radical faeries

Faerie culture is undefinable as a group; however, it has similar characteristics to “Marxism, feminism, paganism, Native American and New Age spirituality, anarchism, the mythopoetic men’s movement, radical individualism, the therapeutic culture of self-fulfillment and self-actualization, earth-based movements in support of sustainable communities, spiritual solemnity coupled with a camp sensibility, gay liberation and drag.”
—  Hennen, Peter. “Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen.”
Neo-Pagans and Queer Fermenting

Hey Folks,

This week’s topic (Paganism and non-Christian spirituality in agriculture and farming) comes from a suggestion from Maria.  The principle text was Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, a book from 1979 (and revised in 1986). 

                                     

Here, I was specifically looking for sites of resistance to, what I thought, were an overwhelming number of Christian narratives in the history of homesteading (early settlers, US gov American Indian policies, Wendell Berry, etc…).  Surely, the neo-pagans would have something to say of agricultural alternatives in a really weird, or novel, way.

     

Let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Firstly, Neo-Paganism: let’s situate that.  It is a religious/spiritual idea rested in a belief in animism, pantheism, and polytheism, as well as a practice rested in resistance.  That is, as a product of the late 1960’s “neo-sacral” movement, it co-evolved in the same cultural landscape as sexual liberation, second-wave feminism, identity politics, and counter-cultural protest and radicalism (5).  In this respect, it’s easy to, then, to understand the ways in which many of the feminist/neo-pagans of the late 1970s married these ideas.  To elaborate, Adler writes:

It has become clear…that many women regard political struggles and spiritual development as interdependent, and feel that both are needed to create a society and culture that would be meaningful to them.  (178)

Perhaps it i useful to draw on the second-wave adage, “the personal is political."  The resistance central to the project isn’t only seen in a personal discovery of pagan traditions (an individualized process that oft reacts against being born into a seemingly oppressed society structured around protestant narratives), but also in the resistance of dominate socio-political patriarchy.  

By engaging oneself in a Mother Earth and matriarchal tradition, these women draw upon an idea of self-cultivating power that is.  Their grounding in a long long pseudo-history is a source of power in resisting the oppressive patriarchy of mid- to late- twentieth century American society.  Note, I say the idea of this tradition; not actually tradition.  Adler acknowledges that "it is easy to get sidetracked by details, and that is the game many scholars play” (189).  Guilty….  While she “plays” it for a while, providing details into archeological discoveries of a ridiculous number of “mother” or female figure statues, she quotes neo-pagan/feminist Z Budapest as saying “if Goddess religion is sixty thousand years old or seven thousand, it does not matter.  Certainly not for the future!  Recognizing the divine Goddess within is where real religion is at” (192).  I can appreciate that, especially if I’m to approach this from some sort of academic neutrality.  However, this sentiment ignores to problematic caveats of neo-paganism: it ignores that each person individually constructs a history of paganism such that there can’t be this universalized “mother,” and also, that these discourse are involved in a primitivist discourse of returning to an idealized past.  That is to say, concerning the last point, it’s really problematic that these people claim a falsely universal past, especially when it so freely involves the taking of ideas from other cultures in a way that reproduces the violence of colonialism.

Anyway, enough of that critique.

It is enough to recognize that there is resistance to patriarchy.  But what about the queer perspective?  I’m sure that there was a neo-pagan/feminist/lesbian understanding of self, but Adler doesn’t terry there.  Instead, I pivot to the distinctly male, though not un-problematized masculine, radical faeries in order to quilt in that queer perspective.

Radical Faeries, you ask?  Just let me tell you!

The Radical Faeries are a group of gay men that are practicing neo-pagans and, largely, engage in a back-to-the-land, or “homecoming” practice of rural separatist communes.  They actively fuck with gender norms, trying to dismantle the oppressive nature of traditional American hetero-masculinity. 

I read selections of one of the texts that led to this phenomenon, Evans’s Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.  As a historical document, it is ENDLESSLY fascinating.  While there is gesturing towards a native-sensitive understanding of American history (“American civilization began in genocide” [p113].), it also engages in an oh-so-problematic discourse of noble savagery, claiming that natives to America never knew war, lived in total harmony with the environment, and had “little hierarchy” (113).  So, not really the truth…. but to understand this move, let us look to another brief moment.  “…Gay persons of both sexes were regarded with religious awe."  According to this text (which, like Adler’s, isn’t the most academically rigorous), Gay people always existed in "nature peoples” (116) and were the most skilled and revered.  There is some truth to this (see, Roscoe’s Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America), but Evans paints with a big brush, universalizing a “berdache” tradition that existed in some, though definitely not all, native communities.  But this book, not matter its problematic nature, was and is significant.  It at once legitimized modern homosexuality (and a more effeminate, spiritually identity) and provided impetus for resettlement patterns (i.e. faerie communes).

