Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Faerie Tribes Within Tribes: The Recognition and Sacrifice of Privilege

The Faeries were started up around 40 years ago by white, middle class, cis gay men. They wouldn’t have seen themselves in these terms; what they knew was that:

a) as homosexuals, they were gravely persecuted, 
b) there was a gay civil rights movement pushing a conservative assimilationist agenda (i.e. we can earn equality if we just keep quiet and act straight) and 
c) there was a need for space where faggots could 'shed the ugly green frog skin of hetero-imitation’ and explore the true and natural purpose for their sissy selves.

Harry Hay, one of these cis-gay-men, had been pushing for gay men to be seen as a human rights minority, but the Mattachine Society (the first gay rights organisation which he himself had founded) expelled him because of his communist background. After his expulsion he spent time reflecting on what might be nature's reason for creating sissies and came across writings referring to the Native American 'Berdache' (later referred to as Two-Spirit). 

They were honoured members of many North American tribes. Combining male and female traits, they performed sacred ceremonies and passed on arts traditions. Harry's discovery of the Two-Spirit radically confirmed his view of gay people's role in the world. 

Harry Hay chose the word ‘faeries’ rather than ‘faggots’ to describe what gay men might be(come) because, he said, “faggots (as bunches of kindling- used to set fires under witches during the burning times) can be burned or broken in half over your knee, but faeries are magical, elusive and frustrating to the "straights" who can't pin them down”

Forty years on and many of us have a well developed awareness of the workings of patriarchal, classist, racist, ableist, and colonial, systems of oppression. I am a white, middle class-ish, cis-ish gay man and, as such, am aware that I sit at the most privileged end of the LGBTQIA+ acronym within my Faerie community. 

For gay men there is a tribal memory of our past oppressions, however these are nothing compared with the experience of those who are most oppressed by virtue of their positioning at the intersections of the so-called 'protected classes'.

So how do we all respond to the persisting inequalities and inequities experienced by our queer siblings? One response is to recoil from calls to check our privilege and (with an outrage akin to the weaponised ‘white tears’ of the fragile non-black privileged) maintain that since the Faeries were started by cis-men then the Faeries are for cis-men only and that non-cis-men are spoiling the fun of the party.

The alternative is to attempt the practice of radical inclusivity. To take the pains of past oppressions, transmute them into a determination to ally with the oppressed, and to address inequalities of access to our transformative Faerie-space. After all, in the cis-male gay struggle against straight oppression haven’t there been privileged allies who were kind enough to have done the same for us?

Saturday, 29 February 2020

My Qu-heroes

What is this process of Gay Iconic veneration? 

Looking back on the iconography of my earlier life, (Kenneth Williams, Quentin Crisp, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Freddy Mercury, Will Young), I see how, with each figure, I managed to create an image-construct. Its value, for me, being that of knowing there was a story of a real person, like my own queer struggling self, who was capable of transcending adversity (or if not, was at least enduring its suffering in a truly fabulous way!) These Gay Icons gave me the courage to come out of my closet. They were individuals who dared to express their forbidden amazingness and desires shamelessly.

More recently however, I’ve had little spells of hero worship for gay men who are remembered for their role as visionaries, political activists and fighters for queer social justice. Here are my top 3…

Walt Whitman: 19th Century American poet who dared to openly publish poems about “the manly love of comrades” at a time when celebrating a reality which included sex would have him branded as an obscene writer throughout his lifetime. His poetry strongly influenced…

Edward Carpenter: Early 20th Century British writer and socialist poet who became a hero to the first generation of Labour politicians. At a time of Victorian homophobia (his contemporary Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for 2 years with hard labour for the crime of “gross indecency with sodomy”) he managed to live in an openly gay relationship and publish books allowing folk to discuss the possibility that sexual orientation was natural and biologically determined rather than being something to be morally condemned or criminalised. His books were read by…

Harry Hay: (1912-2002) American communist who was able to see the link between queer and black oppression and had the vision and courage to establish the first, pre-Stonewall gay rights movement called the Mattachine Society. Doing this meant risking his life, his job and his liberty. 
The Society became a victim of its own success, got a sudden influx of conservative members who saw Hay’s communism, at a time of McCarthy’s witch-hunt trials, as a liability, ousted him and established itself as an assimilationist lobby. 

