From September 27-30 2012, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and the Harry Hay Centennial Committee sponsored “Radically Gay: The Life & Visionary Legacy of Harry Hay,” a conference to commemorate the 100th birthday of Harry Hay. I responded to the call for papers with a proposal to discuss how current Radical Faeries use or think of the queer past and archetypes. I wanted to put this in conversation with Harry Hay’s research motivations and his general interest in past queer figures. Through participant observation at 2011 Wolf Creek Samhain and an interview with Portland Radical Faerie and clown Michael Zero, I contest some queer theorists vision of queer space as “fragile” and “ephemeral” and instead begin to build a theory of sustained queer space and community.
This presentation is the second one I have produced out of this set of research. The first is here. The page limit was 10. I had to cut out some important discussions of clowning that I hope to put into the larger project, which is a dissertation tentatively titled “Sustaining Gay Liberation: The Practice of Radical Faerie Culture.”
Below is the abstract. Click The Fool Speaks the Truth for the paper. Thoughts, comments, and critiques are welcome. Please send feedback to mlecker at gmu dot edu.
The Fool Speaks the Truth: The Creation of Queer Archetypes in the Radical Faerie Community
Harry Hay asked of gay men, “Who are we? Where did we come from? What are we for?” and looked to other cultures (including Medieval Europe, Iron Age British Isles, goddess worshiping cultures, and Pueblo cultures) to validate sexually and gendered others as having a legitimate and important role within society–a role destroyed within contemporary patriarchal and capitalistic Western Culture. Hay theorized that men who loved men constituted a third gender, a minority within humanity that has its own language, culture, and skills. In 1979, Hay’s research turned to praxis through the manifestation of the Radical Faeries, a loose network of people who explore queer spirituality, community, and identity through gathering and consciousness raising. Using research collected via participant observation at various gatherings and through interviewing Radical Faeries, this paper documents how three decades after its inception, Radical Faeries use, but also distance themselves from, Hay’s initial teachings and approach, while creating new roles such as the “Stag King.” These roles legitimatize the Radical Faerie’s existence outside of mainstream gay and lesbian culture, while also creating multiple positions of power to contest and critique the Radical Faerie community and the broader culture at large. From these events and interviews what becomes clear is an expressed desire and need amongst participants to build, and plug into a queer genealogy or mythos, which ultimately sustains this queer institution and contributes to its longevity. The ethics of using figures from other time periods or cultures to ground Western same-sex or queer sexual identity has been debated with LGBTQ studies for nearly four decades. In this paper, I reject the good/bad judgment imposed by some scholars and instead conjure what David Halperin calls “a sensitivity to difference [that] need not rule out identification… or form of queer multiplicity and solidarity.”