In May, hundreds of queers descended upon Ojai, California for a week of workshops, pool parties, crafting, yoga, photography, field day games, social justice inspiration, dancing, lounging, trivia, smooching, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and entertainment and education by Mary Lambert, Be Steadwell, Brittani Nichols, Gaby Dunn, Jen Richards, Mara Wilson, Mal Blum, and Kim Katrin Milan. It was mostly sunny the whole time, and the entire camp vibe was acceptance, restoration, and love. It’s been a brutal year; we needed this space in 2018 more than ever.
In this week’s Monday Roundtable, our camp staff shares some of their favorite experiences from A-Camp X. If you were there, we miss you already. If you weren’t, we hope to see you next summer!
CAMP! I’m so sad it’s over and can’t believe I have to wait a whole other 11 months before I get to see everyone’s beautiful faces again. This experience is truly unmatchable and can’t be reproduced. It’s one of my favorite times of year — I only wish it could be twice a year, or maybe just forever. I wish I could see people feeling affirmed in their identities, bodies, and hearts every single day — the constant transformation that happens all around me is super inspiring and breathtaking. I love being witness to it, and I love the way camp changes me too.
I DANCED SO MUCH! I was lucky enough to take all the dance classes — Line Dancing and Dance Team with Kaylah and Magic Dyke with Jen. WOW. I loved feeling so in tune and connected to my body and the way it moves! It was also really cool to see so many people trying dance (some for the first time) and feeling themselves. There was this one move Jen taught us… whew! I mean — have you ever seen fifty babes slink towards you and every single one of them looks incredible and powerfully sexy? That happened to me. I am not mad about it.
Sexing the Collaging Cherry was a workshop where people made insanely good sexy collages and also listened to Riese read an erotic fan fiction I wrote about Catherine Zeta-Jones when I was 15. Being mortified in front of a room of 30 people was such an uplifting and hilarious experience! Because of the content of the story we held the workshop in a closed space. What we didn’t know was that the mic Riese was using was somehow broadcasting my erotica across the entire lawn outside. Whoops!
Can we take a second to talk about these grounds? Hello to the crystal blue pool parties, where all sorts of queer babes hung out like literal angels that fell from a celestial galaxy wearing (or not wearing) all the beautiful things that make them feel good — to the TWO waterslides — one that gently deposited you (slow hole) or ejected you so fast it made you shriek (fast hole). The fucking mountains, which were a gorgeous backdrop to an absolutely stunning grassy knoll, full of lounging and strolling beauties with smiling and shining faces! LISTEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT BELIEVING IN HEAVEN BUT ACTUALLY I THINK WE FOUND IT IT’S A-CAMP AND I WANT TO BE BACK THERE RIGHT NOW.
A-Camp, as always, was transformative. I love that even though camp is exciting, energetic and wildly fun it’s also an opportunity to shed my skin to uncover the emergent and beautiful parts of me. I can’t wait until next year!
My fav part of camp is always The Outsiders. They take such good care of each other and are always pushing and encouraging themselves to get outta their comfort zones. Plus they all look hot in jean vests. I’m so blessed to get to know them in all their collective weirdness a little better each year.
I also enjoyed slippin’ a nip and dancing at The Under The Sea Dance.
A-Camp X was more wonderful than I could have hoped. I had been to a few camps as a camper before, but this year was my first year as staff. I was almost as nervous as I was my very first time at Camp — not quite as nervous, because this time around I knew more people, but a similar kind of nervous in that I really didn’t know what to expect. So many of the people of staff had been doing it for so long, I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in. And I would be co-leading a cabin of campers! What if they hated me? What if I didn’t know how to help them make the most of this amazing experience? What if I accidentally treated these adult humans too much like children even though they were not that much younger than me just because I was used to working with children?
And I’ll be honest, starting from when I landed at the airport and shuttled off to pre-camp, I was a literal ball of anxiety. I would be standing there with these people I’ve admired for years and I felt like I was trapped outside my body. I kept being like SAY SOMETHING, VALERIE, but my body just stood there silently, watching them in wide-eyed wonderment. Luckily they were all extremely kind and welcoming and I had some great conversations about all kinds of things, with everyone from Heather, who I had been close with for years, to Mary Freaking Lambert (who is sunshine personified). And even when I didn’t speak, folks didn’t seem to mind me being there anyway.
And my campers! The first day I was so nervous because THEY were so nervous and they were so quiet and I was afraid they would stay quiet and never talk to each other. But I crashed a lot of their meals over the week and watched their bonds grow and their friendships blossom and by the last night they had a special hand symbol to represent Atlantis and they had scheduled Cabin Feelings sharing circle; it was very special and adorable and sweet. Watching that happen was one of the most magical things I’ve ever witnessed. Also they’re still being super cute in their Facebook group and I love them forever and I couldn’t have asked for a better co-parent than Audrey.
