Sometimes you wanna go to A-Camp but you just can’t afford it, and sometimes you don’t really want to go to A-Camp but totally could afford it, and if we mash both of those types of people together, we create a symbiotic relationship known as “the campership.” Although we have lots of good ideas around here, this particular idea just-so-happens to be yours.
This spring, we’ll be scaling Mount Feelings for another epic week of revelry and delight. Camp this year is only happening once so it’s more important than ever that we get as many bright eyes up that mountain as possible. Although we’re popular enough to be charging more than we do, we keep tuition as low as we possibly can because we think a more diverse group of campers makes for a much better camp, especially because camp is a crucial space for the website team to really get to know our readers and their needs. Unfortunately, as costs climb, many of the people who most need A-Camp — and who A-Camp needs the most — aren’t able to afford the trip.
Last May, we had a campership sponsored by Kipper Clothiers and another sponsored by Scout’s Honor. We also had one incredibly generous Autostraddler give a campership WITH TRAVEL for an overseas camper. Thanks to you, we also were able to give out six full camperships and five partial camperships. In October 2013, with the help of your online contrubutions (and even a Chicago Campership Fundraising party!), we were able to give out six full camperships and ten partial camperships. We also offered sponsored camperships through Kipper Clothiers and Kreuzbach 10 AND Hannah Hart generously contributed a full campership with travel expenses.
If you own a business and are interested in our sponsored campership program, email Alex [at] Autostraddle [dot] com. But if you’re a human who wants to donate, read on!
This is the post where we officially ask you, dear readers and lovers, to contribute to The Campership Fund. If you want to donate a full campership ($595), we’ll be getting in touch with you about whether or not you would like your identity revealed to the camper so they can tell you thank you. But any size contribution helps! Please note that Autostraddle and A-Camp are not non-profits.
If you want to apply for a Campership, you can do so here. The only requirements for full camperships are that you be a new camper who’s never been to A-Camp before and that you are 100% certain you can get there. We are especially eager for applicants who are of color, trans women, and/or over the age of 35.
If you need a little inspiration to open your pocketbooks for some fine human beings, we’ve got here some essays from the winners of May 2014 Camperships. You can also obtain further heartstring-tugging from the campershippers of October 2013, September 2012, April 2012 and May 2013.
AJ – 37 – Meridian, MS
When I applied for a campership, I honestly didn’t think I’d get it. I was in the process of getting a divorce, I have four children, I’m thirty-seven. Take your pick, because I’ve had some people flat out tell me there is no way I could be gay having lived this way for so long. So many times, I felt like there was no one who could understand me.
When I read Autostraddle’s recaps of past A-Camps, I thought “Oh, that’s an awesome thing. I bet it’s great for the younger people.” Then I read that there was a panel just for people who didn’t come out (or figure it out) until later in life, who may have even been married and had kids. In other words: people like me. And not only was this a panel, but it was well attended and received. That blew me away. All of a sudden, I felt a connection to these people. I wasn’t alone anymore, and someone, somewhere, who I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, understood me. I sat at my computer, stunned, because no matter how much support I’d gotten from some of those I’d come out to at that point, I still hadn’t gotten much understanding. It was more like, “I love you and I’ll support you, but I don’t get you.”
So, I applied because I knew I couldn’t go this year without a campership. But I thought I probably wouldn’t get it. I decided that I’d just have to save up and try to go next year. Then I got the email and I just stared at it for about ten minutes before I jumped up and started dancing. My kids thought I’d lost my mind. But then they got really jealous when I told them I was going to California, so I had to promise to take lots of pictures of the plane and the mountains.
Camp was surreal. I’ve never in my life experienced that much instant, sincere welcome. Everywhere people smiled and acknowledged you. No one looked at me strangely because I don’t wear make-up, have very short hair, and wanted to wear a tie. Such a change from south Mississippi. My cabin mates were the best people I could have possibly wished for. How can you feel like family in just a week? Even as I sit here typing this I remember sitting on the floor in our cabin and we all just seemed to fit. I also remember thinking this seems too easy, if only the rest of the world could get along like this.
