I’ve started having the recurring nightmares where the staff reading starts in two hours and I forgot to plan it so oh f*ck what now I guess I’m gonna have to just read Top Ten Sweatpants and hope Rachel can write something real quick… which means A-Camp 8.0 is right around the corner! If you haven’t already signed up for this event, which will include Feminist Chocolate History, a live recording of the Buffering the Vampire Slayer podcast, Granola as Rebellion, a keynote from activist Kim Milan and some very serious yoga — there’s still time to sign up!
As we anticipate this upcoming camp, there is nothing we enjoy more than talking about camps that have already happened. Join us on this journey. If you’ve been to camp, share your favorites in the comments!
Laneia, A-Camp Lifer, Autostraddle Executive Editor
(Runners Up: Spring 2012, Fall 2013)
I have to be honest and say that no camp can top First Camp, in April 2012. It was a beautiful, glorious, perfect calamity/miracle that crystallized how important each person is in making camp exactly what it will be, which sounds really cheesy and trite but it is true! And I’ll never forget DeAnne Smith serving campers warm apple cider from a silver tray in the snow at our October 2013 session. She was like a tiny lesbian elf in a magical snowy forest.
Anyway, while every camp is positively unique and wonderful in its own way, our last camp at Alpine Meadows in Spring 2016 is so special to me, because it’s when Yvonne and I hosted (and Erin assisted!) Queer Resting Bitch Face Appreciation Society and Photo Shoot! It was right after breakfast on the second full day of camp, so everyone was bright and ready to take on the world. We were in Deer lodge, which has an amazing view of the mountains and trees trees trees galore, making protest signs and listening to To Be An Emotionally Intense 90s Woman, the very best playlist that I’ve ever made. We were protesting a world that demanded us to smile (I still remember my high school history teacher, Mr. Milan, stopping me in the hall to say, “You know it uses more muscles in your face to frown than it does to smile.”) and celebrating our very bitchy faces at rest. Campers made signs declaring ownership and demanding respect for their own damn faces. Yvonne brought her Instax camera and we had a photo shoot behind the lodge, holding our signs with those gorgeous trees as our backdrop. I’d suggested we close out the workshop with a march around camp in actual protest, but was a little nervous and thought campers would think it was a dumb idea, but they were FOR IT. So we grabbed our signs and made a loop around the grounds, not smiling (unless we wanted to!), chanting things like, “When I say bitch, you say face! Bitch! Face! Bitch! Face!” Molly Adams snapped some sweet protest shots — she’s like, really good at that — and it was truly liberating. I keep this photo taped up by my desk to remind me that I don’t have to be anything but myself.
Crystal, A-Camp Staff & Autostraddle HR Director
It’s so difficult to pick a favorite! I’ve been to seven A-Camps and each one has delivered memorable, if not completely life altering, experiences. At A-Camp 1.0 I met so many amazing staff and campers, including my wife. At A-Camp 4.0 I read a deeply personal essay about the Cheesecake Factory and that remains one of the most brave things I’ve done. Over the years I’ve also led music trivia and queer bingo sessions, operated a cafe, sat quietly with introverts and staffed cabins filled with the raddest people. BUT if I need to call out just one camp as being my all-time fav, it’s the most recent one, A-Camp Fall 2016 in Wisconsin. While Alpine Meadows holds a ton of special memories, the new camp site in Wisconsin is superior in every possible way, from quality of food and facilities to the room size and blanket ply. That camp was shorter and smaller than usual but we still managed to pack in lots of amazing workshops and had such great talent like Be Steadwell, El Sanchez, Brittani Nichols and Jenny Owen Youngs. It was a very chill experience and I am so excited to return in May.
Valerie Anne, A-Camper & Autostraddle Contributing Writer
My favorite camp so far was my first camp. Heather was basically the only person I knew in real life, and I was scared. But as soon as we got off the shuttle, someone was there with a smile and an offer to help me carry my things. (She was very small and I already couldn’t breathe because of the altitude so I was sure I was about to murder her by handing her things to carry but she never stopped smiling as she helped me haul my bags up the mountain.) I’d never been to sleepaway camp but everything already felt so right.