Undaunted Hay then went on to argue for a different kind of liberation. For queers to ‘cast off the ugly frog-skin of hetero-conformity’ and for them to discover their queer purpose through the realisation of their true faerie nature in community at Faerie Gatherings.

I suppose I’ve been following Harry’s lead in this respect for the past 10 years or so. For me he’s not so much an Icon or Hero-to-worship. In fact the more I’ve learned about his egocentricity, intellectual bullying, and temper tantrums, the less I feel I would have liked him as a person!

He’s more of a flawed fore-father-figure…a guiding queer ancestor…a giant who stood on giant’s shoulders. 

His own shoulders now invite us all to step up and see the amazing view!

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Cultural Heritage Transmissions (...and Emissions)

As a child Didier Eribon knew that he felt different. Growing up in a socially deprived suburbs of a French town riven with racism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, domestic violence and homophobia all he wanted, was to escape. 

As he hit adolescence he became increasingly aware of the constant shame that the insult 'Faggot' evoked. He realised that, for him, ‘this dizzying word, arising from the depths of time immemorial’, and words like them, represented the dreadful presentment that such words, and the violence they carry, would accompany him for the rest of his days.

He realised that this stigmatised identity preceded him and he would have to step into it and embody it. He would need to somehow deal with it in one way or another. He would have to find some way out in order to avoid suffocating.

With the charm of his gay youthfulness he entered the cruising scene of his town. Men wanting sex with men would hangout around the Public Toilets near the Theatre in the centre of town. And little by little, at great personal physical, and emotional risk to himself, through a process of repeated sexual emissions and co-incidental social cultural transmissions, he gradually began to assimilate a sense of how to be a young gay man in a small-town-world hostile to his existence.

He was a bright kid and began to dream that, by some miracle, if he were to study hard and read lots of books, he might somehow become an intellectual living in the big city where he would be free to live an open life as a gay man.

His extensive reading of communist tracts, Sartre, Gide, Foucault and Simon de Beauvoir would provide the stepping stones towards an intellectual existence which would ultimately lead to a position as a world renowned academic sociologist, journalist, and author. However, those thousands of informal initiatory gay discussions and discoveries in queer space and time, became the medium through which a cultural heritage was transmitted to him. One which would ultimately allow him to thrive.

In Paris his intellectual friends and colleagues were not wholly welcoming of his sexuality and he began to understand what characterised a queer life, for him, was both the capability and necessity of moving regularly back and forth between spaces- from ‘normal’ to ‘abnormal’ and back again. What was most shocking to him however, was the extent to which, having left behind his working class background and having entered the bourgeois world of academia, the shame he had been made to feel for his sexuality was substituted for a deep shame of his background of poverty and deprivation.

He would later read 'What is important is not what people make of us, but what we ourselves make of what they have made of us'

So let's keep talking and socialising and having sex- giving ourselves the queer space to fabulously re-make ourselves from what they have made of us!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Full Spectrum Faerie Sex Magick

The Faeries are a fairly diverse bunch of queers.

However, in the early days, 40 years or so ago, at the very first gatherings of Faeries, the vast majority of attendees were gay men who were drawn to the idea of meeting together as faggots in nature to celebrate their sissy selves and explore their spiritual consciousness, asking the questions: 'Who are we, where are going, and what are we for?'

From the exploration of these questions, (and from a growing awareness that, although a lot of gay men seemed to be having a lot of sex, they were often craving an intimacy with each other which seemed forever-out-of-reach), there emerged an intensive workshop aimed at helping those who felt the call, to delve into the personal and interpersonal reasons for the many obstacles to intimacy encountered by gay men. These healing workshops, facilitated by volunteer Faeries, for the benefit of Faeries, have been running for the past 30 years and are known as Faerie Sex Magick (FSM) Workshops.

These days Faerie-space is now a much more diverse and inclusive network where those from across the full range of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum are invited to enrich the exploration in community of the questions: 'How does it feel when a) I dare to stand in the full power of my sexual orientation b) the expression of my gender identity is not only unrestrained but is completely appreciated and celebrated?'