I attended the “It’s Right In Time” panel for those who came out later in life, and it was as amazing as I thought it would be. There were so many people there. No judgments, just people who understand and accept you for you and may be a lot like you. I also really enjoyed the Introvert panel, Mommy Queerest, and the Gender Spectrum panel. Hell, I enjoyed every panel and workshop I attended. My only problem was figuring out what to go to because I wanted attend almost everything.
I’m not normally a person who shows my emotions by crying, but the last night, I was trying to explain just how truly extraordinary the experience was for me, and it all caught up to me. It’s hard for me to try explaining it. I think it’s almost like something you have to experience for yourself to truly understand. I grew up in a very religious household. But for me, being at A-Camp, being a part of this wonderful group of people… this is possibly the closest example of anyone fulfilling the commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself that I’ve ever witnessed. People were kind, supportive, loving, generous, thoughtful, appreciative, thankful.
A-Camp gave me a gift. I now have a small pocket of hope and joy that I carry with me. Because of the generosity of those who gave for my campership, I have a new friend-family of my cabin mates. I have a community. To those who gave and allowed me to attend camp this year, I thank you, so very, very much.
Cleo – 24 – Venice, CA
A-Camp is the best thing to happen to me since I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That may seem a tad dramatic, but it’s true!
At Camp I got to know queer moms who are raising happy, healthy kids — which cerebrally I know happens all the time, but I needed to see it to make that future solidify for me. I also got to see queer female couples being cute and supportive. Living and working in Los Angeles, the majority of my relationship models are heterosexual or gay men. It was so important that I saw what my life could like for two women.
A-Camp also gave me the best group of awesome, brilliant, gorgeous and caring friends ever. My cabin still has a running group chat where we check in on each other, share life events or just post funny pics. Before camp I was lacking in strong queer female friendships, and now I have not just my cabin, but our sister cabin and just other campers who I can feel safe and comfortable talking to.
A-Camp is a singularly amazing place where I got to be as open and honest as I’ve ever been. It’s so important for the queer community to have a space where fun and honesty and siblinghood is cultivated. For those of us who were or are closeted and missed out the joys of summer camp crushes, school dances and sharing secrets with friends, A-Camp is a priceless, life changing event that should be replicated as much as possible so that more people find their tribe.
Jenn – 23 – Arcadia, CA
By the time I got an offer to go to A-Camp on a campership, I had given up all hope on A-Camp being a possibility for me. Even though I applied to for a campership, May had come and I felt it would be far too late for anything to happen. Then I get an email from Riese Bernard that a spot had opened up and my heart dropped because, y’all, Riese Bernard emailed me? How did she get my email? Why is she talking to me so lovingly and OMG SHE IS OFFERING ME A CAMPERSHIP?
My heart soared, I physically danced, and I couldn’t stop smiling for days. Getting a campership brought me more joy than my college acceptance — probably even surpassing the pride I had at graduating college. Receiving a campership felt like the first really great thing that happened to me in a year and it was a wonderful opportunity to end such a year with A-Camp.
You see, following my graduation from college, a place where I was very much out and happy, I was heading back into the peripheral closet to the home of a physically abusive father and an emotionally abusive mother. The plan was to live there until I could find a job and build a life for myself. Neither of those escape plans came easy, considering I was so uncomfortable back in the closet and weary of living with my parents again.
Autostraddle, which used to be just a reliable source of information, became the community that fed my soul. What some may call “vapid fluff” I knew to be life-saving articles that detailed perspectives that I was far from hearing in my day to day life. Going from queerness level 100 to 0, Autostraddle helped me sustain who I knew I was, at least online. It was the community that pushed me to pursue my dreams and to take pride in who I am and what I want. It was the community that helped me through the loss of my cousin and inspired me to move to Southern California for a new job and a more honest life. Autostraddle became more than a handful of articles I enjoyed — it became a network of humans who I could trust.
So you can imagine how exciting (and oh so very intimidating) it was to go to A-Camp. I was going to interact with these life-saving forces and meet so many other great humans along the way. And naturally, I thought somehow this won’t be that great because great things haven’t happened in a long time. I had already unexpectedly lost my cousin, lost the dream job that I relocated for, and lost my identity as a queer feminist somewhere along the way. In my mind, it seemed natural that A-Camp would somehow also become another great thing that I lost.