After Heather showed me to my cabin, she marched me over to the button making station (!!), sat me down, said, “Make friends, have fun,” and left me like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. The two girls I sat with at that button making table ended up being in my cabin (Dark Arts forever!) and my camp buddies and instant friends and one happened to live close enough to me that we hang out all the time in real life starting – no lie – less than 24 hours after returning from our first camp. A-Camp is the kind of place where you can do more traditional camp things like arts & crafts and campfire circles and talking about Harry Potter in the woods for three hours, and less traditional camp things like a beer tasting complete with the feminist history of alewives, a reenactment of the first episode of The L Word, and a viewing of Lost & Delirious with live commentary from some of your favorite funny queer folks. It’s the kind of place where you can find someone to talk to or something to do to fill up every minute, or you can say “I need to take an introvert walk” and be left alone for as long as you need. I feel like no matter how hard I try to describe it in words, it’s perfectly beautiful queer weirdness is impossible to explain. But I went back again for Wisconsin Camp that same fall (which was just as awesome as the Mt. Feelings camp, now with a bonus murder tunnel) and will be back again as often as I’m able (including this May, of course!).
P.S. I don’t want to make any promises but at my first camp Jenny Owen Youngs dressed up as Avril Lavigne and at my second one she dressed as Britney Spears, all while singing like her magical self. So. There’s that.
Mey, A-Camp Queen Trans/Bruja de Bailes & Autostraddle Trans and Music Editor
Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016 and Fall 2016
It’s so freaking hard to pick my favorite camp. Obviously my first one was amazing because I met my family there. I started to become myself. It was only a few months after I had come out and it gave me the queer community I have today. Two years ago was amazing because I met Cecelia, the sun of my life. And last May was beyond perfect. I got to team up with perfect angel Heather and be one of the mothers (bad mom to be exact) for the dark arts cabin. We literally levitated a girl during our cabin initiation. And then the most recent one had so many highlights: ghosts, the best dance theme ever (Midwestern Gothic), El Sanchez singing “Kiss” by Prince, a murder tunnel, crowning a new Charlotte Jo, the lake, possible lake monsters, Jenny wearing a schoolgirl outfit and singing Brittney Spears. I guess what I’m saying is that all camps are my favorite camps because all of them build my family. I wouldn’t be anything resembling the person I am today if I didn’t go to A-Camp. It’s better than a Carly Rae Jepsen concert, its better than seeing the titanosaur at the museum of natural history in New York, its better than eating popcorn for seven straight meals. It’s better than anything.
Rachel, A-Camp Staff & Autostraddle Managing Editor
Spring 2012, but also Fall 2016
I’ve been to every single camp we’ve ever had, and sometimes they begin to blur together — which one was it when Views had just come out and Erin cut out tiny Drakes to hide all over our campers’ cabin? When Jenny Owen-Youngs played a song about the X-Files and I cried in the front row? When was it that we secretly snuck Carrie up the mountain so she could propose to Bren, who thought she had to skip camp for a work thing, in front of everyone while the Goo Goo Dolls played? Which one was it again where Bren and Carrie got fucking married to each other? The only one I can remember with total clarity is all the way back in 2012, when none of us knew what we were doing, staff or campers, but we were at least all doing it together. The people who came to that were the weirdos who for some reason trusted us enough to fly the many miles and take the harrowing bus ride up a mountain for total strangers who could be total fuckups, and I am so grateful they did. Everything happened so fast it was hard to feel anything but nervous glee, and my little cabin of campers felt like my actual kids, or sisters; we were all in the same mountain-shaped boat. It was exhausting and harrowing and perfect.
For all of those same reasons, Camp 7.5 was also the best camp — it was the second first camp, a new site and trying a bunch of new things and not knowing whether anything was going to work, but trusting each other and the campers. The energy was amazing — everyone was helping, everyone was part of building it. Every camper in every way was like a little supernova of community and positive, enthusiastic vibes. I made a killer cup of DIY herbal tea in a tea-blending workshop, and made friends while I drank it! I made crafts with other bi people and used a hot glue gun without burning myself or others! I survived a possibly-haunted tunnel to dance with a bunch of cuties in the dark! This Midwest space has granted us an opportunity to be excited newbies again, buzzing with energy to build something we all want to be part of, but with more experience and wisdom than we’ve ever had before. This past camp was just so beautiful, and I can’t wait to do it again!
KaeLyn, A-Camp Staff & Autostraddle Staff Writer
I went to camp exactly one time and I was on staff exactly one time. I can’t wait to return, though it honestly feels like so much has changed! When I get back (and I will get back), it’ll be a different site with different people on staff and even different co-directors than when I first/last went to A-Camp. That’s wild and kind of thrilling!
The best part of camp was meeting so many Autostraddle staff and writers and contributors and A-Camp royalty for the first time in person. It was super intimidating as a “virgin” camper because most of these folks knew each other already. It was super amazing that I immediately felt like one of the family, from the moment I heard Carmen’s laugh-cackle in the LAX terminal.
