Kinky Summer Camps You Should Definitely Attend

I spent two weekends in June at kink events that were primarily outdoors — Desire: Leather Women and Boundless. Both were here in California, Desire in Palm Springs and Boundless near Ukiah.

I had a great time — I’d been to both events before. While they’re wildly different in terms of who they attract, the tone of it, the cross-section of the leather community, the classes, and even the location, I was struck by what they had in common.

I spend a lot of time observing — at these events, but also in general. As I sat in a chair in the shade by the pool at Desire, and as I sat on a picnic bench eating lunch at Boundless, I had the same thought:

I hope all adults do this.

At least once, if not every summer, if not all the time.

Not just the kink part of the sex part, but the body positivity. People wore whatever they wanted to wear: head to toe leather, suits, fancy dresses I would even call gowns, sarong wraps, mesh jock straps, wrist and ankle cuffs with nothing else, or just completely nude. (I wished them much sunscreen.)

I wouldn’t think of an outfit that would stand out in a way that they would “look weird,” be judged, shamed, or not fit in. Maybe a military or police uniform? But even that has a place in kink, as many have uniform fetishes (though it is problematic at best, and outright violent at worst, as they are symbols of racist and classist systems. Still, they are seen in kink spaces).

I don’t think there’s a body that would stand out, either. There are so many people of so many sizes, abilities, appearances. I’m sure that body shaming, fat phobia, and ablism all still happen, I’m not trying to say they don’t — this community is a microcosm, after all, not some magical safe haven where the cultural biases don’t exist.

But generally, there’s a different standard of body acceptance at these retreats. There are tiny women with big burly men on leashes, there are round men in kilts with three submissive girls in tow, there are conventionally gorgeous women who are just there to watch, there are fat non-binary folks with a different play partner every time they turn around, there are gender-fabulous people with beards and high heels.

It’s every configuration I can think of, and some I would probably never think of; my own bias is frequently questioned.

And I love it.

The folks who attend are, for the most part, cultural outsiders. Sure, many are conventionally attractive and some have “beauty privilege,” but many (even most?) don’t. To many, we’ve always been the weirdos. But there’s no being the weirdo here — or maybe more accurately, we’re all weirdos here, in a reclaimed, honored way.

Beyond the body acceptance, it also struck me just how unique, unparalleled, and embodied play these spaces encourage. They really are adult playgrounds, places we can explore connection with others; temperature like the swimming pool, hot tub, fire play, body bags; sensation on the skin and muscles and fascia from bold to subtle to sensual to violent; ways to move and run and jump and wrestle and chase; ways we make up the rules to our games and get others to play along, follow the leader and tag and laughter and interpersonal group social politics.

Of course, with all our adult knowledge of complexities — like consent, psychology, authority exchange, systems of oppression patters of trauma and habit and conditioning — it’s not easy play. But that, too, is part of what makes it fun — the challenge, the risk, the thrill.

I hope everyone spends time in these environments.

That they are held outdoors in clothing-optional spaces (in summer) is key — we can wear anything, we can be on leashes or stilts, in bondage or pajamas. We can have our bellies hanging out, showing our scars in all their glory and history, our genitals touched by the sunshine (again with the sunscreen wishes!).

I hope everyone gets to experience this at least once in their lives. Even if it isn’t comfortable for them to be nude, or to not bind, or to not wear makeup, or show their desires to anyone watching, it is incredible to see so many people doing so. It is incredible to see so much permission to take up space, to go for it — to play with our bodies in every and any sense of the word.

I’m sure I don’t know all of the events that are like this, but here’s a list of a few you can check out if you want to attend something like this. They really are worth flying across the country to attend.

Check out these events:

Boundless — in Northern California, about half an hour from Ukiah. Outdoors, food provided, wonderful education, dungeons and activities in the evenings. Most attendees bring their own tents and camp, but there are some cabins and some shared rooms in the lodge available. The event center, Saratoga Springs, hosts other kink events, too.