I also really liked being support staff?? I know that sounds weird, but I love helping, and I love tasks. I loved decorating my campers’ name tags, I loved helping workshops get set up and going on errands for people. I loved working the Canteen even though I never had the right change for anyone. I even loved making balloon bubbles for Under the Sea Day with Stef and Austen even though all of our best laid plans fell through our hands, got tangled together and floated up to the too-high ceiling.
The evening programming was an emotional roller coaster to be sure. Mal Blum and Mary Lambert had me crying so hard I still have little half-moon marks on my arm from where I was digging my fingernails in trying to keep the emotions from coming out in a literal wail. Gaby Dunn and Brittany Nichols were SO hilarious. Be Steadwell ruined my life in a good way. And the A-Camp Family Band was so fun, as always; I’ll never be able to get the memory of Stef Schwartz singing “don’t tell your mother” out of my head and I’m more than okay with that. Also the team-ups and the covers and the key changes were all on point.
I ran the Autostraddle Instagram story during the week, so I spent a lot of time running from place to place taking pictures of people and things, and at first I was afraid people would think I was being creepy. But everyone was so nice and welcoming and it was so fun to be able to just be hiking up a demon hill and running into friends old and new. I live in New York City so I very rarely just ~run into people I know, let alone like, and by the end of the week, it seemed I had friends everywhere I went. Queer friends! It was a very cool, nice, fun feeling.
There were so many little things that were such specific camp-joys that it would be impossible to list them all. Sitting in the shade and watching Spice Girls aerobics, hiking up the hill and hearing the band practicing, the happy hour where everyone cheered when someone new entered the space, learning about horoscopes and Enneagram types, the Staff Reading, the talent show, hearing Heather talk about the feminist history of beer for the billionth time and still not being sick of it, the Mx. Ocean contest, the butches who got the campfire going again, getting a behind-the-scenes look at Laneia writing the newsletter, the joyful sounds of friends playing made-up games in the pool, making scallion pancakes with Cameron, finding caterpillars literally everywhere, meeting Carol the dog, losing all sense of time and place and just enjoying every moment of the magical universe we created together.
It would be impossible to pick a favorite (in fact, I refuse to) but one of the “workshops” I particularly enjoyed was Block A on the first full day of camp. We did a feminist Disney sing-a-long and it was so chill and just FUN. We were in the Fingerhut chapel singing our little hearts out and having some Feelings about the song Reflections. It was beautiful and a great way to kick off camp.
I’ll end with a picture of the dance, because I will never get over the feeling of being able to re-make the memories of my youth. I always hated dances, and in retrospect it was because I was trying to attend dances as a high-femme straight girl and I wasn’t any of that. So being able to attend a dance as just ME, whatever that means at the time, is very important to me.
Dark Trivia was my favorite program! A room full of people answering questions about the horrific, grisly, and tragic events of our past was a daymare come true. Everyone had a really good time, and some campers even stayed after to discuss theories and other favorite cases. Stay Sexy, and Don’t Get Murdered!
I did a promposal and got a date for the last night dance! It was well thought out and I had a lot of help to pull it off. And it was awesome! Over dinner, I held a sign that asked if she would “Bee” part of my prom world because I love a good pun. I also played “Part of Your World” on my phone as I asked because it went with the dance theme of Enchantment Under the Sea.
HELLO this will get messy so first workshops I loved were: Community Care with Abeni, Queer Pop Songwriting (like these people made REAL SONGS LIKE WHERE ARE THEIR ALBUMS), QTPOC activities like made my life, all the talent performances were amazing and the staff readings made me just so thankful for every person in the room. My therapist told me right before I left (I was in the middle of panicking), “You have made it this far in your life for a reason.” and like, not to speak too soon, but this is definitely one of the reasons. Okay! What made A-Camp great for me is I’ve been trying to go for years and this year I got to go and it was better than I could’ve even imagined!!! People used my pronouns and my nickname I was trying out (it fits!) and would ask before touching me and I got to use all-gender bathrooms and I’m sure that this is what my heaven looks like.
I never knew that there’s this like constant layer of fear whenever you’re around people you might find cute, but won’t know if that attraction (not just romantic, platonic too) could end dangerously. Having that fear stripped away for a few days helped me realize just how much shit I’ve been carrying and it gave me a chance to put it down and learn some new things about myself and embrace things I only thought about in secret. I laughed so much and learned to be present (because I didn’t want this opportunity to leave before I got the chance to experience it) and it even gave me the confidence to come back home and take steps to get away from my toxic ass job! It gave me strength to even admit I’m in a toxic place and it wasn’t gonna get better but I deserve to get out! Before I came here, I was just really stuck in the motions, just hoping something would come along that would help me get out of settling for less than basic human decency and that’s what camp did for me. Everyone treated me like I was worthy of love and respect and kindness and maybe even interest and to have that surrounding you on all sides for at least a week straight? is dam near magic.