I think my very favorite memories were just hanging and laughing with my cabin, Shark Week. It was a group of mostly late 20’s and early 30’s extrovertish-introverts and they were such achingly beautiful, genuinely kind, and hilariously funny people. Also, Yvonne (my co-counselor) and I pulled out all the fucking stops when we decorated our door!
Camp also lit something up inside me that I hadn’t felt for quite a while. Somewhere between my wild early 20’s and my mild-er early 30’s, I’d lost that part of me that felt radically beautiful. I preach self-love and body-love, but as a fat Korean woman who’s always fucking busy and tired in real life, I forgot what it felt like to truly appreciate my body. I’ve never felt more gorgeous and free in my skin than I did at camp. Anywhere. Ever. I felt seen. I felt sexy. One of my first thoughts when the buses started arriving at camp was that every single person was gorgeous. Like, how could so many hot people even exist in one place at the same time? I realized after arriving back home to reality that it wasn’t that there were impossibly beautiful people at camp. It was that we all saw each the beauty and light in each other in that space.
Stef, A-Camp Family Band Leader & Autostraddle Vapid Fluff Editor
Fall 2013, But Also All Of Them
Picking a favorite camp is probably what it’s like for parents to pick a favorite child (JK, that’s easy). Still, there was something about this camp, when we’d mostly figured out how camp should work but had also accepted that there would be things we could not control and that we’d figure them out… so when it started fucking snowing of all things while we were waiting for the campers to arrive, we embraced it. The Alpine staff made us hot apple cider and we pumped Christmas music and we just.. made it work. My cabin (The Gossip) were all absolute sweethearts who loved each other from day one and acted like depraved lunatics for the entire duration of camp, which is always a treat. The thing that sticks with me eternally is A-Campalooza, the A-Camp Family Band’s show on the second-to-last night of camp. The family band is my favorite thing I do anywhere ever, but this show was particularly magical; we had barely gotten to practice, but everything came together in a really organic way, I got to play bass in a Union Jack dress and when I looked around the room, everyone was dancing. I’m forever overwhelmed that we’ve been able to create this very accepting, beautiful space – that someone just let us build our own tiny society for a few days. It’s become an experience that I cling to the entire rest of the year.
Audrey, A-Camp Staff Member/One-time camper & Autostraddle Writer
Not to be cheesy, but I feel certain that camp 8.0 is going to be my favorite camp. My experience as a camper at 6.0 and a staffer at 7.0 were both transformative, challenging and gorgeous. My closest friends from The Beehive, my partner, and Maddie (who I rely on to validate my love of goats) all won’t be at camp this year. Instead of letting that scare the shit out of me I am ready to dive into a whole new, weird, breathtaking week in the woods.
Karly, A-Camper, Autostraddle Social Media
I’ve only been to one A-Camp and it was 7.0, almost a year ago. This isn’t an overstatement: it was one of the best experiences of my life. I met Valerie there and other Twitter buddy Laura and it was their first A-Camp too! It was great to have some friends there, but also to meet a lot of new people too. Our cabin was great. Heather and Mey were the best counselors, aka moms, ever. I describe camp to people as gay summer camp, but it was really gay nerd summer camp for me. There was Harry Potter trivia, The X-Files Bingo, and like “Mystery Science Theater 3000” but with queers and Lost and Delirious. I still go on tangents at bars about the information I learned at Heather’s Witches Brew beer tastings. Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher were hilarious and I listened to Jenny Owen Youngs and Julia Nunes on loop for weeks after camp. It was so freeing to be in a place where I could be unequivocally myself and to be surrounded by people who understood me. I was so empowered by A-Camp that when I got home to a small Midwestern city, I was determined to find a group of queers or to make one myself. I cannot recommend the experience enough, I only wish it were a full-time commune. But that would probably really stress out the organizers and the staff.
Bren, A-Camp Staff, Autostraddle Editorial Assistant
Fall 2013 & Spring 2014
I honestly feel like every A-Camp is the best A-Camp in its own right. Whether it’s Snow Camp or First Camp or Whatever Camp – they all are special. But if I have to choose a favorite it’s really a toss-up between That Time I Got Engaged and That Time I Got Married.
Engaged Camp was a regular camp for me because I had no idea what was coming that last night. I had no idea Carrie had driven down from San Francisco that day and was hiding in Robin and Carly’s cabin. I had no idea that she was going to magically appear at the final dance to propose. I had no idea that I had no idea. Everyone is SO good at keeping secrets!
Mostly I just remember filling up balloons with Stef and probably bringing dry erase markers to Deer.
At the final dance Robin asked me to come onto the stage, which I was pretty sure meant I was in trouble for something. Then DJ Carly started playing a song. It took me a sec to figure out that it was Our Song – Carrie’s and mine. Then Carrie was there and she’s not supposed to be there. Then she proposed to me! After almost two decades together she still surprises me. I pretty much blacked out after that.
