Welcome to the fourth of four fantastic recaps of our entire experience at A-Camp 2.0, which took place 2.5 hours outside of Los Angeles at Alpine Meadows Camp atop a mountain in Angelus Oaks, California, from September 12th-16th, 2012.
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 option for queers for whom other lesbian vacations aren’t always 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.
So in September, 220 campers and 40 staff descended upon The Mountain for four days of much-better-organized fun, friendship, panels, workshops, classes, sports, entertainment, events and secret initiation rites.
These epically long monster-posts will do their best to explain and extrapolate upon the camp experience, from avoided-shitstorms to emotional revelations to glory/triumph. But we can’t tell you everything. We must leave some things up to the imagination.
The next Camp Autostraddle will take place May 23rd-27th, 2013 in Angelus Oaks, California, Mark your Calendars!
Saturday, September 15th
I. Saturday Morning Fever
Carmen Rios, Misfits Counselor/Contributing Editor: Another day, another cup of coffee with one slice of french toast to start my day. I was sad on Saturday because it was becoming clear that camp was eventually going to end but I did have the amazing experience of finding my iPhone in the dirt, so.
Annika Penelope, Unicorns Counselor/Writer: I’m apparently really bad at packing because I brought enough clothing to last me at least two weeks. This meant that I was able to have multiple outfit changes per day — not a single one of which was practical for camping in the mountains.
Riese Bernard, Runaways Counselor/Editor-in-Chief: Saturday! Saturday is the day in which I was scheduled to tell people how to be writers, talk about eating disorders, give away a campership to whomever loves Autostraddle the most and tell people how to have sex! EASY!
Sara Medd, 21 Hump Street Counselor/Stylist: Saturday was not as jam-packed with activities for me, so I tried to just enjoy spending time with the campers and tried to process some of my own feelings.
Chapstick-making w/Laura & Laneia
DIY Home Projects w/Marni & Jill
Tattoo/Body Art discussion w/Crystal
Queer Visibility in Media w/Carly, Riese, Haviland, Brittani, Carolyn & Mollie
Activism/Youth Outreach mini-panel w/Carmen, Katrina & Jamie
Professional Writing w/Riese, Rachel & Carolyn
Hiking w/Sarah Croce
Jill, Wild Stallions Counselor/Camp VIP: I thought the DIY Home Projects Workshop went well.
Marni Kellison, Camp Co-Director/Contributor: The unofficial title of this workshop was “Butching it up with Marni,” for which Carly had written a jingle that she’d been singing during every conference call we had leading up to camp and all throughout camp. It’s actually pretty catchy.
Jill: Marni showed everyone how to patch a hole in drywall and discussed essential tools to have in your home.
Marni: During pre-camp I made a little mini-wall out of scrap 2x4s and drywall that I’d haggled for at the Home Depot in Oakland, and for the workshop I had one person smash a hole in it with a hammer and then demonstrated how to patch it. Then I went through my tool bag and talked about different tools’ uses and what types of tools are good to have on hand at home, and did my best to answer people’s questions about home repair.
Gabby Rivera, Catch-22 Counselor/Writer: Butching it Up with Marni (and Jill!) was really a study on how to make girls swoon by getting shit done. This is not to take away the high levels of skill both Marni and Jill have in the DIY sector of queer living. No, it’s more of a comment on watching the campers watch them do their thing. The queers around Marni while she banged around on some dry wall were sprung. Sprung off Marni with a hammer in her hand, fer sure. Maybe even I was a little sprung, like how could you not be? I wanted to be Marni, do all of fix-it type things and swoon a little too.
Marni: Obviously I had Foreman Jill on hand to supervise the work, and she also shared her plumbing expertise with the group.
Jill: I crammed everyone into the Men’s bathroom in Eagle Lodge to show queers what a sink looks like and easy fixes for sinky problems. Campers asked great questions. It was a success, but no big deal. HOWEVER, later on I was informed by several people that, apparently, when you combine the butchy awesomeness of Marni and myself into one workshop, it creates enough pure sex heat to melt the panties (or boy shorts) off of women. True story.
Marni: It was so fun! I went to carpentry school in Montreal but don’t work as a carpenter at the moment, so I loved being able to talk shop with everybody.
