The first year I signed up for ‘Camp’ Camp, I had no idea what I was getting into. After a friend invited me, I agreed to go without giving it very much thought. Then, about a week before I was scheduled to leave, I took a closer look at the website.
Described as “a summer camp for LGBT adults” in the woods of Maine, it required that I share a cabin with up to a dozen total strangers. I’d be eating meals with almost 250 people. There was an entire week of organized activities.
What had I been thinking? I’m an introvert. I treasure my privacy.
I’m extremely fussy about my food. I hate anyone organizing my time.
When we arrived, a couple of things struck me. First, the place was beautiful. It was on a lake. We were surrounded by trees. As soon as I stepped out of the car I felt the tension of the city melt away.
Second, I’d never seen so many people so thrilled to be somewhere. All around me, folks were laughing, hugging. Everyone was grinning. There was disco music, rainbow flags and glitter.
I was handed a folder of information, then a burly lesbian offered to take my suitcases to my cabin. She’d been coming to camp for years, she explained. “It’s the best time ever!” she exclaimed, repeating the ‘Camp’ Camp slogan.
At this point, I was a little worried that my friend was trying to recruit me to some sort of once-a-year LGBT cult. But as I sat on the porch of my cabin and watched as more excited Campers arrived, I found their enthusiasm infectious. I perused my info packet and thought maybe I would try out some of the activities. I knew I liked yoga. The dance classes looked fun. Jewelry making sounded intriguing. Kayaking around the lake had to be nice.
When the women who’d be my cabin mates arrived, they were all of them warm, friendly. I began to feel less nervous about sleeping in a room of strangers. At that evening’s dinner, I discovered that camp food could be quite delicious. At the ice cream social afterwards, I chatted easily with folks from around country.
I learned more about the multitude of activities offered. And, in a moment of insanity, I signed up for the ropes course. To say I’m terrified of heights is an understatement. But somehow, the warmth of the instructor and the elated energy of everyone around me, made me think I could swing through the trees like a lesbian Tarzan.
That’s what I found most magical about my first ‘Camp’ Camp—how it led me to do so many things entirely out of my comfort zone. In years past, I’d had panic attacks in deep water, but swimming across a lake became easy among a group of exuberant queers. I’ve always thought I suck at art, but my cabin mates encouraged me to take the stained glass class and I made a piece that I proudly hung once I got home. And, although I’d never even dressed up for Halloween before, I donned a suit, glued on facial hair (both provided courtesy of the ‘Camp’ Camp ‘Beauty Barn’), and went in drag to the Tea Dance.
Along the way, I met so many amazing people. I had intense and engaging conversations. I laughed so much that my sides ached. And when, literally shaking with fear, I attempted the ropes course, the cheers of the people assembled below me urged me on.
By the end of the week, I’d gained several new friends and (thanks to that camp food) a couple of pounds. I’d also had myself the most rejuvenating vacation. I went home energized and relaxed.
2017 will be my seventh year as a Camper
I’ll likely take things a little easier than I did that first year. I might take a couple of yoga or dance classes. I’ll go out in a kayak. I’ll definitely swim across the lake. I’ll almost certainly dress up for the Tea Dance.
But I’ll spend most of my time chilling out and reconnecting with the wonderful people I’ve met since that first year, and getting to know some new campers, too. Whatever I do, I’m sure it will be the best time ever.
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