Exploring spirituality, in Radical Faerie style

Pan-pagan group started as a gay-men-only movement, but has grown more inclusive with time

M.M. Adjarian  |  Contributing Writer mmadjarian@gmail.com

Dallas area Radical Faeries
IN THEIR OSTARA BONNETS | Members of the Dallas area Radical Faeries get in on the Easter Bonnet Parade fun with their own version of festive headgear celebrating Ostara, or the vernal equinox. (Photo courtesy Radical Faeries).

“Mainstream gays have always regard[ed] the euphemism, ‘faerie’ [as stigmatic]” says Paul Singleton. “Many men find it countermand[s] their ideas of masculinity, which is far from actual reality.”

Singleton is a member of the Radical Faeries, an alternative gay men’s movement started in 1979 by pioneer gay activist Harry Hay and dedicated to the spiritual exploration of gay culture and identity. He is one of about 15 locally based faeries, a few of whom gather together every Saturday for “coffee, tea and communion.”

“We are the Nature People, the lavender tribe of the Rainbow Family, in harmony with the principles of peace, justice, freedom, sustainable culture and the sacredness of the Earth. We love ceremonies, focusing on group spirit, and oneness… And we like to be pretty!” says Steven Hanes, another member of the DFW Radical Faerie community.

Hay, who died in 2002, originally patterned the Radical Faeries after the women’s separatist groups of the 1970s and limited membership to men. But in more than 30 years of existence, the Radical Faeries have evolved — albeit gradually and with difficulty — towards embracing a more sexually diverse membership.

Some Radical Faerie groups accept people of all genders and orientations with the idea that anyone who identifies as a faerie is one. However, many older members still require gatherings to be male-only and the issue of inclusion continues to be controversial.

“As an oppressed people, gay men [have] had to overcome their own prejudices against women, bi, trans [and] intersex people,” notes Singleton, who at 28, is part of the younger generation of faeries.

The movement, which began in the U.S. but now has followers worldwide, has been described as pagan in spiritual orientation. While it does borrow elements of its basic philosophy from paganism, it also borrows from other faiths as well.

As such, it reflects the eclectic religious backgrounds of its members, who are anything from Catholic to Buddhist, agnostic to atheist.

Two other elements unify the Radical Faeries. One is that member relationships are based on the giving and receiving of mutual respect and empathy.

“We are on equal footing — there is no dominance of subject over object,” says Singleton.

This notion derives from Hay’s idea that homosexual relationships, unlike heterosexual ones, were based on longings for a companion that was identical — and therefore equal — to the self in all ways.

The second element is internal operation based on consensus rather than majority rule — a feature that Townley attributes to “Hay’s communistic roots.”

Dallas area Radical Faeries
FAERIE FASHION | Members of the Radical Faeries celebrate spring. (Photo courtesy Radical Faeries)

“[This] can present certain challenges in efficiency,” Townley admits. “If anyone chooses to block consensus, we will ‘talk the issue to death.’ … When we are through, there are fewer bad feelings — except perhaps exhaustion — but we all understand many differing points of view.”

The group’s emphasis on equality can also be seen in one practice — borrowed from Native American spiritual traditions — in which almost all faeries participate: the Heart Circle. As a ritual, the Heart Circle is an exercise in both speaking and listening, designed to foster greater emotional self-awareness and interpersonal empathy.

“We form a circle, pass a token/speaking stick/talisman and only the person holding the token may speak,” Townley explains. “We agree as a group that we will speak from the heart when holding the talisman and the rest of the circle will speak from the heart. … The token goes around until all have had their say.”

While not the most visible of groups in the Dallas spiritual landscape, the highly individualistic Radical Faeries do participate in festivals and celebrations — such as Witch’s Night Out and Winter SolstiCelebraton — sponsored by pan-pagan organizations.

And though not a service organization, the DFW Radical Faeries does have membership ties to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group dedicated to AIDS education and activism.

As a movement, the Radical Faeries exist to raise consciousness, especially — but not exclusively — within the LGBT community. By identifying themselves as “faeries,” members reclaim a word that has been used pejoratively against gays. And while not radicals in the sense of being extremists, they get the root of things, in this case, who they are as gay people.

“Spirituality is having a renaissance,” Singleton observes.  “People are sick of ‘fanclubs’ and are looking within to find themselves.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens