Once upon a time (May 30th-June 4th, to be specific) in a land far far atop a mountain two hours outside of sunny Los Angeles, approximately 300 queer humans — 250 campers, 50+ staff and talent — gathered for four days and four nights of revelry, intellectual stimulation, dance parties and deep sea bonding. They called it A-Camp 6.0, and it was beautiful! This is the first of four fantastic recaps which serve to ease our collective separation anxiety, give you a behind-the-scenes look at how your A-Camp soysage is made, enable us to wax nostalgic over times gone by and provide prospective campers with a brilliant glimpse into the A-Camp Experience from the Staff Side Of Things. (If you wanna know how it feels to be a camper, you’ll have to come to camp!)
A-Camp was the genesis of an idea Riese had at 3AM in July 2010: the concept was to take the spirit of the website into three glorious dimensions by renting a summer camp in the off-season and jam-packing a long weekend with panels, workshops, discussions, crafts, sports, entertainment, parties and so much more! We gave the idea a spin with an abbreviated, smaller edition of A-Camp in April 2012, followed by full-size full-length camps in September 2012, May 2013, October 2013, May 2014 and May 2015.
This camp was our best camp yet. Seriously, we were very on top of our game. This required raising prices, but we think the extra expense was well worth it — I mean, we had a bouncy castle! We had an all-star cast of special talent: actress and DIY Queen Jasika Nicole, Everyone is Gay super-idols Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid, musicians Julia Nunes, Jenny Owen Youngs and Mal Bum and comedians Brittani Nichols, Deanne Smith and Elicia Sanchez. Plus, Orange is the New Black’s Lauren Morelli showed up for an hilarious afternoon Q&A, Kimber Hall joined Brittani for improv and former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent sang from her soul. A DELIGHTFUL TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.
Alex, Design Director and Sponsorship Guru (6th A-Camp): Just FYI, “camp prep” for me (and many others) starts months and months before actual camp. The prep that goes into an event like this is incredible! And I’m honestly amazed every time we’re able to put it all together.
Robin, Photographer and A-Camp Co-Director (6th A-Camp): In addition to the countless hours I spend online with Marni and Riese, we had two planning weekends up in Berkeley/Oakland this year which were pretty fun and productive.
Riese, CEO/Editor-in-Chief, A-Camp Founder and Runaways Counselor (6th A-Camp): The first planning weekend was hard ’cause we had way more staff applications than we had staff positions. At some point I recused myself from the process ’cause I was too influenced by their Autostraddle work. Because we’d committed to covering everybody’s travel expenses this time, we were forced to be sensible and make Hard Choices. And then feel guilty about it forever.
Robin: The second planning weekend is to finalize the schedule, figure out the plan for things like our special talent involvement, opening night, the state fair, and random things from pigeonhole execution to EQ and supplies.
Riese: I feel like I spent a lot of money on cheese that weekend.
Kai Keller, Calendar Girl and The Beach Counselor (3rd A-Camp): I literally didn’t know I was coming to camp until a couple of months before it happened. I had been living in Thailand for a year and legit having anxiety over staying there or coming back in time for A-Camp 6.0. Guys, camp is really important. After emailing Robin and Marni a bunch, I was added to staff last minute.
Djuan Trent, Contributor and Beehive Counselor (1st A-Camp): Leading up to A-Camp, I’d had a really rough couple of months. But thankfully I got hooked up with Gabby, who made things 1000% better. She was a vet in the game and was so great at basically taking the reins when she figured out my slacker ass was, well, slacking — or, really, I was overwhelmed by all the e-mails! I didn’t know what to pack, I had no idea where my life was… I was just a mess.
Carmen Rios, Straddleverse Editor and Rodeo Disco Counselor (6th A-Camp): I had a lot to do the day before A-Camp travel started, mostly because of my poor planning and the way my life continually happens in large bursts of energy. So basically, I got out of work on the 27th, went immediately to Trader Joe’s to get a reusable shopping bag for important A-Camp reasons, then recruited Carolyn Yates via text to bring me a Bruno Mars hat, ran to a superstore, got lost in the trial size section, went home, wrote two things, packed a little, and tried to learn all the dance moves to Uptown Funk. I wanted to sleep that night, it was even on my to-do list! It didn’t happen.
