I was invited. That’s how it began.
The email read: “Do you want to come play in the woods? There’ll be lots of cute guys…” It was a Radical Faerie gathering at Breitnebush Springs in Oregon. My immediate response was: No. No way. I don’t do that sort of thing. And I paused just as I was about to move on to the next email, and my second thoughts said: What are you afraid of?
The Radical Faeries had been on the periphery of my awareness for years, but never closer than that. The mental picture I had was a of grown, bearded men in tutus and wigs. Which is lovely, I suppose, but not only do I look terrible in a wig, I also become the biggest baby in the world, whining non-stop until it comes off. But here I was being personally invited to spend four days with just under 200 men who, if they weren’t wearing wigs, liked to wear nothing at all.
Me. A transguy!
As I looked around the web, I learned more about who the Radical Faeries were:
“Radical Faeries … are a loosely affiliated worldwide network of people seeking to reject hetero imitation and redefine queer identity through spirituality. The Radical Faerie movement started in the United States among gay men during the 1970s sexual and counterculture revolution. … Faeries tend to be fiercely independent, anti-establishment, and community-focused. Faerie culture is undefinable as a group; however, it has similar characteristics as Marxism, feminism, paganism … in support of sustainable communities, spiritual solemnity coupled with a camp sensibility, gay liberation and drag.” (Wikipedia)
I also found this:
“While we have no dogma, there are common visions which we share and celebrate. Some of these are: a belief in the sacredness of nature and the earth; honoring the interconnectedness of spirit, sex, politic and culture; an understanding that each one of us has our own path (or paths) which leads to the Garden of Who We Are, and that, by uniting with each other in circles, gatherings and sanctuaries, we can increase the joy of weeding and tending our gardens together; a commitment to the process of group consensus; and a belief that we are each other. As Faeries, we share a view of the world in which the dualities of either/or, minority/majority thinking are dissolved in the experience of “both/and,” “I am you” ways of thinking and being.” (excerpt by Joey Cain)
I was impressed, though still skeptical. Add to these descriptions numerous photos of men in drag and naked people dancing around a campfire, and you will begin to have some sense of what I saw before me. I dared not hope I could find a community of people who believed as I believe – in kindness and the interconnectedness of life, in the Beloved Friend and the magic of stars – and by “dared not hope” I mean of course that I hoped just a teeny bit and stuffed that teeny bit way deep down where I wouldn’t see it. Mostly, I was terrified. Clothing was optional at the gatherings. I would be surrounded by naked men. Would I be welcome? Woud I have to hide who I am? Where would I pee? Are the showers private? Do I have to be naked? If I do get naked, will they laugh? Day by day, it was like my heart was lodging itself in my throat in preparation for a fast getaway.
Boons were granted: A friend of a friend of a friend was a transman who had been to Breitenbush in the past and he gave me the lay of the land. Some of his friends were allies and talked to me about what to expect.
But I was still terrified.
Why did I want to go? Why did a desi transman in his mid-thirties want to go hang out in the woods with 200 radical faeries in the first place? Because I have very few men in my life. Of the men I know, one is a man who’s heart is open and to whom I can open my heart. One. That’s not enough.
Also, when I feel Fear, it’s as if the gods are drawing me a giant arrow telling me which way I must go. This arrow pointed to Breitenbush.
I bought a ticket to Oregon.
Breitenbush is an intentional community located over natural hot springs in Oregon. There are numerous outdoor hot tubs fed by these springs, as well as a sauna, a sweat lodge, a labyrinth, a glacial river and hiking trails. The Radical Faeries have been gathering at Breitenbush for over thirty years.
I knew going in that this trip was about facing personal demons. And it began as soon as I got there. I arrived in Portland, OR, and met up with my friend and his crew from Austin, Texas. We drove the two hours to the campground together. Immediately when we got there, the group headed straight for the hot tubs. Some of the guys were new to Breitenbush like me, others were veterans who had been coming for years. As they sat in the tubs, I sat on the edge of hyperventilating, able to take my shirt off but not my shorts. My heart was racing, everything in my body wanted to flee, and it was all I could do to stay there, surrounded by these men in all their naked glory. Old and young, a collective sigh seemed to dribble off their lips as they lowered themselves into the tub.