Annndddd the very next Camp was Wedding Camp. Most of that Camp I spent putting the finishing touches on Carrie’s bouquet, that I made out of origami lilies. The morning of the wedding I got up early and went to Fire Circle #1 to write my vows. To be clear – I had THOUGHT about them before that day, I just hadn’t written it down. It just didn’t feel right to put pen to paper on our kitchen table on some random day. When I decided what to say to the most important person in the world, I wanted to be in a place that meant something to me and Camp is a place that means everything.
Later I sat in Falcon and watched everyone walk down to Fire Circle #1 for the big event. The campers were so adorable in their fancy attire.
We had a little bit of a hiccup at the beginning. I thought we were starting and walked down the aisle too early. So we had a do-over on that part. Riese was the most perfect Officiant, complete with all her Riese-ness. Vanessa was our flower girl and Grace was the Keeper of Tinkerbell, who was the ring bearer. And Carrie was just the most drop-dead beautiful bride I could ever ask for. She is the best wife I could ask for.
A-Camp, with its selfless staff that are so fun to work with and its campers who are so unique and funny and amazing, is the best environment to get married in. I’ve never felt so supported and accepted for just being me than on that day. No matter what craziness is going on in this world, we’ll always have Fire Circle #1.
Cameron, A-Camp Staff & Autostraddle Saturday Morning Cartoonist
A-Camp 2014 was my second camp and last (so far?) as a camper. I had reservations coming back because my first camp as awful—not because of camp, but because I was Very Sad and Unable To Experience Joy. This camp was the exact opposite. All I experienced was joy. I was part of The Outsiders, in our first year of what would become a legacy cabin. These weirdos MADE camp for me. Pre-camp, we all—cabin leaders included—committed to wearing decorated denim vests, which I think solidified our existence as a cult. The constant planking, competitiveness in color wars, and the fact that we were always hanging out with each other didn’t really detract from that. That year, Bren got married and we all traded clothes to look so great at The Camp Wedding. We laughed and cried together at all the shows and readings. We made a Slack group! That I lost the password to (sorry guys). I think it’s still going? My favorite part about this camp (and camps to follow) was feeling like I was part of something. I don’t socialize a whole lot; I’m an introvert to a fault. But it finally didn’t feel hard. I felt like I really belonged, dehydrated on top of this mountain with this supremely cool and unnaturally attractive tendergang.
Fall 2016. This time I was Unofficial Staff, there to do whatever errands an extra body and a car could help with. Maybe it was the smaller numbers/intimacy of this camp or maybe it was the Midwest factor, but this camp was so chill—even with the chaos of figuring out a new site. It seemed like staff and campers alike were on the same page in doing whatever was necessary to make this place work, and boy did it pay off. And because this camp was smaller, I was able to get to know more important things about staff. Like how each of them look in various wigs (great, they look great). And! I can tell you with certainty that your life is not complete without seeing Stef screaming at several crowds of very confused campers, lit only by flashlights in a dark gym, as Jenny Schecter’s ghost. Outside of the Haunted Hayride, there is at least one site ghost! And a murder tunnel! And a yurt! And allegedly goats? This place has everything I look for in a home. And what better home could I wish for than A-Camp? (Unfortunately the A-Camp plague, which I could have done without, was not site-specific.)
Carrie, A-Camp Accessibility Maven & Autostraddle Staff Writer
Can this be a tie? I’m deciding yes, because 2016 was apparently a banner year for my A-Camping. Spring 2016 was my second go ‘round as a camper — I’d first shown up in 2014 — and I finally understood what people meant by feeling at home there. I knew more of my comrades and the staff and felt more prepared for the obstacle course that was Alpine Meadows. I loved how quickly each house team became a parody of itself in Harry Potter Trivia (Ravenclaw won by a mile, thank you very much). Bitches Brew made me smarter AND let me get tipsy with Heather Hogan, which is to say I cannot recommend it highly enough. And Spring 2016 was my first time doing a staff reading, which wound up basically changing my life. Also, my girlfriend and I weren’t together at the time, but we were in the same cabin, and I think that’s where things really began building up between us (despite the fact that we’d been friends for years). We started dating less than a month later. So there’s that.