I got to talk about crushes! Like I never got to in school or anywhere really! I got to like try new stuff like being more open about my autism and learning about nonbinary stuff and I got to be all of me just, being a whole person instead of a chopped up version that’s least likely to get me hurt. Also I learned that I for real am not a party person, I love getting drunk (and also learned here that maybe I don’t have a drinking problem! Maybe it was literally a result of, say it with me, my toxic work environment! because as soon as I came home I was able to drink like…….in a way that doesn’t destroy me) but the dynamics of clubbing and shit is just too overwhelming for me. Like, what are the dance moves kids even do nowadays? I danced to Say My Name and went to bed, this was a great journey in like “Know Yourself” and then act accordingly. I’m trying to be like halfway coherent but really if we could make A-Camp like just a big ass state for all of us, that’s where I’d move to YESTERDAY. I’ve had so many wonderful, smart, hilarious conversations with people that I wish I could hug or at least sit close to forever. LIKE EVERYONE IS SO KIND AND I DIDN’T BELIEVE I WAS EVER DESERVING OF ANY GOOD THING AND YOU ALL JUST KEPT GIVING ME GOOD ANYWAYS WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT THANK YOU SO MUCH I LOVE YOU ALL okay I need a nap I started crying lol
I feel lucky as heck to meet up with 400 weirdos once a year and build a universe out of glitter and clothespins. It always meets a need, but this year. This year!! was really something extraordinary. And it’s not just about the berries and orange juice, though my God, wow, but perhaps those things fortified us for the work and play of that week. It just felt like something clicked? So many staff members were emerging from hellacious years of all kinds of loss, and I think it made it all the more necessary for us to pour ourselves into camp. I think a lot of campers were in a similar kind of headspace. We all, more than ever, needed to be there and needed each other.
I would like to give a major shout out to my cabin for being the cutest, kindest, bravest angels imaginable and Valerie for being such a fun and cool co-leader and singing Hamilton in a closet with me. I will put glitter on your faces ANY TIME <3 <3 <3
Eternal love to the folks who caught me when I didn’t know how to ask — Austen and Alyssa and Al(aina) and Mal and Yvonne and Cee and some campers who I didn’t even know, and others who I’m forgetting (sorry!!!!) or maybe it’s just all blurring together into a pile of beauty that I hesitate to imagine I deserve and yet am so grateful to have.
Listen, a lot of stuff happened. I sang non-binary karaoke and I prayed with people who really needed to pray. I read a story about being scared to be trans because my dad is dead and then cried for a while in the back of Archie and Cameron’s Pictionary game. I wandered up and down that hill and drove the van with Carrie riding shotgun and Demi Lovato blaring. I got to see and get seen. It was very, very good.
I loved teaching macrame to a group of queers. Although no one could quite figure out square knots at first, when I changed my teaching method so that one strand was Mal Blum (who played first the night before), another was Mary Lambert (who played second), and the middle two were Tegan and Sara (who didn’t play last night), it just CLICKED.
Izzy Rotman’s figure drawing class was fantastic! She’s just a gentle teacher with really good tips. I’ve never taken a queer-normative class before and definitely never been able to chat with the models while I doodle, so I was in heaven. Not to mention: one of the models told her that I really captured the essence of her boobs.
How is Ojai so perfect? Just, what sorcery is this. From the second we stepped off the bus (and into Sarah Sarwar’s open arms) I felt like I could breathe, you know? Like the sky was both bigger and closer to me and the trees were giving me space and the grass THE GRASS (we don’t have a lot of grass in Phoenix!) was like, “Hey, how’s it going? You doing alright?” And reader, I was. I was doing alright. The vibe of this campground is the opposite of playing the floor is lava.
Then we filled the grounds with so many queer people who expanded out into it and we made a bunch of tiny little moments and a lot of powerful big moments and we took up that space. I mean, I need you to really wrap your head around five days of 400 queer people from all over, taking up space at the same time, together, in 2018. A-Camp is always a kind of magic, but this year was nuts. I’m usually terrified of being myself and/or having a body in public, but this particular camp got its message across quickly: It’ll Be OK. Like, be bold and mighty forces/queers will come to your aid etc. And they did! And not just for me, I’m talking about seeing this energy play out for other people in real time and just remembering again and again what unmitigated love looks like, I guess?
I loved helping Austen with their whiskey tasting workshop. Riese and I were recruited to help pour and it was the first time I’d had the chance to experience the program from start to finish. It was fun and informative, and then Austen closed it out by talking about being an active participant in tradition as a queer person, and this one line about drinking rainwater from several years ago, and I cried on the fucking spot because they were right.