Gabby: Jill — pause: can I just say how absolutely fucking amazing Jill turned out to be? like thank you lesbian Jeezus for making Jill — Unpause: So I left the Butchin it Up workshop for a minute and when I came back there were only five girls around Marni. Jill came back to the workshop area with like 20 other campers from out of nowhere. So I asked where they went. Jill says: Oh, we plumbed a sink. -shrug- Oh, right, cuz that’s a thing non-plumbers do for themselves. Also, wow that is such a perfect way to explain what ya’ll were just doing. I’ve never uttered the phrase “plumbed a sink” and now it’s one of my favorites.
Crystal, Thundercats Counselor/Music Editor: So many more people showed up to the Tattoo & Body Art Discussion that I had anticipated. I didn’t really have a game plan and so we just sat around the picnic tables and showed off our tattoos. Everyone had so many super interesting pieces and stories and questions.
Carmen: We turned the “Activism Mini-Panel” into a “chairs in a circle” discussion and it was really cool having people all contributing to one another and lending some helpful tips to everyone else. We all have something to learn from one another, and I think in organizing it’s super important to simply engage with one another about what we do.
Carolyn Yates, Valencia Counselor/Contributing Editor: There had been a lot of discussion about how Professional Writing 101 was not going to be a workshop, and I was privately worried that I was going to disillusion a lot of people about writing for a career (pro tip: do not do it if you have other skills!).
Riese: Nobody knew the Pro-Writing 101 thing was happening ’cause it’d been rescheduled from Wednesday, when I was sick, but I think we provided a personalized touch for the seven people who showed up, three of whom already work for me in some capacity.
Rachel Kincaid, Jetpack Counselor/Senior Editor: When we talked about the workshop, we realized that we mostly just wanted to emphasize how little money you make as a “professional writer,” which was depressing and not the ideal way to start off the day/panel. Also none of us had had very much coffee yet, so. The group of people who came to the panel were fabulous, though, and had a lot of awesome specific questions.
Carolyn: Riese and Rachel talked about writing for literary journals and I talked a lot about how I wrote blurbs about security cameras as a way to pay for school and we almost went over the time.
Rachel: I drew on my experiences writing freelance, writing for magazines, copywriting for a human resources outsourcing company, working at online magazines, being the editor of Autostraddle, publishing stories in books, working at a literary agency for two years, and so forth. I’ve been on both sides of a lot of things. (TWSS)
Daniela, Unicorns Counselor/Intern: I went to this workshop twice: once in April, once in September. I now have at least two new subscriptions to writers magazines and a written timeline for applying to a few contests. So, basically, this was a success. I left full of ideas and excitement about the fact that one day I can possibly make enough money writing to buy myself something nice of undefined value -and it’s going to be good.
Rachel: Riese did a great job addressing questions about the publishing world, magazines, freelancing and a variety of other important life topics. Carolyn is a super profesh freelance writer and was able to address a lot of things about credits, pitching, deadlines, and communicating with editors. I am mostly dumb and was able to primarily talk about an MFA and why/how you might ever pursue this largely impractical degree. It’s always great to meet other writers, and it’s super cool to be reminded of how smart and funny and driven the people in our field always are. Thanks for keeping the bar high, A-Camp writers!
Laneia Jones, Runaways Counselor/Executive Editor: I was so amped for chapstick making! This was the project I’d wanted to do at April Camp, but we couldn’t figure out the logistics of 20+ people making personal chapstick in a hut on a mountain, so we had to shelve it. But then Laura had a theory and a plan and BAM it was on the schedule for September.
Laura Wooley, Bomb Girls Counselor/Associate Editor: Chapstick making was a magical adventure. After spending 20 minutes or so being convinced that Deer Lodge was broken, Megan discovered the fusebox and flipped the switch so we could use electricity instead of having to heat our water in our burning loins of desire (or something).
Megan O’Grady, Valencia Counselor: Making water boil is so much more complicated that you’d think! I had an elaborate set up in the bathroom involving a microwave and two plastic chairs.
Laneia: Megan is the MacGyver of water boiling. This has been proven time and time again.
Stef Schwartz, Battlestars Counselor/Contributor/OG Autostraddle: I had no idea what I wanted to do for Block A, but I was having a lot of trouble making a decision because my lips were so chapped! Then I was like, “HEY, I SHOULD GO TO THE CHAPSTICK MAKING WORKSHOP!”