I was on staff for the first time in Fall 2016, which was a completely different and exceedingly fun experience that I’m looking forward to again, yay! It was also our first camp at the new site, chosen in part for its improved accessibility — so coming on as Accessibility Maven felt like a great step forward. I’m so proud that Autostraddle is working to be disability-inclusive in our content and our real-world incarnations. It’s an honor to lead that charge at camp. Also, it was a flat-out blast getting to know everyone, running some workshops, singing a cappella with a fellow Recovering Aca-Person (thanks Alaina!), and making sure the access van ran on time (Virgos gotta virg). I’m intrinsically, compulsively helpful, so being a resource for campers is a joy for me in every way.
Erin, A-Camp Staff, Staff Writer
There was something about taking the shuttle bus from the airport to the top up the mountain on a bus full of sleepy people that’d I’d just met that made me realize what a SOMETHING this was going to be to look back on in like 30 years. It’s one thing to explain the concept of this camp to people now, but imagine 30 years from now when I’ll probably exclusively be watching HGTV. “I went to the top of a mountain to isolate myself with 300 other queer people from all over the world for an entire week.”
Despite the hell that is constantly looking for a phone charger with little success, this was maybe the best week ever? I existed on three hours of sleep every night and popped up every morning like child on the weekend. So much to do let’s get up everyone!!! Nature walks that turned into pop up concerts, the annual meeting of the Resting Bitch Face Society, pool parties, and LARPing The L Word. What will Wisconsin hold for us all?
Nikki, A-Camper / A-Camp COOL, Autostraddle Intern
I get to be one of the people who has both camper experience and staff experience. My first A-Camp was in October of 2013. It seems like forever ago but it was only 4 years ago! I was still questioning if I was gay or not. I have no idea what even lead me to find out about A-Camp. I know when I thought I was straight I searched for something around the first A-Camp and was like oh this seems cool, toooo bad I’m not gay!
When I started questioning myself I remembered, HEY WAIT, remember that camp on a mountain in California with all the people with great hair, looking like they are having fun in nature and are all gay? Let’s do that.
I can remember on the first night Marni (I think it was Marni?) said some really special words that I clung to for the rest of camp, something to the effect of: “No matter who you are, how you identify, you belong here” and then I almost wept but kept it together because I spend most of my life trying to be tougher than I look. I can’t think of any statement that needed to be said out loud at that moment when I was thinking, do I belong here?
I did struggled the first few days making friends, I felt so weird and out of place. I wasn’t sure on who to talk to or why would they want to be my friend?
By the third day, I decided to stop worrying. I’m not as weird as I think I am, I brought business cards to hand out that said, I made friend at A-Camp and SHOCKINGLY my cabin mates seemed to like me. I had to let my guard down a bit, which can be difficult as an introvert on a mountain with strangers.
A-Camp is so special to me. It’s a place that allowed me to just be. It’s not that it’s magical because I think that implies that every person will have that exact same magical experience. A-Camp is really what you make it. I wanted the experience to have a heart-to-heart with myself, figure out my own shit and that is what I did. Through seeing a proposal, the dancing, the laughter, the workshops that made me cry, the workshops that made me think and learn and grow. Through all the big moments and the little moments connecting with people I never would have met or probably even talked to had we not been on this mountain together.
Some of my top moments were with my cabin mates. We were a cabin of weirdos. We all just kind of came together and helped each other out. For the Prom themed dance I had brought a dress but I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to wear it. I was so conflicted on what to wear and my cabin mates were so kind and calm. They told me, wear your more dapper outfit at first if you don’t like it then you can change into the dress you brought. I was also anxious on my hair so my cabin mate, Val, did my hair. I still think about that moment and smile, it was such a sweet moment. I wore my dapper outfit the whole night and I don’t think I’ve ever looked back.
My first A-Camp will always hold a special place in my heart and not all A-Camps are the same. Each one seems to be unique and different and has it’s own energy.
I’ve been to A-Camp every year since 2013. I’ve only missed A-Camp 7.5 in the fall of 2016. I’ve been a camper twice and this next camp will be my third time as a staff member.
I love that I was able to witness A-Camp as a camper and A-Camp as a staff member. I cherish all the camper times as well as getting a different look at what being a staff member means. I could tell you every camp I’ve been to and what it meant to me but I don’t think we have that kind of time.
