Welcome to the fourth of four fantastic recaps of our experience at A-Camp 3.0, which took place 2.5 hours outside of Los Angeles at Alpine Meadows Camp atop a mountain in Angelus Oaks, California, from May 23rd-27th, 2013. These recamps serve to ease our collective separation anxiety, enable us to wax nostalgic over times gone by and provide prospective campers with a brilliant glimpse into the A-Camp Experience.
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 and create an affordable vacation for queers for whom other lesbian-marketed vacations aren’t a perfect fit. In April 2012, we did it for the first time— along with 160 campers and 35 staff members, we rented out a summer camp in its off-season and enjoyed a transformative weekend of fun, friendship, panels, workshops, classes, sports, entertainment, events and so forth. It was probably the most awesome experience of our life and we knew from there it would only get bigger and better — and it did, in September 2012!
Which brings us to May 2013, when our largest-ever group of campers arrived on the mountain, and were greeted by dedicated counselors and treated to four days of kickass programming. Swagger 101! Comedy Improv! Yoga! DIY Body Scrubs! Hop-Hop Dance! Kink Panel! Know Your Whiskey Tasting! Recess Games! Drag King Workshop! Femme Luncheon! Lilith Fair! Julie Goldman & Brandy Howard! Deanne Smith! Somer Bingham! The cast of Unicorn Plan-It! Calendar Girls! Team Autostraddle! Most importantly: EACH OTHER! And So. Much. More.
In the past, these recamps have been exhaustive recollections of every minute of A-Camp, but this time we’re tightening it up a bit. See, A-Camp is whatever you want it to be — and it’s something different for everybody. You all have your own stories in your hearts and brains and cameras and in the notebook paper pieces in your back pockets and this is our story of what goes on behind-the-scenes and also in the front of our brains to make this whole she-bang come together with relative grace. Are you ready? I don’t think you’re ready. (Also, we miss you!)
Sunday, May 26th: Day Four
Early Morning: Sunrise Eagle Cafe // Morning Stretch With Feelings (Mary) // PAJAMA BREAKFAST
Block A: Holistic Health Workshop (Jess) // Blog Anything (Riese & Laneia) // Kink Panel (Daniela, Nic, Ali, Kay) // Make Another Thing (Hansen) // Spooning 2.0 (Stef & Katrina) // Yoga (Devyn)
Block B: DIY Lingerie For Grrrls & Bois (Lizz & Hansen) // Slam Poetry (Gabby) // Queer Representation in Media Panel (Haviland, Croce, Brittani, Somer, Julia, Carly, Deanne Smith) // Write Something (Rachel) // Coming Out Narratives (Sarah Evan) // Hip-Hop Dance (Devyn)
Vanessa, Contributing Editor & Blackhearts Counselor: Even though I attended A-Camp 1.0 last year as a camper, I didn’t manage to find any time to go on a hike and really explore the mountain. I remember feeling envious of everyone’s nature-filled photos post-camp last year, so this time around I swore to myself that I’d get some photographic evidence of myself being surrounded by trees (because obviously the number one reason to go on a hike is to take photos that will get a lot of likes on Instagram…jk…or am I?!) Anyway, I went on not one but two hikes this time! The mountain is so gorgeous! There are so many trees! Why doesn’t Brooklyn look like this?! The first hike was during pre-camp and Jill taught me all about life in the country, and the second hike was on Sunday and I went with my girlfriend, Julia, and a few other campers. I loved both hikes but the second hike was a lot longer and a lot more feelings-filled, and it was also really nice to get some time with my girlfriend (hi Rae!).
Carrie, Community Managerette & Tiger Beat Counselor: Helping Daniela get dressed for The Kink Panel was a highlight. Vanessa and Lizz might fight me on this, but the occasion seemed to call for fishnet stockings over a floral print skirt.
Daniela, Intern & Starjammers Counselor: This was the first time we had a separate, focused panel on kink at camp and I learned so much just by sitting next to Ali, Kay and Nic. Ali moderated that thing like a boss, and we all got to prove kink looks like whatever you want it to look, as long as you keep it safe, sane and consensual. Pretty awesome stuff to sit, think and chat about on a Sunday morning in a mountain full of queermos.
Stef, Contributor & Bombshells Counselor: We weren’t exactly sure how the powers that be let us have a Spooning Workshop to begin with, nevermind a second one, and we didn’t want to rehash September camp’s curriculum if we could help it. We walked in a bit nervous, unsure of everything except our innate ability to cuddle like champions. Once we got in there though, some higher power took over, and we began answering questions, holding demonstrations, and problem-solving like the accredited snuggling gurus we always knew we could be. We can’t tell you everything that happened – as always, you need to actually attend the workshop to learn its secrets – but I can tell you that everybody walked out of there with all the tools they needed to spoon each other with affection, dignity and respect.
Lizz, Contributing Editor & Starjammer Counselor: I can’t believe how many campers showed up for DIY Underwear For Grrrls & Bois. We made the cutest “dyke” underwear and, much like nerdcraft, it was nice to have some downtime and just chat with people. Plus, I got to see how talented all the campers are! They made some seriously sexy stuff.
