I realized I was gay the summer I was 12, at an all-boys camp in northern Wisconsin with a peculiar abundance of nudity. As at most camps, all of the staff were suburban hippies, particularly my counselor Greg, an 18-year-old nature boy who openly mocked any camper who tried to wear his swimsuit in the group shower or sauna. The arrangement killed me -- I was a self-conscious and underdeveloped kid -- but I was really enjoying the hell out of Gregs enthusiastic naturism.
Campers were strenuously pressured to participate in the annual Jack Dawes run, which involved jogging naked from the cabins to the lake and jumping in. I wouldnt have thought I could do it, but with Gregs ass in front of me, my eyes remained firmly on the prize, any embarrassment lost in a confusing haze of adolescent lust. To this day, I cant smell patchouli without thinking of the overeager nudist.
I had my first sexual experience as a 16-year-old counselor, with an older counselor named Dan, one night camping out in the woods. Wed left the campers and met up with our friends; when we returned to the site, it was abandoned, with a note telling us there was a tornado warning and they had retreated to the main lodge. Dan was stoned and worked up from an evening playing spin the bottle, and we ended up hooking up. When he was finished, he freaked out, hitching up his pants and running deeper into the woods, leaving me to walk the mile back to the lodge alone, confused, and without a flashlight. We didnt really speak for the remainder of the summer.
Dan reintegrated with the other counselors, but I had a harder time. From then on, after the campers went to bed, I preferred to listen to my Walkman in solitude, opting not to participate in the counselor activities. Get a canoe paddle, theyd shout. Were going to streak Camp Beaver! But already I felt that I was not one of them.
Camp Camp by Roger Bennett & Jules Shell (Random House, $24.95) is in stores now.