A handful of staff stays behind to do inventory and put things in order for next year. Some people were packing and I had a minute to myself in the lounge area of our building when I heard this music come on — I think it was Hayley Kiyoko? — and then Abeni was singing along, just packing up her things and being a person in Ojai who hadn’t left yet. I swear I’ve never felt so tender toward the entire world as I did in that moment. I can’t even articulate why! It was the end of a week where we’d all tried so hard to be our best and to help each other and sometimes I get these moments where I remember that we were all just kids not very long ago, and if someone had told us we’d be doing this with our lives one day, we wouldn’t have believed it. Maybe Riese would’ve. She’s wild.
My biggest regret is not making it to any of the pool parties, because I was so excited to be myself and have a body in public and not feel weird being half-naked, but NEXT YEAR.
The number one thing was seeing camp friends that I hadn’t seen since last year! It was like no time had passed, but also, a bunch of time had passed, and everyone was glowed up and doing really dope shit in the world and I love camp for that reason: meeting really awesome inspiring people!
Also: Meeting Mary Lambert and Jen Richards was dope, and the music in general was excellent this year, doing my workshop and the panels I was on were dope, the arts & crafts workshops I attended were dope and the camp site this year was dope! Can’t wait for A-Camp next year!
Archie and I did a brand new workshop this time around called Expanding Your Erotic Imagination on their actual birthday, and let me tell you. I learned so much about sex from Archie. Go listen to their podcast, go read their words. You too will become this amazing, conscientious person regarding bodies, both yours and others. It was so nice to create community with Archie on their birthday; so incredibly giving and intelligent and wise. Ugh, I love them so much.
Once again, my favorite workshop was the whiskey tasting. This time around, Alex Vega WASN’T going to be coming at all, and at the last minute, she could attend. As a result, I picked the whole lineup myself—usually, Alex drives the selection (and I’ve found some of my favorite whiskeys because SHE IS BRILLIANT AT IT). I was so excited to step up and share my favorite drams with my favorite queers, so this time around, the tasting was entirely made up of Islay Scotch. There are eight distilleries on Islay, an island off the coast of Scotland. We tasted four of them, and of those, I’d actually been to three. So I got to share a lot of what I learned about the distilling process and the importance of place in taste. I love partaking in this hobby with queer folks because this (and many other forms of luxury that the masculinity fairy touched with his masculinity wand to deem it acceptably masculine) is dominated by straight, white, cis men. Pushing folks to be creative in the way they describe what they’re tasting in spaces that allow for wild abandon without a single “well actually” in earshot? Love it. It’s the goddamn best. Plus I got to share these drams with Vega, who is responsible for a lot of my whiskey taste. It just felt…nice. It felt nice to do.
But probably most importantly, this was my first Camp identifying as trans, and going by my name. I knew it was going to be a big deal for me; I didn’t realize how much. In my personal life, coming out has been really difficult. I haven’t gotten the support or positivity I would have expected, even and especially from those closest to me. Even and especially from queers. My Camp family has always had my back, though, so I was excited. But nervous too. It turned out that seeing my Camp family, specifically my trans family, has entirely changed my life. I will measure my transition in BC and AD: Before Camp and After Departure. Sitting in a circle with Audrey, Cee and Eli, processing ish—I will never be the same. Helping to organize the non-binary feelings fire, a place where I wasn’t the only nonbinary trans person there? I have never been so at home. My trans friends holding my hand while I went to the pool party for the first time ever, because I’m so blessedly uncomfortable in a swimsuit and I was scared? I’m less scared to do it again, now. Sitting in the Outsiders’ cabin talking with Gavin late into the night? This is the stuff that will keep me running for the next year. Camp has always been important to me; now it’s braided into my skeleton, keeping my head held high. And let me tell you: you ain’t lived until you’ve belted ‘Reflection’ at a queer Disney sing-along with a room full of trans folks. I am still a crying emoji.
The A-Camp Family Band is my favorite thing I do all year, and we spend a crazy amount of time putting together the set list, figuring out which guest stars will sing which songs and cranking out arrangements. This year was particularly hectic because we didn’t even know if we’d have our very very essential drummer Alex Vega on hand until the very last minute. In the end, Alex showed up the day before our set ready to learn ALL THE SONGS AT ONCE and we practiced as much as we possibly could before our gig on the last night of camp. I’m never totally sure we’re going to pull this off until we get up there and there’s no choice but to just do the fucking thing.
We opened up with “Dreams” by the Cranberries, sung by Mary Lambert and highlighted by some pretty excellent backing vocals via Reneice Charles and Al Monts. Marni had really hyped me up for the Under the Sea themed dance so I had taken the stage dressed as an anglerfish.
