There is nothing so relaxing as going camping; being removed from the hustle and bustle of a major city. There is also nothing more acutely stressful as camping with 20 gay people. Camp Baptême is a quaint resting spot on the Baptême river. Twenty or so camp sites follow the river and internal rows of rustic-style tent flats. There are hills nearby large enough to take hours to climb, the national forest is on all sides of you, and a 20 minute car-ride in either direction gets you to a town large enough to have a grocery store, a liquor store, a hardware store, and a liquor store… did I mention a liquor store?
I arrived Monday night, as I wanted to have at least one night of pure, sober, peaceful bliss. I have a nasty habit of always arriving to the camp after dark and having to put my tent up with artificial light and no help. This trip was no exception, and I lit up the woods when I arrived around 9pm to start my vacation. No one else would arrive until at least tomorrow afternoon, people always say they’re going to get there early in the morning, but then one person in the carpool doesn’t wake up until noon and so0meone else forgot to buy enough food for more than 1 day.
The wind was picking up as the night went on, I had to retreat to my tent ’cause it was getting chilly and I didn’t know how to start a fire. Still, though, I kept the rain-fly off so I could look at the stars as I went to sleep. You can see some of the brightest stars in the cities, but out here you can see the most interesting ones. I had brought my iPod into the tent with me so I could listen to music as I drifted off, but the river and wind provided more than enough entertainment to lull me to sleep.
The sun woke me up in the morning around 11. The camp sites are surrounded by tall trees, so even though they aren’t very thick, it still takes a few hours in the morning for the sun to make it over the tops. I had had a very peaceful night under the stars and I felt completely relaxed. There was enough food in my car to last me the whole week, but as I was fire-challenged I had to eat things that didn’t need to be warmed up until everyone else got there. I suffered through some soup and hot-dogs. Hot-dogs warmed by a butane lighter taste like butane just so you know.
The first people to arrive were Yoshi and his band of misfits which included his brother Adrian. Every once in a while you come across a pair of brothers that couldn’t be more alike, and yet couldn’t be more different. They were both the sons of the same father, but Yoshi’s mother was Japanese while Adrian’s was a German exchange student his father had known in college. Despite the difference in motherly lineage, they both were born as queer as a 3-dollar bill. Luckily they had an older brother and a sister that could carry on the family name and provide an encouraging sense of stability to their mother.
According to his matriarchal nationality, Yoshi was rather average in every way. He wasn’t short, tall, fat, skinny, mind-numbingly attractive or wretchedly ugly and not especially large or small downstairs. In spite of this lack of definition, he had a charisma to him that was simply addicting. He could shoot a scathing remark across an open field and the blow would topple you like a bowling pin. Realizing that this is not exactly a talent to be sought after in a charismatic person, remember that most people who are really mean, can also be really funny, often in the same sentence. For all his charm and clever banter though, Yoshi was not a people person. Well, he was a group person, but not a person person. Put him in a room with 50 people or around a campfire with 20, and he’ll have every single person eating out of the palm of his hand. Leave him alone in a room with a friend or a lover, and the story changes.
You could easily describe Yoshi’s brother Adrian by reversing everything I just said about Yoshi. He is quite tall, rather skinny, and attractive with complimenting…features. The opposites continue on into his personality. Yoshi is a group person, but pretty worthless as a one on one kind of person. Adrian on the other hand is much more comfortable in an intimate situation. In a group he might shout some clever anecdotes every once in a while, but he’s far more likely to spend most of his time slinging expletives than providing effective humor. In a more personal situation though, he seems to take on this entirely different character: caring, compassionate, and concerned. He’s always asking you how you are, so long as no one else is there to hear it. You got the feeling that Adrian had a vulnerable side that he was trying to show you, but something was holding him back.
Aside from the little that I knew about him personally, most of my knowledge of Adrian came from what Yoshi was always telling everyone, that he was a whore. It was never mean-spirited, usually just passing remarks like “look at the hooker drivin’ her big truck like she has a big dick,” or whenever Adrian would meet a guy in the bar Yoshi would get on the microphone and scream something like “watch out for the diseases bitch!”
There were several other characters present that first day, including the complete lesbian couple Chance and Paula and one half of a lesbian couple Lyssa. She was a lesbian with all too familiar afflictions of fashion: long pants or cargo shorts were rarely missing, backwards caps, beer bottle in hand. I don’t mean to insinuate anything against lesbians, but I rarely meet such a gay-friendly diz. You can never be too certain how to interact with people you consider to be anomalies, do you ere on the side of acceptance and attempt not to notice, or do you embrace the notion that not everyone has to get along for a reason and maybe that reason is certain people just don’t belong together? People are all too often quick to dismiss this second option as hypocritical, bias, or racist. I would argue that though everyone should treat human life with respect, that doesn’t mean you have to enjoy its company.