Desire Leather Women — in Palm Springs, California. It’s a women-only event, which means trans and cis women. As with any event that is gender-specific, they’ve received some criticism about their policies, but in my experience it’s been a welcoming, inclusive environment. As two transmasculine / trans-ish people, rife & I have loved attending.

Dark Odyssey Fusion, and Dark Odyssey Summer Camp — Summer Camp is where rife and I met (and, later, where I threw a scavenger hunt engagement party, so obviously I’m biased, because I think it’s the best event ever. More specifically though, it’s held at Camp Ramblewood near Baltimore, Maryland, which hosts many kink events through the year. They’re mostly pansexual, lots of amazing education and celebrations, I love having a pool and huge grass lawn and as much outdoor play as we want. If I lived closer, I would be there every time.

I haven’t attended any of these, but here are some others to check out — if y’all have been there, I’d love to hear what you thought.

If you have other events like this to recommend, please leave them in the comments!

I imagine this kind of liberation is what many people find at events like Burning Man, circus arts gatherings, or other hotel-based kink and sexuality conferences. It’s different, to me, to have them all combined — outside, kink, sex, all clothing optional.

If you’ve attended any of these, I’d love to know what your experience was like. Often people particularly ask me how it was to be there as a queer nonbinary person — most kink events are largely white, cis, and straight, so finding ones that have a strong queer component, or aren’t that way at all, is a concern for a lot of folks.

I’ve experienced this in the summer 5-day residential retreat that my spiritual community produces, called Portals of Pleasure. We producers/facilitators have been doing this for 11 years now, and I’ve been part of the planning and facilitation team since the beginning. It’s challenging to describe, though we tried on our recent podcast episode. What’s the most different about it compared to these others is that Portals is 25 people maximum, and these others have hundreds of people. It’s also much more personal, tailored, curated … there’s no pickup play, it’s all very intentional and, for me, much more intense and deeper.

Portals is happening at the end of July. If that kind of group erotic embodiment / sacred somatic work is something you’re already familiar with, I invite you to reach out and learn more, and see if it is a good fit for you.

If you aren’t familiar with it, take a look at the workshops I’m cofacilitating in Seattle this coming year about BDSM and energy. They aren’t beginner workshops, but they are suitable to folks who haven’t done erotic/spiritual group work in the past but who are familiar with play parties, kink, and play. They will be near the solstices and equinoxes as part of our Year Wheel series.

Glad to talk more about them, just send me a note and let’s talk.

But meanwhile — find one of those kinky summer camps! And let me know what you think.

Are You “Femme Enough” For the Femme Conference?

I’m in Chicago this week, I return back to New York City tomorrow, and I keep talking up the Femme Conference that is coming up in Baltimore in just a couple of weeks—August 17-19.

I’m not sure why it keeps coming up—maybe because it was an all-femme lineup at the Dirty Queer Sex Tour: Chicago Say Please reading last night, and so all three of the femmes who read with me came out with their various friends and posses last night? Maybe because the friends I have here are primarily femmes, so naturally the conversation rolls around to femme identity? Maybe because I think these folks are cool and I am curious if I’m going to run into them again at the Femme Conference? Or maybe because my only experience of attending the Femme Conference, until this one upcoming that is, was the 2006 Femme Conference which was held in Chicago?

Whatever the reason, it keeps coming up.

And while some folks are well aware of it and (usually) have strong reactions to it, either “Hell yes! See you there!” or “No, uh uh, absolutely not,” there seems to be an even bigger group of folks in the middle who are obviously intrigued by the idea of attending, but are skeptical.

“I don’t know,” they say, hesitating, but sparkling a little bit at the mention of an entire conference devoted to this complex femme identity. “I mean, would I fit in there? Is it going to be a big judge-fest? Would they even recognize me as femme?”

These questions are so common. I mean, I remember hearing some of that around the BUTCH Voices conferences too, but the fear around one’s identity being policed didn’t feel quite so … panicked.