This year felt special – all of the songs landed and our guest stars were incredible. Reneice’s debut with the band felt very special and I’m very excited to have her around for future shows. We’ve played a mashup of TLC’s “Waterfalls” with Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” since around 2013, so to have actual fucking Mary Lambert on hand to sing her own parts felt like a fever dream. Be Steadwell is such a fun, versatile singer to work with and I had a great time doing some stupid stage moves while she sang Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko to 400 screaming weirdos. Mara Wilson is a goddamn delight, aggressively wiggling her shoulders through a particularly smoky rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Al Monts and Mal Blum are always game for whatever weird ideas I throw at them, and this year was no exception: Al was equally great as our resident Cardi B AND as a fellow co-Demi Lovato. Mal’s energy made “Mr Brightside” one of my favorite songs we’ve ever played together; for the entire second verse they climbed onto Cameron’s shoulders and “crowd surfed.”
For an encore, we played something I’ve wanted to perform at camp for years – Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” with Al singing lead and Be and Reneice on backup. There’s four fucking key changes at the end of that song, and Al goddamn Monts did all of them. With every triumphant half step, the crowd roared; it felt surreal.
My other favorite part of camp was getting to lead the Thirst Games with Taylor and Al again. For the uninitiated, this is a very intense series of sex toy-related relay races and it is very, very silly. For our second inaugural Games, we added opening and closing ceremonies where we marched around the campsite waving vibrators over our heads while Al very solemnly sang “Pomp and Circumstance” into a megaphone. The games themselves were wild; we had a major upset in the butt plug in a spoon relay race that could ONLY be solved by reviewing the slow motion footage Taylor had captured from the finishing line. Heroes were made, hearts were broken. In the end, the generously donated vibrators went to the MVPs of the winning team (Orange). I can’t wait to see what next year’s Thirst Games bring.
I feel like this camp everyone really got to be their best, most honest and weirdest selves — for instance, and bear with me, when Sam and Riese and I created an intense trivia experience centered entirely around cults, true crime and murder and not only did people show up but many of the questions were TOO EASY FOR THEM. I will never forget you, person who sighed dramatically when I started a question with “When a young aspiring actress” because you already knew based on that I was talking about Black Dahlia. You terrify me and I love you.
I was a little skeptical that people would choose to come inside, out of the idyllic rolling hills, sunshine, wisteria arches and orange groves of Ojai California to play a bunch of dumb games based on internet memes, but they did and I’m so grateful. I don’t have a picture of Al(aina) laying back on a table doing an impeccable impression of Woman Laying In Bed Yelling meme but about two dozen of us got to see it, and it was beautiful.
For me, this was maybe the best staff reading ever, and I have seen literally all of them! Everyone was really vulnerable and strong in a really beautiful way and the writing was incredible; I had a lot of feelings and valued them all so much and still do.
One of the best parts of camp is meeting the campers. Laura W. and I were co-counselors for Ocean Spray and they were some of the best introverted, fun, kind weirdos I’ve ever met. They’re my kind of people and I’m so glad I got to hang out with them.
This year Mackenzie and I, as co-Speakeasy directors, were more intentional about creating QTPOC-only spaces outside of just the QTPOC Speakeasy that happens every year at A-Camp. For those of you who haven’t been to camp, the Speakeasy is a closed space for queer people of color to gather, share some feelings~ and support one another without any white people around! It’s truly a magical space, one that continually makes my heart beam with love and hope. This year we wanted to create spaces where we could also have FUN, be ourselves, and bond with one another over something that wasn’t just about microaggressions or the fucked up shit we experience daily.
I led the Wild Tongues: QTPOC Writing Hour workshop with Abeni and I wish it was a lot longer than just an hour! I’ve been in writing workshops where I had to explain my queer, Mexican self to a room full of white, straight women to understand my writing. In this room, I could just be. It was a small but mighty group of campers who showed up to let it all out on paper and it was beautiful. I was so impressed and moved by what everyone wrote in just 10 minutes for each prompt. I wish it was a whole writing workshop day, tbh!
I know that y’all know that Kayla is our resident Riverdale expert and recap writer but I also LOOVEE Riverdale! Cameron and I had the great idea to do Riverdale-themed cocktails and trivia at A-Camp and let me tell you, we both got INTO IT. I donned a River Vixen outfit and Cameron transformed into Lesbian Jughead and it was all I ever wanted. I was very grateful to all the campers who came in and fucking murdered Riverdale trivia because they knew all the answers. I didn’t want to be super obscure with the questions because I didn’t want people to feel bad if they didn’t know the answers but they literally knew everything; they even corrected me on one of the answers! And y’all Cameron made the most bomb ass drinks based on Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz, chef kisses.
I was so excited to finally meet Kim Katrin Milan, our special guest who gave a keynote speech on how to move racial justice theory into action. I have been following her career for several years now and am so amazed by her work. I had the pleasure of editing a few pieces she wrote for Autostraddle several years ago and was excited to have her come on board as a special guest at A-Camp. I finally got to meet her and her baby, Soleil! I feel like everything Kim Katrin Milan said at her speech were things I’ve been aware about and have learned about over the years but she said everything with so much compassion that I felt re-energized to do the hard work. She broke it down, back to the basics and refueled me so I can do better as an ally.