Chance and Paula, however, I have no trouble liking. Couples have an odd way of defining a trip, because even when looking at homo couples you can feel the influence over the group. Ideally, the beliefs of one half of a couple should be doubled up by their significant other, and that makes 2 people out of 20, very powerful. Sometimes that’s a good thing, like if the couple is sweet and attentive, but not so great if they get in screaming matches and that’s what triggers the group dynamic. Chance and Paula were the good kind of couple. They oozed affection, both drunk and sober, in a way that reminded you that there was such a thing out there as a healthy and functional gay relationship. Of course everything was always better under the influence…right?
“Wake and bake Adam?” I had never heard these words before, but I made a promise to myself that morning that I would strive to hear them far more often in the future. Chance was standing next to me holding some of the dankest pot I had ever smelled. “Be careful, take one or two pulls and then wait a bit.” Now, again I have to reiterate that mama didn’t raise no fool, which also meant if someone hands you really good pot, you pull until people start glaring at you. In this case it meant I could pull 4 times before passing it on. Big mistake. I had barely been awake an hour and I was already having trouble standing up. It’s sort of how I imagine a newborn calf would feel.
Yoshi was giving me this funny look and asking me if I needed anything from town. I needed cigarettes, but I wasn’t sure how to put that into a complete sentence that wouldn’t give me away as a “happy camper.” Obviously I was failing as Lyssa exclaimed “Adam is fuckin’ TOASTED! Hey Chance, did you give Adam your pipe?” An acknowledgment was echoed and Yoshi just took the $5 note out of my hand, looked at what I was currently smoking, and walked away. This was a situation that would plague me for the better part of a week. My days sort of went like this: wake up, cereal, stoned, cigarette, river wading, stoned, ball sports, lunch, drinking, stoned, cigarette, cigarette, drinking, stoned, dinner, and then campfire with all of those things at once.
This schedule was maintained for the first part of the trip and having settled in Monday and Tuesday, the following Wednesday and Thursday brought new people and entirely new adventures. Kelly came up on Wednesday, and brought a torrent of laughs and smiles with her. Now Kelly’s a straight girl with a significant other, but she doubles as a hag in the best way possible. She is charismatic, has a great smile, a fake but nonetheless convincing southern accent, and a willingness to talk to anyone about anything including, it turns out, talking to a middle school bike gang during a trip into town. We went into the store to pick up some camp food and to check out the surely illegal bag-boy…gotta love those farm boys. When we were on our way out Kelly noticed a group of boys on the other side of the parking lot jumping their bikes off the 3 inch curbs. One of the boys rode in her direction, and the games had begun.
“Are you the leader?” she made the remark oh so innocently to the boy standing away from the group.
“No, that guy over there is” he pointed out a rather large boy on the back of a Mongoose
“Oh, I just figured you were the leader, you look like the leader.” Now Kelly had suggestively set into motion events that would forever alter the hierarchical structure of this pint-sized biker gang. The boy immediately went over to the group, the mongoose rider in particular. We could see both boys turn back our direction and point at Kelly.
“The woman with the big tits thinks I should be leader.” Suddenly the boy on the mongoose was unsure of his, until now, unthreatened dominance over the underlings of Silver Bay, MN. There is no more powerful force over adolescent boys than breasts, and Kelly had the biggest set they had ever seen. This is why I love Kelly. She uses her powers to do the most humorous things, like toppling a two-wheeled dictator. She reminds me that you don’t have to be gay to believe in social change, gangs included. If nothing else had happened this week I would have been happy, but it was only wednesday.
Yoshi’s boyfriend Mel came up on Thursday. Now Mel was a seemingly average guy. He had a good enough body, but somehow his head reminded me of a bat or vampire. It started to curve out at the top and he had exceptionally pointy teeth all the way ’round. I couldn’t quite decide whether it was the teeth themselves, or if it was the gums that bothered me. Either way I was a bit distrustful of him from the start. He was relatively new to the gay scene, and green gays are always a bit unpredictable. At the risk of making more than one obvious allusion to the Twilight series, newborns are always the thirstiest for blood. Despite his good looks though, he seemed rather uniformly accepting of everyone at the campsite.