Laura: Instead of getting bored and leaving during the long figuring-out period, the campers who came pulled out magazines and started decorating their containers and it was so beautiful that I wanted to hug them all. Laneia and Megan boiled water and cheered on the intrepid lip balm mixers. I hope everyone got to share their chapstick with a really fun activity partner.
Stef: Laura and Laneia taught us how to make our own lip balm out of beeswax, oil and a flavor of our choosing, and then we got to decorate the tins we put them in! Everything was actually so precious I thought I might melt but NO! My wax did! And then it cooled and then I had chapstick. It made all the bourbon I drank for the rest of the day taste like tea. Sidenote, when I got home I bought candelilla wax (which is more vegan-friendly), some coconut oil and some flavoured teas and although I had to alter the recipe a liiiiittle bit, I ended up with some pretty delicious lip balm. I learned a craft!
Mary Tully, Little Rascals Counselor/Calendar Girl: Hot Laura made me chapstick!!!!
Brittani Nichols, Contributing Editor: The Queer Visibility in Media Panel was timed perfectly because there’s no better time to be sad than soon after you wake up.
Carly Usdin, Thundercats Counselor/Contributor/OG Autostraddler: This wound up being more of a discussion than a panel, which I think worked out really well.
Brittani: I don’t really buy into the notion of “straightening up” cultural productions to make them more financially lucrative. Despite my strong feelings on this topic, I managed not to drone on about it and I think the panel ended up being equal parts insightful and depressing. The main question we were left with was, “Do we take any visibility we can get despite the inaccuracies and negative portrayals or only embrace queer visibility we can be proud of?”
Carly: This turned really quickly into Real Talk About Money, the Patriarchy and the World of Entertainment, which got us all fired up. So we ended on a very Damn the Man, Save the Empire high note.
Sarah Croce, Forever 21 Counselor/Contributor/Calendar Girl/The Talent: I finally felt well enough to go hiking! Mary Tully and I led a small but amazing hike through the woods on a beautiful Saturday morning. Our three adventurous campers made it a delightful journey!
Postcard Making w/Carmen & Jamie
Social Dance w/Alex & Carly
Personal-essay Writing w/Rachel
Body Image & ED Discussion w/Riese & 5 Anonymouses
Carmen: Jamie and I hosting Postcard Making was super fun, especially because she arrived on Wednesday and we hadn’t been able to hang too much. We were lower on supplies but the same amount of people showed up and Sophia made another avant-garde piece of art and EVERYONE’S POSTCARDS WERE ALWAYS AMAZING. I created a promotional test design for the Klub Deer afterparty, DJ’ed using some fancy speakers, and decided my only advice about life is “drinking has consequences.”
Carly: Basically Social Dance is the most fun I’ve ever had? I remember when the idea for this activity was proposed months ago, and even back then I knew it would be amazing, but I really had no idea just how amazing it would be. We had an amazing turnout and Alex led the group in some warm-ups and then some excellent choreography.
Alex Vega, Avengers Counselor/Design Director/Co-Founder: Social Dance gave me social anxiety all week leading up to it. I’ve never led people in a dancing situation before and I didn’t know how I was going to do it for an hour and a half. Luckily, the campers are awesome and just wanted to dance. Period.
Carly: Everything sorta dissolved into the BEST DAYTIME DANCE PARTY EVER.
Alex: The whole thing was really just a free-for-all dance party. Also Michelle Attah, you guys.
Carly: Shoutout to Michelle Attah for CRUSHING IT.
Alex: ALL OF YOU ARE SUCH AWESOME/FUN DANCERS. WTF.
Carolyn: During the social dance I decided what I really needed to do was not talk to humans for an hour, so I went and read with a camper from Valencia and got really sunburnt and helped her look up what the weather in the place she’d told her family she was was like.
Cee Webster, Golden Girls Counselor/Tech Director: Watching social dance was super fun. I am seriously jealous of the dancing skills at camp.
Brittani: Every time I worry about there being enough people to get a Basketball Game going and every time I’m reminded I’m at a camp for queer women so duh, there will be enough people. We continued the tradition of not being able to breathe after an hour of running and jumping in that altitude and finished before the block was over. This gave us time to check out what everyone else was doing. Quickly I was summoned by the spirits of movement to the Social Dance where I could not believe there were so many people willing to dance in the middle of the day with all the lights on. I’ve never been more impressed.
