I attended an HIV conference on Miami Beach last summer where, amongst several different plenary sessions, one focused on the challenges of HIV prevention with gay men. One of the panelists, a gay man himself, presented a paper highlighting the resiliency of gay men. He spoke about the skills and strategies and strengths required to get through, survive, and emerge from the AIDS epidemic as intact as we have. He suggested that prevention efforts within our community, HIV and otherwise, might be more effective if the focus was on the resilience of gay men, not their deficits.
I had just come from a queer pangendered gathering at Saratoga Springs in Northern California called Generate: Evolution. We’d sat in daily heart circles, held workshops on everything from journaling to erotic touch, constructed a ritual that culminated with a phoenix literally arising from the ashes, held a Talent/No-Talent Show, and all the rest. It was glorious! And now here I was sitting in the ballroom of the Eden Roc Hotel on Miami Beach, listening to someone talk about the power of gay male resilience.
At the end of the session, microphones were set up in the audience and the questions and answers began. Someone spoke about the need for more condom education, another commented about the split between older long-term survivors and young men who didn’t know a lot about the AIDS years. A social scientist got up and pointed out that we kept using the term ‘gay community,’ but that he wasn’t sure that there really was a community anymore, that we had splintered and moved on to issues of marriage and assimilation.
I got up and stood in the long line, waiting to speak. When it was my turn, I told the group about the gathering I’d just attended and the community that had come together there. I talked about the faeries, our heart circles, and the powerful experiment we create, over and over again, when we come together for a weeklong intentional community. I described the giant bed that we erected, where faeries could lay down with each other and express affection, exploration, investigation and, at times, penetration. I disclosed that I’d attended a workshop called “Cunts for Fags,” where some of our sisters and trans brothers had educated us about their vaginas. There was some laughter, and a few of the participants looked up, but mostly the silence was deafening.
After I spoke, issues like antiretroviral adherence and self-esteem were discussed. Someone got up and, in obvious response to my words, said something about radical faeries aside, (he used the word ‘radical’ like it was a diagnosis) there really wasn’t a queer community anymore. When the session ended, several people came up and thanked me for my comments and said they’d love to come to a gathering like ours one day.
I do believe in and have experienced first-hand the creative resilience of faeries and of the queer community as a whole. From coming out, first to oneself and then to others, to navigating the complex worlds of HIV, of sex, of work, of money, of relationship and diversity, our community has had to come up with smart, effective and creative ways to survive and thrive, often without support from our families of origin or the larger culture. And since we have these demonstrated skills and abilities, how can we continue to use them for the greater good?
I’ve had the great honor and opportunity to travel around the world, both from working in HIV clinical trials as well as my involvement with David Weissman’s award-winning documentary “We Were Here.” What I have found, over and over again, are queer communities, often under great duress, who are using resiliencies of their own to work towards equality and freedom.
When my friend Hammer shared his vision of creating a Global Faerie Gathering, where fairies and their friends and allies could come together to explore our gifts and inspire each other in the work we are doing, I immediately signed on.
I’ve recently returned from St. Petersburg Russia where the hate and violence towards the queer community has become a daily occurrence and where, literally, the whole world is watching. I experienced first hand the courage that it took to host a queer film festival when the state and other homophobic organizations are constantly trying to stop you with violence, arrests and bomb threats.
Last year I travelled to Kiev, Ukraine, and met with gay men and lesbians who were organizing to stop the passage of the gay propaganda law that is now creating such terrible oppression in Russia. I was asked to speak at a meeting, before a screening of “We Were Here.” I talked about Stonewall, Harry Hay, Harvey Milk, the HIV activism of the early years, faerie gatherings, and the efforts to achieve marriage equality. I saw men with KS on their faces in the audience and it brought tears to my eyes.
Afterwards, a Russian orthodox priest came up to thank me. He told me he was starting to form an alternative church, one that welcomed everyone. I told him I so admired him and all the others in the room and wished I could do more than just share about my community and our efforts to organize and better our queer lives. He smiled broadly and said that it was so very important for them to hear about our story and how came together to change things for our communities. “When we hear about the world you live in, it changes our world as well.”
This, I believe, is one of the primary goals of our upcoming summer gathering Generate: Global Faerie Gathering: to literally change the world by sharing our stories, our challenges, our triumphs and our resiliencies with each other.
More about at Edwolf.net., his trips to South Africa, Uganda, Zibabwe and Ukraine here, and his recent trip to St. Petersburg Russia here. Please come and join us and support our efforts to bring international comrades to Generate: Global Faerie Gathering.
This article previously appeared in RFD magazine, Spring 2014 edition.