Sometimes when you get these good looking people you jump to conclusions too quickly, and those decisions grow teeth. Like I said, Mel seemed rather accepting of everyone at camp, which in a good looking person can mean really good things. Its one thing to be average and nice, but to be attractive and nice is rare that as soon as you think you’ve found someone like that you jump on the opportunity to make friends.
I didn’t quite understand the relationship between Mel and Yoshi. The back-story covered years of flirtation, sex, and denial of commitment, but now Mel was out and he was Yoshi’s man. It was sort of like a “just remove closet ‘insta-boyfriend’.” The strange part was Yoshi’s ignorance of Mel’s existence after he had been there for more than 5 minutes. Here was this hot hunk of man that seemed to want little more than to be appreciated and held, but Yoshi would have nothing to do with it. Ten minutes of Mel’s presence had yet to pass by when Yoshi decided to drive into town sans boyfriend. I felt bad for Mel, his eyes registered genuine hurt, pain at the thought of leaving his comfort zone, of leaving the city to come and exist with his lover only to be instantly rejected and left behind.
I could never quite understand this way of treating people. Even if I don’t like someone I recognize their existence.
“Lyssa, keep Mel entertained,” was the order from Yoshi, “I’m going into town for some supplies.”
And just like that he was gone for 2 1/2 hours while Lyssa, Max, and I kept Mel occupied with a futile game of gay monopoly followed by BS. By the time Yoshi had arrived back at camp it was time for dinner and a campfire.
Enter Evan and Topher stage right. Evan and Topher are engaged to be married, which is a double shot of amazing just to start with. Because gay marriage has been outlawed for so long, it’s taking people a long time to grasp that it’s possible, and even longer to remember that they too can dream about it. It’s important that these couples exist. Every couple contributes something to the LGBT dynamic, but having a heathy and loving relationship near you just seems to make everything better. It’s something to look forward to, something that inspires hope, and something the community can be proud of.
Topher was what I like to call a bon bon, because everyone likes some Godiva. He was every straight woman’s wet-dream, and simultaneously a promising candidate for universal gay appeal. He had a decent job, looks that balanced a refined man of the world look with a sort of rustic mans man facade. He was sweet, no non-sense, and laid back. Luckily for the universe Topher had found an equal in Evan. I’m not quite sure that Evan could be considered a bon bon on the straight woman side of things, but he was damn close. Perhaps if he did something about that distinct swagger things would even out, but I digress. If Topher was a cross breed of smoldering gay and rustic straight, Evan melded the complimentary archetypes of intellectual gay and family man straight.
The engaged couple had arrived a few short hours ago and, as it happens, I met them right before everything started to unravel and decided that they were my new favorite people.
Imagine a campfire, close group of friends sitting in lawn chairs, bottle of schnapps traveling around the circle, a well supplied pipe making the same rounds, all in all it’s a very warm and comforting space, then I looked at Mel. Mel had this habit of just tilting his head to one side and chuckling at what people said. I suspect that this was because it comforted him to hear the last three marbles rolling around between his ears. He never really said anything to anyone, just smirked, chuckled, and tried to look pretty, luckily that was something he was good at. The one time I ever heard him have an actual conversation with anyone was that night at the campfire.
“You’re so tense; let me give those shoulders a rub.” “Oh those hands, is this some kind of brothers fetish you’re trying to work out…I mean I’m completely okay with that I just want to know.” “I don’t think it’s that” “Oh so you mean it’s kind of a ‘back-up’ sex thing, well I’m okay with that too,”… “So what are we gonna do about it?”
Now Mel started that, but Adrian certainly finished it. You remember what I said about Adrian being great in intimate situations, being compassionate, intense, and lustful all in the same breath? This was an experience that Mel and I got to share at that moment. For all the while Adrian was talking to Mel, he was looking at me. I have to admit that I got lost in Adrian’s eyes for those few minutes. He knew I was listening, but instead of stopping the conversation or giving me a “shew, go away” kind of look, he drew me deeper into the pain he was inflicting on Yoshi, the lust he was inspiring in Mel, and the power he was deriving for himself. In that moment Adrian could have pushed Mel out of the way, and taken me…and I longed for it.
But eyes can’t last forever.
As my principles started to float away from me I grabbed the chord and re-tied it to my wrist. I tried to distance myself from the situation I had found myself in. I knew something. I knew something that could hurt someone else, but the conflict in my head was making me worry about my moral compass. Fidelity is the thing I hold above all else. My true love could call me from the scene of an exploded meth lab that resulted in the death of children, and I would still go pick him up and welcome him back with open arms, but cheat on me and I’ll never speak to you again.
