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"Word of Mouth" How The Trans+ Community Found Itself

976-CAMP

976-CAMP Advertisement (1991)

In 1991, a California corporation by the name of Concept St. James, Inc. (CStJ) created a dating telephone line for the transgender community called 976-CAMP—the term “camp” referring to a form of feminine behaviour and dress enjoyed by some gay men.

The phone line was a kind of bulletin board. Each call started with a twelve-second welcome and disclaimer, during which the caller could hang up without charge. It followed with a menu of up to four choices. A caller could listen to three short personal messages in which previous callers would describe themselves, what they were looking for, and leave a contact phone number. Finally, the call provided an opportunity for callers to leave their own personal message.

976-CAMP did not initially take off. Its creators, being unfamiliar with the Trans+ community, were at a loss when it came to the kinds of images and name for their 900 line that might be appropriate for advertising the new number. The word CAMP, being a reference to gay men, did not resonate with people who then identified themselves as crossdressers, transvestites, or transsexuals. One of the images that proved to be a net-loss for the company can be seen here, depicting what became known by its creators as “a masculine Dolly Levi.”

Despite its rocky start, 976-CAMP eventually found its niche when its creators moved the service from the relatively queer-friendly community of Hollywood to the more conservative region of Orange County.

In its new location, 976-CAMP changed from image-based advertising directed to the gay community, to discrete text-based classified ads aimed at catching the eyes of curious (and often closeted) transvestites, transsexuals, and crossdressers (“TVs,” “TSs,” and “CDs”). According to one of the phone line’s founders, “Our market for discreet gender dating/socializing was far greater in less hospitable areas than in LA where, despite the challenges of the times, the trans community had relatively welcoming stores, bars, and clubs.”

During its heyday in the 1990s, 976-CAMP saw up to 600 calls a day, providing introductions for approximately six million connections throughout the course of the decade. But by the year 2000, the Internet had arrived, and Concept St. James, Inc. had closed its doors.

It was time, yet again, for something new.


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