Return to Fall 1997 (#34): FAIRIES
Fairy was championed among hippie gay men, a self-referential term like the more inclusive "flower child." It contained a reference back to childhood fascinations with insight into hidden, magical realities which the regular people, the adults -- the straight people -- knew nothing of. After all, people couldn't see fairies unless the fairies wanted to be seen. For many in the "first generation of gay men" -- those who came out as they were entering young adulthood at the time of the rise of gay liberation in 1969 -- the same generation that years later was struck hardest by AIDS, fairy was a reference to Peter Pan, the creation of the 19th Century homosexual English writer J. M. Barrie, revivified by Walt Disney in the 1950s as that obviously "cute young gay guy" with the pixie friend who saved middle-class children from normalcy with the "good news" that if you just believe (i.e., if you're not fooled by the socially accepted conventions about how things should be) you can fly.
"Fairy" was a term of derision turned positive in the style of "Jew" for Hebrews and of "faggot" for homosexuals. Though, in fact, ""fairy" was never, like faggot, an angry term of derision with overtones of violence and hate; rather it conveyed -- and conveys -- a delightful suggestion that, just as we are, gay men are light-hearted, whimsical and non-serious, i.e. "flighty." In the hard, deadly serious, macho competitive dog-eat-dog world of modern, urban heterosexual males, the news that it's okay to be non-serious is the proverbial breath of fresh air. It's why everybody loves an effeminate homosexual as comedian (Are You Being Served's Mr. Humphries, for example). It is interesting to observe that the effeminate comedy figure is often the truth-teller, the jester who can say anything to the King, the one who can "tell it like it is."
Toby Marotta argued in The Politics of Homosexuality that gay liberation was the flower of the counterculture, the perfect demonstration of the notion of revolution through consciousness-change. Clearly when homosexuals changed how they thought about themselves, spurred on and supported by the work of the early activists (Harry Hay, Donald Webster Cory, Frank Kameny, Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, Randy Wicker, Arthur Evans, Arthur Bell, Jim Owles, Marty Robinson, Bruce Voeller, Mitch Walker -- to mention only a few), instead of miserably suffering their homosexuality, hiding and trying to change, they came out to play… and they discovered there were more of them than they'd ever imagined. They weren't alone. And the others they discovered were wonderful people: attractive, appealing, sensitive, considerate, plucky -- sometimes, maybe, a little "fucked up in the head," as it were -- but overall great people to have as comrades-in-arms (the flesh-and-blood kind). And that discovery changed gay community and gay identity forever.
Cartoonist Gerard Donelan, who drew his first fairy in early 1978, helped popularize the positive connotation of "fairy" with his images of, as he called them, "asexual, happy little beings that do good deeds," shown often with a cute innocently come-hither smile (and physique) and a gay glint in their wings. (I'm not so sure about the asexual part, but the rest is certainly true.)
"Fairy," as a gay community appropriated term, got its spelling changed and was given a kind of archaic -- and arcane -- medieval grandeur, as it became, first "faery" and then "faerie." And it got semi-institutionalized in the grassroots, loosely-organized, semi-institution of the Radical Faeries. Under this rubric, in a variety of ways across the country (following right along in hippie, countercultural, "Age of Aquarius" revolutionary style), the Faerie Movement has reclaimed and celebrated gay men's roles as magical, mystical healers and religious and moral leaders.
The term "radical faerie" will bring up quite a list of hits on the World Wide Web, including calendars of upcoming events. To acknowledge this major thrust in gay spirituality, this issue of White Crane features a series of articles about "fairies."
Call for submissions: The next issue of White Crane, scheduled for the Winter Solstice, will feature articles on "Prayer," presenting and redefining this classically religious term as it might be meaningful in today's consciousness. The Spring Equinox '98 issue will feature articles on relationships between men of different ages. The Summer Solstice '98 issue will feature articles on gay archetypes and archetypal awareness. The Fall '98 issue will on "God" and Winter '99 will be on Healing. Contributions are invited on these -- and any other -- topics of interest to a gay readership.
Remember, if you just believe, you can fly...