Last fall, Justin Johnson, better known as drag performer Alyssa Edwards, held a contest in which the winners would be selected to spend a weekend at Camp Tazo, sleepaway camp sponsored by Tazo Tea and hosted and curated by Edwards. Edwards received over 5,000 applicants, but only 30 of those applicants were selected to spend a weekend camping in Marble Falls, TX with the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumna.
One of those winners was 25-year-old Marc Reed, an out personal trainer who had first heard of the Camp Tazo contest after a friend shared an Instagram post by Edwards with him.
“When I got the letter saying I had been accepted out of over 5000 applicants, I legitimately wanted to shit a brick,” Reed recalls. “I texted my family right away because they knew I had interviewed. Then as I told more family and friends about the whole situation, people were one part excited for me and one part confused about what the fuck “Camp Tazo” a “camp for adults” was.”
Reed admits that at the time he was accepted, he wasn’t entirely sure what was in store for him at Camp Tazo.
“Was I setting out into the desert to drink Kool Aid and potentially be murdered? Quite possibly, yes,” Reed says. “I wanted to explain what it was, but truthfully, I had no idea what I was signing up for either. Prior to the camp, we were given ambiguous pieces of information.”
The itinerary itself was rather vague, calling for campers to bring items that would create for them a “Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons-esque look” and their “best Texas dance hall look.”
Prior to leaving for camp, Reed joined a Facebook group created by one of the other campers, where he got to learn the backstories of the people he would be spending the weekend with.
“I found that one was like Teacher of the Year and had met Oprah,” Reed recalls, “Another had survived testicular cancer. When I flew into Texas and arrived at the hotel, the first camper I met had been in the military for 20 years and she was happily married to a deaf woman. The next camper I met was a gay man who owned a frozen yogurt shop and was trying to promote safe spaces across his fairly small, homophobic town. The next camper I met managed like, 600 police officers. And the next camper I met was facing a terminal illness. One camper designed a pair of boots that RuPaul himself purchased at full price. Another camper was a 20 year old model. Another camper was a body positivity blogger. Another camper was a photographer with tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. Another camper was a journalist for Out Magazine. Another camper was in med school in Portland.”
Upon arriving to Camp Tazo, Reed met Edwards, who made a fabulous entry to the campsite after ziplining across a river.
“When she walked across the sandy beach and sat in a chair literally right next to me, I had to get my jaw off the ground and really hold myself together,” Reed recalls. “I wondered if she would just come, say hello on the first night, and then disappear, but that was not the case.”
On the first night, the campers sat around a campfire and introduced themselves.
“I told her how I grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan and that I showed in 4H,” Reed says. “I told her I was the Supreme Showman of Michigan three years in a row, and that I showed at the World Dairy Expo onetime. She asked if I won, and I had to say no.”
Over the course of the weekend, Reed and the campers participated in various camp activities, including dance aerobics, axe throwing and a poetry exchange. Reed believes that these activities and his overall experience helped him step out of his comfort zone.
“One of the most valuable things I learned was something that Alyssa said on our last day together,” Reed says. “She said drag helped her to turn the volume on her microphone up. Since leaving camp, that has been a practice I am continually working to make a habit of. Life is fleeting and there are judgers and haters everywhere that will try to tell you that you suck or that your opinions are lame or don’t matter. But Alyssa is correct in that we all have value to bring to the world – special talents and lessons to share. If you keep them locked up inside of you, the world will never know what you had to offer.”
Although Camp Tazo may have only taken place over the course of a weekend, Reed believes he has made memories that will quite literally last him a lifetime.
“Several people were having Justin to sign pictures and mementos, and I didn’t have anything, so I asked him to sign my shoulder,” Reed recalls. “He agreed, and when I got back home to Michigan, I had the signature tattooed on.”
After his Camp Tazo experience, Reed plans to continue carrying himself with pride.
“I try to be 100 percent my honest to goodness self,” Reed says. “If that means going into work with a beat mug and white clogs on to train new employees or meet with executives, so be it. If that means going to the club in mom jeans and crocs, screw the haters. Live out loud, turn your volume up, be yourself, all that good stuff. That is pride to me.”