Gabby, Writer & Foxfire Counselor: Big shout outs to Ashley Catherine for co-hosting the Slam Poetry Workshop. I just want to thank everyone for giving of themselves and diving deep into their most vulnerable places and sharing their words with us. We led a workshop based on Reneé Watson’s “I Am Not” line poem that’s centered on the idea of how we are perceived versus who/how we really are. Together we created line poems and performed them. A group of campers even got together and performed their piece at the talent show. It was amazing.
Jill, Wild Things Counselor: I went to Gabby’s poetry thing thinking I would just listen to some rad poetry. But wait! It was a workshop?!?! That meant I had to get involved and participate and shit. But that worked out fine because I wrote a poem and felt some feelings. I was impressed with the poetic talents of all the campers who read the poems that they composed on the fly during the workshop. Some of those lines cut right to the bone.
Laneia, Executive Editor & Runaways Counselor: It was almost an unspoken thing that we’d do a live Blog Anything, and we both knew what it would look like: a pile of queers writing in notebooks with Fiona Apple playing softly in the background. Bliss, right? We put together some super brilliant prompts that I can’t recall now — I think one was to write about an experience on public transportation — that were totally optional. I’m not sure anyone used them.
This might sound weird, like I don’t trust y’all or something, but I was kind of shocked that it worked. No one wanted to talk or get a second opinion on a clunky sentence — they all just wrote with their little heads down, and seemed to enjoy it.
I think with each camp, Riese and I will slowly keep adding things that allow us to just sit in a room with campers and quietly listen to emotionally intense ’90s/’00s women on her computer.
Vanessa: My favorite thing in the world is meeting you guys. I’m not exaggerating. It’s why I write Stradder On The Street. It’s why I joke that I want to interview every single queer women in the world but it’s not really a joke because I actually do. It’s why I was the most excited to run Straddler On The Mountain and have people submit to the column in person. Admittedly, things could have gone a bit smoother. I’m not sure that every camper knew that I was just trying to garner submissions, and I think some people avoided the activity because they thought I might put them on the spot and try to interview them right away. What happened in actuality was that I made a bunch of shy yet enthusiastic announcements in the dining hall letting campers know that I’d be outside Wolf during certain times and asked/begged for submissions, and then I sat outside Wolf and waited for y’all to come to me. While I did not reach my goal of 100+ submissions, I did get 53, which means we’re all set through summer 2014! And that’s not counting the cuties who have emailed me since coming home saying, “I meant to submit on the mountain but I forgot/got lost/was making out with a hot girl at the pool party and just couldn’t leave, but anyway can I do it now!” But the numbers actually don’t matter. All I want when I do Straddler interviews is to connect with our readers, and I got to do that SO MUCH during my Straddler On The Mountain sessions at camp. So thank you to everyone who submitted. And, uh, if you still want to submit…no pressure, obviously…but if you want to…email me at vanessa [at] auto straddle [dot] com! Thanks!
Cara, Contributing Editor & Bombshells Counselor: The Bombshells Birthday/General Celebration Dance was amazing. My cabin earned their name like woah. Plus they made each other tiny birthday cakes and smuggled them into camp. My love knows no bounds.
Rachel, Senior Editor & Slayers Counselor: It’s incredibly difficult to describe, but Somer’s campaign for Best New Intern of 2013 was one of my favorite parts of camp and also my life in general. I hope someone videotaped her campaign speech at Sunday’s dinner, because I want to treasure it in my heart forever.
Robin, Photographer & A-Camp Co-Director : Intern Somer is one of my favorite moments of camp. Mostly the moment I saw the hair creations she was making. What a treasure.
Riese, CEO/Editor-in-Chief & Runaways Counselor: I had no idea what was going on with the Intern Somer campaign until she got up at lunch and delivered a dead-serious campaign speech that would’ve probably given Kerry a leg up in ’04 regarding her achievements thus far as a self-appointed intern at A-Camp.
Marni, Contributor & A-Camp Co-Director: Our new talent this camp was beyond. Deanne Smith was finally able to join us after my efforts for the previous two camps were squashed by her exhaustive, globe-trotting comedy schedule, and she killed. Just KILLED. Her set was the hardest I’ve laughed in forever. And Somer Bingham, whom I’d only met once before camp, brought such an amazing, enthusiastic energy to everything she did. When she wasn’t on a panel or jamming at Lilith, she was making weirdo sculptures out of Katrina’s barbershop hair refuse, and campaigning to be Autostraddle’s new intern (complete with a vote and concession speech). They weren’t just “talent,” they were real team members, and it was an honour to have them.
Mary, Calendar Girl & Little Rascals Counselor: Sharing a bathroom with DeAnne Smith was really special. She used my hairspray, you guys!
Lizz: It was such a pleasure to hang out with our new intern, Somer. Intern Somer started helping out right from the start, but I think she really came into her own when she started making all the schedules. I just don’t know how I will survive without her to write out my day.