Until now the FSM workshops have been confined to fagot identified men. The logic for this being that there is a real kind of hurt experienced by faggots growing up in a homophobic social environment, and that faggots are best able to develop an understanding of this. Fags are uniquely able to sooth and heal each other's wounds around blocks to intimacy related to this kind of trauma.

However in recent years trans* men have been invited to attend the workshop and during this time there has also been a growing momentum of enthusiasm to have FSM workshop participants reflecting the full diversity of identities and sexualities present at modern Faerie Gatherings.

So very soon there will be the pilot of a workshop which will be open to the full spectrum of queer sexualities and genders. What will happen when a fully inclusive group sits in heart circle to explore the obstacles to emotional and physical intimacy that exist between them? 

The intention of the heart circling within the traditional workshop is to reach a state of community trust to the extent that co-created rituals, involving permitted group erotic touch, are able to be devised and consensually enacted.

How might this look between individuals not accustomed to considering erotic touch with genders and sexualities beyond their habitual erotic arousal patterns?

Nobody knows but it’s the beginning of a radical adventure into a better understanding of how faerie queers, with a range of sexuality and gender expression, might more freely express the erotic together in community…

Watch this space!

Heart Circling for Mental Health

I used to be a Psychiatrist. Yes- I spent most of my adult life studying and helping to alleviate the pain and distress of major mental illness. Now in the 5th year of my retirement I find myself writing a column on the subject for an LGBT+ community listings magazine. So what to say?

20 odd years ago, when I first arrived in Brighton, excited by the prospect of living and working in our very own fabulous Gay-playground-by-the-sea, and keen to make lots of new friends and acquaintances, it was this very GScene magazine I turned to as a resource. Maybe, I thought, I could find a group of like minded free-thinking queer folk I'd be able to join forces with to change the world and make it a better place- I was in my late 30s so the naïvety and idealism of my 20s were still very much a part of my world outlook! 

Scanning the community self help resources, all I could find were groups to support those who were HIV+, those who were drug and alcohol addicted, in physically abusive relationships, etc, etc. 

Sadly I found myself, as an adjusted, though not well adjusted homosexual, not quite unadjusted enough to qualify for entry to the available supportive peer groups on offer…

So I joined in with the throngs of  pubbers and clubbers, made some friends via the Rainbow Chorus and gradually became disenchanted with the idea that my sexuality could possibly constitute the basis of some form of common denominator for my social networks.

I realise now that I was searching for others who recognised that their early developmental experiences of being an unsupported queer in a hostile world had left us all with a malaise, a wounded-ness, to which we had uncomfortably adjusted and which had left us limping along to a greater or lesser extent. 

We weren't mentally ill yet, but our wounds opened us up to a greater chance of developing addictions and mental health problems when exposed to the standard stresses and strains of daily living.

Thankfully, after years of searching, I stumbled across the Faeries who celebrate and endeavour to heal our very own brand of wounded-ness through the creation of pop-up, time limited, residential intentional communities (or Faerie Gatherings), where radical inclusivity, compassion, and self-acceptance can be practiced in varying degrees of safety.

Central to these practices is the Heart Circle. What happens when you are given the space to articulate what you are feeling whilst engaged in queer community building. Sitting in circle with 15-20 pairs of ears, listening, without judgement, and without fear of interruption, as you hold a talisman, speak with radical honesty, locating and bearing witness to your authentic, unedited self…

I've been attending Faerie Heart Circles for over 10 years now, and although I wouldn't quite say that I'm now ‘fully adjusted’, I'm certainly majorly less unadjusted than I was before. Faeries call it casting off the ugly frog skin of hetero-conformity. 

It's a great feeling!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Is “Fitting In” Making You Sick?

The Brighton Faeries are officially marching in this year’s Pride Parade.
Yep- we booked ourselves a ‘walking float’ slot for up to 30 marching Faeries!
This is a controversial move because- as everyone knows- the Faeries are very elusive creatures. You might catch a glimpse of one and then, Pouff, gone, never to be seen again…

The Faerie ‘development of consciousness’ grew from the U.S. counterculture and gay civil rights movements of the late 60’s. Within 10 years of the Stonewall riots, a call went out to convene “gay brothers” to a Spiritual Conference of Radical Faeries. Those interested in ‘re-establishing a communication with Nature and the Great Mother and, in feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together’ were invited to come together (kinda literally) for a long weekend in early September 1979.