Alaina, A-Camp Cabin Staff & Autostraddle Staff Writer
(Runner Up: A-Camp Fall 2016)
There’s something about Camp in the fall that makes it just a little bit more magical than when it happens in May. Maybe it’s abandoning all your responsibilities during a school semester for something that feels almost too frivolous. When I came to A-Camp in 2013, I finally felt like my queerness “fit” me and I was in the process of ghosting my campus ministry because I needed more queer friends (and they were all kinda racist). It was the perfect thing at the perfect time. Here are my top memories from that camp: I packed for summer, because it was in California, and it snowed; the window on our bus shattered into a million pieces on the way up the mountain; discovering that the Runaways cabin had the best lookout spot; A-Camp prom. I remember that camp in bits and pieces, because I was so overwhelmed by everything there was to do, and all the people there were to meet. I remember getting the plague pretty early on and getting FOMO when I knew I needed a nap, but when I went back to the cabin almost half of the campers in there were snoozing or quietly doing crafts. I’m not joking when I say that it was the first time I felt at home. Riese is like some sort of grand wizard and does so well at picking cabins, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of weirdos than the Runaways/Blackhearts. They got me: I could laugh loud, I could dance, but I could aso just sit quietly with them. I didn’t feel like I had to turn anything on; I could just be. That’s what I love about Camp. Each time I’m there it’s like taking off my binder and being able to breathe again. And the best part about it is that I bring a little bit of that comfort back with me, when I leave. It fills me with life and laughter and stories to tell for months. And I get to keep doing it over and over.
Heather, A-Camp Staff & Autostraddle Senior Editor
My first camp was A-Camp 2015 and it was a magical experience, but because it was my first camp, I was riddled with so much anxiety about doing things right and leading panels and workshops that people liked and meeting these staffers and campers who have known each other for years and years. My second camp, in the spring of 2016 was transcendent. Mey and I were co-counselors of the Dark Arts cabin and I absolutely fell in love with them. They were all so generous and warm and smart and loving. I treasured every minute I got to spend with them and looked forward to every evening when we’d come and eat dinner as a family and talk about our days.
There were so many times that week when I thought to myself, “How is this my job?” Hanging out in the woods talking about our favorite books. Teaching enthusiastic beer-drinking queer feminists about the legacy of women in the brewing. Harry Potter Jeopardy where people self-sorted and then lived out their house stereotypes exactly (Ravenclaw won by a billion, but argued it should have been a billion and ten; Hufflepuff was so sweet and happy not to come in last place; Gryffindor was loud and boisterous and furious they lost; and Slytherin left between round because they weren’t going to pull out a victory.) I got my first lap dance at this camp! Sadie Edwards gave it to me after taking the lap dancing class!
My favorite night of all was prom. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. These Dark Arts campers came together in twos and threes and loved each other heartily by the time it was done. They were glowing, every one of them. Sharing their whiskey, their stories. Dancing with abandon, all traces of insecurity and fear and patriarchal pressure abandoned at the bottom of the mountain and forgotten. I kept kissing Mey on the cheek and she was finally like, “You sure are kissing me a lot.” And I was because we were some proud moms of a beautiful family and I was just so happy.
Marni, A-Camp Co-Director
All of them forever
It’s hard now, with camp having grown and evolved into what it is today, to imagine how we pulled off our first session in April of 2012. Beyond not yet having considered the billion large and small details that we now take for granted, we weren’t even sure how many people would be interested! Like would people want to come? (Yes they would.) So when we found a possible site far up a mountain in San Bernardino we estimated a conservative 100-ish participants—far beneath the minimum required to reserve exclusive use of the site—and hoped for the best. And then registration was maxed out within a few days, or maybe it was hours. We knew right away that this was going to be a big deal. The learning curve was steeper than the mountain we were on: the staff arrived at the same time as the campers! We had no shuttle buses, the staff drove the campers in big white vans from LAX up the mountain, which we had never even seen until we got there! We had to share the site with a Christian children’s science camp for the first two days! We had sparse supplies, no programs (our schedule was an excel spreadsheet printed in tiny black and white on a regular sheet of paper and that was it), no stage or A/V setup and generally very little razzle dazzle, but we had a big big vision and bursting hearts and we knew from the very first second that we were onto something special. It was a chaotic, beautiful, wild crazy ride that we’re still on and that scrappy first camp will always be very, very dear to my heart.
October 2013 was a really special moment in A-Camp’s evolution. Every camp that we do is a departure in some way, and we get better every time, and October 2013 was, I think, the first camp where we all relaxed just a little? I mean all of us, staff and campers. It felt like an exhalation. On the staff side we had sort of found our feet, the campers rolled with the punches like total champs (I mean it SNOWED and one of the buses got hit by a BOULDER), and it just felt very different, like we were growing up. Like we weren’t trying to be people putting on a camp, we really were those people. Also I wore a bear suit, we threw our first ever special day event and felt like goddamn HEROES for having real popcorn and cotton candy machines, and the Family Band was officially cemented on the last night for A-Camp-alooza, our best show ever. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, except only have boat shoes and no socks in the snow (but that’s on me and I was fine).