Block CD: Sex Panel (Daniela, Lizz, Ali, Nic, Riese) // Speed Dating (Deanne Smith) // Alternative Lifestyle Barbershop (Katrina) // “Out in the Country” (Jill, Taylor & Mary) // High Tea (Laneia & Rachel) // Nerdcraft #2 (Whitney, Carrie, Meredydd, Mey)
Jill, Wild Things Counselor: My favorite camp moment would have to be the Out in the Country panel. It was the little panel that could. Interestingly the three moderators of the panel – myself, Taylor, and Mary Tully – do not currently live out in the country, while all panel attendees do currently live out in the country. I was amazed and inspired about what everyone had to say about building queer communities in rural areas, dealing with homophobia, and just dealing in general. Attention everybody: these campers are changing the world and starting the queer revolution. They inspired me and made me realize that if they’re doing it, I can do it too.
Ali, Contributing Editor & Outlaw Counselor: I’ve participated in one A-Camp Sex Panel before this. The last one was funny and informative, and this one was informative and funny, in that order. I’m super proud of us. I feel like we really brought the information on this one. Plus I love any panel I get to sit on with Daniela. Because I have this crazy fierce love for Daniela and I just think she’s so smart and I’m pretty sure the first thing I ever heard her say ever is “vulvas are beautiful.” So there’s that.
Daniela: I have a huge professional fangirl crush on the people I got to sit with at the Sex Panel. Like, these are people that I knew about before they knew who I was and now I’m all like “glass dildos are the best!” while seating right next to them. The Sex Panel holds a special place in my heart because even though it changes its tone, shape and number every camp, every camp it still proves just how much one can know, understand and communicate about sex and sexual health between two minutes long bursts of laughter. Keeping sex safe, hot and fun, A-Camp style.
Riese: This Sex Panel I discovered Brittney Griner isn’t the only lesbian whose finger length exceeds my own.
Daniela: I loved being part of panels, discussions, workshops of feelings. With that in mind, sometimes the best part of those activities was the aftermath, when I was done and no longer holding the mic. I cherish every single one-on-one conversation I had at camp as a result of something I said or maybe even failed to say at a panel. Every camper that approached me to geek out about non-monogamy, pick my brain about kink, or even just to touch base about self-care after a particularly heavy discussion left me feeling excited for the connection and challenged to know even more and be better next time. You guys, I was so inspired by the campers.
Somer Bingham, The Talent: Some of the best times at A-Camp are had when you’re just hanging out with new friends. One such occurence was during an off-shoot of High Tea when a few of us gathered and I found myself at a picnic table with Deanne and Taylor. Taylor sat down with an avocado, a package of dried salmon that no one would share with her, and a knife, which she used as an eating utensil. (Hot).
Stef: Right after lunch, my campers Hannah and Caro asked if I wanted to come with them on a hike. I’d been meaning to get out on the trails for most of camp and kept being sidetracked by activities, so I was really into the idea. Where else but A-Camp can you have a thoughtful discussion about sexuality on the side of a mountain, with hummingbirds buzzing around you and lizards skulking across the rocks? It wasn’t a structured A Camp activity but it was a beautiful break, and a reminder that our campers/readers are just so fucking smart.
Riese: The idea of a “pool party” is more or less petrifying to me, but holy shit was Julie and Brandy’s Pool Party an Enormous Success!
Robin: Brandy played the best music and Marni and I had a beer and worked on the shuttle schedule while we watched campers splash around in the pool and Julie dance to Gangnam Style. Can’t ask for much more than that out of your camp afternoon.
Marni: God the pool party was so fun. You guys, Brandy Howard (aka DJ Sexo Pharmacia) is a for real killer DJ. Her set was amazing. There were a lot of fun things happening that block, but loads of people came out to swim and lounge and dance and have a great time.
Brandy Howard, The Talent: Our first annual pool party was my favorite favorite favorite part of camp this time!!! Why? Because I got to do my three favorite things: DJ, drink during the day, and have fun with sexy girls in bikinis!!! Exhibit A:
Marni: Everybody seemed really happy and comfortable, which is the opposite of my personal understanding of pool parties, which usually make me want to put on all of my clothes and retreat inside. It was so amazing to see so many women of all shapes and sizes just chilling, in a completely loving, accepting atmosphere. Definitely something we’ll be doing again.
Kate, Contributing Editor & Tiger Beat Counselor: The Pool Party happened. Did I bring my circa 1994 hot pink swim trunks that I acquired at a Salvation Army in upstate New York? Of course I did. Did I actually plan on wearing them? Not… really. I’m not super with exposing my body, especially all the parts that get shown when wearing bathing suits. Bathing suits are one of the most gendered articles of clothing in existence, and it’s incredibly difficult to find something that is comfortable to swim in and isn’t a total nightmare for dysphoria. I haven’t actually bought a bathing suit since I was 16, and that suit was a bikini with cherries on it. Cherries. Cherries with wet dew drops on them. Let that image sink in for yourself.
I only brought a binder for camp and I was a little terrified of getting it wet, and hell was likely to freeze over before my Barely A breasts got any exposure outside of some kind of airtight container. I wasn’t sure that swimming or pool or anything within a one hundred foot radius of the pool was going to happen. But then I got to the poolside and the babes of Tiger Beat were sunbathing and swimming together. And then Amanda Walters got out of the pool and sat on my head. My hair ruined (after an hour of preparation, Amanda – AN HOUR) and my cabin cheering me on, I took a look around at the pool full of queerios of all presentations and decided maybe, MAYBE, I could do this.
