THE ORIGINS OF
THE RADICAL FAERIES
A constant power struggle in our story is the minimalization and sometimes erasure of the catalysts who created our community and civil rights. Their individual stories are being replaced by lofty, 21st-century archetypes and those who look like many feel. This is not preservation. Our history is being stolen from us. In the span of 50 years, our entire life has transformed from illegal to as far assimilated as you want to take it.
Most of the LGBTQ History Project’s work is correcting what is wrong, pushing new ideas, new concepts and new understandings of what is and can be considered right. We are giving first and, sometimes, last breaths to those smothered by vested or confused interests trying to claim what was never theirs. We are real people telling their real stories in their real words.
After an intensive week of interviews with Dr. Don Kilhefner, and more than 50 hours of recorded interviews to date, we knew what we had to do: correct the wrong history of a group he founded, the Radical Faeries. This is our collaboration. This is his story: Impossible but True.
"There has always been a shadow element to the Radical Faeries that never gets talked about. It irritates me that egos got in the way because people have hijacked our history and taken it away from our original goals and the whole concept of community-driven spirituality.
The founders of the Radical Faeries are often attributed to four people: John Burnside, Harry Hay, Mitch Walker and me. To call anyone besides Harry and me a founder is incorrect. Mitch Walker was only invited to help with the organization of the first Radical Faerie gathering in late May of 1979. On the first day of organizing in my apartment in West Hollywood, Harry and Mitch went for a walk. They had a verbal fight and Mitch returned to my apartment and said, “I wash my hands of this whole thing. I am returning to Oakland,” which he immediately did. He was never involved in the organization of the early gatherings. He attended the first gathering as a participant, and he contributed nothing as a founder. John Burnside was Harry’s companion and lover and simply because they lived in the same space he would overhear the early meetings. He was also not at the planning meetings. He did not understand the message of Harry’s and my work until he was at the first gathering.
The Radical Faeries came out of conversations between Harry and me beginning in 1973 about the course of the Gay Liberation movement and what was missing. The Faeries intellectual and spiritual foundation came out of workshops I hosted in 1975-1981 called Gay Voices and Visions where the work of gay visionaries and our intellectual history beginning with Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter and others was examined. We discussed new breakthroughs in evolutionary biology: what do we see and what are we contributing?
Frequently, the Radical Faeries are associated with the Pagan movement in the United States. Again, this is incorrect. There was a Pagan movement happening in the country at the time and because we conducted ceremonies and had gatherings in nature they lumped us together. The term “Pagan” was never the right term for us. There were other terms used in the late 1970s and early 1980s but none of them did justice to what we were trying to do. We were connecting gay history and our heritage to the world as ceremonious medicine makers and healers. As I wrote on the flyer for our first event, our agenda was “exploring breakthroughs in gay consciousness, sharing gay visions and the spiritual dimensions of gayness.” This was not part of the Pagan agenda. We were not influenced by the 1960s counter-culture. Of course, it was part of the environment, but the Radical Faeries came from the connection between gay liberation, gay history and evolutionary biology. We wanted to help men explore and find different levels of consciousness.