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Camp: A Queer Sensibility

David Hedges

“[C]amp is a country. Kind of like Narnia, only here the White Witch is a drag queen named Turkish Delight and the animals take themselves far less seriously.”

- J. Bryan Lowder

LGBT Pride Month is celebrated each June to honor the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and the ongoing efforts to achieve equal justice and opportunity for the queer community. June also marks the anniversary of some of the most significant Supreme Court victories for LGBT people, including Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges. In addition to commemorating landmark achievements of LGBT activism, Pride Month affords a time for LGBT people to voraciously indulge in all things queer.

For me, one of the defining characteristics of gay culture is camp. Though not exclusively gay, camp has long been considered a secret language and social currency of gay men. A notoriously amorphous aesthetic, the essence of camp is its love for artifice and exaggeration. Camp is the discovery of the good taste of bad taste. The purest of camp moments are unintentional; they are dead serious. Arguably the most famous camp relic, Mommie Dearest, is so exquisitely terrible, and unintentionally so, that it is pure gold. Camp recognizes that “it’s good because it’s awful.”

The most accessible form of camp comes by way of drag. Drag queens serve as the high priestesses of the aesthetic, often times exercising ‘campy’ humor to hand down wisdom born of pain of generations past. With the exception of Jynkx Monsoon, you won’t find much of this on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which celebrates the glamazon. For a dose of true camp, head over to YouTube for a viewing of Miss Coco Peru’s On Playing with Dolls, or check her out in the cult classic, Girls Will Be Girls. If you are overcome with an embarrassing titillation of joy impossible to justify, welcome to the land of camp.