Since then Queer Folk from across the spectra of gender and sexuality have been hearing the call to convene in Nature and to celebrate the awesome naturalness of their sexual and gender queerness.

Faerie Gatherings are about queers co-creating foundational intentional community- nurturing and celebrating our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, witches and sorcerers. We encourage ourselves to engage with that endless and fathomless process of coming out as Queer, as animals, as humans AND as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos…

The tradition of Faerie-ness has been counter to the cultural pressure from the mainstream to assimilate; to resist the lure of acceptance ‘as long as you can just stop being THAT WAY’. Faeries drill down into what it feels like (and what it means) to be ‘THAT WAY’. As Faeries we endeavour to be more ‘THAT WAY’ than ever we were before!

Faerie-ness resists ‘fitting in’. It proudly and queerly presents itself as a challenge to the status quo; as an opportunity to bring to consciousness those forces which endeavour to obliterate different-ness.

So, what are the Faeries doing in a Pride Parade with its corporate drive to have the queers put on a show, draw the crowds and bring millions in capital to boost the Brighton business economy. The irony of a non-political parade celebrating 50 years of queer civil rights activism would be funny if it weren’t so creepy.

Well, Faerie-ness has been a little known and barely recognised force empowering queers, over the years to refuse to fit into an inauthenticity-glorifying world.

If you’re reading this before the Parade, look out for us. We’ll simply be turning up in all our non-corporate weird uniqueness and representing that awkward voice asking: 'Is this all there is?’

If any of all this chimes with you then find the Faerie Camp @ Queer Spirit Summer Festival in Northamptonshire August 14-18 or just google Albion Faeries and see what its like to co-create spiritually nurturing community together at a Gathering.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Can the Haters be a Source of Joy?

When I was a tiny baby, I was on an emotional roller-coaster. Swinging from the lows of despair and abandonment when I was hungry, lonely or uncomfortable to the highs of euphoria and joy when I was nourished, soothed and comforted.

I don’t remember any of this intellectually, yet it happened! And it set the foundations for a deeply ingrained fundamental emotional binary of ‘GOOD-AND-BAD’ which then conveniently mapped onto a simplistic set of value systems for ‘GOOD-AND-EVIL', ‘ACCEPTABLE-AND-UNACCEPTABLE', and ‘US-AND-THEM’.

However, being queer gave me the uncomfortable and challenging vantage-point to call into question this socially accepted style of value-construction. I was forced, by virtue of my nature, to resolve the conflict of finding myself (in the eyes of family, friends, school and church) most definitely on the ‘wrong’ side of these binaries.

So began the journey of moving from a position of self-loathing and fear of rejection, through a stage of desperately seeking approval, towards a position of self-compassion and then ultimately finding compassion for those with values different from mine. Only then was I able to fully see the immaturity and corrosiveness of using ‘othering’ as a ploy to gain social power

Through the grace of my queerness, the complexity of my consciousness was enriched.

I used to feel that my personal quest for social justice was possibly creating a current of favourable opinion towards the idea that diversity and inclusiveness were worthwhile pursuits in the development of a healthier and happier world. Today, though, I feel caught in the eddy currents of a tidal shift.

The hearts and minds of those not fortunate enough to have been exposed to challenge the ‘GOOD-BAD’ binary are being captivated and manipulated by Trump-like demagogues who play to those who wish for a less complex, more ‘black-and-white’ world-view. Folk who have felt subdued and shamed by what they have perceived as a stifling political correctness are now being offered bigoted role models and encouragements to ‘tell it as it is'. What’s wrong with a bit of misogyny, ablism, racism, homophobia, transphobia- after all it’s just the way most people feel!

Meanwhile the various social media exponentially multiply the distance between the ‘US’es and the ‘THEM’s confirming to each that they are RIGHT and the OTHERS are WRONG.