Instead, A-Camp just brought me closer to the humans that had saved me in the last year. I came into A-Camp as a long-haired, friendless, scared-shitless-of-all-these-beautiful-people, introvert CONVINCED that even with the opportunity of going to A-Camp for free, that I would leave the same way. A cabin full of cuties, the dream queer-cut of my life, and a beautiful wedding later, I came back as the authentic me. Somewhere between not knowing everyone and crying at a wedding ceremony, I had fostered friendships, learned how to better handle my depression, made peace with my introversion, and danced somewhat like Beyonce enough to reacquaint myself with myself. And even better, I became close friends with some beautiful humans beings who I am so happy to know.
I know I am so very very lucky to have gotten to go to A-Camp 2014. A year ago, I was overwhelmed by the heteronormative home I would have to get used to and I am so happy that a year later, I was fortunate to be in a space that is the antithesis. It is an opportunity that we all should get to enjoy — and I have to say, dear Autostraddle Reader That Has Yet to Go to A-Camp, I really missed you last year. Apply your heart out, friend and don’t give up completely. Autostraddle is here for you and A-Camp awaits your greatness.
Jess – 39 – Forsyth, GA
Okay, camp. Oof. I’m a little afraid that people are going to think I’m exaggerating, but, here goes: camp changed my life. Fundamentally, and in ways that I’m only beginning to understand.
Even before I received the campership, A-Camp altered my worldview. I sat down to write my application seven or eight times, but every time I’d get a paragraph or so in and I just… could not do it. I didn’t know what to say about myself, or what I could bring to camp. I was at a loss. Fortunately, one of my very best friends, Louise, had received a campership in October 2013, had an amazing time, and was insisting that I had to apply for a campership. I’d said that I would. Had that not been the case, I might have backed out entirely. Thank Lesbian Jesus and Louise, because that’s not how it went down.
Instead I sat down at the very last minute and asked to be given a campership. For the first time in my life, I wrote about my journey without apologizing for it, and while I wrote, I got so, so excited. I realized that I was so fucking happy to be where I was in my life — so fucking grateful. I hit send and burst into happy tears, had a glass of wine and felt at peace. Peaceful feelings aside, I was still shocked as hell when the email came telling me I’d been awarded a campership.
On the plane out to California (I live in Georgia) I vacillated between elation and panic. I’d only come out earlier this year. What the fuck did I know about being queer? I was 39 years old. Who goes to camp at 39? I worried that the campership would be wasted on me. At the same time, I was thrilled to be going. I couldn’t wait to meet my cabin mates, I couldn’t wait to attend the panels, to be a part of a queer community for the first time in my life. I couldn’t wait to hear stories and sing along to Buffy and cry my eyes out at a wedding. I was more terrified and more excited than I’d ever been about anything.
My fears were dispelled in the first few hours of camp, but I discovered that I had not been excited enough. Camp was better than I ever could have imagined. The power of a truly safe, fully validating, queer-normative space cannot be overstated. Being totally myself, maybe the first time in my life, surrounded by other amazing queers on a mountaintop in California became my happiest place. It created a new normal for me, it reordered my sense of self, of community, of responsibility. It reformed and healed ideas that have that have tortured and teased me for most of my life. I made friends that I hope to treasure forever. It was the most fun I’d ever had. It was the most alive I’d ever felt. And it featured the most beautiful wedding I have ever attended. Also, bowties!
Since getting back, I have moved out of a bad living arrangement, found a new job, and come out to my mother. I’ve also started to question every assumption I’ve ever made — about myself, about others, and about what is possible. I’ve started to view people in a new way. I see privilege and disparity everywhere, and I feel a burning need to change it. More importantly, I believe that I can. I am more open and relaxed and at home in my body than I have ever been. I am frighteningly earnest. I am excited and grateful, and I am deeply, profoundly happy.
I will never be able to express my gratitude for getting to go to A-Camp. The people I met there, the conversations we had — they rebuilt me. They made me believe that better is a real possibility, and not just on a mountaintop in California.
If you haven’t been, you have to go to camp. You will have an entirely different experience from mine but it will be every bit as significant, if not more so. And I can’t wait to see you there!
