The Radical Faeries At 40

PHILIP HUANG

“If you can bake a fierce pie, if you can do fierce drag, if you can dig a ditch or cut a potato generally into cubes, you can be a Faerie.”

BY PHILIP HUANG

“I know your type,” my therapist said, pointing her cigarette at me. 

I had just told her that, despite my feelings about the Second Amendment, I wanted to put a gun in my mouth every morning, and thought that the gentle, caring attention of a therapist would help. 

“You’re one of them artist types,” she said. “Bow-HEE-mians. Am I right? Chasing after adventure all day. Inspiration. No wonder you want to blow your brains out.”

She reached for an ashtray printed with the American Psychological Association logo.

“You think you’ll be happy living the straight and narrow like every other asshole? You won’t. So stop acting like a Muggle and ask yourself what,” she said. “Just what do you really want to do with your life?” 

• • •

Six months later I found myself alone at a train station in a small town in eastern France. I was trying to look nonchalantly at a World War II memorial when a man in a feather boa leapt from a small car, threw a plastic Hawaiian lei at me, and asked (in a New Zealand accent, no less) if I’d ordered the Faerie taxi to Folleterre.

Ask big questions, look what you get.

• • •

“Hold on,” you say. “What’s a Faerie taxi? What’s a Folleterre?”

Ah now, sit around, children. 

Have you ever seen Flaming Creatures? It’s Jack Smith’s surrealist, chaotic experimental film from 1962 where a bunch of bearded nellies cavort in drag and cackle and basically terrorize the sensibility of every American with a lawn. That’s the Faeries, in short.


“You think you’ll be happy living the straight and narrow like every other asshole? You won’t. So stop acting like a Muggle and ask yourself what,” [my therapist] said. “Just what do you really want to do with your life?” 


Now here comes a bunch of history.

In the 70s, the gender-fuck anarcho-fag theater troupe The Cockettes came along and farted sequins at the sad macho-worship conformity of post-Stonewall gaydom. Meanwhile, droves of nice middle-class kids were hitchhiking out of cities to become farmers and hippies. And Harry Hay (who formed the gay rights group, the Matachine Society, in 19-mutherfucking-50), Mitch Walker, Don Kilhefner, and John Burnside began to foment a Marxist radical anti-assimilationist gay politics (say that three times fast) which laid the groundwork for the first Radical Faerie gathering in 1979.

Got that?

Harry Hay believed that gay men, far from seeking acceptance by demonstrating how normal we are, could only have a future as a people (a revolutionary premise: that queers were not merely unfortunate individuals but a people, like Jews or Juggalos) by celebrating our fundamental difference. We come from a different history, a different lineage, and most important, a different spirit. By removing ourselves from toxic heterosexual society and gathering in nature, by resurrecting Pagan rituals and dancing with queer ancestors—while donning flammable fabrics in unfortunate colors—the Radical Faeries create an alternative dimension called Faerie Space where we are free to be, as it were, Flaming Creatures.

“Who gets to be a Faerie?” you ask.

Really, anyone. It’s mostly faggots, but faggotry, like the groove, is in the heart. If you can bake a fierce pie, if you can do fierce drag, if you can dig a ditch or cut a potato generally into cubes, you can be a Faerie.

The core ritual of the Faeries is the Heart Circle, in which Faeries sit to share what is in the depths of their hearts, be it joy, sorrow, or jetlag. (I recently realized that my favorite film, The Breakfast Club, is basically about the power of a really good Heart Circle.)

Fundamentally Marxist, there’s no hierarchy among Faeries. Officially, anyway. No one’s in charge, and yet, like a blind three-legged dog, it somehow manages to run.

During the AIDS crisis, Faeries organized care circles so that the sick and dying were never alone. Most gatherings begin by calling into the circle the names of Faeries who now walk with the ancestors. The Faeries who formed the first tribes are now elders. They lament that there’s now too much drugs, too much partying, among the younger Faeries. That no one goes to Heart Circles anymore. But I love to sit at their knees and listen to their tales of magic and mischief and maybe try to get one of them to fondle my tits (I love daddies).

It is also a Faerie mantra that Faeries are never lost. Wherever we are, whatever the circumstance, is better than anywhere we’re supposed to be. For Faeries, there are no disasters. No electricity? We eat by candlelight! No candles? We eat by moonlight! No moon? We’re dieting anyway!

