Queer Camping with Autostraddle: Day Two
Curvette Emelina Minero shares her experience being a camper at Autostraddle's queer camp, A-Camp.
The Heartthrobs Cabin
"How did you sleep?" was a common conversation starter during the Sunrise Eagle Café, the pre-breakfast of champions, coffee and pastries for the early risers. Surprisingly, I slept great. I got the same response from others. Great sleep was a common theme throughout the week, likely from how full our days were.
After breakfast, the A-Camp panels, workshops and outdoor adventures began. One person told me she wished all of the activities were a little less awesome so it wouldn't be so hard to choose what to do.
Party of One: Introvert Feelings Atrium broke my A-Camp panel cherry. Before I arrived to A-Camp, A-Camp posted on their blog two recommended readings for the introvert panel, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto by Anneli Rufus. I bought both and read through the beginning of Quiet.
Our extroverted culture was the backdrop of Quiet. It delved into how extroversion is praised and expected and how we're made to feel less than if we're introverted, and then went on to describe the strengths that come from introversion and the important role that introverted people play in society. Although I lean more towards extroversion, aspects of me are introverted, and it was great to hear so many campers and staff speak about introversion, ways to feel empowered by that aspect of themselves and ways to feel more comfortable in the different settings at A-Camp.
Each panel seated A-Camp staff and counselors and begun with a chance for the audience to submit questions anonymously, which was great, but what I really enjoyed is that the discussion moved beyond the panel and was open to anyone.
After the Party of One: Introvert Feelings Atrium I went to the Crazy/Beautiful panel, which delved into mental health in the queer community, the stigma that surrounds it and the second coming out that one goes through when coming out about their mental illness. A consistent theme throughout A-Camp was emotional honesty – while hanging out in our cabins, while sitting at lunch or dinner, while cutting through the air on the swings, and at the panels. A-Camp fostered this bubble of safety that allowed everyone to let down their walls, open up and share themselves from an emotionally honest place, and it was beautiful. It was empowering, and it was enlivening.
It was that emotional honesty that made each panel impacting, including Crazy/Beautiful. About a year ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2. At first I was frustrated and angry, and then I felt ashamed and isolated. Before I had arrived to A-Camp, I had gone through this journey from frustration and confusion to acceptance. My journey with understanding my mood disorder went beyond acceptance. I now view my mental illness as a part of myself, just like any other aspect of myself, and an aspect that I love. Until I had experienced the Crazy/Beautiful panel, I hadn't realized that there were a few more layers of self-acceptance that I hadn't yet reached.
The stigma that society places on mental health still held power over me, and it was seeing so many people talk openly during the Crazy/Beautiful panel about their depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, eating disorder and ADHD that helped lift that fear and shame that I still attached to my bipolar. Through that panel and through A-Camp, I went through my second coming out, and it was freeing.
Later in the day I went to the FanFic workshop. It was a workshop of maybe nine people. I loved the small size and the intimate setting it provided. It gave me time to learn more about each person I was hanging out with, and it was more interactive and hands on than the panels. We chatted about our favorite TV shows, fan fiction, characters we'd like to pair together in relationships and queer-bating, which was a new term that I learned.
Queer-bating is when the creators of television shows purposely create characters that appear to be queer, but never come out of the closet, characters that we can relate to and characters that we latch onto because of the lack of queer media representation. The purpose of queer-bating is to attract a queer audience, but our desire for the character to come out and live openly is never fulfilled. The discussion in the fanfic workshop was rich, and we also had time to write and share our writing.
I also went to the gender panel. It was great to hear about the variety of experiences and issues that everyone faced across the queer spectrum. Some spoke about femme invisibility and feeling a lack of identity within the lesbian community. Others spoke about how it feels to not fit comfortably within any of the recognized subcultures within the lesbian community and the pressure to change their gender expression to fit in. Some spoke about feeling ostracized as lesbian trans women and would they fit in the dating pool of cisgender lesbians. One person spoke about being a butch bisexual and how it was difficult to find men to date with her gender expression, until she found the punk community. Others spoke about the assumed misogyny that sometimes appears when speaking with other people who are male of center, and the discomfort in that. Some spoke about body diversity and the sense of invisibility that comes from being fat in the queer community. It was great to be exposed to such a wide range of experiences within the queer community, and to hear multiple people speak on the same issues and experiences. It let everyone know that although our experiences vary, we're not alone in our experiences.
I missed the staff reading in the evening. So many people raved about the staff reading and the level of intimacy in what the staff shared. Instead, I hung out in Wolf Lodge and got to know more about two of my cabin mates, Tritia and Sarah. I learned that we all live in the Bay Area, and that Tritia and Sarah share an intense passion for music.
I met Grace Kim, who created and stars in the Best Day Project, a LGBTQIA youth suicide prevention web series and initiative where each day Kim strives to live her best day. Every week she picks one of her bucket list items from a jar and pushes herself to go outside of her comfort zone and experience her bucket list item.
I also chatted with three campers who arrived to A-Camp a day late, as well as an A-Camp staffer, about freelancing, marketing, publicity and the publishing industry. Although part of me wished I had attended the staff reading, I was glad that I didn't. It was great to breakaway from the scheduled activities and to just sit, relax and get to know more of the campers on a one-on-one level.
I was excited for the last scheduled activity of the night, the Strip Spelling Bee, hosted by comedian DeAnne Smith. There were two awards, one for the best speller and one for the best stripper. The strip spelling bee wasn't created in mind for great spelling.
There was one person on stage representative of each team color and a few of the cabins were stripping in the audience in solidarity with their cabinmate on stage. It was great to see so many people comfortable in their own bodies and to be in an environment that allowed that.
The evenings never ended after the last scheduled activity. Many people would meetup in Wolfe Lodge or head over to Club Deer, which is characterized by dancing and debauchery. When I finished getting my dance on, I went back to my cabin, grabbed my glasses and walked back outside down the middle of one of the pathways. I plotted myself on the ground, surrounded by trees, and stared at the stars. The stars during the night were stunning. They were so clear and there were so many of them. The natural beauty of being in the mountains was another takeaway of A-Camp.
While at A-Camp, and post-A-Camp, I recorded a series of video interviews with A-Camp campers, staff and counselors. Below you can watch a video submission from first-year camper Tracy Pacher and my interview with the founder of A-Camp, who's also the co-founder of Autostraddle, Riese Bernard (a-camp.org).
Watch Tracy Pacher's A-Camp Experience
Watch My Interview with Riese Bernard