Carmen – 24 – Singapore
Winner of the Overseas Campers Travel + Tuition Campership
In 2013 I finally became a lawyer, which was a goal I’d been working towards since I was 8. It was pretty much soul-sucking and awful and I quit after a lot of soul searching and my best friend pointing out that it had transformed me into nothing but a giant ball of anxiety. See, the thing about knowing where your life is going for most of your life is that when you take that away, you’re then pretty much crippled by the “not knowing,” which added to my already giant ball of anxiety and made for a pretty potent mix. (Remember the cat asking “Is this where the whiskey comes from?” I am the cat. The cat is me.)
Applying for the international campership was the first thing I actually did for myself in months, and I never thought I would actually get it. I applied with my heart in my throat, wondering if I could condense the love I’ve felt for the Straddleverse for years into paltry words that I strung together for people whose writing I have admired for so long to read.
I cried when I got the Campership, and camp was everything I had hoped for and even more than I had hoped for. It was a safe space where you never have to worry about someone staring or yelling at you for being in the wrong bathroom (because everyone gets a bathroom) and where instead of wondering whether you look too queer, you wonder if you would like to look even more queer and how that might be accomplished (with a bowtie you made yourself at Camp, clearly).
The sense of community you will feel at Camp is like no other. Everyone on that mountain is committed to having and creating a positive experience. It begins at the airport, where you spot this gigantic bunch of queermos, and you feel yourself grinning like a mad person. And then on the bus where the driver inexplicably puts on some Bollywood movie without subtitles or sound which you proceed to watch with all the people around you whilst carrying on several different conversations. You also later find out that talking about that ridiculous movie was totally a meet cute for your bus buddies, and there are not enough Awws in the world for that. I am serious.
I found a family at Camp, especially in my cabin-mates who opened their hearts and literally their homes to me after that. I found a space where I could unapologetically be myself, and where I should absolutely run towards embracing my feelings instead of running away from them. Crying at a campfire whilst listening to Very Talented People perform their poetry was absolutely a thing.
The biggest thing Camp gave me was direction and a renewed sense of purpose. My cabin-mates are the most supportive bunch ever, and I feel like I want to become the person I think they see. I also want to get my act together, and make it up the mountain again for Camp 6.0, which I’ve promised them I would. Camp 6.0 is a relatively short term goal to everything else I think I want to do with my life, and Camp provided me with the tools I needed to even start thinking about moving forward with my life again.
Thank you so much to everyone who made it possible for me to get to camp, and for everyone at camp who took a little piece of my heart and gave me some of theirs in return.
Natalia – 26 – Toronto, Canada
I had a hard time articulating exactly what camp did for me for a long time — until the recap posts from last year’s A-Camp popped up on the site, and I dumped a year’s worth of thoughts into the comments section. (Ah, Autostraddle, you eternal unlocker of feelings.)
So there it is: Two totally different versions of myself, and the year it took to morph between them.
About this time last year, I was drafting an essay to send to the A-Camp organizers. I remember that essay, fraught and full of doubt and hand-wringing about whether or not I was, essentially, gay enough to hang at A-Camp. I’d recently just begun calling myself “bisexual,” instead of “kind of attracted to girls sort of too maybe haha.” I had taken tentative strides to establish myself in my local queer community, but was so awkward and nervous about telling people I was bi, I was alienating them before I’d even had a chance to talk about my orientation at all.
The girl writing that essay was terrified of being rejected by the community she so identified with. She was still a little uncomfortable with even saying the word “queer” out loud. She wasn’t even sure her dumb problems were worth special help — hell, people are fired, disowned, assaulted, killed every day for being who they are, and my sorry ass was worried about lesbians telling me I had heteronormative privilege.
But hey, camp looked like pretty much the funnest thing ever — and even my tormented self could admit I badly needed a shove outside of my comfort zone. (Plus, I was hella broke.) So I wrote the essay, and off it went.
The partial campership acceptance email, surprisingly, just brought more anxiety — in addition to paying for flights and the other half of camp, I felt it necessary to tell my mum why I was leaving the country for a week. But the hurdles, as they so often do, fell away. I got a new job, and paid for the rest of my entry fee and a plane ticket. I told my mom, finally, after years of talking around it, that I was attracted to women — and she just hugged me and told me she loved me, and I could bring home whoever I wanted anytime.