And why do I care so much?  What does this have to do with agriculture, farming and homesteading?  Well, they farm, produce their own food, and though they aren’t hell-bent on self sufficiency, they have a system of production, community building, and religious orientation that is an active transgression against “modern” agricultural methods and forms of gender regulation.

What’s more, though, is that this gay male form of neo-pagan informed agriculture/community has persisted.  Many of these communes are still around, and the radical faerie movement has spread around the country and world.  But what’s more, though, is that it isn’t insular!  You say what now?

Have you seen this book?

Chances are you have.  And if you haven’t, if you spent any amount of time on foodie/homesteading blogs, you’d run into it either directly or through aside references.  This is “Sandy” Katz’s guide to fermentation- an essential part of home food preservation for a lot of folks in this new food movement.  What makes this amazing, though, is that Katz is a radical fearie, and a well read one.  One could (and I mostly do) argue that by fact that Katz is writing and being so encoded into the DNA of the food movement, that queer neo-paganism has had an impact on young farmers and homesteaders, however tacit.  But that fact isn’t all.  No, let me read you a quick passage.

Here, Katz is telling us (in prose, yes) that this particular non-dairy kefir recipe came from River, and continues to say….

I hesitate a bit with the pronouns when I refer to River.  Pronouns are so programmed into us and generally selected at a subconscious level.  With River, I find that pronoun selection is not only conscious but consciousness-raising.  His is biologically female, but male-identified.  He is a tranny. 

Trannies, or transgendered people, are folks who do not fit neatly into either of the two gender categories we are offered.  One response is to create new categories to contain the variety, like drag kings and queens, and transsexuals.  More power to them all.  But there will always be people whose unique sense of themselves does not conform neatly to the parameters of any gender subcategory.  We can take it a step further and treat gender as fluid construct that can shift over time and through different cultural milieus.  Microorganisms do this all the time, transmogrifying into different forms to adapt to shifting conditions.  Why can’t gender identity be a simple right of self determination?  Trannies are organizing and speaking out and gaining visibility, and I see them as a positive force for change in our world.  I’m a bio-boy for gender freedom and self-determination, and I embrace gender-blenders of diverse description.  People struggling in the margins need respect and support  (89).

WHOA!  This foodie how-to guide to fermentation not only just embraced a simple teachable moment, but also theoretically linked fermentation (food/agriculture) with sexual identity, effectively queering the self-sufficient food system, as well using this book as a platform for radical political coalitional organizing!!!!!!!

Granted, this is one example of how folks are engaging with agriculture and homesteading, but it’s a significant one.  And if I’m looking for moments of active queering in that whole agricultural project, missing this one would be a terrible loss.  It’s subtle, but food just got a lot more pagan and a lot more queer.

THIS.
  • Me: Oh Lord! ____________ is organizing a Faerie retreat on an island and has invited me. I would actually go for the orgies, but he's invited ____ and _____ and other fucks that I cannot stand. Want me to invite you so you can see who is going and hate??
  • Pony: I've already been invited babe! Is it faerie tradition to invite a tranny [sic] 'cause if you don't they'll curse you?
6-19-1992

June 19, 1992                                                                       Friday

Here I am with Gary Eminger.  We are camping with what they call the Radical Faeries. It is cold and damp, the only kind of weather I really hate besides freezing rain. I thought I had seen it all. These people are so different from me.  I certainly am not in Kansas any more.  Anything goes, total freedom and liberation. I suspect all gay men, but who knows for sure?  You can dress anyway you want or not dress at all. And when I say dress anyway you want, I mean anyway.   People are wearing dresses, skirts, bras, panties, pantyhose, feathers, hats, jewelry, wigs, makeup, masks, wings, crowns, togas, jock-straps, or like I said just be naked.  Everyone is very kind and willing to talk and the purpose really is all about having fun.

Camping isn’t something I like to do, but I felt if these crazies are doing it so can I.  Besides, it’s probably good for me to get back to nature.  I did have one glitch so far… I locked the keys in the van.  I was lucky because someone had a coat hanger and I shoved it down into the window and pull the mechanism that unlocked the door. That would have been a nightmare should we not had been able to get back in. 

There is only one or two guys here I would sleep with, and lets be honest, one of the big reasons I came on this camping trip is to have sex.  I certainly have not been having as much sex as I would like since I’ve been back in Grand Rapids.

I hope to take some great photos. One of the things I dislike about taking photos at an event is that I don’t get to participate. I’m so busy behind the camera taking the photo of the fun that I miss out on the actual experience myself. I would rather set up my own scene and shoot it and be done.  If I know myself I’ll end up not taking any pictures so I can have some fun.

Last night Gary and I got high. A group of men stood around a huge campfire naked or in dresses and party hats and jewelry and danced. It was a lot of fun.

I’m off to the Cowboy Junkies, yippy. 

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Harry Hay and Barbara Gittings interviewed by Vito Russo. Our Time. c.1983. Part 2