After cabin photos and the all-camp photo, we took a photo of the A-Camp Staff and also a photo of the team that launched Autostraddle back in March 2009 (minus Tess & Natalie!).
A few months after launching Autostraddle in March 2009, we decided to throw a fundraising party for New York City Pride, which took place the last weekend of June. By “we” I mean those of us on the team who lived in New York City, which is to say “almost all of us” — me, Alex, Carly, Robin, Stef and our then-business-manager Brooke. (Isn’t it funny that when we made $30 a month, we had a business manager, and now we don’t? I think it’s hilarious!)
A couple of weeks prior, Brooke had suggested we obtain interns, and so we’d put out a call for interns and literally accepted every single person who applied, developing a 15-strong “Intern Army” deployed to complete mundane duties like “transcribing interviews” and “photoshopping a picture of Sarah Shahi onto a picture of a Volcano.” Hoping to obtain their support in promoting our Pride Party online, we let them know that it was happening and provided basic details along with suggestions for press outlets and potential sponsors to contact.
Within a week, Intern Nicole, who lived in the city and sometimes worked with us in 3-D, informed us that almost all the interns had decided to COME to New York for the Pride Party. We hadn’t even thought to invite them! But our only not-broke Intern had somehow swung a hotel room via an ex-boyfriend which they all planned to share — yes, all 14 of them. They came from all over the world — Chicago, Belgium, Canada, Los Angeles, Boston, D.C, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh — and they did this despite being broke, despite being 19, despite being college students, despite parental disapproval, despite it being a long way to travel for just one weekend and despite common sense.
But they came because that’s how intense one’s desire can be to meet other people who think like you do, who care about the things that you care about. They did what they had to do to get there — and I’ll get back to that in a bit because that revelation came last, after the weekend, and it’s that revelation that made camp happen. Because that’s what I’m getting into here is the story of how camp happened.
I think when we tell these possibly self-indulgent stories about times when the Autostraddle team converged and bonded — like Pride ’09, Pride ’10, the National Equality March, Dinah Shore, etc. — we tend to leave out the terrible parts and we make it sound like we all clicked right away and everything was magical. That’s not true. We don’t just exclude the unseemly stories — girls throwing up on their pants/in hotel rooms, girls’ homophobic parents chasing Alex’s car around Manhattan to retrieve their daughter from our homosexual clutches, drunken Palm Springs bar fights that kick-start actual legal battles, or awkward and ill-resolved intra-team crushes — but we exclude the parts where we were just a bunch of awkward weirdos in a room, too.
When the team met the Interns for the first time, at Brooke’s Extended Stay Apartment Situation the day before the Pride Party, it was terrifyingly awkward. For starters, the stress of the week had kicked my Fibromyalgia into overdrive, so I was lying on the floor moaning and remained prone until Intern Lex offered me respite in the form of a joint, which we smoked in the shower, dampening our socks and blowing smoke out a tiny air vent while I prayed the kids in the other room had found something to talk about. But also our planned “wordpress workshop” was foiled by dysfunctional Wi-Fi, and the DVDs we’d wanted them to burn for the party wouldn’t burn, and it looked like rain and we were 95% sure that none of the interns would get into the party and we didn’t know what to do about that or how to tell them. There we all were, in a room! All of us similar people! What the fuck were we gonna SAY to each other? I panicked internally — Is this what happens when you put so many weirdos in a room? We just sit here staring at each other, wishing we could be g-chatting instead, or reading a book?
I wanted to tell you about that awkward first Pride Intern/Team meeting in my “speech” on the first night of camp so that you wouldn’t feel weird if it happened to you, but instead of telling you that I think I just shrieked a lot and covered my face. And then I would’ve told you that things changed, gradually, over the course of that day and the next. We had a big dinner in Little Italy, and loose after carafe after carafe of wine and high on anticipation, we broke down a little bit, started actually getting to know each other one-on-one, and we kept on like that throughout the weekend. The best part, oddly, was when the interns (predictably) got kicked out of our party for being underage and we all took turns sitting outside with them, where finally it was quiet and we could talk about their lives and what brought them here.
So basically what happened that weekend is that we met 14 of Autostraddle’s biggest fans/supporters, and it gave us something past this screen and this keyboard and the miles and hours of bandwidth between us to hold onto. I wrote, after Pride: “I have never felt such overwhelming positivity about a group of people before in my life. Seriously it was almost transcendent and in a strange way totally incomparable to any feeling I’ve ever felt before.”
The camaraderie developed by meeting each other made Autostraddle a better website. It made us better people. It got us through that first year when there was no money and very few readers and all our Moms thought this was an enormously terrible idea.