Camper Quote: “My favorite activity was SOCIAL DANCING ZOMG!!! I love dancing but I only do it after drinking because I’m self-conscious, but during social dancing everyone was just having a great time.”
Rachel: I had been super pumped about getting to put together an Essay Writing Workshop where people could work on personal nonfiction/essays, because part of my real-life job as an instructor of mandatory English composition classes for college freshman is trying to get them to write personal essays, and it’s like pulling teeth and/or squeezing blood from a stone. It’s like squeezing blood-teeth, I guess. So understandably I was really excited about getting to work with people who actually wanted to be there, and weren’t just going to fart out something about how winning their softball championships senior year taught them to never give up. (Not that that’s bad! Props to you if you won your softball championships/never gave up! I just find it hard to believe that that’s the most important thing that’s ever happened to you.)
So I was really excited to be there with people who were also really excited to be there, but began to become more panicked when I realized that this meant they would be expecting a lot more from me, whereas my freshman students really only expect me to show up and not be visibly hungover. Luckily, we had a super awesome, small, intimate group of people who wanted to work on their writing, and I think we all made something really special together. We talked a little bit about what goes into personal essay writing in general, and worked with a Lynda Barry writing exercise that’s outlined in this post.
We all got to sit quietly in the sun and write for a while (and Lord, there’s something great about being on a mountain with a group of people who are all happy to sit in the sun and write quietly), and it was a great way to take some silent space to process on our own on the page in the midst of what can sometimes be a chaotic and overwhelming (although wonderful and affirming!) camp experience. After we regrouped, some people were kind enough to share a little bit about what they wrote with the group, and we reflected on the value of writing to write, even without a specific project or purpose in mind. Everyone who came to that workshop was a really special person, and I hope you’re all still writing!
Riese: So, the body image panel: we promised the campers and presenters absolute confidentiality going into this activity, so nobody was required to write about it or to even let you know that they were involved. But I’m already naked on the internet, so let’s do this thing!
Planning this was impossible. Pre-pre-camp emails remained Marked As Unread. Our pre-camp conversation involved a lot of fidgeting, deep breathing and near-crying. We talked about our experiences with eating disorders mostly, but also general body image/self-esteem issues, drugs, the role of family in defining our relationships to our bodies and self-harm. Clearly talking about these issues was hard enough without thinking about how to like, organize talking about these issues.
Luckily we’d brought Sarah to A-Camp, who works as a counselor and is in training to be a therapist. She was our on-site Go-To Girl For Feelings, and facilitating discussions like the one we had is basically HER BAG. She was a G-dsend.
Sara Medd: The Body Image Panel was one of the most profound times of camp for me. Even though I was in the role of a counselor at camp, I felt myself growing so much as a person during the week, and simultaneously feeling challenged that I still have so much more growing to do.
Riese: I’d envisioned about 20 people in a circle talking about our feelings and instead we packed Wolf Lodge so full that some people had to stand. It was profound and emotional and also cut short — I regretted that we lacked time for post-panel self-care or to get into discussions with the campers. Ultimately most campers seemed to really get a lot out of it and it was cited as a favorite by many, though, so it’s something we might build on for next time.
Camper Quote: I really loved so many of the activities, but if I were to choose one favorite, I would choose the body-image panel. That was a moment when I felt absolutely supported and understood as I was telling my short story and I respected the staff immensely for exposing themselves like that and telling us their story and their struggles.
II. The Afternooners
Riese: The Body Image Panel was my last “heavy” thing, so after that I felt light and airy like a fairy.
Gabby: At some point, Jill (Snatch-22 Jill) and a crew of other dapper queers organized a Dapper meet up in the lunchroom. It was awesome. I learned the phrase “Peter Pan-of-Center” as opposed to masculine of center. Bangarang. I loved sitting with the Dappers and talking about how the clothes we wear are more than just clothing. They’re an expression of a self that’s been held inside for fucking ever. It’s not about trying to being a “man.” For me (maybe even us) dapperness is where queerness connects to my instincts to be chivalrous, old school, gentle, well-dressed and dignified. Having brunch together pulled all those threads in and man, we were seamless.
Crystal: Six campers showed up to the lunchtime Australian meet-up, which was both lovely and surprising given that Australia is so far away. After spending a week surrounded predominately by Americans, listening to an entire group talk in Australian accents was incredibly strange.
Next: Somebody wins a campership and everybody wins when we all talk about SEX!
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