Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NICOLE's STORY: THE QUEER PARTS OF ME GREW UP AT GIRL SCOUT CAMP


Name: Nicole 
Years in Girl Scouting: 14 years 
Roles in Girl Scouting: girl member, Girl Scout camp staff member 
Location: Eastern Massachusetts, USA
The first time I remember knowing I was interested in women was when I was still a Brownie in Girl Scouts. My troop was on a campout at a local Girl Scout camp in early December, and two friends and I were hiding out in the bathroom telling secrets, like little girls will do. We were sharing our “biggest-deepest-darkest-secrets” with one another, and I couldn’t find the courage to tell them mine…that I was gay.
Years later, as I started seventh grade, one of my close friends joined my Girl Scout troop. She knew I went to area day camps during the summer but thought I would really like going to the resident Girl Scout camp she attended. I thought it sounded exciting and I begged my parents to let me go. They signed me up for a week-long session. I was through the roof with excitement! And I knew the camp, too; it was the same camp I had been going to with my Girl Scout troop for campouts since I was little. 
Luckily for me, at camp I had a counselor who was visibly and openly queer. I had no concept of what “queer” was at the time, but I had my assumptions that she was a lesbian. I developed a huge crush on her, of course, because she was the first queer person I’d ever met in my entire life, and on top of that she was an adult.
Then I witnessed my very first homophobic attack. A girl from my cabin was uncomfortable with lesbians, especially in the camp environment. She would go on and on, arguing that lesbians shouldn’t be allowed at camp if boys weren’t allowed at camp; she knew that this counselor must be a lesbian because of her cargo shorts and the way she sat. 
I was so scared, because suddenly she was talking about me, and she didn’t even know it. Was it bad that I was at camp? Was I being a pervert by not telling them? Then she pushed it even further. She told another staff member that this counselor had been looking at her inappropriately and that she was disturbed by it. I knew it wasn’t true but I didn’t know what to do. 
That counselor didn’t come back to camp the next summer and instead worked at a different Girl Scout camp. For a while after that, I didn’t see camp as a safe place I could be queer in.
When I was thirteen, I ran into a situation reminiscent of my Brownie campout days. The friend who invited me to camp asked me about my “biggest-deepest-darkest-secret,” and once again I found myself too ashamed to admit it. I just told her that I didn’t have one of those secrets.
I then got really close to one of my friends during eighth grade. We went on a class trip and we shared a hotel room with two other girls. On the last night before we headed back, I had my first experience with another girl…or with anyone, for that matter. 
We ended up dating secretly for almost a year, during which I called myself “bisexual.” I came out to most of my friends and I eventually came out to my sister as bi in a small whisper. She was completely accepting, but I never brought it up again and neither did she.
When I went back to camp the summer before my sophomore year of high school, I was single and lonely, and I retreated back into the closet, still never having been out at camp. I was in a program that summer in which a group of girls from three separate camps met up and traveled around New England. I had a crush on almost every girl, I swear. 
I told everyone I was straight, but I doubt many of them believed me. I had changed my style by this time to one which was highly gender-nonconforming. I had chopped off my hair and had taken to wearing only Tony Hawk swim trunks and band t-shirts.
That summer, I made a camp friend who was very physical with me.  Although we never got close emotionally, we were extremely comfortable together.  We semi-flirtatiously roughhoused with one another, cuddled, and sat on each other’s laps.  We were even reprimanded a few times for being too physical.  I never had a crush on her or thought about pursuing her, but on the last night of camp, we ended up kissing behind one of the cabins. She left the next day and we never really talked again, but after that I was so much more comfortable being gay at camp. She brought me that peace.
I dated a few more girls in high school and I made my first gay friends. I began to come to terms with myself at school and even became visibly queer on purpose. I called myself a lesbian and I made sure everyone knew.  I wanted to get involved in queer politics, but the only thing available to me was my own identity. So, I used myself to spread LGBT visibility and I didn’t hesitate to get in shouting matches with the guys yelling “faggot” down the school hallways.
I felt powerless, but being visible gave me some sense of power. Unfortunately, my visibility had to come in the form of rainbows and buttons, because my femme identity confused those outside of the queer world. Even my lesbian friends told me I didn’t “look like one.”
I came out (again) to my sister – this time as a lesbian – by casually telling her I was dating one of my friends. She wasn’t surprised and she didn’t care. My mom was nonchalant, too. She saw a rainbow ribbon on my backpack and asked if I was gay. I said yes, and then she drove me to school. It was that simple. My dad, I’m assuming, heard from my mom, because when I one day brought a girlfriend home, no one batted an eyelash. 
This was shocking to me, considering my family had gone berserk when I stopped eating meat
I got into my first serious relationship the spring before my first summer as a camp staff member, the same spring that I also graduated from high school. During pre-camp training week, I was out to a few friends but not to most of my coworkers. As we were hanging out, a few girls asked who had a boyfriend.  I froze. I just said that I didn’t have one and left it at that. I felt like I’d betrayed my girlfriend and I kicked myself for it. I eventually came out fully and it was such a small deal. No one cared; it was brilliant. Camp, at that moment, fully redeemed itself from the homophobic place of my childhood. It had finally become a safe space
The distance did take a toll on my relationship; my girlfriend and I fought constantly while I was at camp. We made it through, though. And we also made it through the first college Thanksgiving, which is considered a huge deal. College, however, had left me curious and lusty for freedom. I was exploring my identity and realizing that my absolutes weren’t at all absolute.
I had thought I was an Atheist but now see myself as Agnostic; I had seen myself as a lesbian and now realize I am polysexual.  I realized I am attracted to most members of the queer community, regardless of gender.  Most importantly, I became attracted to someone new at school and thought I might not be monogamous but polyamorous instead.  I knew my girlfriend would never be okay with this, so I ended our relationship in order to more fully explore my identity. I am currently dating the person who initially led me to believe I might be polyamorous. We are monogamous, and for now I am completely okay with this.  
Since entering college, I’ve also realized that I’m on the asexuality spectrum, which was one of my biggest issues, I think, in past relationships. My partner and I are totally able to work with this. Though issues come up at times, we are navigating our sex life around my identity, which is something I’ve never had before.
My partner and I have been together for a little while now and I am approaching my second summer on camp staff.  We will see if my relationship can stay strong despite the distance.  I need camp to be my safe space every summer and I need my relationship with my partner just as much. Besides, if it wasn’t for camp, I’m not sure I would have even come to terms with my identity enough to be with my partner now. The queer parts of me grew up at Girl Scout camp, I think.