So I did it.
I borrowed Piper’s sports bra and I wore the swim trunks and I wore a Billy Joel muscle shirt and I got in the water. I took my shirt off in the water. I balanced on noodles in the water. Granted I found a way to put my shirt back on before exiting the water, but I did it. I did it. I wore a bathing suit, and I went in a pool, and there were dozens of people around. I almost hyperventilated, but it happened. That was a very big deal for me.
Carmen: I got to the pool party later than expected for reasons, but it was still hoppin’ when I rolled in with a solo cup filled with beer froth and sincere hopes for the future. I introduced one of my campers to Julie & Brandy because she really likes them and I like to appear to be a gateway between mere mortals and communities of celesbians as much as possible; in exchange they told us about their adventurous lives and Brandy Howard cheers’ed with me while “Rehab” played. “I put this on the mix for you and me, Carmen.” A more honest or poignant moment has never happened in history.
Katrina, Contributor & Foxfire Counselor: Basically everything that I really liked about Camp was also something that challenged me fully, like physically, emotionally, socially (all day), and creatively. For Phresh Cutz, sometimes people come to me looking for a very specific look, sometimes they give me full creative license. Either way, I hope my clippers and shears made your visions of yourselves come true. You’re all so patient and wonderful. You’re also exciting and good-looking, and I’m glad I got to spend time with you.
Katrina: It’s also worth mentioning all of the hair art weirdness that went down this time around. Y’all, did you know that Somer is really weird/cool and made these hair sculptures? ‘Cause she did. Also I am aware that some of you got hair notes in your pigeonholes. I am not at liberty to name the perpetrators, but I will say that I am almost disappointed not to have received one. Almost.
DeAnne Smith, The Talent: Did you get a hair gram in your pigeon hole? (Someone please make “hair gram in your pigeon hole” a thing.) Punchy from a steep drinks-to-hours-of-sleep ratio, I taped snippets of hair (Thanks, Katrina!) onto pieces of paper upon which an anonymous staffer wrote lovely things. The results were amazing and/or horrifying, depending on which end of the pigeonhole you were on. I love these notes more than I can say, and almost as much as I love Katie.
Our Last Evening Together
After Dinner: Group Photo at Fire Pit
Night Block A: Talent Show
Night Block B: Dance
After Night Block B: After-Party at Club Deer
Cee, Tech Director & Golden Girls Counselor: I love how the NOPE grumpy cats turned out to be really funny for others and not just me. I printed them as a joke at 2am the night before camp and slowly put them up everywhere because I thought it was funny. I love how it turned into its own thing and people claimed it for themselves.
Riese: I like the All-Camp Photo because it’s the last time we get to look at everybody’s face at the exact same time. Look at all your weird faces!
Deanne: So, at The Talent Show, Camp Director Katie (she’s NOT a lunch lady, you guys!) kissed me on the cheek in front of everyone. (For the record, I was angling for a kiss-kiss, but she claimed it was “against camp policy,” which is the gentlest and most official-sounding let-down I’ve ever received.) The kiss came after I got Katie to join us in the camp photo, and I felt like we’d bonded a bit. If I wasn’t feeling so respectful of my lady’s privacy, I’d tell you that I watched her take off her actual shirt in the open air of the woods to put on one of Taylor’s vintage Autostraddle tees for the photo and it was a tiny bit thrilling. But I’m a gentlemyn.
Brandy: This time, Julie and I opened the Talent Show with a song. Not only was this the first time we’ve ever done this at camp, it was also the first time we’ve ever done it… ever. Period. We sang a Moldy Peaches song called Rainbows, and Alex played the drums for us. I have no idea if anyone liked it. The song is pretty lewd, and I had completely lost my voice by that last night (not that I’m some incredible singer anyway), but that’s what is so great about the Talent Show! It’s not about impressing anyone! It’s about having fun and not being scared to do something weird in front of a bunch of weirdos that you love. And it truly was kind of a dream come true for me. Singing with Julie, while Alex played the drums??? **sigh** They are two truly dreamy girls.
Hansen, Contributing Editor & Scissor Sister Counselor: So, as one of the counselors for Scissor Sister Sparkle Motion Rainbow Alliance, I took on this very Mama Duck role. It became comical how much I told them to drink water. It’s funny how easily you bond to people at A-Camp, because within just a few days I felt like I knew everyone from my cabin for ages. Then when not one, but two (!!!) of my campers were performing in the talent show, I was over the moon. I have never felt so much maternal pride in my life. Motherly may be an odd word to use when describing the emotions I felt during Nurin’s drag performance to Ginuwine’s “Pony” or Lindsey’s piece about being a woman and public restrooms. I was crazy proud of how talented and brave they were.
Riese: Brandy Howard was really excited about Nurin’s performance. REALLY EXCITED.