I think the bottom line is that it’s incredibly complicated to occupy a socially-recognized identity like butch or femme, because while we have stereotypical versions of what those things “should” look like in our minds, we don’t necessarily have the complex deconstructions (and reconstructions) necessary to be able to see that person as butch or femme and all their other pieces of self too. Or, if the person doesn’t quite look like the stereotype, we don’t recognize them as “legitimate.” These queer cultures still see someone, recognizes them as butch or femme or neither, and draws all sorts of conclusions based on that.

People are probably always going to do this. I don’t mean that in an I-give-up kind of way, just in a this-is-probably-true-and-I-will-have-less-strife-in-my-life-if-I-accept-that kind of way.

And y’know, fuck that. I mean, I completely understand that that is a challenge and hard and sometimes makes me return home defeated after a night and just kinda cry and whine for a while, I also think part of the work of having these identities is recognizing that we are trying to rise them above stereotypes, and that the cultures we’re in still largely use big fat markers to draw pictures of these identities, not slim exact-shaded pencils. And part of our work, I believe, part of the work of occupying these identities, is uncoupling them from the heteronormative gender roles, and making them big enough and accessible to anyone who feels a resonance with them. They can be liberational, and the benefits of identifying with a gender lineage, a gender heritage, feels so important to me, putting me in a historical context with people who came before me, so I feel less alone in my forging forward. I’m not doing it exactly as they did it, I’m doing it my own way and in the context of my own communities and time and culture, but I am able to remake it and make more room for freedom and consciousness and liberation within it because I am on their shoulders, using the tools they left for me—us—to pick up.

That is all to say, you are femme enough to attend the femme conference. Or, you know, if you don’t identify as femme but you have some interest in learning more about femme identity and being around femmes and folks who are puzzling through femme identity, you can come too.

I’m not going to promise that nobody is going to give you shit about your identity, about being femme enough, about whether or not you belong there, or about what you wear (because as much as I’d like to say it’s not true, there is a particular focus on aesthetics in femme communities). I don’t know if they will or not. But I’ll also say this: By the end of the conference, you probably will not care as much.

That, more than anything else, has been such a key piece of learning around these identity conferences, the Femme Conference and BUTCH Voices.

And I’ll be honest with you: there will probably be drama. There almost always is at small, incestuous community conferences, and this is definitely one of those. There are not that many people who self-identify as femme. There are not that many people who date and are into and fall in love with and are fascinated by people who identify as femme. There will probably be people there that I don’t want to run into. There will probably be people there who have particularly bad opinions of me, even. I don’t anticipate that being easy. But I care more about the philosophies of this identity, the many folks in my life who identify this way now, and the forward movement of radical genders in this era than I do about being worried that someone will talk shit. I’m bored with that. I’m sick of letting that affect what public spaces I’m involved in.

I submitted a workshop proposal to the Femme Conference—so did Kristen. Neither of us were accepted. I could let my mind roam and draw conclusions about why, but who knows what the actual reasons were. I chose instead to brush it off as not fitting with the conference, for whatever reasons, and I’m still planning to go and have a great time. So many amazing people I know are planning to be in attendance, so many more than I knew when I attended in 2008 (can’t believe it was that long ago!), and I am so looking forward to seeking out the ones that I think have amazing philosophies, meeting new folks, talking about new ideas, and enhancing the ideas I’m already chewing on.

I don’t really know how to explain all of that to people who say, “Would I fit in there? Am I femme enough?” Maybe you would feel like you found your people. Maybe you would be super excited to be around all of the talking about femme identity, but only really connect with one or two other people. Just because we’re all talking about femmes doesn’t mean we’ll get along! But maybe you’ll find a sense of self, in between all of that, that you didn’t know you were seeking, that missing piece that caused you to ask would I fit in there in the first place. And maybe, after attending the conference, you wouldn’t ask that again, because somewhere, deep down, in a soothed and solid place, you’d know.

Registration is still open: The Femme Conference happens August 17-19 in Baltimore, MD.