The past two weeks have been a doozy. My elder cat, Bear, a handsome eighteen years old, got really sick. It's hard to tell when a cat goes from being just an old cat with some bouts of dementia and a propensity to angry poop in the hallway, to actually-really-sick-call-the-vet. There's a subtle shift. He had a really bad accident on a Saturday, the kind that involved a grumpy roommate and me just mopping the whole house. Then he puked, then he just sat still. More still than usual and he sleeps about 23 1/2 hours a day. I put a call out to my friends on Facebook if there was a vet person I could talk to about whether I should go to the vet. I've known so many people who have dumped thousands of dollars into an old cat to find out what's wrong only to have to let them go anyway. I didn't want that to be Bear's experience in his senior years, I just wanted him to be comfortable and happy.
I received another good question in my Tumblr ask box from Fuck Yeah Femmes about how it is that I am able to go camping at Michfest and maintain my fabulousness. (Trust that the original question was far more articulate but Tumblr deleted my ask box contents recently.)
That is a really good question. I’ve actually had people reference me before as an example of someone who doesn’t appear to maintain the rugged exterior of a stereotypical camper but who does enjoy it. Like everything in life, I’ve found camping is exponentially better when I do it with the courage to be myself at all times.
I am especially excited to answer this question right now, since people are last-minute deciding whether to go to Michfest (the 6 day tickets are $435-525 through July 9th, July 10th onward they go up to $480-$550 online or at the gate) and the Trans Women Belong Here crew is steadily working to put together a map of safe spaces on the land for trans women and there is a fundraiser in San Francsico on Sunday the 10th at the Lexington.*
I grew up in Girl Scouting. My single mom calls Girl Scouts her second parent. I went camping a lot with my troupes and to summer camp every year. Even though mom and I never went camping “as a family” I got a lot of experience doing it and I think it was invaluable to my personal development. Thanks to my outdoorsy past I am comfortable in the woods and have some bangin’ outdoor wilderness skills. That said, having experienced the gamut of “roughing it” from car camping to backpacking I know how I like to do it and I like to do it up with an insane amount of fabulosity.
I use the term “glamping” for what I do. And I totally prefer camping in the context of a festival for a lot of reasons, and mostly because it enables my glamping, though I am sure these tips will help with any camping adventure you go on that has some access to a car. Community is one reason I love festival camping, I go to Michfest and I’m in this sort of lesbian utopia Disneyland (a descriptive term borrowed from Bryn in FemmeCast Episode 9) surrounded by babes and having incredibly enriching conversations every time I turn around. 40 concerts, workshops, a film festival, a huge shopping area with tons of amazing indie craft people. And the fashion opportunities! People wear some amazing outfits, costumes and fashion to this festival. Yes, sure, bad lesbian fashion is a tale as old as time but SO IS GOOD LESBIAN FASHION! I am a Lesbian with great fashion and it follows me and a whole lot of my pals into the woods!
Not having to cook for myself in the woods is another huge reason I love festival camping. My food is part of my ticket and so therefore I can focus on being more glamorous instead of the hours it takes to prepare food when you are camping and properly clean and store it away from critters.
I have been going to Michfest for ten years and the best lesson I have learned about my comfort in the woods for two weeks (I now attend as a worker so I’m there before and after the one week Festival) is that I need to do what I need to do and I do not worry about others’ judgment. I’m sure there is no shortage of judgey womyn about how I choose to camp, however there are far more who love the flamboyance and whimsy I bring to my everyday appearance while camping.
I long ago learned how to live outside of the shadow of other people’s expectations within and without the woods. It’s much more glittery here.
Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely do festival camping with one backpack and a tiny tent you borrowed from a friend but that would not be fun or comfortable for me.
There are certain staples in my personal campsite set-up that I will no longer do without.
*A very large tent in which I can stand-up. This is essential. I cannot live in a space for more than a weekend where I must stoop. Currently I rock a 9 person tent I bought for $100 on Amazon.** This 9 person tent is very roomy. I have a wing for my bed and a wing for my clothing with plenty of room in the middle for yoga and a lounge chair for doing my make-up.
*A queen size air mattress, feather bed and down comforter. I make this up like a bed at home but with stuff that can get damp. The feather bed keeps the air mattress chill from reaching me during the night. I sleep alone and being in a queen size bed is a great luxury.
*A rolling garment rack. I bought one at Target for $17 and it collapses to nothing but is great for hanging up my clothing. I bring a bag of hangers and as soon as I get set-up all of my clothes are hung on the rack. It keeps them from getting wrinkled and looks really pretty. This will be the fourth Festival my garment rack has attended and it really makes all the difference.
*Full-length mirror. You read correctly, I put that right in the middle of my campsite with a can of hairspray next to it ready to apply finishing touches daily. A $5 mirror from a big box store endures two weeks outside and is usually ready to retire when I go home.
It is a genuine hassle to get my stuff to my campsite every year. I now know it takes me a full 90 minutes each way using a wheelbarrow (about three trips). I sacrifice this time because it makes the rest of my adventure that much easier.
