One Time At Summer Camp


A newly-out lesbian attends a summer camp with a difference.

When I was 16 and freshly out of the closet, I had an opportunity to attend gay camp. This wasn’t one of those crazy Christian camps where you sent kids who had limp wrists and they came back scrubbing floors with toothbrushes and preaching heterosexuality. This was a diamond in the rough opportunity that, as far as I’m aware, did not exist anywhere else on Earth at the time, for inner city gay youth to get the hell out of the city and be themselves when they might not be able to at home.

My parents were skeptical to say the least when I proposed going to gay camp.

“Will you come back gayer?” my dad asked.

“Maybe,” I replied.

They agreed to let me go, dropping me off at the Gay and Lesbian Center. “Is this where you’ve been hanging out?” my mom said worriedly, as she dropped me off on the cobblestone street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. This was the late ‘90s before the yuppies had moved in and taken over with fancy restaurants and loft apartments. The only stilettos in sight were on the big, black trans prostitutes that roamed the streets from dusk til dawn. One look at three, six-foot-tall trans hookers smoking cigarettes on the corner and my mom nearly turned the car around.

“Yes, you can leave me here, thanks mom. See you next week!” I said and jumped out of the car before she could change my mind.

Shortly thereafter, a few dozen of us misfit queers of all colors and creeds ages 14 to 23 crammed into a bus and took off for gay camp. The camp wasn’t terribly far from New York City, but it felt like it could have been another planet. Many of the teens hadn’t ever left the city, and were seeing trees and swamp and a lake for the first time.

There were half a dozen cabins that formed a semicircle in a clearing in the woods. We had to pick a piece of paper out of a jar to determine which cabin we’d be in. They were coed naturally; the last thing you want to do is have gender segregated gay camp cabins, unless your goal is to have teenage orgies. Which happened anyway, but the counselors made at least some attempts to avoid such scenarios.

Finally, on the last night, as we sat on a bench in front of her cabin, she leaned in and kissed me.

Each cabin had four bunk beds and ten safe sex kits. Cross my heart and pray to god, I did not go to gay camp just to have gay sex in the woods with the hottest girl there, but I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t on my mind. I happily attended workshops where we did everything from make figurines using clothespins and ceramic molds of our hands to learning how to rub lube on dental dams and a drag talent show that would have knocked any regular summer camp talent show off the charts. These girls could work it! There was Queen Helene and Madonna and vogueing like a champ. Each night, one of the cabins held a dance party with two dozen little boys wearing wigs of varying shades of neon rotating their hip joints like there was no tomorrow.

There were some tender moments too. It was the year Matthew Shepard had been beaten and hung out in a cornfield to rot because he was gay. Many of the kids came from homes that didn’t accept them, some were homeless. Others were transgender and dressed as their authentic gender for the first time in those freeing woods. We lit candles and hugged and cried. We hiked a trail to the top of a mountain and yelled our frustrations at the world, at our parents, at intolerance into the hot summer air. Home felt far away. Freedom and possibility felt near.

My favorite gay camp activity was beach volleyball. There was a court adjacent to the bunking area with sand. The dykes killed it, naturally. The boys insisted on wearing their heels around everywhere. To say the least, it didn’t bode well for them to try to spike a volleyball in sand wearing four inchers. It was a riot. Dodgeball went over similarly. The game ended abruptly when a dyke pegged a little Indian gay boy and he went down like a sack of potatoes, knocked out cold.

I spent the week getting close to the hottest girl at camp. She was a tease, a coquette, and kept me and at least two other girls that I could count at bay by flirting without commitment. Finally, on the last night, as we sat on a bench in front of her cabin, she leaned in and kissed me. She would come to torture me in later months, making me carry her purse while she shopped for shoes, trekking out to the airport on a two hour train ride while she pretended she wanted me, and finally vagina blocking me when I fell in love with her best friend. For the time being, though, life was great. Gay camp was awesome.