I’m a crier. I always have been. My barometer for measuring the life-altering power of any experience revolves around how wet my shirt collar is when all is said and done. These sob fests are often initiated by my ridiculously varied spectrum of queer feelings. Such was the case on a warm Sunday morning in April 2012 as I stood sobbing in the forest. Surrounded by my cabin mates, I prepared to leave the first ever A-Camp. Until that moment, I don’t think I’d realized how impactful the weekend had been.
If you’ve never heard of it, A-Camp is a constantly evolving retreat/conference/refuge/vacation/party for queer adults put on by Autostraddle. The first iteration of A-Camp took place when I was 24. I had just moved from the sticks of Virginia to Los Angeles hoping to find somewhere I could proudly celebrate my truth as a queer woman. Autostraddle was my safe haven: the site provided me a community, if only online, where I could find and connect with other women like me. So when they announced that they’d be holding a face-to-face meetup in the form of a weekend at camp, I grabbed my credit card and signed up without a second thought.
The camp staff and participants worked together to create a queer-centric safe space that traveled home with me. My cabin, Hotel California, housed campers from all across The Golden State, making it easy for us to stay in contact post-camp. The individuals I met that weekend left undeniable marks on my life in the years after.
So when I was offered the opportunity to cover A-Camp XI for Tagg, I happily agreed to go. Though A-Camp has become a pillar of Autostraddle’s community in the last seven years, I hadn’t been back since that first camp.
What I found was a much more intentional experience than I remembered. Closed events in the schedule offered specific safe spaces to marginalized communities within the larger LGBTQ+ family. There was Trans Positivitea & Coffee Affirmation Hour, the QTPOC Speakeasy Pool Party, an Ace-Spectrum Meetup, a Sex Worker Lunch-N-Munch, and two 12-Step Meetings, among many other offerings. We all know that even within the LGBTQ+ family, privilege changes how we experience the world and it was great to see that truth reflected in the programming.
In a socio-political landscape that still denies us basic freedoms as LGBTQ+ individuals, A-Camp offers a unique opportunity to get away from heteronormativity for a week that really is whatever you make of it.
My cabin for A-Camp XI, The (Black) Panthers, was the epitome of my camp experience. Boasting the highest concentration of QTPOC in a single cabin, we came together every night on the stoop of cabin six to check-in and recap the day. Unfortunately, the exclusivity of a queer campers doesn’t make camp exempt from microaggressions and misunderstandings, so our conversations ranged from “This event was triggering,” and “I didn’t feel seen here” to “I saw a cutie in cabin 12, does anyone know their pronouns?” Every topic was met with undivided attention and frank conversation. Just as it had seven years ago, the magical cabin assignments placed me with cabin mates I cherished.
Maybe because I was older or maybe because I knew what to expect, the influence of A-Camp wasn’t a surprise this time around: it was something I embraced every day. So as my time at camp drew to a close, I replaced my goodbye sobfest with silly photoshoots, Lizzo singalongs, and a few more minutes of sunshine with my newfound friends.