Monday, July 13, 2009

Freedom Valley

Warning: this post is all about a pretty personal reconnection. It’s not a travel posting, but an intimate reunion. Read forewarned.

Breakfast, farm style: My mom’s blueberry waffles made in the 1950’s waffle iron, coffee, juice, Ohio maple syrup. It’s good to wake in familiar space, Moona happily playing in the barn all morning, and the soaking of a Midwest thunder storm. I speak to Orione on Skype, see him playing with his new toys, but he’s fairly unwilling to converse on any real level. The real scoop on what’s up comes from his Baba, who tells me in great detail all that they’ve done. Sounds like a wonder- and indulgence-filled trip.

Moona and I pull out, heading southwest of Cleveland, to visit Terry, my first love and high school boyfriend. Haven’t seen nor spoken to Terry for twenty years, and we’re going camping with him and his partner at Freedom Valley Campground, “Where Men Go to Camp!” It’s a theme weekend welcoming friends and family of the gay men who frequent this campground, and we’ll be staying in Terry and Gary’s R.V.

After dealing with attempted (yet failed) collusive homophobia at the nearby gas station when I ask for directions, we find Freedom Valley and then Terry, with most of his family. The niece I knew as a baby now has her Master’s degree and is married… all of the sisters are present, as well as Terry’s mom. It’s an incredible reunion, complete with pictures of me and Terry, much in love, at 17. What babies! How thin!

After Terry’s family leaves, we spend the afternoon lounging by the pool and catching up. There is the saying of many sweet and tender things to each other, and what surprising and rare opportunities we are sometimes given. This is the lovely man to whom I entrusted my virginity all those years ago, and the choice was solid, then and now. The memories that return are of the intentionality and consciousness around the decision to become sexually active, and the wish that it will be the same for my own children when it comes to that time. It’s an utter pleasure to see him, meet Gary, and allow his story to reweave with my own.

Freedom Valley Campground is a very special place. I’ve spent a bunch of time in queer communities lately, and this place reminds me that being queer does not equate with radical politics, activism or lifestyle. What really hits home is the level of acceptance and celebration of queerness. Now, I live in San Francisco and take for granted what many in America still struggle for. Yet there is a poignancy about Freedom Valley for me… I am so glad to have my daughter exposed to this, and how would things have been different for me if my dad’s gayness had been normalized in such a way? As opposed to pathologized? This place is calm and peaceful. It’s centered around enjoying community and enjoying oneself. It’s not edgy, but rather full of colorful and kitschy gardens, light decorations and RVs. The men are so welcoming and friendly, and cruise around the campground in their golf carts. As Terry says, this is not camping, but ‘gay camping.’ Moona and I get taken on the grand tour, and carted around in style. We snack all afternoon on delicious bad-for-you foods like cheese dip and BBQ chips and doughnuts. After bed for her, I get to go to the drag show with Terry and Gary, which is amusing and has one really great performer. I’m too shy to give over the dollar tips Ter has given me. Quote of the day is when Gary comments on Terry’s love of Mylie Cyrus, “How gay is that?” And I must say, it’s pretty damn gay.

Several times during the afternoon and evening, I’m taken by surprise that here I am sitting next to this person who was my first true love, and there is still so much love and connection between us, but all of the weirdness is completely gone. He’s just an old friend now, and my daughter finds him pretty top-notch. The sense I gather of Terry is that his life is satisfying. Thanks, Facebook, maybe I’ll send you a $10 donation!