I was talking to my friend Joey Cupcake once about being Femme in the woods and she said “I just do what I need to do to be comfortable.” I do all the things. I have to make sure my products are biodegradable (since our shower water goes right back into the land) and LUSH helps me take care of that. When I was a Festival attendee I tried a bunch of different places to camp but I found I was happiest when I was camped in the Twilight Zone really close to the showers. They are the least crowded of all of the showers and I would take them twice a day. I like to feel clean–bug spray at night and sunscreen during the day make me feel sticky.
I also applied a full face of make-up twice a day. It doesn’t take me very long to do this, maybe 5-10 minutes, but I feel more myself with make-up so I do it and don’t worry about judgment. Plus, when I went to Fest as a vacation I treated it as such and did exactly what I wanted when I wanted to. What’s fun about Festival is that it is also a really “anything goes” kind of place so it is really fun to play with outrageous face painting and the like, which is something I’d like to start doing more.
Now that I am a worker (working 8 hours a day) I have far less time to devote to beauty, so I do everything once a day.
After my first Festival experience I decided to try to grow out my leg hair. I was shell-shocked at the body hair diversity, and, in fact, the body diversity at Michfest really helped to move me along in my own journey toward body acceptance. I saw so many different types of women with all different types of body hair preferences I thought I might grow out my leg hair. This was also during a time in my life where I was vegetarian, and I make no secret that I was vegetarian for seven years because I thought I needed to be in order to be a lesbian.
I was just climbing out of my stage of “I’ll dress like an androgynous boy because I’m fat and need to hide in my clothes and looking like this will get me laid” and starting to become more Femme accepting, but I needed to try this leg hair thing.
Not for me. I lasted three weeks and couldn’t take it. I jumped into a luxurious bath and shaved it all off. Now I shave as regularly as I do at home while I’m there. And lots of other women in the woods do it, both in the warm outdoor showers and at the spigots.
CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES
Sunglasses are essential. People do it up with as many baubles and beads as they see fit, as modeled by Lauren (middle). Also pictured is Sarah who drew the illustration in the header for my blog!
After years of being afraid I might ruin clothes if I brought them to Fest or hiking or whatever, I realize I don’t have much to worry about. If it can be laundered it can come with me. I have worn my prom dress (from my actual 1996 prom), corsets, crinolines, slips, vintage dresses, burlessque costumes, cocktail dresses, etc… I don’t bring really delicate things and I don’t bring things that have to be dry cleaned because that’s a hassle.
When I travel with crinolines, I discovered to pack them up small I can shove it into a grocery bag and squeeze out all of the air.
When you party in the woods usually it is really dark. I found this frustrating until I realized I could decorate myself with lights. There are lots of battery operated light accessories out there, like rings and necklaces and hair accessories. I often use these battery operated string lights as a necklace, which offsets sequins in the woods quite well.
This is my least favorite part about camping. Of course, being a Femme who requires solid and supportive shoes is hard enough, let alone in the woods. I hate having dirty feet and I hate having my feet covered up. The best shoes I’ve found so far for the woods are Croc flip flops. They are certainly not the most attractive shoe, but they are really comfortable and you can rinse them off when they get dirty.
I also bring one pair each of walking sandals (I like Merrill sandals), sneakers, boots and some shower flip flops. I also was gifted a pair of light-up flip flops which are amazing when you’re out at a party late at night or are trying to amuse yourself on the long walk back to your tent after a late night .
[EDITED TO ADD!]
I’m so into Lester’s style in the woods! Especially a fancy pompadour! These things take work and dedication. Sadly I don’t have any of my own photos of Lester that don’t involve partially nude others, but hopefully this casual shot and the below more fancy outfit give you an idea of the fance brought into the woods from all parts of the gender spectrum. I borrowed the above photo from Des.
How do I have no photos of Heron from the woods? This is Heron at the Hard French Winter Ball in the Santa Cruz Mountains in January. TRUST that Heron brings it in the woods. Also? She brings this super fancy dining kit that involves her own salt, pepper, lox and other seasonings and condiments to brighten up her meals. THAT is fancy eating in the woods.
People decorate their campsites almost as much as they wear fancy costumes. My pals rock a Holly Near shrine in their campsite. I took this photo since my mom is a Lesbian and made me listen to a lot of Holly Near when I was growing up, so I feel I have some Holly infused in me. I took this photo 3 years ago but last summer had an amazing conversation with Holly about the current state of Femme identity. And I now listen to her music without irony, but I haven’t told my mom.
I have a million Fest photos but don’t have permission to show most of them so this is what you get of the folks who got back to me. If you have cool fashion in the woods from Fest or elsewhere (Camp Trans maybe?) and permission to post them, I’ll do a follow-up when I get back. Send me an email to queerfatfemme [at] gmail with the photo credit and the name(s) of the fashionable campers in the photo!
*The New York fundraisers I organized with Lauren were a big success, we raised almost $700 for the scholarship fund. Thanks to all of our attendees, volunteers and raffle sponsors!
**I love Amazon for camping supplies. One year when I was still a full-timer working for someone else with that kind of paycheck I was buying things left and right, giant packages arriving at my office and being signed for by my assistants. That’s the year I bought a tent, a hammock and a backpack chair.