Here's What Happened When I Went To Queer Summer Camp

For one week, A-Camp creates a magical place to witness and support our community.
A smattering of A-Camp staff at the Heaven is a Place on Earth camp dance.
A smattering of A-Camp staff at the Heaven is a Place on Earth camp dance.

When I first heard about A-Camp I knew I needed to go. A-Camp is the brainchild of Riese Bernard, and an outgrowth of her site Autostraddle, a wildly inclusive, feminist, online, queer community for women.

A-Camp, open to queer women (cis and trans), non-binary people, and trans men (18 and over), is filled with campy activities… pun intended. They include traditional camp activities like bird-watching and canoeing and ceramics, as well as Shibari and racial justice sessions and bourbon tastings. A-Camp truly is the ultimate queer adult summer camp. (Getting ready for it was a lot like it was as a kid, except that I had to pack for myself and there were no labels ironed on to my overalls, plaid flannel shirts and hoodies.)

The locale has recently moved from the West Coast to a woodsy site in Wisconsin. I knew it might be cold and rainy, but I had no idea just how cold and rainy until I arrived. I flew in to O’Hare and drove 85 miles to the camp, thinking that I must be lost at least half of the drive.

I had been told that the only shopping was a nearby Walmart, so when I was 10 minutes from camp, I pulled in for essentials (i.e. real pillow, Mike’s Hard Lemonade). While filling my cart with unicorn-themed gear and trying to decide just how many pints of malt beverages I would need to get through the week, I heard someone yell, “Jenny Block!” I turned to find my friend Kaylah. She was one of the reasons I was going to camp. I met her, Sarah (also members of the Autostraddle team) and Riese on an Olivia trip. Seeing Kaylah made me calmer.

Finally, I made it to camp — a strange mix of coming home and being in an alternate universe. I’ve been going to camp of one sort or another since I was a little girl. But this was something altogether different, and I could feel the difference hanging in the air.

A-Camp onstage shenanigans
A-Camp onstage shenanigans

Sarah and I were assigned to the Bluebirds, a cabin known for throwing killer happy hours. They were also the oldest campers (read: over 20), so it seemed like a good fit that I, the oldest counselor, was assigned to them.

Speaking on the A-Camp Queer Parenting panel
Speaking on the A-Camp Queer Parenting panel

I was at A-Camp to do sessions on two of my books — O Wow: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm and The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex — and to sit on two panels — one on queer parenting, one on polyamory. But as much as campers said they learned from my sessions (and I hate to get all cliché on you here), it was I who learned far more from them than they could have possibly gotten from me.

I live in a gay bubble. I am engaged to a powerful woman who has been such a leader that she was the grand marshal of Houston Pride. I write for gay publications. I write about gay issues. My friends are more than predominantly gay.

Yet I’m not naïve. I live in Texas. I watch the news. I walk through the world as a cisgender, queer, Jewish woman and am encroached upon daily by straight, white, cis men. Looks, comments, manspreading, mansplaining and the rest. I am watching as a government that is no longer mine is working its hardest to whittle away at my rights. I fear for my disabled daughter’s insurance coverage and I shudder at the rise of white supremacy groups. I spend my time writing about how we must fight the machine. I am fighting for my rightful place in the world. I know what’s going on.

I mean I thought I knew.

But then I went to A-Camp.

On the first night that my campers arrived, we formed a trust circle, each one choosing if and when to step in to share a statement. Other campers then chose if and when to step in with them to show that the statement holds true for them, too.

“Some of you in this circle support me more than my own family.”

“I fear I’m a failure as a parent.”

“Camp is the one week where I can be myself.”

“This week is the only one out of the year that I feel truly safe and loved.”

I thought I knew what A-Camp was. But I did not. That night it was revealed to me that as much as I thought I knew about the challenges of our community, I didn’t know the half of it. But many of the campers and counselors do. Some of it’s an age thing — maybe most of it. I’m in my 40s, in a different place in a lot of ways then my 20-something fellow attendees. It’s not that I don’t know that it’s bad out there, it’s just that somehow I hoped that it was better now, easier in some ways at least. Maybe it is. But also it isn’t. It really, really isn’t, especially for the transgender members of our community.

So, for one week, A-Camp creates a magical place to witness and support our community; to remember who makes up our community; to treat everyone gently and with kindness; to remember words can be weapons; to be accessible to anyone and everyone who identifies as “us;” to serve those who society not only underserves, but in almost every possible way, doesn’t serve at all; to be what the world has forgotten to be — good. Truly, purely, unselfishly, openly good.

I don’t believe in “should-ing” all over people: You should do this. You shouldn’t do that. But in this case, I believe it’s justified. A-Camp models how people should serve and witness and treat one another.

With a nod to Dr. King, I long for the day when everyone will be judged not by their bodies and with whom and how they choose to share (or not share) those bodies with but instead by the content of their character.

I am grateful to A-Camp for reminding me why that must be, how that will be, our future. And I am equally grateful for the reminder of how far we still have to go. It breaks my heart. But it also awakens the fighting spirit that dwells restlessly inside me awaiting the future.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 09, 2017.