When we announced the first Camp Autostraddle in February, many readers stepped forward to volunteer to “sponsor” a camper who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend. We then accepted heaps of applications for scholarships and gave four lucky ladies the opportunity of a lifetime, and they’re gonna share their stories with you here today. You will probably be moved by these stories and will want to open your wallet/hearts, so here’s how thats gonna work!
A-Camp 2.0 will take place from September 12th-16th at Alpine Meadows Retreat Center (same locale as last time!) and it will be a day longer than A-Camp 1.0 and therefore more expensive! Just like last time, we’ll be inviting campers who can’t afford it to submit emotionally moving essays that tug gently at our tender heartstrings and henceforth compete for the chance to earn an A-Camp Campership and those Camperships will be funded by — you guessed it! — your donations to the A-Camp Feelings Fund.
So if you’re going to camp and can afford a little extra or if you’re not going to camp and just wanna help out, please pitch in! We’ll accept donations to the A-Camp Feelings Fund until Friday, May 25th.
Donate to The A-Camp Feelings Fund:
If you’d like to sponsor a camper’s entire tuition ($365) yourself, please do so using this button (Also: If you’d like to have contact with your sponsored camper, or for them to know your name or anything of that sort, please e-mail a.camp.september [at] gmail dot com and share those feelings with us!):
If you want to be considered for a campership, please email laneia [at] autostraddle dot com and cc a.camp.september [at] gmail dot com and tell us why you deserve it and what your plan would be to get your ass to camp if you did receive a Campership. Please submit your essay by May 30th.
Now, here are the testimonies of April’s lucky winners!
A. – 27 – New Jersey
I grew up in the Midwest within a cultural context where being gay wasn’t even a possibility. I didn’t start coming out until I was 23 — my siblings know, but my parents don’t. To make matters just slightly more complicated, I’m going to be a minister in less then a year in a denomination who wouldn’t ordain me if I came out publicly. I’m very visibly queer, living in a glass closet at school and at work. My church has an unofficial don’t ask, don’t tell policy. It’s a pretty scary thing, being so undeniably drawn to a profession that thinks I’m an abomination. Now I’m a full-time student, a part-time intern, and the primary babysitter for three families. Making ends meet can get a little rough.
Going to A-Camp on a scholarship was one of the best gifts I have ever received. This is made all the more remarkable considering that gift was from a complete stranger. I don’t know if I can ever express how deeply grateful I am to my A-Camp sponsor.
I live in Hetronormative World and I have no queer community to speak of. A-Camp was my opportunity to relax, be myself, and to celebrate who I am. Much like when I read Autostraddle and interact with the lovely people who comprise that community, A-Camp reminded me that it’s not only okay to be a lesbian, but it’s also totally fabulous.
This weekend of Queer Bliss consisted of amazing new friends, intelligent conversation, and more laughs then I can count. The constant parade of incredible shoes and alternative lifestyle haircuts was also pretty impressive. The setting among the mountains and trees was the perfect remedy for my usual concrete jungle. Sure the beds were a touch uncomfortable and the food was a little lacking, but those details won’t be the ones I’ll remember. It will be the stories, the smiles, and the incredibly well executed activities by a staff who clearly had invested so much in that weekend.
It was a delightful experience meeting the Autostraddle staff. It was like meeting people who are, in my mind, both celebrities and dear friends. Everyone who I had the pleasure of interacting with was so warm and immeasurably kind. This is a precious thing to find, especially among relative strangers. It is an enormous credit to Riese and the rest of the staff to have cultivated this sort of community, that got so many introverts (and extroverts, I see you), and people from all over the world, many coming to A-Camp alone, all because we share something amazing and safe and indescribably wonderful.
Now that I’ve stepped back into my glass closet and re-entered the ‘real world’ again, A-Camp remains with me. I wish I could bottle up the feelings of freedom, acceptance, and celebration I had at A-Camp and save them for the days when I’m feeling everything but. Even as the memories are starting to fade, especially the more whiskey-soaked moments, one emotion has stayed with me: gratitude. I remain so deeply thankful for the people, the place, the stories, and all the little details that came together for the awesomeness that is A-Camp.
Katie – 20 – Wisconsin
In February I was sitting at a desk, browsing the Internet (well the important parts of the internet – mostly Autostraddle and Twitter) while I worked up the motivation to start the hours of homework I have for my 18-credit semester. Then I came upon the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: Camp Autostraddle.
An escape from the hate of my terrifyingly homophobic roommates. A place where I could actually be myself every single second of the day, and never be hiding or scared or the freak or the token queer friend. A magical place where everyone is accepted, where no one has to be rejected or bullied ever. And it starts the day after my birthday? That had to be a sign! I was going. But then my broke college student reality came flooding back.
Receiving a scholarship to attend the first ever A-camp was the single best thing to happen in my life so far. This might sound dramatic or exaggerated, but I promise that it is completely true. The circumstances of my life this past fall and winter left me feeling alone, confused, rejected, and depressed, and the email I received in February telling me I got a scholarship and was going to get to go to A-Camp turned things around, and while I was still living in a semi-terrible situation, it gave me happiness, hope, and a renewed sense of purpose. I knew that the experience would change my life, but I was unprepared for just how much it did.
I was in such a state of shock about what I was experiencing during A-Camp that I couldn’t fully understand the magnitude of what was happening or what it meant. Being part of a group of 200 people from such diverse backgrounds that instantly came together to form such a strong community was an amazing and inspiring experience, and it was the first time in my life that I ever truly felt that I was with people who were like me. A-camp meant being surrounded by a group of people who, despite having been complete strangers just days, hours, or even minutes before, unconditionally accepted, loved, cared for, understood, listened to, and respected me in a way that I had never before experienced or thought possible.