Rachel: The talent show is always so much fun, and somehow totally wildly different each camp. I always turn into something of a crazy dance mom about my cabin. I really wish I could have, like, made a giant posterboard with my performing campers’ names in hot pink glitter. Since we had already used all the posterboard for crafts I just screamed a lot. Minerva participated in this insanely outrageously cool group poetry slam that made me cry — see aforementioned feelings about crying in public — and Shannon did an incredible sexy chair dance in a super incredible sexy dapper outfit and Kira was a flannel wallflower cutie. EVERYONE IS SO TALENTED. NO ONE CAMP SHOULD HAVE ALL THIS TALENT.
Riese: A Runaway did a thing! Her name was Christine, and like me she is a huge Julie Goldman fan, and she was super-funny. Also this camp was the first time I taught a workshop in which people actually produced performable works, so Ali and I squealed in delight when Ranger read an erotica story that had been group-composed in our workshop.
Carmen: Many people will remember fondly from the talent show a number of things: when my Infernos did slam poems and dirty dancing, for one, and made everyone’s lives both more emotionally and sexually satisfying, as well as when Julie Goldman spoke repeatedly, for example.
Carmen: But, what I remember most are a series of moments involving Stef Schwartz in which we sat close enough to one another for her to take photographs of me and Geneva while whispering, “I hate you.”
Sophia, Inferno Counselor: Sunday I slept in mad late, I missed breakfast and lunch and then spent a lot of my time in the smoker’s circle following patches of sunlight with a cup of coffee still trying to wake up. You all know the talent show is pretty much the highlight of camp. Camp 2.0 it rolled a little out of hand, but this one I felt it was perfect. There was killer poetry, music, sexy moves, some great drag. And the Infernos were ON IT. I don’t remember totally who did what because my memory is shite regardless but I know the whole time I was smiling and laughing and sometimes crying it was moving to see so many up there sharing SHARING FEELINGS in different mediums on a stage and it was so fantastic.
Carmen: Later on, when Brandy Howard called us on stage in a huge clusterfuck of amazing human beings I’m proud to be a part of something with, Stef and I raised our hands loudly and screamed our rallying cry, “Mahalo,” which is our rallying cry because once I got kicked out of a New York City movie theater while screaming “Mahalo Motherfucker” during Battleship and received a standing ovation from the other moviegoers. To our surprise, when we looked around a bunch of queermos in attendance were also screaming “Mahalooooo” with their arms up in the air. Small world.
Riese: About halfway through The Talent Show I got a bunch of feelings and said that I wanted to say a thing at the end of the show, and then I did. I couldn’t believe the words “I want to say a thing at the end,” actually came out of my mouth, but they did.
Riese: Usually I try to avoid being onstage with a microphone because I cannot trust myself to not say something stupid, but I was possessed by the spirits to inform the group that YOU ARE CAMP. You’ve always been camp. We’re just here to facilitate your existence in this space.
Kristen, Contributing Editor & Scissor Sisters Counselor: Hansen and I call ourselves Crafty Bitches, so we figured we needed to live up to our name. A few weeks ago we planned to sew everyone merit badges, but procrastinated their completion until the night before everyone left. So Hansen and I sat in the back row of the talent show in complete darkness, trying to fit our campers’ achievements into 2″ diameter circles while giggling maniacally at all of the acts. Our yellow team had done so many things and had so few points to show for it! You see my yellow flag out the back of my jorts and it might make you think that I am into water sports. But points mean nothing since our campers were clearly the best people on the mountain. Lindsey and Nurin did the SS Sparkle Motion Rainbow Alliance proud by writing and humping their way into the other campers’ hearts. I’ve never been a prouder Mama Duck.
Julia, Calendar Girl/Contributor & Blackhearts Counselor: The last night before the dance with small traces of alcohol in our blood and our hearts’ heavy with love, my cabin sat down to appreciate one another. After tears had been shed and snaps had been issued, I taught my penguins a song that I usually use with elementary schoolers. It is all about what a penguin going to tea looks like. Everyone was so enthusiastic and it was hilarious. Busting out camp songs that make adults look ridiculous doesn’t usually fly, but A-Camp is a safe place where people are allowed to access enjoyment that might look too foolish to the outside world. This activity was the last thread in an amazing web that solidified my everlasting love for this group of amazing people.
Vanessa: I was THE MOST EXCITED to be a counselor at A-Camp 3.0. Like, I think maybe my entire existence has been an exercise in preparing me for the moment when Riese informed me that Julia and I were going to be counselors for the lovely, smart, perfect humans that made up the Blackhearts, aka The Most Feelings Filled Cabin In The World. As anyone who has spoken to me for more than 30 seconds knows, I am a total neurotic Jewish grandma, and I love nothing more than caring for people and giving extra tight hugs. Being a counselor for the Blackhearts provided me with ample opportunities to do both things and I can honestly 10000% say that my camp experience would not have been half as fantastic without my amazing campers. You guys, we say it all the time but I hope you know how true it is: YOU MAKE CAMP WHAT IT IS. The campers ARE A-Camp. And I can say with my whole heart that my campers guided me through my first camp experience as a staff member as much as I guided them, and continue to do so when we have Google Hangouts late at night.