This was my first hurdle. After 45 minutes, I convinced myself that the worst that could happen was that I’d be struck by lightening or that I’d spontaneously combust, and both possibilities seemed quite likely, and perhaps even preferable to what was more likely to happen, that someone might point to my naked body and say, “Hey, you’re not a guy! You shouldn’t be here.” But I was among friends on this first afternoon, surely they would stick up for me? And after all, I was not here to hide, I didn’t just travel all the way across the country to hide. So after 45 minutes of not having the foggiest clue what anyone was talking about because my teeth were chattering too hard, I took the plunge and took off my shorts and got in the tub.
Shockingly, I did not burst into flame.
There were many more hurdles to face, and I faced them all in the same trembling way. My intention throughout was this: No matter the fear, I will face it with an open heart. I was challenged to do just this everyday of the gathering.
But before I tell you about the hurdles, it’s important to share with you what it was like to be around 200 faeries. As you’ve probably heard, faeries are magical creatures, and these faeries were no different. From the opening circle where the four directions were called and the ancestors were honored to the emotional heart circles every morning where men truly spoke from the deepest places of their hearts, to the challenge of the sweat lodge, to the talent show on the last night, I was surrounded by some of the most remarkable men I have ever met. Generous, affectionate, sweet, fierce… more often than not I was surrounded by open arms and open minds. This was a tribe of men, of faeries, and they loved with passion and with humor and with a brutal kindness.
When confronted with the topic “gender identity” in one heart circle, there were men who spoke eloquently about the place of Two-Spirit people in the community, men who spoke about their own love of their feminine selves even as they loved their maleness, men who listened to me speak about being trans, about having a female partner and yet still identifying as a queer man who was drawn to hearts regardless of the bodies they came in, “I am afraid to go to the tubs and be naked with you, because I’m afraid of what you might say, and more than that, I am afraid that I might believe you.” So many men thanked me for being there, for speaking, so many men kissed me and hugged me and said they would go to the tubs with me so I wouldn’t have to be afraid.
Not everyone, mind you. There were a few people who were struggling with the notion that transmen were at the gathering (there were two of us), but even in their struggle, even in the way the faeries disagreed with each other, there was a deep respect.
How can I explain what it’s like to be walking along with your roommate and he takes your hand in his? To be sitting in heart circle with your arm around the man on your right and your hand on the leg of the man on your left? To kiss on the lips just to say hello. So simple and yet the effect is so profound.
I have firm beliefs about the Beloved Friend (or God, if you prefer) and what that means to my life. I have looked over the years for a spiritual community with whom I could share my beliefs and experiences, usually with hope and disappointment. But here, with the faeries, I could talk about Spirit and how much that relationship meant to me, and they understood, because it was important to them, too. With the faeries, I felt like I had found a tribe, a Home among men which I have never had in my life.
It’s not perfect, though it may seem I’m making it out to be. It’s a work in progress always. No one was going to do my work for me. No one was going to coddle me. It was a mostly white gathering and I was the only desi there. And yet, what a tremendous joy to find a tribe of men who embraced me as one of them. (And there are other faerie gatherings that are multi-gendered, so though this one was all queer men, they are not all like that.)
I was told I was a beautiful man, a gentle man. And I wanted to shake my head and say, “No, you are the beautiful man, you are the beautiful heart.” But the lessons of the gathering have begun to sink in. Even as I cradled a broken-heart upon returning from the gathering, still the words of wise faeries came back to me:
“What an opportunity to have 200 mirrors staring you in the face!”
I didn’t know what that meant at first. Now I think I do. I look at these men – I have fallen in love with the lot of them – and I think, You are beautiful men. And I realize, as are they, so am I.
I am a beautiful man.
These men, these magical faeries have such beautiful hearts. But so do I… I have such a beautiful heart.
My faerie name was Mushtaq for the gathering. It is Arabic, and means yearning or longing. When I came upon the faeries, I had for years had a deep sense of longing to be always with the Beloved Friend, to keep my heart open that I might feel the Friend’s dance. But I realize now that I am also Mashuq, which means beloved. I am the longing and I am also the one who is longed for.
And I am a Faerie.
Deen says, You my dear, are the one the Friend has been longing for all this time. Every night, our Beloved Friend dreams that you will come home. Every night She sends someone to pick your locks hoping He can at least kiss you while you sleep.