And after that first weekend the interns kept coming back to New York, against all odds. They kept coming back throughout that year and into the next; sleeping stacked like sardines in the sweaty summer of my West Harlem living room, eating mini-pizzas and drinking cheap beer, writing in their notebooks, taking photos in the park, sitting on my bed making lists, getting us coffee in the morning. Some interns dated and/or hooked up and some just drew pictures together.
And the closeted ones started coming out, too — to themselves, to their families, to their friends. Brooke came out to her parents first, like a month before Pride, on the day we first met and interviewed Katrina, and I remember how over mediocre tacos on the Lower East Side we balanced Brooke’s jubilant texts with Katrina’s interview and I felt like things were moving forward so quickly in so many positive directions, and not just because Katrina was probably on drugs and talking really fast. Most of us on the team were already out, but most of the interns weren’t, but gradually and then suddenly — they were.
We were all there in the messy living room on video-chat with Intern Vashti after she came out to her parents. She said it went well, better than she expected, and we all got teary-eyed and this enterprise felt perfectly tangible.
But what I always forgot about in between team events and remembered the moment we all showed up in the same room again was how much we already understood about each other, how much we laughed, how much we felt seen by one another in a way we never felt seen in the rest of the world. I can’t put my finger on it, or maybe I don’t want to, but there’s something we all have in common, and it’s not just being queer. I didn’t see any reason why that experience should be limited to those of us who run the website. I wanted all the readers to have it, too.
Which brings me to this point: when pitching the A-Camp idea to others, my primary piece of evidence for why A-Camp would work was that 14 interns came to Pride in 2009. It’s a ridiculously small sample size and no businessperson would ever run a business on that theory. But I knew that because they came, that you would find a way to come. And you did. This is just the beginning.
Most of you reading this will never come to camp and many of you reading this don’t want to or can’t, but I hope you know that camp will enable a better website for everybody and ideally, one day, a better world. After next week we’ll stop talking about camp all the time, but I know that the fact that it happened and will happen again will only strengthen the site’s primary mission, which is accessible to anybody with an internet connection.
Some of you reading this did go to camp and honestly didn’t really have an amazing time, or can’t relate to the more effusive memories relayed in the recaps’ camper quotes and if that’s you, I hope you still feel brave for trying. If you got on a plane or in a car and traveled all the way to Angelus Oaks to be stranded on a mountain with 200 strangers for an entire weekend and you did that alone, then I am so fucking proud of you, and I’m honored that you trusted us enough to make that choice and I hope you come back some day. We’ve got heaps of constructive feedback from all the campers and about a billion things we need to do about a zillion times better next time, and we’re already working on that.
After Pride 2009, I read all the interns’ blog entires about their trip (obviously all interns have blogs) and the one that touched me most of all was from one of our quieter interns — I’d been worried throughout the weekend that she wasn’t having a good time, or that she felt lost amid the loudness and oft-expressed ecstasy of the other more outgoing interns. But in her blog post she talked about how even though she was too shy to talk too much, or too insecure to put herself in the middle of the action, that just being there was enough, just to be part of that energy and amongst those women, just to witness it. I didn’t see her again after Pride until a few months ago and when I saw her a few months ago she was surrounded by awesome queer women. She was radiant with a new happiness I’d not seen all those years prior and she was still as beautiful as ever. We grow into things — we grow into ourselves. We grew into this. We take tiny steps and we all have our own paths towards that comfortable place and we get there at our own pace.
At A-Camp, we had deeply closeted campers and young campers who’d never met other queer people — but we also had campers who have been out and proud for decades and campers who have families or strong queer communities where they live. Everybody is at a different stage of their life and we have so much to learn from each other — just like that first Pride Weekend, but multiplied by 10,000 and with more panels, more Julie Goldman and much cuter t-shirts.
It took us three years to get to Camp — three years of trashing hotel rooms and having dramatic email fights with each other about fliering, three years of growing up and moving and finding our footing in the world and figuring out who we are and what we want. We never could’ve done this three years ago, or two years ago, or last year, and I’m so blessed to have watched these girls grow into the inspirational women they are today. In turn, we’re all blessed by you — we only know what we are because you tell us what we are, after all — our patient, enthusiastic, intelligent, funny and endlessly kind readership.
I’d always thought that I’d lived my life to get to the writing, but it turned out I’d done the writing to get to my life — and what I learned that summer was that it wasn’t just mine anymore. It was ours.
And now it’s yours, too.
A-Camp 2.0 will take place from September 12th-16th at the same location — Alpine Meadows Resort in Angelus Oaks, California. Pre-registration will begin Monday, May 21st, at which time additional information will be shared and further questions will be answered. So please save your questions for Monday!