Pre-Pre Camp: Thursday, May 28
Gabby Rivera, QPOC Speakeasy Director and Beehive Counselor (5th A-Camp): I had a huge job interview the day before we flew out, packed the night before and packed my sweet baby girl Laura W out of her apartment literally the night before we were to fly out. She’s my ride or die or more like my “did you eat or do you need a hug” lady love.
Stef Schwartz, Music Editor and Buffy The Vampire Gayers Counselor (6th A-Camp): I love Ali Osworth, truly I do, but I worked a full 14-hour day/night before popping home to pack and then ran immediately out the door to pick up Cameron and Ali and head to the airport on zero sleep. Ali was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and filled with resounding joy at 5:30 AM that I think the TSA agents at JFK thought she was being sarcastic.
Ali Osworth, Tech Editor and Star Runners Counselor (5th A-Camp): Cameron and Stef woke up at four in the morning to split a car to the airport with me EVEN THOUGH THEY FLEW TWO HOURS LATER THAN I DID! They are champions. They put up with how instantly awake I am in the morning. Well… “put up with” might be too strong a word.
Gabby: At the airport, Stef saw me from across the terminal and bounded like a leather-wearing gazelle on over. I met Heather Hogan for the first time! Gave Ali hugs. And boarded the Virgin flight to LAX, excited that I’d get to watch their safety video again.
Stef: All the New York-based auto-weirdos gathered at the gate to share our pre-camp feelings… and then they all left, and Cameron and I got to sit in the airport for two more hours.
Heather Hogan, Senior Editor and Hogwarts Counselor (1st A-Camp): My girlfriend bought me a new t-shirt with dinosaurs playing Twister on it to wear to meet everyone on the Autostraddle team for the first time. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I spilled coffee all over my new shirt practically as soon as I arrived at the Virgin American terminal. But Gabby and Stef and Cameron and Laura and Ali were so nice to me anyway that I didn’t even cry about it.
Elicia Sanchez, Comedian and Ghost Power Counselor (2nd A-Camp): The morning I was flying out from Seattle, I was desperately trying to finish an online application for one of the comedy shows I produce to be considered for a local music festival that I hadn’t finished the night before because I’d drank too much at a comedy show and only cared about nachos. I remember pushing the ‘submit’ button on my application and looking up at my oven clock only to realize I had ONE HOUR to get to the airport and get on my plane. Thanks to a helpful Lyft driver and a quick check in at SeaTac, I made it on my flight with 15 minutes to spare.
Carolyn Wysinger, Contributor and Firebirds Counselor (2nd A-Camp): I know for a fact I only slept three hours the night before. This would all come back to haunt me later. I was nervous about leaving my car in the street in Oakland and my ride to the airport almost fell through and I BARELY made the luggage weight requirement. Like really I was at 49.5. I was so happy to finally make it to LAX.
Trent: I wanted to go to camp feeling fully like my fun and alive self, but no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I was fun and alive, I was really feeling sad and weighed down by everything that was going on in my life. I boarded my 6am flight to head to LA thinking, “What do I have to offer anyone other than these totally inconvenient, abnormally unhappy pieces of me? I don’t even feel like myself. This is going to be a wretched experience (not to be confused with ratchet…I’m okay with ratchet, but not wretched).”
Elicia: THANK GOD for Virgin Airlines who serve hummus and tea and have episodes of HBO’s “Jinx” available to purchase from your seat with the last $20 you have to your name. Did I mention I’m really good at being an adult?
Riese: I have a serious thing where I like to be the first one to arrive at camp and usually I succeed at this — but Abby and I did have to make a detour in Redlands to pick up supplies for my Boxed Wine and String Cheese tasting.
Robin: Marni, Carly and I loaded up the U-Haul with the supplies I’ve been hoarding in my garage, dropped by our storage unit outside camp to grab the rest of our camp stash, and made our way up the mountain!
Marni Kellison, A-Camp Co-Director (6th A-Camp): It seemed impossible that we were going to fit all of the supplies and A/V equipment into that van, but we did it!
Carmen: I arrived at LAX earlier than my early flight was supposed to and immediately found my people. Mostly because when you’re wading through LAX looking for Autostraddle staff, we’re easy to spot.