This is why I was questioning myself so deeply. I was upset about the implied infidelity taking place right next to me, but on a separate level I understood it. The person Mel came up to see wasn’t the person he saw when he arrived at Camp Baptême. Almost immediately after arriving he had been abandoned for no small amount of time. Here he was now, having all the attention in the world lavished upon him, and he was thriving. Is that so wrong? Is it ok to be unfaithful if the person you’re cheating on is 50 feet away and doesn’t look at you long enough to notice? I felt bad for Mel, so I kept my mouth shut, well….I kept my mouth shut to Yoshi. I might be attempting a version of compassion and class, but I needed to have this conversation with someone, I am gay after all.
When I finally looked up from my thoughts the first person I saw was Topher who was chatting with Lyssa about something I couldn’t make out, probably for the best. Mystically, moments after I looked up Evan began to teeter-totter with…joy shall we say. It was time for him to go to bed, but he would need mine and Topher’s help if he was going to make it alive.
We slowly but surely made it back to site number 4 and successfully put Evan to bed with only one minor “falling down the stairs” scare. Being a recent college grad, I have seen my fair share of friends putting drunk friends to bed, but this was different. The victim of alcohol is usually apologetic, whether or not the things they are apologizing for are real or imagined is another matter entirely, and wants desperately for you to know that they love you, but somehow when Evan said it as he glided into his tent you knew he meant it, and you knew Topher would always be there to care for him.
Topher and I sat down at their fire pit and had a rather unexpected conversation. This seemed to be increasingly the norm on this trip. People who are either normally rather short and crass become genuinely inquisitive and concerned about your well-being. Adrian was like that a lot on this trip, but even though Topher had never done anything to make me think otherwise as Adrian had, his willingness to talk to me was still something I wasn’t used to.
“What was your first long-term relationship?” The question hit me right in the chest like a baseball bat. I coughed on the oxygen I was breathing ’cause this whole trip I had been thinking about that very thing.
“I dated Sean for 3 1/2 months. I know that may not seem long-term for you, but that’s as close as I get.” I couldn’t really see Topher’s face because it was very dark and there were no city lights to expose his reaction, but I expect there was a slight shaking of the head and a quick realization that he had doomed himself to answering the same question.
“How ’bout you Topher? Who was your first long-term?” This was immediately followed by a short, but all the same awkward, pause. “I’ll give you one guess.” A guess I’m sure he hoped that I would need, but gays don’t operate that way. As soon as I noticed his response was intentionally vague I started rifling through all of the gay gossip stored in my frontal lobe with all my other manic memories. He obviously thought I knew the person, and quite possibly knew that they had dated, but I simply wasn’t making the connection, then I remembered something that had been said a few days before we left for camping.
“Is Topher coming up this year?” “Yeah, fun times with the ex.”
The question had been posed to Yoshi, and all of the sudden the laser hit all the right mirrors and blinded my ignorance.
“Oh my god” the words dribbled out of my mouth like sap. “Yeah, I figured you’d get there eventually.” Topher seemed relieved but simultaneously pained by the trip down memory lane I had forced him into.
Topher and I spoke for another 10 minutes about how the way Yoshi was treating Mel was commonplace, and how much I felt it was wrong. I tried to goad Topher into expressing some kind of anger, or resentment about the whole situation, but I had no luck. If there is one thing I can say about Topher, he knows when he can say something, but more importantly he knows when he ought not to.
“Adrian is hooking up with Mel.”
The sentence just sort of hung there. It hung there in a way that was devoid of metaphor or simile, in a way that was graceful and damning, relieving and torturous. I had been holding onto something that I knew could cause pain, and it was invigorating to let it out. Even though time would see to it that everyone at the campgrounds would know about the “build your own cuckold” workshop going on at site 18, I was the first to know and I was trusting Topher and Evan to hold onto this knowledge as well as I had hoped to.
That was the moment World War II was resurrected on the grounds of Camp Baptême with Germany and Japan in war like states. Topher, Evan, and I decided to become Switzerland and not take a side, but the metaphor didn’t seem to hold up very well. Because Yoshi wasn’t acting like Japan at all, but instead was sporting a more Stalinist facade. He didn’t seem to be grasping the fact that Germany was fucking him over…and over….and over. Here Yoshi was all contented to have a boy that he was ignoring, and Adrian was just a few sites over spreading the eastern front wide open.
