Elliott Linwood

(Originally published in San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter, 1992)

Faeries in the Tennessee woods – a retreat to Short Mountain

Nailing down the definitive faerie would be like pinning a butterfly to a board – with a sledgehammer. Categorizing such a delicate creature would only disfigure its ephemeral properties.

I know this because of my Radical Faerie friends. Short and vibrant versions of their history, a sub-cult within a subculture, are often circulated internally and embellished by word-of-mouth. Their tribal recounting readily embraces differences in the tale each time it’s told. Radical Faeries are a family.

In the context of Republican convention “family values,” which actually represent a system of moral purity, which is ordained and defended by those who are waging a religious war – anyone of a different stripe appears criminally impure. In a model where pluralism and feminism basically equate to witchcraft, fags can be bundled for burning once again. Radical Faeries upset the concept of one big heterosexual family. Historically, they’re a cross somewhere between hippies and queers, the penultimate pinko-commies.

Faeire-godfathers and beloved media whores, Harry Hay and John Burnside, assembled the first gathering in 1979. Harry started the first national gay organization, the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles during the ‘50s. Radical Faerie propaganda deems anyone who identifies or defines oneself as a faerie to be one – from faggot farmers to urban magicians. There is no need for leaders since each faerie is divine and can speak for oneself. Uniting in circles, they commit to the process of group consensus instead of authoritarianism. So, whoever stays awake the longest gets to tender their vote

Different tribes meet worldwide at various retreats. FAGTASIA occurred in Ithaca, N.Y., during gay pride week last year. Short Mountain in Tennessee also sponsors gatherings. More often, however, the gatherings are informal, since most news travels by word-of-mouth. “Gatherings” are actually often quite small, and personal trust, rather than unwieldy administration, guides group activity.

Despite the publication of RFD, the media organ of Radical Faeries available at most gay bookstores, faeries are intent on keeping their movement from becoming too popular, since that might threaten their anti-assimilationist philosophy. In the current era of repression masquerading as family values, it is more important than ever to acknowledge our “other” families and alternative visions.