Julia: It is rare in adult life to yell “let’s build a fort” and get a unanimous “hell yes!” Fort feelings was created in a number of seconds through teamwork and creative thinking. It was named for my cabin’s love of feelings and the discussions surrounding them. I felt that the creation and use of Fort Feelings really summed up my a-camp experience.
Katrina: Ok so if not for each other, then why the fuck are we even here, am I right? I always feel a little funny about getting to know my cabins 1) because I’m me. I’m a little bit nervous/excited about everything, and that’s just how it is, and 2) everyone in my cabin is always pretty much exactly my age, which makes me feel like maybe I know this big gay secret that no one else knows, and that’s why I’m a counselor. But I don’t think that’s true. What I think is actually true is that the secret is that there is no secret, and what we really want to know is each other. And now we do. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? I felt a little quieter than usual this time, and I felt kinda bad about that, but then I realized that that’s ok. Sometimes that’s just your place. I got to watch my campers get to know each other, and at the end of it, I realized that I knew them too. We all told each other about it on that last night, passing a ball of yarn around and talking about how we all liked each other. It felt good. It still fees good. That’s all, really.
Laneia: In the beginning the Runaways sort of looked at us like we might be crazy, or like they might run if the opportunity were to arise, but then they just tossed out their reservations and trusted us. When I think about them walking from Wolf lodge to cabin 19 with their duffle bags and pillows stuffed under their arms, with their little hearts not knowing what’s on the other side of the door, but with the determination to open it anyway, I just want to CRY SO HARD. And sometimes I do. These people are so much braver than they give themselves credit for. I mean I don’t think the campers really know how inspiring they are. Sitting up until 3am with the Runaways was just fucking affirming and I’m so grateful for them, and for everything they brought up the mountain, and for leaving some shit at the bottom, and for letting us in. For making camp.
Mey, Contributor & Slayers Counselor: Before going to the Talent Show and Dance on Sunday night, the people in my staff cabin started getting ready together. Since I didn’t come out as trans until after high school, I’d never had the chance to experience getting ready for a dance like that before. We played pop music, fixed our makeup, picked out which button-ups to wear and just bonded as a group (plus Vanessa and I ended up both wearing cute floral dresses, so that was awesome). Then it was on to the dance. Like I’ve said before, I don’t have much of a queer community where I live, and the community for queer ladies is even smaller. So to be surrounded by so many wonderful queer ladies/people having such a good time was like witnessing a miracle. Everyone singing and dancing together created such a wonderful energy like I’d never felt before. There were great songs, great outfits, great dance moves (and lots of not-so-great ones) and great smiles everywhere. There was even the coolest Drag King I’ve ever met seeing how many A-Camp Staffers they could dance with. This was one of the funnest nights I’ve had in my life.
Riese: I went to the dance. I went to the motherfucking dance! Who knows, maybe next time I’ll go on a hike too.
Carly, Contributor & Toros Counselor: The dance! Perhaps I’m biased but the dance is always my favorite part of camp. For me and the rest of the staff it means that most of the hard work is behind us and we can just let loose and enjoy ourselves.
Kate: Sometimes you need to cry in the arms of the people you love, and sometimes you need to drop it, drop it low. I dropped it incredibly low. It was so necessary to have a place to just act like a bunch of super fun queers, and the dance was it. I did a lot of ridiculously dirty dancing. I jumped in place. I got to hang with my baby brother Cait Toste as the reunited Two Princes and we did a lot of super bad dancing in front of girls we thought were super cute. It was amazing.
Carly: I take the dance very seriously and try to play songs that will keep the crowd dancing for as long as they’ll let me play (this time it was well after 2am when they finally pulled the plug). A few special moments at this dance were when someone accidentally killed the power and everyone kept singing “Dancing on My Own” without the track, when everyone COMPLETELY LOST THEIR SHIT when “I Love It” came on, and Marni dancing up on me (hey girl).
Marni: After a week on the mountain, nothing felt better than just letting go and dancing like crazy on the last night. I was in front of Carly’s DJ podium for most of it, and I probably looked like a lunatic but that’s okay because I was one. Afterwards, I escorted Lunchlady Katie to Klub Deer with her hoodie up and sunglasses on (to keep the paparazzi at bay) and everybody just let go and partied into the night. It was awesome.
Last Night at Klub Deer
Lizz: I have to be honest, I know the dance was where it was at, but I loved the last night at Klub Deer! Actually, I loved every night at Klub Deer. I crashed at 4am but I hear the party went until close to 6am.
Carmen: After attempts at taking a Smoker’s Circle pic seemed to be on their last leg, I headed to Klub Deer for the after-party to the A-Camp Dance, changing quickly into a midriff-cut shirt with a deer head spray painted on it and ditching all of my dignity at the door. I was, until around 5 AM, the official Klub Deer dancer: I managed and delivered bottle service, gave away booty drops for free, and put on a light show using a headlamp while standing below a glittery arrow pointed downward that read “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.” In other words, the dreams of my lifetime came true that night.
Riese: Also I went to Klub Deer for the first time! Although admittedly I only went because I was trying to find my girlfriend. The thing about being super-busy and important like Marni and I are is that I felt like I hadn’t seen her in four days. But Klub Deer, man! There’s nothing like a rave in a room generally used for lanyard-making and drinking terrible coffee in flimsy paper cups.
