Los Angeles Radical Faeries

"In celebrating Harry, a special symbol of our tribe, we embrace the complicated interplay of ideas that he contained, the lightness and darkness that coexist in each one of us, the woo and the goo that binds us all together, transcending time, distance, even death. We hereby assert our right to do it ourselves when it comes to consecrating our reality.

 

We listen to the wind and to one another, and we hear Harry's original call still ongoing; we echo it, amplify it, reiterate it, reinterpret it from 30-some years' distance. We sing, sing, sing, embrace it again, and recommit ourselves to the faerie way of life," Jol Devitro.

WHAT IS HAY DAYS? An essay by fellow LA Fae Jol Devitro evoking the history and essence of Hay Days and it's relevance to Fae culture. 

Hay Days are upon us, but what the Hay does it all mean? Harry Hay's 101st birthd      ay could have been just another Sunday in Los Angeles, but we've had the audacity to declare a high faerie holiday, not only to honor our legendary ancestor but also to celebrate ourselves and our newly incarnated faerie congregation.

 

Holidays reflect the values and beliefs of a culture, reinforcing its myths through ritual, storytelling, and reflection; holidays bring joy and meaning to life, turning otherwise ordinary days into extraordinary events. In declaring our own faerie holiday, we're affirming our unique shared reality and establishing a framework for focused observation and deliberate living.

 

In celebrating Harry, a special symbol of our tribe, we embrace the complicated interplay of ideas that he contained, the lightness and darkness that coexist in each one of us, the woo and the goo that binds us all together, transcending time, distance, even death. We hereby assert our right to do it ourselves when it comes to consecrating our reality. We listen to the wind and to one another, and we hear Harry's original call still ongoing; we echo it, amplify it, reiterate it, reinterpret it from 30-some years' distance. We sing, sing, sing, embrace it again, and recommit ourselves to the faerie way of life.

 

Why celebrate Harry? There are countless other ancestors and elders to credit in tracing our faerie roots: Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter, whose words gave Harry the validation he needed to embark on a life of activism; Arthur Evans, whose "Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture" gave rise to a fairy circle in San Francisco that predated Harry's call; Mitch Walker, Don Kilhefner, and Harry's partner John Burnside, who co-founded the Radical Faeries; and countless others, from the Two-spirit people to those brave souls who ventured out to the earliest gatherings, and all those who dedicated themselves to creating and maintaining faerie sanctuaries. The list of worthies owed our gratitude and remembrance goes on and on.

 

Harry himself was an often polarizing figure. His ideological positioning prompted his ousting from the Mattachine Society; his split with Don and Mitch led to a rift that, coupled with AIDS, left L.A.'s faerie community in ruins; his standing with NAMBLA alienated him from the mainstream gay movement; he was at odds with ACT-UP over the tenor of their tactics; he was called dominating, willful, a pain in the ass. And yet here we are today, invoking him, celebrating him, using him as the basis for a newly minted holiday.

 

Death, it seems, is the ultimate laundromat, removing the dirt and residue of our flawed man suits, leaving the pristine essence of our achievements behind. Many of us, myself included, never saw or knew Harry Hay, and that makes it easy to lionize him, to project our own ideas onto the blank canvass left by his physical absence. Dwelling in the verdant, fruitful garden that he planted, it's easy to overlook the dirt under Harry's fingernails. Human qualities and flaws are, in this manner, and by degrees, lost with time; the hard slog of one's reality--the complicated muck of one's everyday struggle to get along--is replaced over time by legend. And so myths our born.

 

We who never knew Harry are fortunate in that we can idealize him; we can focus on his words and work, free and clear of any ego issues and hurt feelings that come along with the human lot; we can clearly view his most benevolent aspects and downplay--or forget altogether if we wish--his shortcomings. But I think succumbing to that temptation risks missing the point of Harry's real value to us as a subject of celebration and collective musing; for in witnessing and acknowledging Harry's troubles and contradictions we pay tribute to the whole enchilada of our faerie experiment. Harry, like all of us, is a real person with light and dark aspects. By embracing his totality we are free to learn from his mistakes and failures just as we draw inspiration from his triumphs and innovations. In seeing Harry holistically we steer clear of erecting an empty edifice and instead imbue his memory with the real stuff of life itself. In a way, Harry's flaws make him a more perfect symbol and a more worthy subject for our observation.

