feature image by Norah Smith
Once upon a time (May 30th-June 4th, to be specific) in a land far far atop a mountain two hours outside of sunny Los Angeles, approximately 300 queer humans — 250 campers, 50+ staff and talent — gathered for four days and four nights of revelry, intellectual stimulation, dance parties and deep sea bonding. They called it A-Camp 6.0, and it was beautiful! This is the third of three fantastic recaps which serve to ease our collective separation anxiety, give you a behind-the-scenes look at how your A-Camp soysage is made, enable us to wax nostalgic over times gone by and provide prospective campers with a brilliant glimpse into the A-Camp Experience from the Staff Side Of Things. (If you wanna know how it feels to be a camper, you’ll have to come to camp!)
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 by renting a summer camp in the off-season and jam-packing a long weekend with panels, workshops, discussions, crafts, sports, entertainment, parties and so much more! We gave the idea a spin with an abbreviated, smaller edition of A-Camp in April 2012, followed by full-size full-length camps in September 2012, May 2013, October 2013, May 2014 and May 2015.
This camp was our best camp yet. Seriously, we were very on top of our game. This required raising prices, but we think the extra expense was well worth it — I mean, we had a bouncy castle! We had an all-star cast of special talent: actress and DIY Queen Jasika Nicole, Everyone is Gay super-idols Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid, musicians Julia Nunes, Jenny Owen Youngs and Mal Bum and comedians Brittani Nichols, Deanne Smith and Elicia Sanchez. Plus, Orange is the New Black’s Lauren Morelli showed up for an hilarious afternoon Q&A, Kimber Hall joined Brittani for improv and former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent sang from her soul. A DELIGHTFUL TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.
A-Camp 6.0, Day Four: Tuesday, June 2nd
Block A: Been Gay (Riese, Laneia, Bren, Carolyn W, Gabby, Heather, KaeLyn) // Write Your Face Off #3 (Rachel, Yvonne) // Solidarity from the Mountain: Making Cards For Incarcerated Queer and Trans People (Maddie) // Stylish-of-Center (Cee, Carly, Dannielle, Brittani) // Chair Dancing With Cupcake (Kaylah, Gigler)
Block B: Destigmatize Your Size: A Discussion of Fat Positivity and Body Acceptance (Elicia, Mey) // Dapper Collar Pins (Hansen) // Safer Sex: Follow Up Q&A (Lizz R & Carolyn Y) // Queer Camp Cheer Camp (Kai) // Senior Editors Hike (Riese, Laneia, Rachel, Yvonne & Heather) // Learn to Magish (Carly)
Riese Bernard, A-Camp Founder and Runaways Counselor: This is the day where you start panicking that camp is almost over and you simultaneously are craving / requiring way more sleep and food AND craving / requiring more time with your Runaways and all the campers forever and ever and ever! We just had such a great group this time and I wanted to hear all their stories.
Ali Osworth, Star Runners Counselor: Oh! I think this was the morning I dressed up in my unicorn onesie and took anti-nausea meds and gatorade to the Star Runners, who’d been passing around a stomach thing. I am your anti-nausea unicorn, my fine friends.
Sarah Hansen, Fun Home Counselor: The day before Dapper Collar Pins, someone pointed out to me that what I thought was a collar pin was not a collar pin. So, I panicked and made new collar pins in the morning before the craft.
Chelsey Petty, Blackhearts Counselor: Hansen was so stressed about Dapper Collar pins, so I was there to be her heart half during the workshop, which really meant I wandered around oogling everyone’s pins.
Hansen: Everything turned out great. I like low-key crafting sessions where we can just listen to music and talk to people and not take ourselves too seriously, so having a craft where people could do their own thing and amaze me with their talents was exactly what I tried to facilitate.
Chelsey: When all was said and done that craft ROCKED and everyone made such cool versions of whatever a Dapper Collar Pin meant to them. Also Hansen got to tell everyone that we were running out of space because of scissor limits, so I think she peaked this camp.
Hansen: Chelsey helped me so much during this craft by listening to me worry about it and then help me set it up, and I am endlessly grateful for how perfect she is.