The night I arrived at camp, in the Mockingjay cabin, the 16 of us shared our greatest fears about the week. Unsurprisingly, I was afraid I’d be judged for not being queer enough. But hearing the others talk about their own struggles with anxiety, or nerves, or coming to terms with their own identities made me feel reassured.
And then, the very next morning: The fabulously-named Bisexual Feelings Summit and Hummus Appreciation Society. Forty kids of all stripes — cis women, trans women, trans guys, nonbinary and agender folks — having a good, old-fashioned rant session about bi erasure while mowing down some pita chips. It was an awesome moment of community. I saw how many other non-monosexual folks had made it up the mountain, and understood that they shared the same insecurities and resentments as I did.
But the best part about A-Camp was that nobody seemed to really care what I was. There was a wonderful unspoken understanding that every one of us was there on that mountaintop for a reason, and nobody was interested in proving their sexuality or having others’ proven to them. We all ate, danced, made crafts, went on hikes, pulled really terrible pranks on one another, and just got on with having an awesome time.
The fears that used to take the word “bi” out of my vocabulary and paralyze me into speechlessness at bars feel like a distant memory now. I’m out to my immediate family members. I even started a business with strong queer ties — something I might never have felt comfortable enough to do without my time at camp.
I also now have a whole new community — people in cities and countries I’ve never visited; friends I talk to online nearly every day; remarkable people with remarkable stories. My world feels five times larger.
So now I’m hoping to sponsor a partial A-Campership this year myself, because I want to give someone else the same opportunity to find acceptance, within and without.
I just might tell them to give it to some shy bi kid who’s terrified nobody will accept them.
You changed my life. Thanks for everything.
Carolyn – 35 – Hayward, CA
Winner of the QPOC Activist Campership
I had nooooo idea what to expect at A-Camp. I heard about A-Camp when Autostraddle advertised in the BUTCHVoices 2013 program. Before then I’d NEVER read Autostraddle. I had been to several retreats before they were just that… retreat spaces.
So when I read the descriptors of the A-Camp activites and saw it was really like summer camp I decided I had to go. It was such a life-changing experience being around so many women from around the world! I’m used to being in spaces where people are like me. I was even a little shy which is TOTALLY out of character.
The campers at A-Camp were so diverse and everyone was ready to have a good time and just celebrate our community that we built over the week. The staff and previous campers made sure to make it a space where even if you came by yourself you left with a huge mount of friends. Most people call camp “Mount Feelings”… I don’t call it that because I didn’t process many feelings, I was too busy having a good time!
I made a pledge on the mountain to be as engaged as possible with the Autostraddle community and it’s a promise I have kept. I’ll be honest — I think I’ve made more A-Camp friends OFF of the mountain because once you’re inserted into the Previous Campers Club its like a whole new world of people. Now I enjoy Skyping with all of my buddies all over the world and also connecting with my local Straddlers. Its amazing! I don’t know what else to say but I can’t wait to get back to the mountain! My UK and Australian buddies are waiting for me!
Trystan – 24 – Santa Cruz, CA
When my girlfriend first suggested that I apply that I go to A-Camp, I was skeptical. I had been out as a trans woman for over a year, and in that time I had learned the painful lesson that trans women are not welcome in lesbian spaces. Sometimes we’re tolerated much the same way headaches are tolerated, but that’s not the same thing as being accepted. I’m not even talking about my conservative home state of Utah; I learned this through my experiences living in and around California’s Bay Area. Luckily my girlfriend (who is also trans, and has known this about queer spaces even longer than I have) had been to A-Camps prior, and she assured me that Autostraddle was different. Still, I was wary: I was quiet, shy, and had never, ever been to a summer camp before. Besides, there was no way I could ever afford it. She understood my worries, but convinced me to apply for a “Campership” all the same, just on the off chance that I would be chosen.
Well, I’m sure you can guess what happened next.
When I arrived at the campsite on the first day, I was so nervous my heart felt ready to fall out of my throat if I took too big a step. But everyone I met was incredibly welcoming and kind, and my cabin counselors made sure to help me feel at home. There didn’t seem to be a lot of other trans women, but there were more of them than there were trans men; for a queer women’s space, that alone was a first for me. I was anxious at first, and scared, and too introverted to really get to know anyone well but I was at A-Camp, and I was determined to experience as much as I possibly could while I was there.
