Radical Faeries

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Radical Faeries with banner at 2010 London Gay Pride.
Faeries at Breitenbush gathering.

The Radical Faieries are a loosely-affiliated worldwide network and counter-cultural movement seeking to redefine queer consciousness through spirituality.

Rejecting hetero-imitation, the Radical Faerie movement began during the 1970s sexual revolution among gay men in the United States.[1] The movement has expanded in tandem with the larger gay rights movement, challenging commercialization and patriarchal aspects of modern LGBT life while celebrating pagan constructs and rituals.[2] Faeries tend to be fiercely independent, anti-establishment, and community-focused.[2] 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." [3]

Today Radical Faeries embody a wide range of genders, sexual orientations, and identities. Many sanctuaries and gatherings are open to all, while some still focus on the particular spiritual experience of man-loving men co-creating temporary autonomous zones.[4] Faerie sanctuaries adapt rural living and environmentally sustainable concepts to modern technologies as part of creative expression.[2] Radical Faerie communities are generally inspired by indigenous, native or traditional spiritualities, especially those that incorporate genderqueer sensibilities.[5]


Harry Hay, the founder of the Radical Faerie movement, in 1996.

The Faeries trace their name to the 1979 Spiritual Conference for Radical Fairies.[note 1] The conference, organized by Harry Hay and his lover John Burnside, along with Los Angeles activist Don Kilhefner and Jungian therapist Mitch Walker, was held over the Labor Day weekend in Benson, Arizona and attracted over two hundred participants. From this, participants started holding more multi-day events called "gatherings". In keeping with hippie, neopagan, and eco-feminist trends of the time, gatherings were held out-of-doors in natural settings.[6] To this end, distinct Radical Faerie communities have created sanctuaries that are "close to the land".[7]

It was Hay who adopted the name "Radical Faerie" for this burgeoning movement, with "radical" referring to its politically extreme viewpoint. The term "Faerie" was chosen in reference both to the immortal animistic spirits of European folklore and to the fact that "fairy" had become a pejorative slang term for gay men.[8] Initially, Hay rejected the term "movement" when discussing the Radical Faeries, considering it to instead be a "way of life" for gay males, and he began referring to it as a "not-movement".[9]

The magical and "radical humanist" views of Arthur Evans, specifically his 1978 book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, influenced some early members of the movement.[10] Evans had previously formed the Faery Circle in San Francisco in the fall of 1975, a group that "combined neo-pagan consciousness, gay sensibility, and ritual play."[11]

However, less than a year after the first "Radical Faerie" gathering in 1979, internal pressures threatened to fracture the group. Walker secretly formed the "Faerie Fascist Police" to combat "Faerie fascism" and "power-tripping" within the Faeries. He specifically targeted Hay: "I recruited people to spy on Harry and see when he was manipulating people, so we could undo his undermining of the scene."[12] At a gathering in Oregon designed to discuss acquiring land for a Faerie sanctuary, a newcomer to the group, coached by Walker, confronted Harry about the power dynamics within the core circle. In the ensuing conflict, the core circle splintered. Plans for the land sanctuary stalled and a separate circle formed.[13] The core circle made an attempt to reconcile, but at a meeting that came to be known as "Bloody Sunday", Kilhefner quit, accusing Hay and Burnside of "power tripping". Then Walker resigned, in the process allegedly calling Hay a "cancer on the gay movement" (a remark Walker later denied making).[14] Walker and Kilhefner formed a new gay spiritual group called Treeroots.[15]

Philosophy and ritual[edit]

"We are the equivalent of Shamans in modern culture," said Peter Soderberg, during an interview at the 1985 Pagan Spirit Gathering. "Many gay men want to be middle-class Americans. They want to be respected as human beings and they want their sexuality to be ignored. But radical faeries are willing to live on the edge. We feel there is power in our sexuality. You know there is a power there because our culture is so afraid of us."

Sociologist Margot Adler, 2006.[16]

Faeries represent the first spiritual movement to be both "gay centered and gay engendered", where gayness is central to the idea, rather than in addition to, or incidental to a pre-existing spiritual tradition. The Radical Faerie exploration of the "gay spirit" is central, and that it is itself the source of spirituality, wisdom, and initiation. Founding Faerie Mitch Walker claims that "because of its indigenous, gay-centered nature, the Radical Faerie movement pioneers a new seriousness about gayness, its depth and potential, thereby heralding a new stage in the meaning of Gay Liberation."[17]

