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A Camping Weekend

Impressions of a first-timer

A man's first Gay Men's Week can be a bewildering and life-changing experience. Here an unnamed first-timer describes his feelings after attending the High Close week in the summer of 2023

A 50-plus gay camping weekend in the country, that’s 50-plus in age as well as numbers. How camp is that! Was it going to be fun and over the top or bitchy and sleazy, or mad as a box of hatters, I really didn't know! I threw every gay character and gay icon at it not knowing what to expect at all, but went with an open mind, or so I thought.

Photo of a topless man scanning the horizon in front of a tent

What I found were none of the gay ghosts that straight life likes to brand us by, none of the obvious stereotypes that we begin to believe ourselves, almost unknowingly. The stereotypes that we hear so often that we begin to believe them ourselves. None of those characters! Instead, rather accepting non-drama, non-queenish personalities. Not having to live up to anything, or be anyone or lay anyone, or bitch anyone!

The moment we held hands together and closed our eyes I thought perhaps this is actually something different I might like! Somewhere or someplace where I can choose my rainbow, where I can decide what it’s gonna be. A yellow brick road that I choose, with my bricks laid my way and I know there’s no pot of gold at the end, only me, my expectations, my thought, my feelings, even my dreams.

Not an easy journey as one never knows what one will find, but if we open up to our honesty, our story and our bravery, then it can be a constant box of Quality Street and we get to choose which treat or trick goes first. No one else gets to choose, just ourselves with clarity and honesty and compassion for ourselves and others. You may or may not be ready for it, it’s up to you!

Try it if you’re ready, or even if you’re not. Do it for the adventure or the discovery or just to give yourself time to be yourself. It might surprise you what you might find and disappoint you at the same time. Amazing what can happen when you give yourself the space. When you just open up and do something for yourself, no one else. This allowed me that time and space.

There are nice places to be outside the gay scene. We are familiar with the noise of the pubs the clubs and saunas, where we normally connect with others. But there’s no expectations here, no fantasies, no butch or fem, top or bottom. I am more than my best photo on Grindr, Scruff etc. No left or right swipe, just cups of tea and chatting instead. Just free of all those stereotypes we feel the need to live up to just to give ourselves permission to be.

Photo of 7 men, some in fancy dress, with a cake in front of a tea shop window

Just be YOU - no expectation! Now there’s a challenge! We’re all there, the good the bad and the ugly, and that’s just in me before I step foot in the door.

The folks we tribe with, the ones we bond with and the ones we avoid! All there, you make your choice, lots to go away with, to digest and reflect on. Did it change me, did it give me confidence more gentleness more compassion more understanding? I don’t know, but it certainly left me thinking and that’s not a bad thing. In fact perhaps it’s something to celebrate. And what am I left with afterwards? Support, friendship, connections, perhaps.

I do know there’s no going back, as it opened up my conscience and given me the permission to say it’s OK to be me!

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