At the core of Faerie life is what Hay called subject-subject love. We practice loving each other as complete subjects, as human beings with souls, and not—excuse me while I check a notification from Scruff—as objects. Many seek out the Faeries now to escape mainstream consumerist gay culture. Madness comes from living in a culture where your worth is based on how quickly a stranger might want to come over and fuck you at two in the afternoon. 

In the 1980s, Faeries began, often by chance and kismet, to buy land for the tribe. In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, nested in the Smokey Mountains in the South, the deserts of the Southwest, and even in New England: these sanctuaries are considered homelands for Faeries. In fact, the first greeting you’ll likely get on a sanctuary is a big hug by some bearded nelly and a tender, “Welcome home.”

Think of the power of those words. Welcome home. For queers who never belonged anywhere, this is soul-shaking stuff.

• • •

As the Faerie taxi pulled up the lane to the house, a tattered pink banner stitched crookedly with FOLLETERRE grazed the top of the car.

Folleterre means Land of the Crazy Lady in French, which I know because I took three years of French. (I can’t count past 15, but I once had a French roommate who said, frying tofu, that he liked it “crusty.” It took me a year to realize he meant “crispy.”)

Folleterre is also the first Faerie sanctuary in Europe. It was founded in 2005 by European faggots who traveled to American sanctuaries in the ‘90s and brought back with them Faerie culture, rituals, and the idea of a homeland. Like most Faerie sanctuaries, Folleterre is not easy to get to. Just this year, a second European sanctuary opened in Portugal, and it’s even harder to get to. There are now gatherings and communities in Germany, Denmark, Spain, Hungary, England, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, China, Israel, and Guatemala. 

When I stepped out of the car, a rather large mustached man, naked but for an apron, greeted us with a mighty Yooooohooooo! During a tour of the farmhouse, this wonderful bare-assed be-aproned creature said in a French accent while his eyebrows bounced this way and that, “Zis iz ze Love Loun-oun-ounge. Where we make ze luh-uh-uh-uh-uhve.”

(There is always a Love Lounge in every Faerie Space. Faeries are sexually liberated, and many are practitioners of tantra, sacred intimacy, and whatever I’ll let you do to me on the beanbag.)

“Would you like to make dee-nair tonight?” he asked.

“Make what? Oh. Sure!” I said. I was crazy!

I soon found myself chopping onions in a splattered kitchen painted crazy yellow and stuffed with jars of spices and beans and teas and knives and industrial-sized pots and baskets of herbs and candles and plaster casts of cocks, while a crackling radio sputtered Edith Piaf. A few Faeries, some new to the land as I was and blinking in amazement, took up peeling and boiling and frying. We were going to make dinner, girls! 

Suddenly I looked out the window. 

“Look!” I cried. 

We all stopped and looked, gasping. 

Nothing was happening outside except that the sun was setting and someone had lit a fire in front of the house—just that. But it was the most beautiful thing, the most beautiful light, that I—we—had ever seen. And in that moment, in that fucking perfect moment, with the pots boiling and the Edith Piaf and OMG AM I REALLY IN FRANCE, I took my first breath. After a year of the blackest depression, I felt as if I’d been yanked from the lake depths and burst laughing into fresh air. 

I’d come home.

• • •

I spent much of the past two years of my life at Folleterre. I slept in a storage shack by a dead rat and lazed by the nameless lake through an eternity of afternoons. Wonderful creatures arrived to fill my life and my heart. We sat by the fire and dozed in each others’ arms. We bathed together and washed dishes and put on hoary talent shows which the Faeries call No Talent Shows. 

One afternoon, I found myself wandering down the lane in a glittering blue and gold Turkish robe and harem pants. I saw my silhouette on the ground and thought of that photo from the first Faerie gathering in 1979: a circle of men, naked, covered in mud, laughing, hugging, dancing. I sang to myself that line from the Pet Shop Boys:

I never dreamt that I would get to be/the creature that I always meant to be.

Many of us had come to the land broken, lost, confused. We left laughing, crying, heartbroken, often with glitter in our assholes. Many of us, after time on the land, quit our jobs, ended leases and relationships, in order to travel. After a hundred lifetimes through eighteen gatherings in as many months, I guess what I really wanted to do with my life, what I really needed to do with my one and only precious life, is become a Radical Faerie.

• • •

This year, the Faeries turn 40. 

Ask big questions, see what you get.