Carrie: Signs Klub Deer is going from underground dance club (klub) to the world’s most popular mountain club for queers:
+ It was included in the actual camp schedule this time
+ Julie, Brandy, Marni, Riese, Robin and Carly made appearances
+ Intern Somer stole (she says “borrowed”) a speaker for KD when computer speakers just wouldn’t cut it
+ Carmen Rios provided three straight nights of fireplace strobe light dancing
+ Jill was the official bouncer and made campers show her photos of cats at the door
+ A camper made an actual Klub Deer stamp for entrance. (Who are you? I want to hug you.)
Cee: Realizing both Riese AND Katie from Alpine Meadows were both dancing in Klub Deer was a camp highlight. Also Jill making everyone show them pictures of their cats to get in the door was pretty amazing. Also Mere should potentially consider DJing as a side career. And the Klub Deer stamp!!
Robin: I love impromptu and very exclusive nature of Klub Deer (you have to make the guest list) (the guest list is the camp roster). The bouncer was super intimidating, but once I got in, it was lots of fun. We were able to bring Katie to Klub Deer on the last night, which was basically like bringing in a celebrity.
Riese: I feel like people reading this who are going to camp for the first time in October are going to say that Klub Deer only Somewhat Met Expectations on their camper surveys.
Jill: Also thanks to Rachel Walker I have a pic now of me bouncing at Klub Deer.
Monday, May 27th
Rachel: Somehow I always end up leaving camp at basically sunrise. I’m always overwhelmed with gratitude for the few other people who are also awake and eating cold cereal at like 7 am before the buses take us away. You are the light of my life, and I am always too sleepy and hungover to tell you. Here’s to you.
Sophia: I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone the way I wanted to, but maybe that was a good thing because I know I’ll get to see everyone again at some point in time. I got more hugs than I’m normally comfortable with but it was good because it’s camp and it’s that environment where you see people walking their true walk with all the swag they want to put out and all the big smiles and we airport chilled and drank a lot of corona in terminal four of LAX thinking and reminiscing even though it wasn’t a day ago. We’ll come back! We’ll meet new people and we’ll do it all again in different ways and it’ll be great.
Riese: Sooooooooooo by the way, um, the Purple Team won color wars. Again. We didn’t want to make a big thing over it ’cause it seems suspicious that Purple Team has won both camps and also that it’s my team? I’m really not sure why this always happens for real. But uh, luckily Marni had designed up an elegant trophy (aka found a dusty synchronized swimming trophy at The East Bay Depot for Creative Re-Use for ten cents) and obviously we were all over that shit:
Riese: The best part of camp is when everybody leaves and then we pack and clean everything! HHAHAHAAH JK that part sucks.
Riese: Somer was so cute after camp, she was like, “I had the best time. Seriously I had the best time of anybody at camp. The best time. I feel bad for everybody else because they didn’t have the best time, because I had the best time.”
DeAnne: As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end. Except on the ride back, it was sunny, I was filled with camp-feelings (SO MANY FEELINGS), and Somer was drunk. As we were pulling away, she cracked me up by saying “I’m glad I’m so drunk. I mean, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m so drunk.” Ah, sweet Somer. We wound down the mountain, talking about it all, definitely not murdered but still, you know, kinda killed.
Next: Feelings and Dance Photobooth pictures!
“My favorite part of A-Camp was the experience of looking around at 300 ridiculously attractive people. And then remembering that EVERYONE was queer. And then knowing that everyone was kind.”
“I have long admired the queer community from afar, but was either closeted or felt too rejected to participate much. At A-Camp I felt like full-on me, and people liked me! They wanted to be my friends, and they wanted to kiss me and date me!”
“Even if you don’t read Autostraddle, there is a place for you at camp. I think at its base, A-Camp is about letting everyone be themselves and have an absolute blast. For others, it’s a life changing experience of getting to be loved for who they are for the first time. That’s why I want all my queer friends to go to A-Camp.”
“I would recommend camp because it’s one of the most positive, affirming, eye-opening, fun experiences a queer can have, if you throw as much of yourself into it as the staff and other campers do.”
“A-Camp is something that every queer girl should experience at least once (although, let’s be honest, there’s no “just one time” with A-camp). It’s a profound experience, being surrounded by supportive people who will accept you just as you are. Until the “real world” does this, A-camp is absolutely necessary.”
“In addition to being well-run and offering kick-ass activities all the time with awesome counselors, the other campers’ perspectives and passions and kindness and diversity are fucking inspiring.”
“My favorite parts of A-Camp were Laneia bandaging up my cut, Marni teaching me how to open a beer bottle with a lighter, dancing with Lizz, being cross faded on the swings, pool party… everything basically.”
“The best part of camp for me was the staff and the other campers. Everyone that works so hard on making camp happen, and all of us that attend, make it the magical place that it is… Coming back to this camp felt like coming home. For five days I felt supported and understood, which are things I never get to experience where I live or from my family. Camp is the safest space I have ever found, as well as so much more, and I never want to stop coming back.”
