still in my mother’s house, sitting on the living room table that doubles as a set of drawers for linens; I was one of those fortunate children who grew up in a house where furniture was repurposed and redefined so many times that figuring out my gender identity seemed less tasking than understanding how to make a house out of unmet ends.

Most of my childhood memories are associated with being outdoors. As a kid, the soles of my feet were rock hard from all the afternoons I ran barefoot from the back door to the ridge behind our house, where you could see all the way across the mountains to Vermont. I’d sit on my favorite rock in between a ring of three trees and use my new knife to whittle swords out of branches. Once, I cut off a chunk of my own hair with the knife, and tried to tie it around my sword. I thought it would be a token of luck, or honor, or something else I’d picked up from the fantasy novels I was devouring. I’d race from one end of the woods to the other, chasing after monsters. Sometimes I feel like the monsters followed me to my twenties, and when I’m walking home at night, or waiting for the trolley in the dark, I wonder if a wooden sword would be able to frighten them off like the old times.

10334_1244196070852_7330004_n

We camped all the time when I was younger. Vacations are expensive, but camping is cheap, and we already lived in a place that other, richer people would drive hours to so they could set up their RVs. We hiked during the day and then made dinner around the campfire at night. Eating baked beans out of a can was my favorite meal for years. I once told a girl that the best food in the world is the peanut butter sandwich you eat after a day of climbing mountains, and when she shook her head and laughed at me, I knew the relationship was doomed.

I loved camping for many reasons. It was a time when I could be in the wilderness indefinitely, which seemed to be the only place I ever felt completely safe or calm as a child. It was also a time when my family literally lived on top of each other, and I took a lot of comfort from this. We felt like a single unit when we camped, an unbreakable bond of humans who could depend on each other, trust each other, count on each other’s indefinite love. This was everything I had ever wanted. This feeling did not outlast the end of the camping years, though, and like so many things in life, even family becomes a distant thing or a broken thing, a thing that can be worn down by harsh weather and someone forgetting to oil the latches.

I decided when I went to A-Camp this year that I wouldn’t be telling my family about my trip. There are things I’ve written for this website that I don’t want them to know, things I have worked incredibly hard to keep from them, and I knew there wouldn’t be enough explanations to hide that part of this trip. So I am flying to Los Angeles without their knowledge, leaving for a week without their knowledge. For some people, this is a small thing or a typical thing, an adult thing that has come with their adulthood. For me, this is a strange moment where I have stopped pretending I can recreate whatever it is I miss so badly in my childhood and agree for six days that I am my own person, a wild child who is now a wild adult, and deservedly so. It feels similar to the first time I lost a tooth, or cut off my hair. It feels like something I am meant to photograph and keep on my living room table.

Queer community to me has always been synonymous with queer family. When I found my queer friends, they quickly became my backbone, my shoulders, people I’ve spent so much time with that I’ve started to see myself in them. We might as well have the same freckles for all the times we’ve sat under the same sun, but we do share certain ways to respond to questions, the same worn curves in smiles, gestures that seem passed on between generations rather than friends. And maybe in some way we are family, after all. Queer community is generational in so many ways–- we could not always make children, and our legacies could not always be communicated in heteronormative terms, so there were other ways to pass on whole chunks of ourselves and our communities. I still feel that sense of queer inheritance in my own social circles, from the older queers who look out for me to the baby butches I’ve adopted like younger siblings.

My grandmother used to have a copy of the lakeside picture in her house, and I imagine her looking at it before she passed, since it followed her to the nursing home, and to the bed she died in. She called me the “wild child” for my mess of hair, but she always grinned when she said it because I was the grandchild who had inherited her looks, her son’s olive skin and cheekbones. I was the grandchild who grew wiry from running through the woods, growled like an animal before submitting to her father’s clumsy braiding, skittered around on all fours until my hair tangled itself into knots. My grandmother loved this child. She believed in this child. Someday this child would grow into a woman, and cut off her hair as an act of cleansing, as if she were Samson and the Bible had been wrong, as if she’d held her weakness in her locks, as if they’d been holding back all along. She would take women for lovers and fight pain with pain, and when she ran, her hair would be stuck midnight to her forehead, dark as the day she was born.

