What are Radical Faeries?
The radical faeries movement emerged in the late 1970s, inspired by the thinking of several leaders in the gay consciousness movement including JUNGIAN psychologist Mitch Walker, philosopher Arthur Evans, and gay rights pioneer Harry Hay. The faeries of the 1970s reclaimed the traditionally pejorative name FAIRY in order to identify with the gender variant sacred outsider that has appeared and reappeared in many cultures throughout human history .
Informed by a Marxist, feminist, anarchist political perspective, and a goddess-oriented, earth-energy, neo-pagan spiritual sensibility, radical faeries quite consciously rejected the growing gay assimilationism that developed in North American urban centers in the 1970s.
The radical faeries appealed to people like me who most decidedly did not feel “just like anyone else except for what we do in bed” to “come home” to gatherings of the tribe in rural settings. There we could find sanctuary, commune with nature away from the distortions of the urban environment, share feelings and ideas about the nature of the sexual “other,” and wear dresses in the woods. I liked wearing flamboyant red robes.
We faeries celebrated the differences that separate gay people from heterosexuals.This reclaiming of the radical notion that gay-identified men have a special place in our culture dovetailed nicely with the experiments in communal living that had been continuing with varying degrees of success since the hippie movement of the 1960s.
While some faeries, borrowing from the separatist feminist sensibility, wanted to live as far as possible from the mainstream culture in order to nurture the spirit, study magical arcana such as witchcraft, and be free to “view the world askance,” as I did, other faeries came from a tradition of fierce political activism and were determined to make the larger world safe for gender variance and sacred sexuality by challenging patriarchy and altering the consciousness, mores, and laws of the land. Both styles of faeries coexisted and shared their influence at the gatherings that were organized during the 1980s, at first in rural settings in the Southwest, and then all around North America.
Radical Fairies in Southern California
In 1980 Harry Hay decided to found a Faerie circle in Los Angeles that met at his house, which became known as “Faerie Central“, devoting half their time to serious discussion and the other half to recreation, in particular English circle dancing, which I loved. As more gay guys joined the circle, we began meeting in West Hollywood‘s First Presbyterian Church and then at the olive grove atop the hill at Barnsdall Park, near where I grew up in Hollywood. However we found it difficult to gain the same change of consciousness that had been present at the rural gathering.
The group began to discuss what the Faerie movement was developing into; Harry encouraged us to engage in political activism, using Marxism as a framework for bringing about societal change. Others however wanted the movement to focus on spirituality exploring the psyche, and lambasting politics as part of “the straight world”.
There was some antagonism between Harry Hay and Mitch Walker from the beginning, in part stemming from their personality differences. It was made worse by their differing approaches to Jungian psychology. Being a Jungian analyst, Walker saw Jung’s analytical psychology as central to his world view and believed that it could be utilized to aid the gay movement, whereas Hay, being a politico, was disdainful of it.
Eventually Mitch Walker formed a new Los Angeles-based gay spiritual group called Treeroots which promoted a form of rural gay consciousness associated with Jungian psychology and ceremonial magic. Despite the division among its founders, the Radical Faerie movement continued to grow, largely as a result of its egalitarian structure, with many participants being unaware of the squabbles. Hay himself continued to be welcomed at gatherings, coming to be seen as an elder statesman in the movement.
Growth and Evolution
The HIV epidemic did not, as many gays feared bring about the demise of the faerie phenomenon. Indeed, the faerie movement has continued to grow. While it is true that some of the “founding faerie fathers” held gender specific and essentialist views that now seem exclusive and discriminatory, the faerie movement has actually broadened and become more inclusive than many people realize. People of all genders and orientations now find and identify themselves as faeries.
Today in 2019, faerie culture is both evolving and evanescent. There are as many definitions of the faeries and our movement as there are faeries to ask. What is certain is that the faerie experience has enhanced and sometimes profoundly changed the lives of many gifted people. It certainly has meant a lot to me!