A-Camp X was one of the best camps yet. I think it had something to do with sunshine, berries and the pool, really. I heard so many amazing things about the pool but I was really bummed I never got to make it out! The day I had a chance to go, the sun was hiding behind some clouds and it was chilly. Next time I’m going down the fast slide!
I had a really good feeling about A-Camp X from the moment my cabin, the Sea Serpents, started exchanging messages — and I’m not just saying that because I got to Photoshop Toni Topaz in her Southside Serpents leather jacket into a picture with Cheryl Blossom as The Little Mermaid for my introductory email. The Sea Serpents all hailed from various, overlapping fandoms and even though they didn’t all know each other, they kinda knew each other, you know? The first night of camp, I gave them a choice of magical stones (beads) to put on enchanted bracelets (rainbow shoelace) and told them to pretend a sea witch (on theme) was granting them all their wishes for an entire week.
Some Serpents wished to find their voice, others to explore their identity, and everyone must have wished for connection because over the course of the week we bonded for life. There were Disney singalongs; late-night, all-cabin discussions about minority representation on teevee; bow-tie tying lessons; and on the very last day, those queer babes threw me a Hogwarts acceptance letter party — complete with owl post! — and when they left in the bus I went back to my room and cried my non-Muggle eyeballs out. Two of the Serpents got super sick, one fell down a hill and busted their knee, one fell out of a tree! But they didn’t let it slow them down and gosh they infused my life with so much hope and love in those few days we had together. It honestly was magical. Spending time getting to know them was hands down my favorite part of camp.
I always love teaching Bitches Brew, my feminist beer history/beer tasting workshop. Watching queer people get hopped up (get it? hopped up?) on the knowledge that women created and sustained the craft of beer brewing in every culture on earth for centuries before men systematically pushed them out, and then watching them get empowered to go out into the world and take back beer, is just the coolest transformation to witness. I also hosted a La Croix mocktails party this time for the purpose of hydration and hanging out with sober queers this year, and it was so much fun. I actually learned a lot from everyone, and got to spend over an hour just chatting to so many brilliant humans. Slytherin came back at the last second and beat Ravenclaw at the Hogwarts House Cup (but Hufflepuff represented in droves and gave everyone high fives in the end)! And doing lesbian/bisexual TV trivia with a united, in-person fandom remains my favorite way to spend an afternoon. (I’m sorry I tricked everyone at The L Word category; I thought it would be funny!)
Other highlights of A-Camp X include: The entire hour I got to spend in the swimming pool, one of which 30-minute sessions involved Mac trying to teach me how to high dive and the other of which involved slide top Stef Schwartz gently guiding me through the maze water slides. The A-Camp family band’s best performance ever at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Mary Lambert ripping open my heart and then stitching it back together again. And so many berries and so many avocados and the night I hosted a bingo table at game night and gave it little plushy Nemos while wearing a green visor and forcing everyone to listen to the Carol soundtrack.
I miss the Sea Serpents every day. I don’t have any tattoos, but I’d get a tattoo if they asked me to.
Every camp I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect in every area, even though I can’t be! But this camp I went easy on myself — I had to accept what I was capable and not capable of, because most importantly I needed to not let the whole stress fire of the past few months overshadow my ability to do my job. This camp took so much work, and everybody’s life happened to fall apart at the same time. I needed very badly to have fun!
AND I DID. I HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME. I walked out into A-Camp on our first full day and saw, sprawled on the lawn, so many campers. I thought “wow, a big open space for people to sit on! we needed this!” Everybody out there smiling and laughing or quietly panicking because it was the first day and oh my g-d what if this was a terrible idea (95% of the time it turns out to be a very good idea, but the first day can be hard!). I remembered just how beautiful y’all are and fortifying A-Camp is.
By letting go, I think I experienced, for the first time, the A-Camp magic y’all talk about. I mean, I’ve always felt it, it’s always been there, and I’ve seen you hold it. Many of my highlights have been covered in other roundtable selections — like participating publicly in my number one favorite activity which is reading Sarah Sarwar’s adolescent fan fiction out loud — so just a few I really wanna add:
Mx. Ocean Contest — I was inspired to create this activity by the Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers, a group that throws periodic events to raise money for various non-profits. My then-girlfriend took me to a LALAW event a few months prior to camp — her friend Alexis (who led the Sober Queers panel at A-Camp X) was competing. Competitors, who participate for free out of love for the game, develop intense characters with elaborate costumes, personalities, quirks and entourages, some of which have gradually gathered genuine fan bases. I’d assumed they were mostly actors who loved performing so much that they took any opportunity to do so, but turns out most of them weren’t. They just thought it was fun because they were weirdos. Thus, immediately, I thought of my favorite weirdoes — A-Campers! Thus, Mx. Ocean was born. Notably, the Pink Team’s gorgeously costumed sea witch, in defiance of Ursula’s oppression of Ariel, delivered voices back to the people with a tap of her magic wand. Campers in all manners of drag and costumery, possessing a wide range of talents, inspired us all, and I can’t wait to do something like it, but even better, next time! Also, Kristin was very game when I informed her she was co-hosting with me, that’s the A-Camp Spirit.