Mey Rude, Hogwarts Counselor: Since I signed up to lead or be a part of so many panels and workshops, I only had time to go to one other person’s activity, and I chose Maddie’s Making Cards for Incarcerated Queer and Trans People, which ended up being the perfect choice.
Maddie Taterka, Firebirds Counselor: Thank you ten million times to everyone who came to make cards for incarcerated queer and trans people. I was really excited to do it and to work with Black and Pink, and it was really amazing to see how many people showed up to make beautiful cards. Everyone was so thoughtful and caring in their letters, telling people about A-Camp, sending jokes and comics — Rory even made an origami guide!
Rory Midhani, Rodeo Disco Counselor: I went into it like yeah, cool, gonna do some cute drawings and write a lil thing and then walk away. But once I was in it, reading through the lists of prisoners and reading their names and reading their profiles — their interests their likes and their dislikes and stuff, their personalities… I found that in itself very powerful and moving. I choose to write to a woman who liked origami and included folding instructions for making an origami puppy dog!
Maddie: It’s worth noting that when you make cards for people in prison, you can really only use plain paper and markers because of ridiculous regulations and restrictions, but no one was deterred from being super creative.
Mey: It was really, really moving and incredible and I’m really thankful for Maddie that she lead this workshop and thankful for all the campers who made amazing cards for these people.
Maddie: I think it’s so important that we share the huge mass of energy and love from A-Camp with incarcerated people who can’t be there, especially since we know how queer and trans people, especially queer and trans people of color and in particular black queer and trans people, are targeted and profiled by police and the prison system. I hope that if writing letters felt moving to you, you’ll find ways to bring that solidarity off the mountain and into your own lives. Jason Lydon, the director of Black and Pink, talked with us about ways to do that.
Gabby Rivera, Beehive Counselor: I was happy to be on the Been Gay panel and talk about my cracking knees, elderly parents, and struggle to stay hip. I kid! No, it was great.
Bren Christolear, Fried Green Tomatoes Counselor: There was crying. And it was mostly by me. And that is all I can really say without crying again, except thank goodness for Autostraddle and Riese and A-Camp and the campers and the mountain.
KaeLyn Rich, Shark Week Counselor: There were lots of boxes of tissues there when we arrived and we were like, We don’t need these tissues. But then we did. We needed the tissues. For me, getting involved in Autostraddle community, like actually commenting on articles and engaging with the site, has helped me connect more with like-minded queer people in their 30’s than I have ever found in my real everyday life. I hope more people who are looking for that older queer connection will find a home at Autostraddle.
Laneia, Executive Editor and Runaways Counselor: Love hanging out with the older crowd and hearing people’s varied experiences with coming out later (or being out since forever but like, now they’re 30 and things are different), building new communities, intentionally queer parenting, and other lovely things that made (some) people cry.
Heather, Senior Editor and Hogwarts Counselor: I especially loved hanging out with our 30+ campers because the conversation wasn’t like, Oh, kids these days! or whatever. Because it was the mountain! And the mountain was magic! We talked about what’s great about being an queer adult and what’s challenging about being a queer adult, especially when it comes to making friends and creating queer-friendly spaces for our friends with kids. Also, I publicly apologized for bailing on one of Gabby and Laura’s parties in NYC when I first moved there/started working for Autostraddle and confessed it was because I didn’t feel cool enough, and Gabby confessed that she thought I thought I was too cool. It was healing!
Carolyn Wysinger, Firebirds Counselor: I don’t know if we actually addressed the questions on our list. But we talked about so many great important things.
KaeLyn: We only got through a few of the topics because the conversation was great. I loved that folks who came were openly talking with each other and making suggestions to one another.
Riese: I liked that it was a small group, it felt more like a bunch of seniors sitting around shooting the breeze than like a formal panel. I wish we had lawn chairs though.
Carolyn W: I was glad to stand up as the example of what it means to be 36 and living your best 16-year-old second adolescence, but also how hard it is being engaged in community work and the respectability politics involved with things like family.