“The best part of A-Camp wasn’t why I signed up to go to A-Camp. I love Autostraddle and wanted to experience it in person. What I didn’t expect was the incredible safe space I found on the mountain. Being in that environment made me realize that I wasn’t able to be 100% myself in my everyday life, and allowed me to experience what living that way felt like. In addition to that, I made genuine and amazing new friends that I’ll stay in contact with. Also, the staff were fucking amazing.”
“The best part of camp is always the reminder that anything can happen and we can all be whoever we want and queers are beautiful beings and there are always fewer fucks to give and I don’t care, I love it, YOU DO YOU.”
“The writing workshops, even when they brought me to things I wasn’t ready to deal with yet, were my favorite part of camp. They reminded me that I’m actually a really good writer (I forget because people don’t often get to read what I write) and that I have a lot to say through writing and should say it.”
“I live in a pretty queer friendly city, however never in my life did I feel so welcomed and accepted. I felt I could dress how I wanted and play with my gender in multiple ways. Dappy hour was an amazing experience for me. I loved the panels and wish I could go to everything again.”
“Each time I’ve gone, I’ve pulled out some crazy awesome learning experience and this time was no different. Last time, A-camp helped me overcome my really intense social anxiety. This time, I’m working with far deeper issues such as self-perception and self-worth. It’s something I’ve been thinking and writing about non-stop for about 4 days. Going to A-camp has been so utterly crucial to my growth as a healthy adult and as a social being.”
“My favorite part of A-Camp programming wise was Deanne Smith, 200% amazing. Experience wise, the best part of camp was being able to come back a second time and see how much I’ve grown because of my experiences at September’s camp.”
“I really enjoyed the interactive workshops (writing, poetry, dirty dancing, yoga, hip hop, etc.) A-camp is a fun and safe place to try new things out of your comfort zone.”
“A-Camp was such an accepting and open environment. I loved that it was trans-friendly, bi-friendly, and empowering to people of color. Everybody was so kind and eager to learn and teach each other. I never felt ashamed for not knowing things. I felt empowered by all the new knowledge I gained.”
“Coming back to camp felt like coming home. That’s what I said as soon as I saw my first returning A-camper at LAX. It felt so comfortable this time – even more than last time, if that’s possible. If I had to pick just one thing about camp, that’d be it. The feeling of comfort that comes from being completely understood and accepted, just where you are.”
“I loved being able to do crafts one block, social meet-up the next, and a panel after that… the non-monogamy and the bisexual panels were feelings-city. Thank you for those teaching memories.”
“The best part of ACamp for me was experiencing the sensation of being ‘one of the crowd’, in that I held something in common with everyone else present beyond basic humanity (which sometimes just isn’t enough to feel connected). That is not a sensation I experience very often. Or at all, really. It was a novel experience to be praised and complimented for the aspects of my character and appearance that usually draw criticism or confusion everywhere else in my life. It felt like coming home.”
“I loved spending time with a queer community that values all types of queer expression, not solely limited to the academic sphere or the Dinah Shore crowd.”
“The panels are so educational and the activities are so much fun. Plus, it’s such a great price for everything that’s included with camp.”
“The workshops were great but I was really impressed with the lady campers. I was expecting an oversexualized group of women ready to go buck wild on a mountain but people really just wanted camaraderie and friends to talk to about queerness. I’m so glad it wasn’t just a hook-up fest.”
“I loved that there were always many opportunities to engage in well-planned structured programming and that there were simultaneously opportunities for impromptu hang outs with new friends. The pool party was pretty incredible too. I usually feel a little too uncool for a space like that, but I felt totally comfortable.”
“A-Camp is a magical place where you can finally feel the freedom to think about yourself in a positive way without the lens of the patriarchal world crushing down on you.”
“I missed my bros, and it was amazing to see them in a setting where we could daydrink, hike, and have sleepovers.”
“Camp gives queers insight to how straight people feel everyday! #1in10”
“Obviously the internet is a wonderful resource, but nothing compares to meeting people in real life.”
“Everyone deserves to be in a beautiful, safe, loving space like Camp and to have the opportunity to meet and hang out with such bright, fun, kind, open, attractive, inspirational people. And it’s just really fun!”
“I describe it as being in a giant queer lady group hug to a friend after I got back. Expanding our inclusive community is something that we need to get better doing, and I feel like A-camp is one way to do that.”
“A-Camp is FUN. It’s REALLY FUN. My life back home is pretty queer, my friends are queer, my job is queer, my town is queer, my school is queer. But A-Camp is something else. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s something else. It’s fun. I had fun. I laughed so much. I met queers from all over the world. I learned things. I will be back and back and back and back again. Thank you.”
“I feel that the best part of camp was the community we were able to form within the few days we had together. I walked knowing just about no one aside from my cabin mates – whom i had only connected with via email, facebook, and a couple google hangouts. Within the the cabin and A-Camp as whole, everyone connected on some level and were able to form deep relationships (friendships, etc). Even when I attended camp as a kid, I didn’t bond with my fellow campers that quickly. And otherwise, I am slow to make true friends. I sincerely appreciate the effort everyone has gone through to develop the sense of community and connection as fast as it did. Thank you!”
“I had no idea what I was actually looking for at camp, but I totally found it.”