You would think that something like this would have been painted across the sky by morning with this particular bunch of people, but shockingly it stayed pretty much under wraps for a full extra day. People walked around the sites trying their best not to make eye contact with people in an order that would raise suspicion. You know how people can sit in a room, look at the cheater, look at the cuckold, and look at the mistress in no logical order and all of a sudden someone has said something without opening their mouth? The seed of doubt gets planted in the mind of the cuckold and there’s nothing you can do to uproot it.
So what did we decide to do about this? Normally we all would have gone tanning, gotten our hair did, and then went to separate bars so we could avoid the conversation, this being the wilderness and all, we went to the river and got sunburnt and plastered. The dangerous topic never came up because Switzerland was attempting to learn as little as possible, and Yoshi and Mel eventually joined us in the river. A few of those telling eye movements creeped into the river water, but by the time enough of the right people were there, people were too drunk to notice. Have you ever noticed that fine balancing act between too drunk to be dramatic, and too drunk to escape drama?
I remember watching teenage sitcoms where something like this happened, not exactly the same because let’s face it, what television channel would portray two brothers in a gay love triangle, but all the same, there were tons of people involved and somehow only one person didn’t know what was going on. The next day, everyone was walking on eggshells and getting increasingly reclusive. The fondue melting pot of two nights ago had gone cold and the bread had gone stale.
When I crawled out of my tent that morning I didn’t see anyone, and thought maybe I had woken up late. I loved the mornings at Camp Baptême, the trees were tall, but not especially thick, so the sun shone through in beams from the canopy to the ground, warming up the dew on the grass that lead from my tent to the breakfast table. There are certain things about camping that make you really appreciate you complicit participation. The feeling of going to sleep in the arms of someone you love under the stars is something I am sure cannot be paralleled. Hearing the birds instead of traffic is a very soothing thing, and falling asleep to the sounds of river water without having to plug something in is comforting, but seeing the sun glisten on the grass was always the most beautiful part of camping.
Just as I had sat down to pour milk onto my cereal I saw Yoshi storming up the pathway from the direction of German territory. The cereal would have to wait, and I decided that breakfast would consist of a cigarette and whatever I could mooch off of Topher and Evan, because I did not want to be there when Yoshi got back to our site. Finding Topher and Evan already lunching I resigned myself to my cigarette and let them know that the bubble had burst. We hid at their site for the better part of a day, picking up bits and pieces of information as the day went on and lesbians passed by like gypsies from one campsite to another.
It was interesting how people seemed to line up after the truth was out. All the lesbians split off and let Yoshi bitch on their shoulders, and most of the men slid over to Adrian’s campsite, not so much because they agreed with Adrian, or even approved, but because the fun wasn’t going to stop over in Germany. Yoshi was understandably upset with Mel, the boy had made him into a cuckold, and no one can be forgiven for that, but what was to become of the relationship between Yoshi and Adrian? Mel had mysteriously, but expectedly, disappeared from paradise in the gap between breakfast and lunch; headed back to the cities with nothing but feelings of rejection and scandal, but Adrian remained. Yoshi stopped by our Switzerland campsite in a surprisingly calm state of mind.
“My brother is a whore, I always knew that, but Mel was supposed to be better.”
“So you’re just going to let it go?” was the response.
“Oh hell no, I’m pissed, but blood is thicker than water and we’ll get past it.”
Now the camp was set to form their own Morbidity and Mortality panel about the events. Who was most to blame? What were we all going to learn from this experience? Why was I feeling so conflicted? I kept darting back and forth between who I thought the blame should rest on. Was it Adrian’s fault for being a whore, or Mel’s fault for cheating on Yoshi, or Yoshi’s fault for making Mel feel like he had to? All too often we place blame on the person who cheated, and leave it at that, but in this situation Yoshi was equally, if not more, culpable than his “insta-boyfriend.” He had taken on a partner who was new to our world, brought him up out of his comfort zone, and then abandoned him. If Yoshi wanted that relationship to work, he was going to have to try at it, and he did the opposite.
I had had a few conversations with Adrian and while driving back to the cities I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of sympathy for him. He was a genuinely caring person, covered by a mask of rumors, cat-calling, and insecurity. He may not have come up on this camping trip looking to cause pain, but he had done just that. Maybe we should take a lesson from the woods and decide to show people our vulnerable sides, in order so that we might be able to connect with someone on a deeper level without feeling the temptation to cause pain in the process. We can let our armor down, and if Adrian had done the same, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. In a world where his brother Yoshi had done everything in his power to make him feel like a whore, Adrian had allowed himself to become the evil. When Yoshi spread the word that Adrian was forgiven, it only made the situation worse. Sometimes the worst thing a person you hurt can do…is forgive you.