I want to be that girl in the picture again, crooked teeth like a badge of honor, handful of pebbles more precious than my higher education. I’m always looking for that feeling of camaraderie that I felt in that tent, kneeling next to the fire. I know I’m finding it at A-Camp, surrounded by my beautiful fellow queers. Camp is family, after all.

Profile photo of Kate

Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider. Made in America but making a darn good life of it in Dublin, Ireland.

Kate has written 126 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    “I once told a girl that the best food in the world is the peanut butter sandwich you eat after a day of climbing mountains, and when she shook her head and laughed at me, I knew the relationship was doomed.”

    I would’ve asked you to marry me.

    I’ve always been able to be “more me” when outdoors. It’s why I became a girl scout twenty years ago. The older I get the more appealing the idea of owning my own land, build a cob house and being secluded from city life becomes.

  2. Thumb up 11

    Please log in to vote

    Right now, I’m reading your words on the screen of an iPhone so cracked I turn it sideways in order to read the ends of sentences. This is why I need you to write a book. I need you to write a book so I can shove it onto the bookshelf I’ve overstocked since middle school or find it sprawled, spine up, on the secondhand table next to my secondhand bed or clutch it in my lap for long rides on the bus to any of the million lonely places I take books along as companions. Your words speak magic into the mundane and power into the insignificant. And so, I cherish them, not like precious gems, which I do not have nor do I need, and not like a treat I’d only let myself enjoy on a special occasion and then punish myself for eating anyway. Rather, your words are the really big, really fluffy towel I love after a shower and that piece of polka dotted fabric I can wear as a scarf or a shirt or a turban depending on my mood. They are the stuff you step in to, and fit you, to take on the world and to show it your face and, whenever necessary, to protect yourself from it. Clothes you wouldn’t bother sending out for dry cleaning because you need them every day. So, in other words, one article every so often just isn’t enough.

  3. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    “Someday this child would grow into a woman, and cut off her hair as an act of cleansing, as if she were Samson and the Bible had been wrong, as if she’d held her weakness in her locks, as if they’d been holding back all along. She would take women for lovers and fight pain with pain, and when she ran, her hair would be stuck midnight to her forehead, dark as the day she was born.”

    Yes. I want to read this over and over and over.

  4. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Another butch who found solace in the outdoors as a kid (and adult) here. I am about to move from a town with one full traffic light to Philadelphia. I am excited for this new development and have lived in cities for short periods before, but I am definitely scoping out green areas in Philadelphia and environs.

  5. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    This indeed spoke to the wild child of my youth. I was lucky enough to have a twin as entrenched in fantasy novels and daytime fantasies as I was but we could always have gone with someone else to whittle sticks to fight monsters with.
    I would have cut off a lock of hair also. I would have understood that. I do understand that.

    Raymond E. Feist is inexplicably coming to MY library in MY rural hometown in AUSTRALIA to do a talk and it’s all pulling me back to that time. I can only grasp hints of it but it’s heady. I miss it.

    I look forward to maybe sensing it again on the mountain with y’all someday.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      And camping always reminded me of campfires, of self-sufficiency, of the parts of novels where the army wouldn’t look into the fire so they could better see their enemies in the dark, of every other campfire in a novel that I read.

      it reminds me of hunting, looking after oneself, of competency, of freedom.

      A site I enjoy had ‘campfire cologne’ on sale and a part of me loves the idea of carrying campfires with me wherever I went, never forgetting who I was and what I stand for, never forgetting that sense of freedom.

      (The other part knows that smelling it everyday would eventually make it lose its magic- still, that’s how these things go sometimes. Maybe there’s more value in an occasional dalliance sometimes.)

  6. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    This may also be an irrelevant time but via the power of the internet I accidentally stumbled across your youtube videos – for the second time but THIS time (probably a few years later) actually realising it was you! – and the one about 12 year old you is hilarious and your laugh and smile are super cute!

  7. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Dear Kate,

    I know you get a lot of creepy people on the internet telling you how hot you are and I know that can make you uncomfortable, but I must say the picture of you in this article is so beautiful. I hope that one day I have a girlfriend like you: a gorgeous, sensitive butch with an amazing way with words.

    Please, never stop writing and being your wonderful self!

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.