A-Camp Family Band — As a lifelong family band groupie, anticipation of the last night concert is the only balm capable of temporarily soothing the pain of camp being just about over. Our talent was, of course, incredible, but this year’s most thrilling moments were moments when our staff / my friends were shining like the brightest stars in the sky and the whole room swelled with applause and maniacal screams for Reneice doing the yodel-y bits on Dreams and Al taking it next-level on “Love on Top.”
Shabbat Shalomosexual – Although my somehow mostly-Jewish neighborhood growing up gave me a strong connection to my faith, I’d always struggled to connect with my peers at Jewish camp and Hebrew school. I didn’t realize until Shabbat Shalomosexual how connected I could feel to my spirituality when surrounded by peers I really liked a lot and felt connected to as well. Lizz Rubin cried and said it was the first time she cried at camp, and I was shocked to hear my voice break when I told Eli and Kristin about it a few days later. I can’t believe we’d never done it before, and I want to do it every camp forever.
Body Posi Party with ModCloth — I didn’t attend this activity because my specific size is not stigmatized, but Vanessa told me it went incredible, which made me very happy! Sarah and I had lunch with a girl from ModCloth (read: asked her 10 million questions about Wal-Mart) earlier this year and so it was fresh in my mind when we were talking about how to put inventive spins on repeat programming, like Destigmatize Your Size. I was like… what if it became part-fatshion-show and ModCloth gave us like a million outfits??? Sarah kept on reaching out to them until they said yes, and I was nervous all day that there wouldn’t be enough outfits for everybody but I think there mostly was and it went really well!
Boxed Wine & Cheese Plates — Um, the spread Laneia prepared for this particular iteration of everybody’s favorite opportunity to get drunk was outstanding. It’s always one of my favorite activities ’cause it feels like a really great mid-afternoon garden party, a concept I’m familiar with only in theory. Felt the true depth of Mommi Power that afternoon.
Lastly, I’d be a downright fraud not to address that my dear friend/roommate Erin brought my dear dog Carol to A-Camp for an afternoon. If she had a larger than walnut-sized brain, she’d have noticed that she’s VERY FAMOUS. My friends snuck Carol in to the A-Camp reading in a tote bag and she apparently stayed buried within the folds of Mika’s blanket situation until she heard my voice, and perked right up.
Also: Be Steadwell is maybe the best live performer of all time, I feel immense pride and joy whenever a certain cabin group works or does not work that’s mostly all I think about at camp, the ASL interpreters enhanced every minute of every activity they were a part of, and y’all know a LOT about murder, I swear it!
It turns out that having basic human needs — access to healthy food, green space to sit with friends, nice weather, sleep and a reasonable altitude — can make A-Camp less like a thing you put your body through in order to find community and more like a positive, holistic, energizing experience. Who would’ve known???
Dr. Lizz Rubin
A-Camp was one of the most restorative experiences I’ve had in years. So many campers came up to me and asked me questions or even just thanked me for being a queer gynecologist. It was such a great reminder for me of why I became a doctor in the first place – to strive to improve healthcare for my fellow queers.
It was such a blast to run the Bloody Hell Workshop with Laneia again this year (“Once more with bleeding”). This year we finally went all out rage and, after discussing how cis white men ruin everything and the nitty gritty of the menstrual cycle, we went outside and literally smashed the patriarchy. What I mean is that we taped our feelings about bleeding to a Pepa Pig pinata and beat the shit out of it.
This camp I ran two totally new activities: Maybe Gaybie and Taboo Taboo. Both of these were a blast, mostly because the campers were so into it and willing to participate. In Maybe Gaybie we talked about our feelings about not being able to reproduce or parent in the ways we might want to or maybe would have imagined. I was so impressed with everyone’s willingness to be open and share. Then we talked through the options and logistics for different ways to create a family. At Taboo Taboo we talked about what makes something taboo in mainstream or even queer culture and how to safely do some of these taboo acts. Then we played the game of Taboo using taboo Taboo cards. It was all very taboo.
This year at Sex Trivia Carolyn and I gave out sooo many condoms and sooo much lube. Just so much. Oh. And five Cordless Hitachi Magic Wands.
I was obsessed with my cabin Pink Flamingos — though for sure not as obsessed as they were with each other. Probably because Vanessa is such an amazing cabin staffer. She really fostered a sense of family in the cabin. But not a family where anyone had to be anyone else’s mother. Vanessa was willing to be be a dad though, which made me like a cool laid back step-dad. Being a laid back step-dad has been my dream for quite some time.