Yvonne, Senior Editor and Shark Week Counselor (3rd A-Camp): I’m usually the first one to arrive at LAX like at the butt crack of dawn and have to wait for everyone to arrive. It’s just cheaper to fly the first flight out to LAX. It’s totally cool because I befriended the airport staff and they told me their ~*secrets*~. I know where the airport staff eats and it’s a lot cheaper than your $5 airport hummus and pretzels, my friend.
Gabby: The terminal family meet up is always the best. I know it’s silly but it feels amazing. Here we are taking up a section at the baggage claim looking queer and happy as hell. It’s nice to move in a group and to be surrounded by people who wanna give and receive hugs.
KaeLyn Rich, Staff Writer and Shark Week Counselor (1st A-Camp): I had the excited jitters about meeting my Autostraddle family IRL for the very first time and I became immediately tense when I deplaned in LAX and started searching for Terminal 6, though. The first person I saw was Gabby, who greeted me with that big Gabby-love, hugged me and grabbed my bags and then everyone was there and there were hugs and awkward hand gestures and everything was pretty great.
Carmen: I took a seat, did my first of many roll calls, and then took out some snacks for everyone after I was done yelling loudly for all men to avoid the area please and thank you.
Mey Rude, Trans Editor and Hogwarts Counselor (4th A-Camp): I’m pretty sure everyone already knows that I hate flying and being in airports. But I want everyone to know that this was the first time I’ve flown to or from camp that I didn’t cry in the airport! (My mom was on the plane with me, but it still counts) So that’s pretty cool.
Laura Mandanas, Staff Writer and Outsiders Counselor (3rd A-Camp): I’m mad that I didn’t bring more accessories to camp! Everyone looked so cute all the time. Especially Laura Wooley with her hair flowers and everything else. Have mercy.
Elicia: Once I arrived at LAX, I predictably got lost and was cursing myself for not buying cigarettes before leaving Seattle and desperately watched other people smoke as I rolled by with my luggage.
Kai: I got dropped off at LAX with a too-heavy duffel bag and thoughts like, I know this is my third camp, but do I actually know these people? I did. The first things I saw were Ali’s bowtie, Kaylah’s shade, and Gigler’s bright ass hair. Everything exactly how it should be.
Emily Gigler, A-Camp Tumblr Queen and Dance Crew (6th A-Camp): Pre-camp officially began for me when I was at LAX shooting the shit with our growing gaggle of stafflings and suddenly time slowed down and I spun around and locked eyes with Kaylah. It was when I was leaping into her open arms that I knew it was real. It was camp time.
Carolyn Yates, NSFW Editor and Fun Home Counselor (6th A-Camp): Showing up at Terminal 6 in LAX and suddenly being surrounded by a sea of queers always feels instantly and immediately like home, if home were a bare-bones waiting area surrounded by a sea of spectating confused heterosexuals.
Carolyn W: When I got to Terminal 6 I was just randomly walking and I saw a face I vaguely recognized from Facebook and it was KaeLyn!
KaeLyn: We made searching eye contact for a moment, because we’d only met via the QTPOC Speakeasy Facebook group previously, but weird eye contact turned to smiles turned to vigorous hugging pretty quickly.
Carolyn W: Thats where the shenanigans began! I got to the pickup spot and it was a big family reunion!!
KaeLyn: I feel like that pretty much sums up my whole camp experience, actually. “Weird eye contact turned to smiles turned to vigorous hugging pretty quickly.”
Carolyn W: I got to sit and entertain everyone with Heather as I recounted the epic twitter beef between Anita Baker and Cheryl Lynn. Next thing I knew we were taking gal pal pics with women sitting on our laps. Yes my A-Camp started with women sitting on my lap lol.
Gigler: Reuniting with staff friends is the best. Most of these queers I only get to see at camp, so it’s a big fucking deal. First btime staffers seem to feel like old friends pretty quickly; I talked to KaeLyn for about five minutes and I already knew I wanted to hang out with her all camp long.
Elicia: I remembered last year when I awkwardly approached the group, offered some half-assed, sweaty-faced hellos and then sat down, staring at my phone and pretended to do something on it while everyone else caught up and socialized. Luckily for me then, the A-Camp staff are of course, THE NICEST human beings and I was eventually approached by Laura Mandanas, Yvonne Marquez, Gabby Rivera and Rachel Kincaid who began small talk with me and helped me to feel less awkward. This year, once I made my way to the staff meeting spot, it was just like seeing old friends. Too much catching-up to do, not enough time to act standoffish. Also, Gabby managed to get some nice people outside to give us one of their cigarettes so I am basically indebted to her FOR LIFE.