May 2015 was the last camp that I co-directed with Robin Roemer, may she rest in peace (jk she’s still our official photographer), and it was also Kristin’s FIRST camp, and now she’s co-directing with me! Sunrise sunset, etc. That spring was, as always, our Best Camp Yet, for so many reasons: we had a bouncy castle, we had an ambitious all-day State Fair on the last day, our special guests and talent knocked it out of the park and we had a better-than-ever A/V setup thanks to Carly and her team, the Family Band played our best and most polished show of all time, and not a single shuttle bus was fucked up.
It’s really unbelievable that this spring will be our NINTH CAMP. And every single time we get better!
Sarah, A-Camp Director of Design & Sponsorships, Autostraddle Business Director
A-Camp 7.0 was my favorite camp because I got to be a camper! I had just quit my corporate advertising job and on the precipice of starting my new adventure with Autostraddle–so I was flying high on good vibes! I can’t really describe it better than me describing it when it was really happening, so here are some excerpts from my journal–
Sungay, May 29, 2016 I am at the Dallas airport waiting for my flight to LAX, drying off because I fell asleep holding that coffee mug that ruined my last laptop. I spilled it all over my tunic. […] How am I going to appear amazingly cool smelling of stale coffee all the way up to Angelus Oaks?! […] Also freaked out because everyone seems really cool + amazing. Ahh! ♡
Monday, May 30, 2016 EVERY SINGLE PERSON HERE IS SO NICE. There is a truly open and beautiful energy here I can’t explain. It’s very welcoming. […] The last 24 hours have been a damn whirlwind! I took the shuttle to the mountains yesterday–made some fun bus friends, picked up a 24 pack of PBR. Met Heather Hogan walking to the Wolf Lodge and she helped me carry my stuff to the cabin which was super sweet! Later on she called me her “new boss”. Uhm, nope! I could not ever boss Heather around haha. Speaking of it was great to meet everyone! Laneia was really nice, so was Alex! Last night was mostly getting acquainted, eating dinner, and an amazing opening ceremonies with a lot of hilarious jokes and booty-shaking. After opening ceremonies there was a really cute campfire circle and Riese gave a wonderful speech about leaving all the shit that’s plaguing us at the bottom of the mountain which was quite moving. […] There were tons of feelings at our cabin group meeting. We wrote horoscopes for each other.
Monday, June 6, 2016 A-Camp was amazing. I was super impressed by it all. Was able to meet a large majority of the staff and have zillions of amounts of fun. Some memorable things: Seeing Cameron and Rhea’s stand-up on comedy night. The L Word reading where the staff acted out the pilot – Riese was Jenny and she was rolling and crawling all over the stage, it was hilarious. I took a book binding class, learned how to give a sexy chair dance, got educated (and drunk) on whiskey, learned a fun dance routine, took a queer astrology class, discovered the camp ghost, meditated on mindfulness, conquered the ropes course, went to a queer pool party, was moved to tears by the staff reading, and at the end of every night I went to this amazing dance party which was always packed with throngs of gays getting down. I had such a great week–I wish I had written about it but there was honestly no time to really do it.
Laura M, A-Camper/Staff, Autostraddle Writer
I’ve been to camp twice as a camper, twice as staff, and I’ll be back again this year as a camper. Each camp has been beautiful in its own way, but I think my number one, all-time favorite camp would still have to be the first one I attended in Fall 2013. Everything was new and it felt magical. My cabin (The Gossip) was weird and wonderful, everyone around me was brilliant and gorgeous, and nobody stared or even particularly seemed to notice that I was missing half a dozen teeth! (I’m sure people did notice, but everyone was SO COOL about it, I never felt out of place. Such a welcome respite from the outside world.)
A-camp is an incredibly special space, and I honestly feel like the experiences I’ve had there have helped me grow into the person I was always meant to be. Participating in The Speakeasy has dramatically shifted the way I think about myself and my place in the world. I’m humbled and grateful for the connections I’ve made through that group, and I’m so proud to be a part of the community. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
All that having been said, I think that sometimes people go into camp putting a lot of pressure on themselves to have the BEST TIME EVER, and you know, A-camp can totally be that. Sometimes. But it’s different for everyone, and I’ve found that camp works best for me when I let myself relax and just enjoy being surrounded by really good people. I’m looking forward to exploring the new campsite and napping a lot this year.
Yvonne, A-Camp QTPOC Speakeasy Co-Director & Autostraddle Senior Editor
Hands down, my favorite camp has been Fall 2016. I’ve been to five camps and each one has been awesome and memorable in so many different ways like that one time it snowed and that one time I put on my Selena bustier and Stef, El, Mey and Gabby made funny jokes while we watched the Selena movie. But Fall 2016 was the best one for me. We were at a new campsite in Wisconsin that felt like a whole new world of possibilities! I felt the facilities were more accommodating and could handle our wild workshop and panel ideas. For example, I got to lead a Taco Tuesday workshop in the test kitchen where I talked about taco history and the campers made sweet potato and black bean tacos with chipotle sauce! I believe everyone who went can attest that it was lots of fun and tasty because tacos.