I modeled for life art for the first time this camp, too! It was so empowering! I got to take home the most amazing pictures of myself! Would do again.
At the Sex Collaging workshop with Riese and Sarah, we empowered campers to make collages all about sex and sexy times. I even passed out copies of Dr. Lizz’s Tiny Guide to Awesome Safer Queer Sex for people to re-purpose into bigger, better, full color guides! Most importantly, I got to learn all about the inner workings of Sarah via her middle school Catherine Zeta Jones erotic fan fic. I can only hope some of the campers utilized all the things they learned (from both Sarah’s fanfic and my Tiny Guide for Safer Sex) at Klub Deer and the final dance!
A-Camp X was extremely magical. It felt personally and collectively healing and restorative, and as a person who tries to live her whole life as an interactive love letter to queer community, this was basically my ideal event. The vibe was sweet, relaxed, and very fun, and it felt as though both the campers and the staff were coming to camp determined to live our best lives. As a result people were kind and compassionate, silly and authentic, and essentially the best versions of ourselves and of queer community as a whole.
I really felt as though every moment of camp was my favorite moment, but I will try to narrow it down to a few tangible chunks of time, because no one needs to read a play by play journal entry of my A-Camp X experience, otherwise known as My Favorite Five Days of 2018.
The Body Posi Party! Reneice, Mary Lambert, and I got together with ModCloth to host a party slash feelings atrium for fat babes, and it was arguably my favorite thing I’ve ever hosted in my whole life. We’ll have a separate post detailing the event published soon enough, so I don’t want to spoil things too much, but suffice it to say ModCloth donated 40 plus-size outfits and we gathered about 60 campers in a room to try on clothes, talk (and cry and laugh) about living in a fatphobic world as fat humans, and support one another. It was incredibly fucking powerful, and maybe the best I’ve ever felt about my body in my whole life. I am not being hyperbolic. You haven’t lived until Mary Lambert has gathered a group of queer fat babes in a circle and encouraged everyone to step into the center to show off a brand new ModCloth outfit to cheers, hoots, and hollers of support and appreciation. I cried so much. I wish I could feel so good in my body every day.
Shabbat Shalomosexual! Did you know that I’m Jewish, and that Riese is Jewish, and that Vapid Fluff Editor Stef Schwartz and Former Fashion Editor Current Doctor Lizz Rubin and All Around Heartthrob Mal Blum and Bisexual Writer Mara Wilson and Bisexual Millennial Gaby Dunn are all also Jewish?! It’s true, we are! And so many A-Campers are Jewish too! So it just made sense to host a Shabbat dinner at camp, and this year we finally did! And I’m sorry, I know you can already sense from my writing that I’m an extremely enthusiastic person, but I swear I am not exaggerating when I say QUEER SHABBAT CHANGED MY LIFE. We had no idea how many campers to expect, seeing as it was our first time hosting the event, but we completely filled the space we’d set up for the occasion with about 50 campers, most Jewish and a few simply curious, and proceeded to bless the fucking universe with our prayers, our songs, our fresh baked challah, and our love for one another. Some campers told me it was their first time meeting other queer Jews (!!!). Some campers are way more professionally Jewish than I am and stepped up and helped lead. Some campers humored me extremely kindly when I begged everyone to sing an acapella version of One Tin Soldier, a vaguely depressing song with a great moral if you can make it to the end, that I used to sing at my Jewish summer camp! Everyone was so open and so filled with respect and awe and gratitude and I swear I have never had a more heartwarming Shabbat dinner in my whole life (sorry, mom).
The campers. I’m sorry, you knew this was coming, right? I’m the community editor, what do you want from me?! I just. Y’all. Y’all are fucking magic. I came to this camp feeling nervous about jumping back into this wild event Autostraddle hosts every year (I hadn’t attended camp for a few years due to weird personal reasons!), and kind of sad (also because of weird personal reasons!), and just generally apprehensive and burnt out and like, not a great version of myself. And then I met all of you. And I was revived. I don’t care about sounding hyperbolic anymore because I don’t know how else to talk about A-Camp X. You. Are. All. Such. Magical. Beings. Thank you. THANK YOU. A-Campers are notoriously incredible souls, and this camp just confirmed and highlighted that truth. You’re smart and funny and fun and interesting and curious and so goddamn hot, Jesus fucking Christ! To my cabin, the Pink Flamingos: I love you. Thank you for helping me feel like myself again. Your love and care for one another, your generosity, your camp spirit and your fucking perfect dance moves and decorations blew my mind. You reminded me what we can all look like at our best. And to every single camper who attended camp: I LOVE YOU. Truly madly deeply. If you’re reading this and wondering if you should attend, if you should become one of these campers I’m speaking about, if camp is the place for you, I am here to tell you: YES. Please join us. I love you already. I can’t wait to see you at A-Camp next year.