Mark Thompson & Don Kilhefner On the
30th Anniversary of the First Radical Faerie Gathering
Authors and community elders, Mark Thompson and Don Kilhefner have been collecting memories from radical faeries around the country to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first Faerie gathering this year. A book collected from these memories is in the planning stages as of this writing edited by the two of them. Mark and Don sat down and talked about it for White Crane:
Mark Thompson: The Radical Faeries at 30. Wow! Who among us standing on the reddish sands of a remote desert ashram in 1979 could have imagined that?
Thirty is such an archetypal age for gay men—youth is over and what awaits each of us as the road narrows and thickens in the years ahead is unknown and in many cases cast away. But that first gathering was a seminal event that deeply marked the lives of each of the 200 men who had gathered there. It was a queer inner initiation by a sacred fire—and then by some wet earth and water, too!
Don Kilhefner: Thirty years later, I still get goose bumps when I think of the closing ceremony of the first Radical Fairy gathering in the Sonora desert night. For a brief moment you, Mark, saw a bull with two large horns on a hill overlooking our ceremony. I felt the presence of benevolent, helpful spirits during the entire gathering. And you are right, it was an initiation—a profound initiation—in the true sense of that word as in beginning something new, initiating a new way for us as gay men to be with each other and think about ourselves. The wet earth and water to which you refer must be the Mud Ritual.
Like much of the gathering, there was a spontaneous, in the moment feel to it, as we co-created with Gay Spirit. After lunch one day, someone just announced that a Mud Ritual was taking place and the Fairies carried buckets after buckets out into the desert where the water was mixed with the red earth. Then chanting sacred songs, each Fairy present was lovingly and gently covered from head to toe with red mud. As the chanting continued, they formed a circle which slowly moved in on itself until every one was embracing every one else—with OM reverberating over the whole gathering. It was truly magical to the bone. When people say to me that the Radical Fairies are ‘New Age,” I always correct them by saying actually we are Old Stone Age and to the Radical Fairies—Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam are New Age phenomena.
Mark: So much was ignited in the immediate aftermath of that initial gathering. Can you tell us some of those results? And then about some of the dissipation that happened after that? And then the cycle of re-imagining we seem to be in today—at least in some places in the world.
Don: In the Spring of 1978, when Harry Hay and I sat along the Rio Grande as it flowed past San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico and first discussed the possibility of such a gathering, we could not see where it all might lead. What we did know is that it was time for visionary gay men to meet and talk with each other as we saw the original, white hot creative energy of the Gay Liberation movement being vampirized by more conventional gay bourgeois politics and unimaginative gay assimilation.
There were three national gatherings. The original gathering in Arizona in 1979, the second gathering in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado sponsored by the Denver Fairies; and the third gathering in New Mexico. At the same time these national gatherings were happening, regional and local gatherings were springing up everywhere and decentralization has characterized the Radical Fairies every since with each region and city taking on its own unique features—most are for gay men only, some heteros and homos, and some men and women. But initially the Radical Fairies were created by Hay and me as an rare opportunity for gay men to come together in spirit, brotherhood, and purpose in a natural setting.
Mark: Still, for most gay men today, the Radical Fairies appear more mythical than real. What happened to that original genesis spark and what can we do to reignite it in ways that would make sense for us today.
Don: I see the Radical Fairies, now as then, as both mythical and real at the same time. From my training in and practice of gay shamanism, I know that it is sometimes difficult to know where one world ends and another begins. Cutting edge contemporary physics also has this challenge with string theory and its extension brane (as in membrane) theory which says that multiple, parallel worlds (branes) exist at the same time. In other words, reality is multidimensional. Radical Fairies often experience this—the mythical realm and the middle world realm at the same time.
But getting to the root of your question, what was the original genesis of the Radical Fairies. It was more or less threefold. First, was a attempt to bring together gay men with second sight to talk about the direction of the Gay Liberation movement, to open up the next stage of development for us as gay men. By that I mean to explore the meaning of being gay and what do gay men contribute to society. We know from evolutionary biology that we would not be reappearing generation after generation, millennium after millennium, until we were contributing to the survival of our species.
This questioning has been complicated by the identity than has been laid on us by our oppressors—homosexual—and we carry it around like a ball and chain around our ankle. We have had the tail wagging the dog. And the Radical Fairies, in part, were created to ignite an exploration and manifestation of a new gay man self-defined outside of the slave name “homosexual.” Harry and I were encouraging gay men to make a jail break.
Secondly, we saw from that new understanding of who were are and what we are contributing, we saw the Radical Fairies as being political but not using the old paradigm of left and right and the old political descriptors. But the next stage of Gay Liberation would be gay-centered in a way that would allow us to communicate to the dominant culture what it is we are doing in society. Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, and Hay in the Purpose Statement of the Mattachine Society were dancing around the same question. We are yin to their yang. E.O. Wilson, the dean of American evolutionary biology at Harvard, in his On Human Nature states: “There is a strong possibility that homosexuality is a distinctive beneficent behavior that evolved as an import element of early human social organization. Homosexuals may be the genetic carriers of some of mankind’s most altruistic impulses.” Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford, has written Evolution’s Rainbow: Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People in which she suggest we are the carriers of “cooperation” wherever we are found in nature.
Finally, the Radical Fairy gatherings represent the kind of larger, and healthier, gay community Fairies want to create and live in. A community in which we can be visibly and openly “gay” in the widest sense of that word; we value the gifts of each person and weave those gifts into the fabric of community life; we feed each other both spiritually and literally; we honor ancestors, require elders, depend on adults, and invite youth; we assume our responsibilities not only to the gay community but to the larger community of beings; we are environmentally conscious and work to protect and heal the planet; we perform the necessary rituals and ceremonies that keep a community sane and healthy; we are culturally aware and creative; and we play and have fun.
Many Radical Faerie gatherings today have become social gatherings with little connection to the original roots and vision of the Radical Faeries. What is needed today is a national gathering of Radical Fairies to again allow gay men the rare opportunity of coming together in spirit, brotherhood and purpose again. If such a gathering were to be organized, at least a thousand would show up, many of them younger gay men looking for an alternative to the empty calories of gay assimilation.
The Radical Faerie Reader, edited by Mark Thompson and Don Kilhefner will be published sometime in 2010.
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