Gabby: I learned a lot about how everyone else is navigating adulthood. queer spaces need to be more explicitly kid-friendly, sometimes at least! and it seems like there’s a lot of fun shit happening in Ohio, so let’s all move!
Riese: Yeah the big takeaway was: move to Ohio.
Carolyn: I was happy to be around the old timers for once on the mountain. But really I’m gonna do like Kaelyn and start worrying more about remodeling my firepit.
KaeLyn: I think some people with kids were surprised to find that there were other people with kids at camp. We talked about dating as older queers, finding community when you are no longer part of the bar scene, second adolescence after coming out later in life, and lots more. It was so affirming.
Elicia Sanchez, Ghost Power Counselor: Last year some very sweet campers came up to me to thank me for my fat positive comments during my comedy set onstage, and I was like, “We SHOULD have a fat positivity workshop here, shouldn’t we?” I said and they responded,”‘and YOU should run it!” Keeping that in mind, I was excited to submit the Destigmatize Your Size workshop this year, but was only vaguely sure what the structure would be and how to make sure it was both fun and informative. While I myself am all about body positivity and fat acceptance, I also have zero degrees or professional work experience leading sensitive discussions so I was concerned if I could pull it off with only my personal experience and opinions as a guide. Thankfully, Mey agreed to co-lead with me and with her much more focused and responsible guidance, the format of the discussion became much more clear.
Mey: Elicia is one of my top favorite people on the mountain. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and she’s super fun and real and terrific. Also, I don’t have a lot of fat friends in my real life, so having her at camp to talk to was really great.
Elicia: Before camp and the day of the workshop I was a bit concerned no one would show. After all, just because I felt like I would want to attend such a workshop at camp didn’t mean the campers all felt that way. As the room filled up with SO many campers of all sizes, I was amazed. Not only because I found out this was an activity people wanted, but it was great to have a sense of size solidarity with so many campers! I know for me, sometimes in big social situations, it can be really welcoming to meet other fat people. Being able to talk about our insecurities and fears and most importantly, just VENT about all the BULLSHIT we have to put up in our everyday lives, whether we are actually uncomfortable with our size or not IS JUST SO FUCKING FREEING.
KaeLyn: I am just in love with Elicia and Mey. And with body positivity and body-love spaces. So, uh, I had no choice but to go to Destigmatize Your Size. It was so cool seeing people of all shapes and sizes and genders together in a packed room, frankly discussing our complicated relationships with our bods.
Mey: We were super happy when the room was totally full, and then even more happy with how great this activity ended up being. We were able to laugh about things, talk about things we can’t normally talk about, we were able to be vulnerable and we were able to just be ourselves.
Elicia: All attendees of every size were the greatest people who brought so much to the discussion either from personal stories, anecdotes, their own opinions or just sharing really great advice. This has BY FAR been my favorite discussion-related activity of both of the camps I’ve been to. The vibe was genuine and positive and there was such an important sense of belonging I felt in that room. For the rest of camp I received some really beautiful notes from campers thanking Mey and I for running this workshop. One mentioned that being in attendance made them feel like it was the first time they were really SEEN at camp which still makes me cry because I FELT THE EXACT SAME!
KaeLyn: It’s a conversation we need to have in queer spaces more often, as our communities experience so much stigmatization and cultural pressure from all sides. One of biggest takeaways from camp is Cleo’s recommendation of Monistat anti-chaff powder gel for underboob sweat. #gamechanger
Elicia: I’m so so glad Robin and Marni let me organize this workshop and I can’t wait to do it again next year! Although, I promise next time, I will make sure we have snacks! Mey is rad and also thought to bring in comfortable chairs!
Mey: I was very grateful to Megan brought us some chairs from Eagle because the ones that they had in Wolf weren’t very fat person friendly.
Rachel: Yvonne and I worked together for the third and final installment of my Write Your Face Off workshop, and I remained shocked and overwhelmed that so many people not only wanted to show up at all, but showed up multiple times in a row! We did a few different things for our last workshop together; we did a little list illustration exercise with Yvonne, and then I made everyone get down on the floor for a writing arts and crafts project that involved making a visual map of personal narratives on the ground that could be moved around and manipulated to make different versions of the piece, because for some reason I was really determined to make writing a 3D activity that involved sitting on the carpet. It was so beautiful, and made me feel so much joy to see everyone focused on their own words and stories and building them together! I couldn’t be more happy with how this workshop went.
