Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Via Huffington: Glitter in the Woods: A Week at 'Camp' Camp

Nestled in the woods alongside a splendid lake, about 45 minutes outside of Portland, Maine, there emerges once a year the most wonderful LGBT space in the country. No, Disney World hasn't set up a new outpost and no, it's not an Indigo Girls theme park. It's called 'Camp' Camp, a LGBT adult summer camp, and for nineteen years, folks from all over the world who identify with some color on the LGBT gender and sexuality rainbow have been flocking to this Brigadoon-like place for a magical summer experience.

I first heard about 'Camp' Camp five years ago after reading Joel Derfner's wonderful memoir Swish, but the stars didn't align themselves for me to go until this summer. I had never been to overnight camp before and I was hesitant, but from the handful of 'Camp' Camp alumni whom I met over the years, they always spoke about the place as if they had drunk some crazy Kool Aid, returning there summer after summer. Could it really be that good? In the end, I realized, there was only one way to find out, and so, with my single bag packed -- I was a light packer compared to many of the gay men who schlepped two or three suitcases, some with just shoes -- I boarded my flight to Portland, not knowing a single soul and a bit petrified. Would this just be like almost every gay bar experience in my life in which I felt myself standing along the sidelines while cliquely gaggles of gays ignored me?

The answer quickly made itself apparent. As I walked into the lodge at 'Camp' Camp, it was like being welcomed in a big warm embrace, at times, literally so. People couldn't wait to greet me, ask me questions and make me feel right at home. There were over two hundred people there this summer from so many walks of life. Men, women and folks who didn't identify with any one gender category. Folks in their 20s up through those in their 60s and 70s. Teachers, pastors, professional opera singers and retirees. Singles and couples (some with and without their partners present). Urban dwellers and individuals who lived in remote outposts. 

As if I had fallen through Alice's looking glass, the week that followed was one of sublime fun and exuberant liberation, coupled with a profound sense of being accepted for who I am as a gay man. 'Camp' Camp has everything you could imagine at a great summer camp: arts and crafts, sports, boating and swimming, plus some delicious food (don't worry, there's no bug juice or chicken nuggets on the menu). But it's at night when 'Camp' Camp really comes into its own. On the night of the first full day, the camp hosts its Barn Dance and campers, many outfitted in cowboy shirts, boots and bandanas, square danced all night to a live band. As I promenaded and dosey-doed around the room to the caller's instructions (all with a handsome boy on my arm), watching the smiling faces of my fellow campers, I felt like I was having a bit of an out-of-body experience. When was the last time I felt so uninhibited and free? Honestly, I couldn't remember. In the evenings that followed with a game show night and karaoke, I found myself laughing and grinning in ways that I hadn't for a long time.