Radical faeries (also faeries and faes) are a loosely affiliated worldwide network of mostly gay men seeking to "reject hetero-imitation" and redefine gay identity; many are also pagans or members of counterculture movements. The Faeries trace the origin of their movement's name to a "Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries" called in 1979 by Harry Hay, John Burside, Don Kilhefner, and Mitch Walker in Benson, Arizona. The movement has spread throughout the world over the past decades since, in tandem with the larger gay rights movement, challenging the commercialization and patriarchal aspects of modern gay life while celebrating pagan constructs and rituals, and adapting rural living and environmentally sustainable concepts to modern technologies as part of human creative expression.
Members embody the fae or, in simplified terms feminized ideals in gay men while, also, being fiercely independent, anti-establishment and community-focused. For many, the goal is to embody a fluid spectrum of gender expression, feminine to masculine and all points between, as a path towards transcending the limits of human social conditioning.
Radical Faeries vary greatly from region to region and often commune at large gatherings timed with the seasons and solar system — especially the Equinox and Solstice.
Started in 1979 by Harry Hay, his long-time partner John Burnside, Don Kilhefner, and Mitch Walker. A central tenet of the group is that there is no single definition of faerie — Faerie is a self-assumed identity.
The Faeries were a contributing influence to John Cameron Mitchell's film Shortbus.
The Radical Faerie movement started in the United States among gay men during the 1970s sexual revolution. Radical Faerie communities are generally inspired by aboriginal or native, traditional spiritualities, especially those that incorporate queer sensibilities. The Radical Faeries use heart circle, communal living, consensus decision-making, dance, drag, pagan ritual, drumming, sex, magic, and intimacy to "examine what it means to be a whole human who is also a queer person".
In the beginning, the movement was open exclusively to gay men, though most communities are now open to all genders and sexual orientations. Radical Faerie communities practice "queer-themed spirituality" associated with radical politics, paganism or neopaganism, feminism, gender liberation, and may encompass any and all religions or a lack of them.
In 1979, Harry Hay, his partner John Burnside, Don Kilhefner and Mitch Walker, veterans of various phases of gay liberation, issued the call to a "Spiritual Conference of Radical Faeries." Those who responded to the call showed up at an ashram in Benson, Arizona over Labor Day weekend (September 1). Hay introduced the idea of merging spirituality into gay liberation, recognizing the isolation and disconnectedness that gay men grow up with as a spiritual wound needing spiritual healing. The goal of the co-creators of the Radical Faerie movement was to make this spiritual healing possible through various means.
Some Radical Faeries ask what kind of society emerges if queerfolk are together by themselves, set apart in order to investigate the inner voice in a completely Gay culture. Such seeking led to Faerie Gatherings lasting from a day or two to a week or more where new and spontaneous ways of relating could emerge.
In keeping with the hippie, neopagan, ecology, and eco-feminist trends of the time, gatherings were held out-of-doors in natural settings. To this end, distinct Radical Faerie communities have created sanctuaries in many rural settings.
No Radical Faerie dogma or doctrine exists per se. The identity of Radical Faerie is never conferred upon a person. The individual claims their Radical Faerie nature in an on-going act of self-discovery and self-actualization. It can be as challenging to define “Radical Faerie” as it is to define “Human Being,” as ultimately those aspects of life that hold meaning are experienced, rarely to be mediated effectively through description.
Some Radical Faeries hold that the queer soul is linked with the natural world, that queerfolk are called by the good goddess to be gatekeepers to the spirit world. As a sign of this spirit connection, many Radical Faeries take a ritual name, known as a faerie name. This tradition is inspired by the Native American "Medicine Name" tradition, where a shaman gives spiritually significant individuals a medicine name. In many Native American traditions, a shaman bestows medicine names upon initiates; one does not choose it. The faerie name tradition is similar, though Radical Faeries usually choose their own faerie name(s).
The magical and "radical humanist" views of Arthur Evans, specifically his work Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture (1978) have been seen by some faeries as influential to the movement.
In an article for FAIRIES, a feature series of the Faerie movement, part of the White Crane Journal, early Faerie, Mitch Walker emphasizes the queer cultural significance of the Faeries. Proposing that the Faeries represent the first spiritual movement to be both "gay centered and gay engendered", where gayness is central to the idea, rather than in addition to, or incidental to a pre-existing spiritual tradition. Arguing that for the Radical Faerie exploration of the "gay spirit" is central, and that it is itself the source of spirituality, wisdom and initiation. Stateing that, "Because of its indigenous, gay-centered nature, the Radical Faerie movement pioneers a new seriousness about gayness, its depth and potential, thereby heralding a new stage in the meaning of Gay Liberation."
Faerie gatherings are a space "between the worlds." Generally, Radical Faeries celebrate the 8 pagan holidays of the year: Samhain (Halloween), Yule (winter solstice), Imbolc (Candlemas), Ostara (vernal equinox), Beltane (May Day), Litha (summer solstice), Lughnasadh (Lammas), Mabon (autumnal equinox). Gatherings are frequently held in connection with these holidays. A ritual at gathering may include candles, fires, prayers, chanting, dancing, streamers, bedizened drag queens, ritual music, mud pits, sweat lodges, fire dances, drumming, running through the woods naked, Sufi twirling, and spiral dancing. Nudity at ritual is common, and as always, Radical Faeries take inspiration from Aboriginal America.
Heart Circle is a central tool of the Radical Faerie way of life, and arose from the ideal of consensus. Heart Circle is informed by a theoretical opposition to hierarchy, from radical politics, and from Hay's idea of "subject-SUBJECT Consciousness" (capitalized by Hay for added emphasis). It includes aspects of various therapy, human-potential, and consciousness-raising groups. Each day at gatherings, this group process forms for discussion, emotional processing, and emotional healing. Heart Circle is a place to share thoughts and feelings, to heal, to make decisions, and to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a queer person. It can also be a place of confrontation, of unflinching examination of one's deepest beliefs, understandings, and faults. Disagreement – rooted in the “contrarian” tradition of some Plains Indian Tribes - is a Radical Faerie first principle.
Informality, acceptance, and flamboyance of dress (and undress) are the norm at gatherings, which are held across the world. Traditionally, these have been rural affairs, though some urban gatherings take place, such as the Vancouver Green Body Gathering, held in Canada each year.
Radical Faerie sanctuaries — rural land or urban buildings where Faeries have come together to live a communal life — now exist in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
- Hay, Harry; Will Roscoe (ed.) (1996). Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of its Founder. Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-7080-7.
- Evans, Arthur (1978). Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Fag Rag Books. ISBN 0915480018.
- Timmons, Stuart (1990). The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement. Alyson Publications. ISBN 1-55583-175-3.
- Thompson, Mark (2005). Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. Lethe Press/White Crane Books. ISBN 1590210247.
- RFD: A Country Journal for Queer Folk Everywhere
- White Crane Journal, a journal of Gay Wisdom & Culture, is edited by Radical Faeries and has included many articles by and about Radical Faerie consciousness.
- Dubowski, Sandi (2006, Fall). "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved on 2007-04-20.
- Walker, Mitch (Fall 1997), “Contradictory Views on Radical Faerie Thought”, White Crane Journal 34, <http://www.whitecranejournal.com/wc01019.html>
- Johnson, Toby, International Gay and Lesbian Revue: Critique of Patriarchal Reason, <http://gaybookreviews.info/review/2593/919>. Retrieved on 25 March 2008
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