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ is a catchy aphorism but if ‘thy neighbours’ are projecting an unconscious self-loathing onto you then they may be loving you- but only in that very special way they know how to!

So how to address the rising maelstrom of hate whipped up against minorities in our increasingly fragmented and disjointed world?

Just as I had to swallow the bitter pill of realising that, as a tiny baby, the source of all my loneliness and despair was, in fact, the very same mother who triggered my feelings of euphoria and joy, I’m exploring how best to engage with The Haters. How can they possibly be a source of euphoria and joy for me? And how can I possibly be a source of euphoria and joy for them?

It’s going to be a challenge!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

“Please Don’t be Creepy!”

“Please Don’t be Creepy!”

This request, together with a profile pic of an attractive young man, was all there was to the Grindr profile... 

It got me thinking about all the things that I might say or do to others that could creep them out. 

The #MeToo campaign has highlighted the shocking extent of unacknowledged sexual abuse in the form of implicit casting couch imperatives for career advancement in the entertainment industry. There is also, now, an ever growing recognition of the high prevalence of workplace based sexual harassment in general. 

Since sexual creepiness has been an integrally endemic background feature of my culture, the chances are, I’ve got some blind spots and it therefore behoves me to examine the extent to which creepiness has crept into me!

With this in mind I took the question “How might I be creepy?” to a week-long Faerie retreat. One of the glorious aspects of Faerie community is its queer diversity in terms of shapes, sizes, ages, genders, races, and sexualities. So I began to explore, privileged as I am, with elder, white, middle class, apparently-cis-male, predominantly homophilic status, how that capital might possibly be being unconsciously exploited in the pursuit of my erotic interests.

Faeries often tend to be seekers from a broad set of spiritual backgrounds. Newcomers to Faerie-space are particularly vulnerable, often, having rejected a rejecting and sex-negative Abrahamic belief system- possibly exploring for the first time a more earth-based and sex-positive framework.

So here’s what I came up with after a week of enquiry and meditation…

  • The essence of creepiness is a mismatch between professed and actual intention. If I were to present myself as someone who is available to give help, advice, and guidance on how best to negotiate Faerie-space whilst secretly lusting after, and planning on the sexual conquest of a newfound ‘apostle’ then I’m being as creepy as a creepy fingered masseur who has offered the service of a massage but who is, instead, covertly taking sexual pleasure from the tactile sensation from his wandering hands!
  • Emotional authenticity with full transparency of intention is key to establishing creepy-free relationships.
  • When there exists some kind of power gradient across a relationship regarding e.g. youthfulness, attractiveness, maturity, experience, wealth, etc., I need to give voice to what is there, and explicitly acknowledge the real possibility that this differential of capital may be open to emotional or sexual exploitation.
  • Super-creepiness happens when sexual overtures are made and continue to be made in the absence of a receptive audience. It becomes abusive if it continues after it has been made clear that the sexual attention is unwanted.
  • Once intentions have been made clear, and the potential for abuse across power gradients has been explored then clarity of consent is paramount. “How would you like me to enter into intimacy with you? How would you like to enter into intimacy with me?” If these questions can be answered with clarity and if the answers can be honoured fully then we’re likely to have moved into a creepy-free zone!

Saturday, 29 December 2018

To Other or not to Other?: That is the Question!

A very creative performer friend of mine recently posted on Facebook just how much he HATED the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And then a few days later in a different post, a disabled friend proclaimed how disappointed he was that he had finally sunk to a new low in that he had just had sex with a guy who wore Crocs (by the way that guy was me!). Both posts released a torrent of seemingly harmless, supportive hatred from friends and followers. All were in agreement that these subjects were quite legitimate targets for their light-hearted communal disapprobation. Who could get hurt? After all the RHCP are just a bunch of over rated, over-played recording artists! And aren't Croc wearers just seriously fashion challenged idiots? Right?

I wondered just how my sensitive, performer friend would have felt if someone had lanced a 'social media anger abscess' in his direction with the purulent exudate engulfing him and his vulnerable creative offerings. I certainly didn't feel unscathed by the wave of Croc-hatred unleashed by my disabled friend. I ended up pondering just how many times he might have had to endure the discomfort of witnessing 'harmless' disablist sentiments.