Trent: As I approached the terminal, I gave myself a pep talk, “Everything is going to be so great! You should be so glad you’re here. Just be present in this place where you are and enjoy it. You’re in LA! You’re about to be in the mountains! You have twizzlers! What more could you ask for?” I needed to be present in the moment and embrace all the greatness I was about to experience. So, I walked into the terminal and it wasn’t hard to spot the bunch of “alternative lifestyle” looking women, eating Girl Scout cookies and vegan oreos, laughing and making all the noise (really only one person was making all the noise, but I won’t point any fingers Carmen). This was my first time meeting many of my fellow Autostraddlers, so I looked nervously for a familiar face: first I saw Rachel, then Yvonne and then Gabby, my co-captain whom I was sure lightweight hated me for all the foot dragging I’d done in our camp-prep. Gabby may have lightweight hated me, but the big warm hug she gave me didn’t show it at all.
KaeLyn: I was super excited to meet Mey, my queer big sis, who I respect so much as a writer and editor. Her cabin and my cabin were cousin cabins and I couldn’t wait to spend more time IRL with her.
Mey: I had been KaeLyn’s queer big sister ever since she joined the AS staff, but I had never seen her in real life before, so I was really excited to get to know her.
Carmen: Then Stef and I took paparazzi photos because that’s what cool people do in LAX.
KaeLyn: I needed to charge my phone and outlets were scarce, so I ended up sharing a little corner of the airport with Whitney, who was doing some important laptop stuff near a mangy outlet. We chatted for a good 30 minutes about grad school life, being gaysians, long-term relationship stuff, family, and Central NY, and I felt instantly in deep friend love.
Yvonne: Since I got to the terminal so early, I was hungry and wanted to eat at the super secret airport staff spot so I could get a full meal for about $8. I had just met Heather Hogan in real life for the first time and she said she’d come with me. So Heather Hogan and I had lunch at the super secret airport spot and that’s where I discovered that Heather Hogan was in fact the nicest, most kind person I had ever met.
Mey: Heather and I had never met before, and we were leading Hogwarts cabin together. You know how sometimes you don’t want to meet people you look up to online because they can’t possibly be that cool in real life? Heather is that cool and so much cooler. She’s genuinely one of the nicest, most fun people I’ve ever met and I was so glad to have her as my cabin co-leader.
Heather: I fell in love with Mey immediately and wanted to ask her to be my best friend almost on the spot, but I contained myself. Even now, months later, I have to talk myself out of being a fool for her. Today I have almost texted her about Wonder Woman, Steven Universe, Agent Carter, White Canary, and a question about Pokemon cards. I think I’m going to text her about Pokemon cards now, though.
Trent: During this time I listened to Carmen talk about her dog, Taylor, Rachel and I tried to walk to Kinko’s ’til we discovered that LAX is not built for pedestrian escape, and I discovered that I’ve been pronouncing Yvonne’s name incorrectly all my life. While I was enjoying meeting and observing everyone, I began to feel the heaviness again. My chest got tight, my head was hurting, the nervousness resurfaced and the tears began to build in my eyes. I had to make a quick escape because I was not about to be caught crying by all these people I’d just met, and found a random empty lot across from the terminal. I closed my eyes, felt the sun on my face, and let myself cry and stare into space. I kept my head tilted to the sun to absorb its energy and peace and release what was weighing me down. I needed so badly to be in this moment. I needed so badly to have a great experience. I needed to badly to just feel present and happy and alive. My moment to myself was interrupted by the absurd stench of dog poop. I opened my eyes and looked around only to find a huge mound of shit just chillin’ to the left of the the little space I’d found. I took that as my sign to go. Thanks Obama.
Rachel: Why were we going to Kinko’s? What did any of the three of us need there? The answers have been lost to the sands of pre-camp time. But I was so happy to with Trent and Taylor for this absurd errand! There is no one I would rather have been trapped on a terrifying strip of cement next to a highway with.
Carmen: Carolyn Yates and Cee Webster competed an In ‘N Out run for me on that blessed day, the 28th of May, which left me actually speechless because my mouth was so full of food I couldn’t talk for twenty minutes.