In her study of the Pagan movement in the U.S., sociologist Margot Adler noted that the Faeries placed a great emphasis on the "transformative power of play", believing that playful behavior had a role within ritual that could lead to an altered state of consciousness. In keeping with this, they were often the "public anarchists" at Pagan events, challenging the formalized ritual structures propagated by other Pagans; at one event in the 1980s, a group of Faeries stood at the entrance to the ritual circle, calling out "Attention! No spontaneity! We're the spontaneity police!" as a way of parodying what they saw as formalised trends within Pagan ritual.[18] Adler also noted similar trends within other Pagan groups, such as the Reformed Druids of North America and the Erisian movement.[19]

Sanctuaries and gatherings[edit]

Radical Faerie sanctuaries[2] — rural land or urban buildings where Faeries have come together to live a communal life — now exist in, for example:

Faeries hold gatherings[20] at faerie sanctuaries and also in non-sanctuary space all over the globe ranging from non-Faerie centric rural spaces (such as IDA) in Tennessee to urban spaces, such as Queer Magic in Oregon.

Cultural influence[edit]

Participants at the 1979 Faerie gathering helped establish the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco that same year.[21][22]

Faeries were a contributing influence to John Cameron Mitchell's film Shortbus.[23] Notably the performance artist Justin Vivian Bond appears in the film (as vself).[24]

Queer as Folk episode "Stand Up for Ourselves" features a storyline where the characters Emmett and Michael attend a rural gathering to discover their "inner Faerie."

See also[edit]




  • R.F.D., often dubbed the Radical Faerie Digest
  • White Crane, a journal of Gay Wisdom & Culture


  1. ^ Hay and others switched to the older spelling, "faeries", after 1979.
    Harry Hay (1996) Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of its Founder, edited by Will Roscoe.


  1. ^ Thompson, Mark (21 January 2003), "Remembering Harry", The Advocate (Here Publishing), retrieved 2008-10-17 
  2. ^ a b c d Morgensen, Scott. 2009. "Back and Forth to the Land: Negotiating Rural and Urban Sexuality Among the Radical Faeries." In Ellen Lewin and William L. Leap eds. Out in Public: Reinventing Lesbian / Gay Anthropology in a Globalizing World: Readings in Engaged Anthropology. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 1-4051-9101-5, ISBN 978-1-4051-9101-2.
  3. ^ Hennen, Peter (2008), Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen, University of Chicago Press 
  4. ^ Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcraft, W. Michael (2006), Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 260, ISBN 0-275-98712-4 
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history in America Marc Stein, Editor; Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004; ISBN 0-684-31264-6, ISBN 978-0-684-31264-4.
  6. ^ Thompson, Mark (2004), Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, And Practice, Daedalus Publishing, p. 282, ISBN 1-881943-20-8 
  7. ^ Haggerty, George (2000), Gay histories and cultures: an encyclopedia 2, Taylor & Francis, p. 1123, ISBN 0-8153-1880-4 
  8. ^ Timmons, Stuart (2011), "The Making of a Tribe", in Thompson, Mark, The Fire in the Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries, 1975-2010, White Crane Books, p. 33 
  9. ^ Timmons, 2011, p. 32.
  10. ^ Johnson, Toby, "Critique of Patriarchal Reason (book review)", International Gay and Lesbian Review, retrieved 2008-03-25 
  11. ^ Evans, Arthur (2007), San Francisco Art Commission helps publish gay-positive philosophy book (Critique of Patriarchal Reason), retrieved 2010-06-29 
  12. ^ Timmons, Stuart (1990), The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement, Boston: Alyson, p. 275, ISBN 1-55583-175-3 
  13. ^ Timmons, 1990, pp. 277–78
  14. ^ Timmons, 1990, pp. 282–83
  15. ^ Timmons, 1990, p. 284
  16. ^ Adler, Margot (1979/2006). Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers and Other Pagans in America (Revised Edition). London: Penguin. p. 361. ISBN 0-14-303819-2. 
  17. ^ Walker, Mitch (Fall 1997), "Contradictory Views on Radical Faerie Thought", White Crane Journal 34 
  18. ^ Adler 2006. p. 362.
  19. ^ Adler 2006. pp. 335–354.
  20. ^ http://www.radfae.org/?page_id=17
  21. ^ A Sistory: Blow by blow
  22. ^ History of the Faeries, with Murray Edelman, Joey Cain, and Agnes de  Garron; transcribed from the 2nd Annual Philly Faerie Gatherette, 15 January 2012
  23. ^ Dubowski, Sandi (2006, Fall), "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret", Filmmaker Magazine, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  24. ^ Bond, Justin (2011), Mx Justin Vivian Bond: A User’s Guide 

External links[edit]