Yvonne, Senior Editor and Shark Week Counselor: I was so jealous of all the campers who went to all parts of Rachel’s writing workshop because I would’ve loved to participate and complete all her homework assignments. I got to help out the last part of the workshop and it was great to be in such a chill space.
Kai Keller, The Beach Counselor: A-Camp Cheer Camp is what I live for. I’m lucky enough to be involved with the gayest cheer team of all time, but as a whole, we’re seriously lacking on the out-and-proud queer representation front. That’s why I love this workshop, where we can build an entire team made of queermos. This year I was lucky to have some incredibly talented past cheerleaders, dancers, and enthusiasts. Many of them showed up a few minutes late which led to me sitting with Camper Caitlin reassuring myself that CHEERLEADING IS AWESOME AND IS TOTALLY A SPORT AND PEOPLE WILL LIKE THIS. Hana was our only flyer and was a total trooper while I continuously yelled things like “Squeeze your ass!” and “Stand up!” because cheerleading. Everyone was great.
Kai: I’ll just drop this bit of our cheer right here, icymi.
Queers, Queers, We’re Everywhere!
We all look so damn good, I swear!
We look to the left.
We look to the right.
I wanna see you at Klub Deer tonight!
Watch us close while we go up.
A-Camp Cheerleaders are wassup!
Carmen Rios, Rodeo Disco Counselor: I was super excited to go to Chair Dancing With Cupcake, the workshop which will probably singlehandedly alter the future of my relationship. I was a little late, though, because my pesky bug bite wasn’t getting smaller and I had a private consulation with Dr. Lizz about it in her room before the workshop started. And by that I mean, I was late because someone from Alpine Meadows walked in on me with my jeans down to my ankles and Lizz on her knees looking super closely at my thigh. Lizz and I really bonded on this day, I think.
Lizz Rubin, Witchblades Counselor: First thing in the AM Carmen asked me to look at her bug bite on her upper thigh. An Alpine Meadows staffer walked in and definitely thought some funny business was going on!
Emily Gigler: Gotdamn. Kaylah whipped up a smokin routine for us in Chair Dancing With Cupcake, and everyone who showed up fucking Brought It. I mean yinz rose and shone your asses straight out of breakfast to do a damn Chair. Dance. at 10am. And you made it sexy as hell!
Cecelia White, Witchblades Counselor: I will never spend a single moment thinking about the potential inadequacy of my butt after chair dancing, it made me feel that good and sexy and empowered. My butt can do sexy things in proximity to chairs! Who’s the gayby now?! I must thank Kaylah for her phenomenal choreography and Kai and Gigler who are wonderful and fine instructors.
Lizz: Thank you to Cupcake for teaching me to chair dance. It was so important. Chrissie also thanks you.
Emily: My favorite part was when the room split in half, each side turning to face the other, and campers “demonstrated” for each other like they were already in love. Also Carmen came up with her final move of kicking the chair over at the end. There was magic everywhere.
Lizz: We decided to do the Safer Sex Q&A follow up as a Q&A and Toys Bonanza outside! It was so beautiful out that I think a bunch of people came just for the weather and got a lot more than they expected! I’m endlessly fascinated by the incredible, detailed and thoughtful safer sex questions that you guys ask! You guys are amazing.
Stef Schwartz, Campires Counselor: I spent this entire day practicing music with Mal Blum, talking about life with Mal Blum, reveling in the benevolent presence of Mal Blum. Mal and I live like eight blocks away from each other in Brooklyn, but had to come to the mountains of California to actually hang out. During second block, we had a huge band rehearsal with all the vocalists we had on hand, and I quietly and privately fell deeply in love with each and every one of them.
Djuan Trent, Beehive Counselor: I did my usual…meditation and chillin’ and learning lyrics after breakfast. Met up with the family band folks a little later in the morning…rehearsal was great. I was really loving these folks.
Trent: Stef is freaking awesome and her skills on the bass are boss level. Marni is so great and accommodating, like… she just really cares and I appreciate that. Marni has also got some soul… I totally dig it. I’m pretty sure the “Grandma’s Hands”/”No Diggity” mashup is my favorite thing. Alex knows how to play the drums, the tambourine and a whiskey bottle all at once, like… who else is on this level??? NO ONE. Mal Blum is great and we introduce ourselves to each other every time we see one another- don’t ask questions, just let us be great. Julia is fun and I’m sad for her leg but even moreso impressed that she manages to maintain her rockstar status by turning her limp into a gangsta lean- or perhaps this is what I have imagined for her in my mind, whatever. Jenny’s energy is explosive every time…it’s like she’s being chill but the energy is building up inside of her and then all of a sudden, this super strong voice comes out and all of these arm movements happen and she’s hopping around and you feel like you are also supposed to be hopping around, so you hop- Thanks, Jenny.
Liz Castle, Tower of Terror Counselor: I was super stoked about the Leather Wrist Cuffs we made in this year… however I was not expecting approximately every person at camp to show up! It made it super fun but super busy so everyone who came got an awesome upcycled leather cuff and a free lesson in patience.
Laneia: I walked by Falcon and people were spilling out the front door and into the trees. So many people wanted cuffs!
Lizz R.: Rachel and I tried so hard to make leather cuffs but Liz was the most popular person ever! We ended up tying ours together with string, like our undying friendship.
Rachel: I still haven’t finished my cuff and yet it is somehow still my favorite piece of jewelry I own.
Dannielle Owens-Reid, The Talent: I’m still so mad I couldn’t learn to magish with whats-her-face.
Carly Usdin, Special Programming Director: Learn to Magish was something Robin and I came up with a few months ago. I had been taking classes at the Magic Castle here in LA and we decided that not only should I perform at camp (more on that later), but I should also teach a class! This was endlessly exciting for me. I love teaching people how to do things, and I love magic! We had an awesome class full of campers who were super excited to learn a few tricks. I even learned a thing or two from them. I had a blast and I think everyone else did too — my students kept telling me throughout the rest of camp how they’d been trying out their magic skills on their cabinmates and wowing everyone all over the mountain. I was so proud!
Riese: Obviously, Laneia, Rachel, Yvonne and I were taking way too long to get ready for the Senior Editors Hike, so Senior Staff Butch Queen Heather Hogan brought the entire hiking group… to us. Like literally to the doorstep of our cabin as Laneia and I were still altering our outfits. It wasn’t a genuine hike, but it served the purpose we desired which was to have time to walk and talk with campers. Walking and talking with campers: one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Laneia: It’s so hard to talk and walk at the same time on that mountain! How does anyone do it? I genuinely don’t understand. I was wheezing and nodding and trying to get out a full sentence before I had to faint. I mean on the whole it was fantastic. I learned so much about rocks from camper Vivian and now all I want to do is be a geologist. Or like, a geologist/midwife crossover maybe.
Rachel: Despite going to every single camp we’ve ever had, somehow the Senior Editors Hike is the only hike I’ve ever gone on. It was wonderful! Thank you so much to all the campers who came and who were very kind and patient about our obviously amateurish hiking capabilities, and who showed us that one weird tree that smelled like vanilla chai for some reason if you got close enough to it. Ironically I usually find that camp doesn’t leave me a lot of time to actually talk to many campers, so it was fantastic to have a block where I could just chat and get to know people!
Yvonne: I was so surprised to see how many people came out for the Senior Editor Hike! I felt so loved and important and excited to chat with campers. It was also great to stretch my legs and venture beyond the main lodges.
Heather: Well, I am terrified of bears, so there’s no way I was going hiking alone at camp. The Senior Editors Hike was the perfect way to spend time with these gorgeous Straddlers and see the nature and not get eaten alive by a giant, bloodthirsty beast. I think I learned what a waterwheel was on this hike, but now I can’t remember. The air’s so thin up there!