It seems like the public articulation of ‘dislikes’ is becoming something of an international pastime, opening up widening chasms between diametrically opposed echo chambers which themselves splinter and fragment!

Essentially, there’s a whole lot of ‘othering’ going on. 

Othering is the process of casting a person (or group) in the role of ‘the other’ and establishing one’s own identity through opposition to and, frequently vilification of this ‘other’

In my experience of facilitating Faerie Sex Magick Workshops, I have found it to be the single most common source of blocks between workshop participants, creating what, at times, seem to be insurmountable barriers to the potential that intimacy might be possible between certain individuals within the group. What’s magickal about the workshop, though, is that the other-ers are meeting together day after day in an emotionally intimate group setting where compassion and empathy has space to grow. And in this context the ‘other’ can be viewed as a potential source of learning; this ‘other’ can begin to be seen as a diverse and complex entity worthy of love and desire, even!

So how might this burgeoning social media-amplified other-ing compulsion be countered? 

First of all, to recognise that it is happening. Secondly to register when it is happening. And finally to decide NOT to define oneself through opposition to any individual or group.

It’s really up to you!

To Other:Verb transitive. The act of holding intransigent exclusionary values as a means of creating blocks which become insurmountable barriers to the potential for an intimacy to develop between the 'othering' human being and 'othered' human being....

If another others you, well, it just feels like poo!
Other another: Judge the book by its cover...

Don't other that other-er!
One way or the other, that other-er's your brother-er

Could you make 'em your lover-er?
It's all down to you!

Btw: No Femmes! No Smokers! No H&H! No Twinks! No Partnered! No Tories! No Trump Supporters! No Brexiteers!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

In Quest of the Paternal Nurturing Phallus....

My dad was a physically and emotionally unavailable, aggressive bully who's patriarchal reign tolerated no male ego expression within its dominion other than his very own vicious brand of toxic masculinity!
Little surprise, then, that his sissy-faggot son would be irresistibly drawn to exist in a world where men might instead be gentle, loving and caring towards each other....
As soon as I was able to thrust myself away from his oppressive gravitational field, I was on a quest to find an affirming relationship with an older man. Could this, at last become, for me, a source of nurturing father-son intimacy?
At the tender age of 20, I finally summoned up the courage to acknowledge my queerness, which took the form of a brief relationship with Jimmy. He was an economist, in his 40s who was established in a proper job (a board member at British Rail). An out-and-out-gay-man, he also owned a gay bookshop and ran a support group for gay men who were too scared to come out of their closets- you can probably guess how we met!
His amazingly proportioned phallus launched me into a size-queen career on the glittery 1980s gay club scene in London where I was able to repetitively and compulsively (if only transiently) satisfy my craving for nurturing daddy masculinity by introjecting it- in the form of a regular helping of big fat dick!
It took me decades of repeating this compulsion to realise how ultimately emotionally unsustainable it felt. This pattern of behaviour was failing to meet my desire for real intimacy.
One day I read somewhere that the most successful and effective men consistently reported close and happy relationships with their fathers. Not having had this, I felt lacking, deficient and somehow irreparably broken. Then, in my 40s, as a counsellor, I learned that messy grief reactions were most likely to occur, not in those with fabulous relationships with their parents but rather, in individuals who had been in conflict with them.
It occurred to me that my tyrannical father had already messed me up once in his lifetime- I was buggered if he was going to mess me up again as a consequence of his death!
The question was, could I take my anger and resentment at his inadequacy as a nurturing man and apply some compassion instead?
Thankfully the answer was yes! In the ten years or so before he died, I was able to visit and revisit the complexity of why he was how he was and, eventually, found a way to forgive him. Now, at the grand age of 58, 4 years after his passing, I'm just starting to locate and dismantle my internalised misandry... to recognise that I've been uncomfortable with my own masculinity simply because I've always identified it with its ubiquitous toxic forms. So my latest self-improvement project is to celebrate my internal paternal nurturing phallus

Long and proudly may it stand erect!

Joyfully may it ejaculate its nourishing seed!