CHEAP EATS The whole time that Earl Butter was with us, from New Hampshire to New York to Michigan, there was something I wanted to ask him but couldn’t quite put into words. That is, until he and Phenomenon hugged me good-bye and drove away, leaving me, at 44 years old, for my first time ever at camp.
Then, as soon as it was too late, the fog lifted from my sentence and the wording was clear and succinct: "How do I learn hopelessness?" Huh? Help me. Bankrupts, scofflaws, dock rats, bottle dwellers, how do you give up and get on with it? Stop writing poetry and start living poetically. Be the poem, or the ball, or the song.
I crunched back into the woods and set up my tent. As usual, I pitched it as far away from everyone else as possible. And every day I kept moving it farther and farther away, until I wasn’t even sure I was in Michigan any more.
What do you do at camp? Besides feeling lonely and displaced, I mean, and plotting your way back to town, to a phone, so you can call your mommy or daddy and say, "Uncle! Come get me! Please!"
Well, the purpose of Camp Trans is to protest the official policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival re trans women inclusion. However, nobody exactly knows exactly what that policy is! It’s the most beautifully twisted blur of swirliness since the US military’s famous "Don’t ask, don’t tell" masterpiece. To the best of my chicken farmerly understanding, trans women are, in theory, not welcome. They are asked but not forced to respect the festival’s womyn-born-womyn, cluck cluck. In practice, however, no one’s going to check your jeans or genes. You buy a ticket, you’re in. Some people might be mean to you, and their meanness might be backed by policy, but hey, welcome to the world. Right?
Right. So, Camp Trans aims to change all that. Peopled mostly, I think (but didn’t count), by trans men showing support for their homemade sisters, and open to anyone anywhere on or off the gender spectrum, Camp Trans is young, and strong, and beautiful, and diverse, and brilliant, and radical, beautiful, and very well educated, and young, and the main strategy, to the best of my chicken farmerly understanding, is to have 10 times as much fun as the festies do, and for 300 times cheaper, until people start switching sides and the Michfest bigwigs get real.
Off the top of my head, it’s my favorite political strategy ever. I say this without a trace of facetiousness, I swear, and as the least politically active person in the world, give or take Lars Fiffick.
By the end of the week I had a new favorite singer-songwriter (Lost), a new favorite spoken wordster (Katz), a new favorite lightbulb eater (Emily), and a new favorite lap dancer (Alex). All around me people were making out with other people, laughing hysterically, talking intensely, hugging, playing, partying, holding hands, and womyn-born-womyn from the festival kept crossing the road and saying, "Wow, it’s funner over here."
Personally, I can speak for the food. I did have lunch on Michfest one day. First I tried to sneak in through the woods but got busted. Then I tried to talk my way in at the entrance, where the problem wasn’t gender but economics. Somehow $310 seemed like a lot to pay for a vegetarian lunch. I told them I had a friend in the kitchen (which was true) and that I just wanted to see her (which was true) and eat lunch (which was true). I swore I didn’t want to see any shows (which was true) and wouldn’t stay on the land for one second longer than necessary to masticate my food in a manner conducive to healthy digestion and tranquility.
Then, when the truth didn’t work, I tried lying. "OK, you got me. I’m a journalist," I said. "I’m a food writer. I’m doing a piece on the food here and at Camp Trans."
They were so fuckin’ friendly! They said, "Oh, we have the food right here. It’s what’s for lunch." And they started dishing me out an awesome bean salad and a pasta salad with black olives in it, and a cream cheese sandwich, and a nectarine.
I sat on a hay bale, under an umbrella, and everything was great, but with apologies to my actual friend in the actual kitchen, the food was better, spicier, and healthier at camp. And I’m talking not just vegetarian, but vegan! How can it be?
One word: beets. Beets, and I did have a huge bag of beef jerky in my tent, without which I would have died.<\!s>*