You know what else was amazing at this camp? The QTPOC Speakeasy! My fellow co-director, Mackenzie, and I facilitated a share circle with POC campers and it gave me so much life. It felt so good to hold that space for every queer person of color that was there. After we cried and shared so many feelings, Niko brought pie from the Elegant Farmer to share with the whole group, which was the perfect note to end on.
The Elegant Farmer is down the street from camp and is famous for their pies baked in brown bags and omg, they’re super scrumptious! At one point, Heather, Laneia, Rachel and I scurried away to the Elegant Farmer to scope out the place and to get some really fucking delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. Heather till this day will talk about the Elegant Farmer and all it’s glory.
Overall what I loved the most about this camp was that I felt such a great positive energy radiating from everyone at camp. I know that sounds like such bullshit but I really felt like all the campers I met were super nice and genuine and everyone just wanted to have chill conversation. I just loved how chill it was!
Riese, CEO of A-Camp & Autostraddle
We were fresh off our big fundraising campaign, feeling flush and full of hope. It was the first time Laneia and I had a cabin, and we called them The Runaways, and even though it was our job to take care of them, they ended up truly taking care of us. They started the Hunger Games salute, and made sure that there were Runaways at all our activities because they knew we were nervous. Every camper in that cabin will have a special place in my heart forever. Plus it was our first Staff Reading! We were just starting to get our bearings and everything felt possible.
Spring 2013 was the last camp where we severely undercharged for what we were offering, and we knew afterwards that those prices were unsustainable. But because of the timing and the price hike, Fall 2013 camp wasn’t filling up, and even after a really successful promo push, we knew for sure it’d be smaller than other camps and therefore a lot less profitable. But I like to turn lemons into lemonade so I decided this was a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY! With a smaller group, it’d be easier to get sponsor donations and to put on a truly flawless experience. So we invited a reporter from Curve magazine to do a feature on A-Camp, developed a serious plan for on-site photography, doubled-down on aesthetics, and loaded up on workshops that were a little pricier but more feasible on a smaller scale, thinking we could use the results to promote future camps. Plus it was just a chance to have more control over everybody having a truly excellent time when there are less campers. But all those external things weren’t what made camp so magic — camp was just… magic! I mean, it was the debut of the A-Camp Family Band, which is my favorite band of all time. We did our first all-day carnival. I had a free block for the first time in A-Camp history! Plus it was perfect hoodie weather.
So: A-Camp Spring 2015. A-Camp Spring 2015 just… came together. We did a pretty serious price hike, which enabled us to put on a much better production than ever before. We finally were able to cover staff travel and offer talent stipends… and damn did we get some good talent. Jasika Nicole, Jenny Owen Youngs, Julia Nunes, Kristin Russo & Dannielle OR, Brittani Nichols, Lauren Morelli, Deanne Smith, El Sanchez, Mal Blum, Djuan Trent — an embarrassment of riches! My cabin showed up with wide-open hearts and bonded with returning Runaways like matches made in heaven. My then-girlfriend and I were in a really good place and she successfully lured me into the A-Camp nightlife for the first time. I finally met Heather Hogan in the flesh! From afar, it was thrilling to see the QTPOC speakeasy really thrive, and witness the Beehive cabin become the empowering safe space I hoped it would be when I constructed it. Everybody looked extra cute in grey. We did a Senior Editors Hike for the first/last time and when Rachel, Laneia, Yvonne and I were frantically getting ready to be athletes and thus running slightly late, Heather took matters into her own hands and led the entire hiking group directly to our doorstep. It was a bold move and I like that in a lady. Every bus delivered campers to the mountain with minimal drama. There was just such a positive energy in the air from start to finish.
Most importantly — I hosted my first ever Boxed Wine & String Cheese Tasting with some exceptional cocktail waitresses. I really felt like I’d won at life. Also I had zero mental breakdowns, and left the mountain with so many new friends.
This was our first camp with an actual site where we could actually do things in rooms that made sense for the things we were doing. It was a smaller group, so I made friends with A-Camp staffers I’d never really even talked to before and it felt like I was on a little retreat with all the campers. It was an empowering re-group after what was (for me) a rough Spring camp, and I’m stoked that now we’re gonna show all our OTHER friends this cool new place we found! There are so many friends we haven’t even met yet!