I am so, so glad I did. I had some absolutely incredible experiences on that mountain: people who I had mistaken for strangers lending me their socks because I thought Southern California would be all heat and warmth; recording a video with Hannah Hart to mark my 18th month on HRT; meeting the writer of Lumberjanes; running a D&D game at the Renaissance faire; attending writing workshops with the delightful Autostraddle staff. I loved the Buffy the Vampire Slayer singalong, where for the first time in months I was able to actually sing without being scared about what people would think about a girl who’s also a baritone; likewise, going to the Black and White Ball was, I think, the first time I had gone out in public and actually felt beautiful. And, of course, Bren and Carrie’s wedding was moving, adorable, and absolutely made me cry. Surrounded by so many other lesbians, queerness became the norm; for perhaps the first time, I felt like I was in a community where I could safely just be me.
Sadly, though, I can’t say that each and every one of my fears about being among so many cis queers were completely unjustified. Maybe if I’d been a little more outgoing, a little less shy, it might have been different; if I’d been more adventurous, if I’d lowered my guard even further, perhaps. I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, but I found that even as good as A-Camp was at trans inclusion, I was still a bit of an outsider. I didn’t go with the intention of finding romance, or hooking up, but I could clearly see how all the queer desire on that mountain parted neatly around each the trans women there. Outside looking in included, but not integrated fully, as if no one knew what to do with us. That might not be how the other girls felt maybe I was just too weary, to wounded but from where I was standing I could still see the subtle marginalization of trans women at work. Which is why it is so important that Autostraddle continues to get more trans women to A-Camp. It was the most inclusive lesbian space I’d ever been in, and I know it can get better, especially if more trans women get the chance to get a Campership like I did.
Even with all that said, I am still so incredibly grateful that I got the chance to go to ACamp. My girlfriend was right when she told me it would be life-changing. I hope more trans women get the chance, and I certainly hope to be back someday!
Lindsay – 22 – Norco, CA
To say that the campership changed my life would be the cheesiest thing to say, but it is the only thing that comes to mind when I think about Autostraddle’s camperships. Last year, I wrote an essay on how I’ve never experienced a sense of community and how A-Camp would fulfill all my hopes and dreams. I never really though I would be the recipient of a campership but I tried anyway. A-Camp was so out of the realm of my possibility because, with a 4-year-old son, queer adult camps are not at the top of the budgeting necessities.
Getting my email that I had received a campership literally took the wind out of me, out of shock, excitement, and a sudden pure terror I hadn’t anticipated. In the weeks leading up to Camp, that terror took over and was all I could think about. When I had applied for the campership, I never thought I could receive one in reality. I hadn’t really thought out the logistics of being very pregnant at camp. Last year, I was a surrogate so some friends of mine could have a now beautiful baby boy, but at the time of camp I would be around 7 months pregnant and I was terrified of how this community I wanted so much would accept a huge, sober genderqueer butch.
However strong my fears were, they were immediately alleviated when I met my cabin mates. If community is what I wanted, I got my wishes in huge strides, with a giant group of the most loving and caring people I have ever met. Throughout the camp I met many amazing people, but I was beyond lucky to be paired with these beautiful humans, and have made lifelong close friends out of my cabin mates (some of which will be traveling across the world to make it to my wedding this year). To say I was overwhelmed with love and community would be a huge understatement.
I can’t discuss how A-Camp changed my life without talking about the seminars given. While all were spectacular, there were some that touched me so deeply I will never forget them and how they made me feel and what I learned. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the first, which really solidifies my point of how it changed my life I am sure, but it was a journaling, writing sort of activity which helped my gain some of my best writing to date. The other was Mommy Queerest, in which I was once again overwhelmed to tears (probably definitely the pregnancy hormones) being in a room full of other queer parents who just totally got what I was going through.
A-Camp and the campership that helped me get there will forever be giant life changing events for me where I finally felt was it was like to be on Mount Feelings with a billion beautiful queers and I am stoked to say this year I can make it there myself to let someone else experience this crazy wonderful place.
What are you waiting for? Apply now or donate now!
*Please submit your application by February 26!