One of the joys of coming out is that I can actively talk about parts of my life that are super important to me without withholding certain details. One of these is to partake in a queer adult camping experience known as A-Camp. Last Fall, I went to my first one ever! It was a trial run of a new site in Mukwonago, WI, which is just an hour away from my mom’s house. Between the short travel distance, the promise that Jenny Owen Youngs will be there, and to be surrounded by fellow queers with various identities on the LGBT+ spectrum, I was convinced into going. And in the short time that it went on, it was an unprecedented experience.
Think of summer camp (if you are like me and never actually went to a summer camp, think of what you’ve seen depicted as a summer camp). Now think of it filled with people you haven’t met, but who have one important thing in common with you. Now imagine that that one important thing is an identity, an experience, one that you don’t always have a safe space for. This thought might be easy for some to imagine, or extremely hard. To be able to live in a space where you can be who you are without repression is an enlightening experience. And A-Camp is one such place.
Lucky for me, these camps happen annually. And this year’s full-camp was in Wisconsin! It was a bit different this time. There were about twice the amount of people there for twice the length of the Fall camp. The logistics were different, and instead of sharing a room with 5 others, you shared a cabin with about 15. It was filled with activity, and I do not regret the time I took for myself. I went out dancing every night after the first night, which is way more than I have ever done. To mediate that I went hiking several times, and collected rocks, which grounds me. It was a delicate balance.
Without going into a lot of details, this past camp, like the camp before it, was a roller coaster ride. It started off awkward, uncomfortable, and downright unviable (in the sense that I felt very displaced) and turned into a journey of self-advocation, growth, and family. In true A-Camp fashion, I am not the same person that I was before.
To quote my therapist: This past week has been a monumental success in terms of therapy. This was the longest time between therapy sessions that I had had since she cancelled a session over a month ago. In a rapid change of events, I went from having therapy 3 times a week, to one single session. A single session to prepare me for the anticipation of what camp brings, and how I will handle it.
This monumental success didn’t feel as such before I left camp. It didn’t even feel as such when I was on the drive home. It wasn’t until I was in my therapist’s office, going over my diary card, talking about what I did and didn’t do, and how I handled situations. That’s when it set in. We didn’t have any problem behaviors to chain, we went over the thought records I had, and all in all, she was impressed by how I handled camp.
And, I’m trying to be impressed. I’m also trying to keep the momentum. You see, camp feels like a parallel universe. One we jump into as soon as the wheels hit the dirt of that driveway. As soon as you see that person in a bear-onesie directing you on where to go and welcoming you to camp. As soon as you park your car to unload, and you see everyone. The chaotic mass of people arriving and settling in. It’s a chaos, but one that the universe loves. The conjoining of so many spaces. My space, being just one of so many that are meeting that day. And we spend all of camp figuring out how our spaces fit like puzzle pieces into this culture and community that we were always a part of but never were truly aware of. It’s like being a piece of a puzzle that is stuck in a box for a completely different puzzle, and constantly trying to fit yourself in where you don’t. Only to find that you belong in a different box. One that you were meant to be in all along.
The toughest part of the entire experience is reentry. Going back to that box you came from. But this time, knowing that you belong in a different one. Knowing that your community doesn’t have a box, but are all living in boxes different than the box you created at camp. This temporary box that only holds us all together once a year. Some new puzzle pieces just discovering that they were meant to be there all along, and other puzzle pieces who can’t make it, but know that it is always there for them. This is a puzzle that not everyone finds out that they are a part of.
Now the best part of all of this is that we aren’t 2-dimensional puzzle pieces, nor 3-dimensional ones. We are humans, and we fit together on many different dimensions. I may be missing that dimension now, but I know that I connect on different dimensions to those that I am surrounded with in my current physical space. I do grieve the loss of connection on such an important dimension that doesn’t normally get a lot of attention, but I’m still connected to this giant puzzle of humans.
So, let’s appreciate how we all fit together, and how we don’t. Keeping in mind that there are dimensions you have yet to find, dimensions that you have yet to connect, and puzzle boxes that you may visit one day, and will be some of the best days of your life. I wish you all the connectivity of a puzzle, with the individuality of your many dimensions, and the wholeness that life can bring you.
I cannot wait for next camp.