Before A-Camp, I had never really felt free to be myself; during A-Camp I felt like I was living wholly as me for the first time. Post-camp, I’ve realized that the environment of unconditional acceptance, love, caring, respect and understanding was what allowed me to do so, but also that I don’t have to leave that environment at camp; that it is something I can create in my everyday life, starting with treating myself in that way. Pre-camp, I was somewhat out, but very selectively and often uncomfortably. Post-camp, all I want to do is shout to the whole world how gay I am and how great that is, and then command all the love and respect that I now know are real and I deserve and ignore anyone who tries to tell me otherwise. A-camp might be over, but I don’t ever have to let it end.
Jenna – 22 – North Carolina
When I first saw that A-Camp was happening, my heart did a weird flippy thing and pretty much exploded. However the realization of the expenses associated was pretty crushing. I was super broke and in a really weird place. I had finalized a divorce—from a man—a few months prior to the registration and it was just a lot of feelings. I wanted to go to camp because I felt isolated in the queer community where I lived—because I wasn’t gay enough—but I was sort of an outsider in the straight community too, because I identify as a lesbian, not bisexual. And it was just rough. I have a few friends who are really great, who try to get it, but a lot of them have tried to put me on blind dates with guys in the last six months. I don’t blame them for being confused. It’s probably kind of confusing for them, I guess.
Anyways, I had been reading Autostraddle for a while and I was made aware that I (to my great surprise) was not the only one who had been here/there/places. It was really reassuring. So I really wanted to go to Camp so that I could be around other queers who wouldn’t question my queerness.
I feel like when I first got there, I was kind of horrified at the idea of telling people, though. Because I was having SO. MUCH. FUN. And I did not want to have to break it down like that. By Friday though, I realized that it was indeed a safe space, but I was still nervous. But then I told one of my cabin-mates, and then another, and it was no big deal. Like, “Okay, and….” And that has never happened before. It was always a load of awkward questions and really invasive things, and I am more of a private person and just all the awkwardness ever. It felt great. And it made me realize that I don’t have to explain myself like I’m apologizing for that part of my life.
It kind of finally clicked that these people giving me the third degree aren’t really people I need to explain myself to. Of course, if people have questions, sure, I’ll talk about it. It’s not a top-secret thing – it is still part of my life. But it isn’t THE part of my life. It isn’t something I feel needs to be one of the first things people learn about me anymore, and I don’t feel like it’s a reflection on my level of queerness. A-Camp gave me that level of inclusion that I have not really felt before in a queer community and it was just really great. Honestly that thing that Riese kept doing that was like putting her face in her hands and just like disbelief. That.
TL – 24 – San Diego, CA
When I received the email from “Alice Pieszecki” telling me I won the scholarship, I was shocked. Really, you picked me? Me, the anti-social sarcastic ass? Autostraddle, you like me, you really like me!
A-Camp for me was the culmination of a long personal journey. For the last decade (seems like forever), I have struggled with severe depression and social anxiety. I’ve been aware of my own sexuality since I was very young, and it tore me apart inside. My “otherness” to me, felt so obvious, often even repulsive, and I hated myself for it. Suicidal thoughts came frequently, I despised myself so completely to the point that I began to shun friendship altogether, avoiding all social situations and essentially, I became a hermit, closing myself off from reality entirely with only my own self-loathing to keep me company. In the last three years, I’ve attempted to become a healthier person in every aspect. Instead of living in fear of life, I made the choice to actually experience the joy of living. In order to feel that joy, I had to embrace my individual uniqueness and sexuality.
I went into the experience of camp pensive and reserved, unaware of the awesomeness that would soon follow. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a good time. I have a tendency to act extremely uncomfortable and awkward in social situations.
Attending A-Camp was a revelation. Never have I been surrounded by so many queer people, I was no longer an outcast. I was no longer alone. The people I met there were the kindest, funniest, most open-minded, beautiful souls. They accepted me as I was, and expected nothing from me but to treat them the same. I’ve never felt that level of acceptance from others. It has truly been the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I can honestly say that I will never be the same.
The experience has expanded my awareness and self-perception. I have a greater awareness of how the world perceives me, and how I perceive the world. I‘ve never desired more to make an impact in this world, and change the way in which other queer people (and any misrepresented minorities) are treated. I never want another child to go through the torment I inflicted on myself, because they feel “abnormal”, “sinful”, or “broken”, and other stupid nonsense that is forced on us by a society that doesn’t know better.
After camp, I no longer felt anxiety over being the only queer amongst the hetero majority. I felt confident/ no longer had any fucks to give. It was like, “You can hate me or love me, because, somewhere out there, a big group of weirdoes accepts me for who I am.” I love all of you for letting me love myself too.
I’m one poor-ass queer lady and currently most of my income goes towards my parents’ bills and supporting my family (I have two younger brothers as well). I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity. You’ve changed me for good Autostraddle!
I will admit, I have some regrets. I should have been more outgoing, been more social, talked to more of my fellow a-campers, did more activities, been a little more “aggressive” in certain situations, probably drink less vodka, and smoked a few less cigarettes so I could actually go hiking. Then again, I met so many great people while brooding in the smoker’s corner, and I don’t regret that one bit.
But hey, we all have regrets. I’ll just have to do things differently next time. Oh yes, Autostraddle. I will be back. Prepare yourselves. I’m coming.