 

As a nun who once taught me used to say, "Saints are sinners who kept on trying." In Harry, I believe we may find just such a figure--imperfect enough for us to relate to, victorious enough in his struggles with himself to have done some work of far-reaching and lasting significance--work that continues to manifest itself in our lives today.

 

Thirtysome years since Harry issued the call for the first gathering, we Two-spirit people are still struggling to find our place in the larger culture. His work in identifying our unique attributes and special function in society continues. Each one of us is called to find out what that identity means in our own lives, as well as to simultaneously work to carve out a place for us all in the grand scheme of things, supporting each other through that often grueling process.

 

In Los Angeles, faerie community was all but extinct just a couple of years ago. The historical accident of our coming together here in this past year feels meant to be, the potentiality of this moment awe-inspiring, the hunger and thirst for it indubitable. We are charged, each of us, with great power and responsibility; every individual has an important role to play in the story of Los Angeles's Radical Faeries. This weekend is intended not only as a celebration of our history, but also as a way of engaging more fully with the present and together giving forethought to the future. What seeds can we each plant in order to sustain our selves and our faerie family? What is our mission? Why have we been called to this place at this moment?

 

History has brought us to this particular place in time, and it's up to each one of us, and all of us together, to heed its warnings, read its message, ride its tide, and determine the way forward for ourselves and our community. A couple of years ago I was pretty steeped in gay-male misogynistic thinking. My personal journey through faerie land and the act of listening to the wind has brought me to quite another place. I now find myself advocating the overthrow of binary gender thinking and embracing radical inclusiveness. The change in myself astonishes me; the change in the wind carries me forward. My faerie family carries me forward. All of you carry me forward.

 

As I embark on Hay Days, I'm thinking of this weekend as a trip, sort of like I'm going to Short Mountain, but without traveling outside a 5-mile radius of home. I'm packing a bag and not expecting to see my room or live my everyday Los Angeles life, because I will be entering faerie space for the next three days. And that is where I'll be if you need me.

 

Hay Days is LARF's first big event, and as such it's a great experiment. I believe that all of us unified in action and intention can collectively suspend any disbelief and prove that it's possible to have faerie sanctuary here, amid the urban blight and bustle of this great and dirty city. With Hay Days we are challenging ourselves to overcome the fears, doubts, and objections that cloud our minds and muddy our sense of purpose. This three-day journey of intention will be a test of our ability to work together to make communal magic; it will be a demonstration of our commitment to one another and the work we have yet to do. Hay Days is an exercise in integrating faerie reality into our everyday lives and generating, right here in Los Angeles, the feeling of safety and support that we'd find in a sanctuary. I hope we'll discover that our tribal togetherness transcends our physical reality, and that the power to manifest it resides within each of us and moves through us, wherever we are. I hope we will become a beacon for the rest of the world and that the world will duly note the rise of Radical Faeries in Los Angeles, that we may, in the words of Harvey Milk, "give 'em hope."

 

Indeed, this is our coming out. With Hay Days we are announcing to Los Angeles and to the world that we are here; it is a step in gaining recognition for us Two-spirits and inviting the world to know us, that we may integrate our gifts into society at large. As Harry posited, we are the solution. While he was anti-assimilationist, Harry was not an isolationist. His nuanced vision calls for us to recognize our difference from the hetero world but also to engage in it, with the ultimate aim of teaching subject-subject consciousness to the straight world, thereby improving the condition of the world. Whereas coming out queer is a lonely task that falls upon the individual, our coming out as Two-spirits is a party; we are stepping out together as a community and declaring that we walk proudly through the world and have great gifts to offer society.

 

In taking part in Hay Days we keep Harry's spirit alive and demonstrate that with our faerie magic we can transcend death--through the invocation of our ancestors, through our ritual and remembrance, through our carrying the vision forward. In making Hay Days we affirm our existence and lay the groundwork for the pioneering work of the future, and we show that wherever we go, there we are.

 

Gratefully yours in LARF,

Jol

About Harry Hay

Born in England on April 7, 1912 to American parents, Harry Hay was a teacher, labor advocate, and a founding member of several gay liberation organizations including first sustained gay rights organization in the United States, The Mattachine Society in 1950 and the Radical Faeries in 1979. Hay was a controversial leader and figure, with Marxist politics and strong opinions against assimilation.  He died on October 24, 2002.

Contact: laradfae@gmail.com