My Dad came out to me a couple of weeks after I came out to him. We were driving to church of all places, I was sixteen and he and I were in the car and he came out to me while we were driving. We pulled out under a big jacaranda tree by the river and started talking and talking.
When he told me, it was the first time I had heard it but there was this strange experience of “I know.” I really don’t know how to explain it – no one had ever told me he was gay, he’d never told me, but when he said it I wasn’t shocked. It was like I’d always known, even though I didn’t know, I sensed my father's difference. There is an essence there that is tangible, a tangible gay quality, and I was able to perceive that in a more intuitive way. I didn’t know anything about gay culture at that time, but I could feel it. It makes me think a bit about what is this — this gay essence.
—Snake Man, Australian Radical Faerie
Hear audio of Spiral Orbit, age 33, Australian Radical Faerie and member of the Faerieland diaspora, speak about his experiences as a faerie.
Harry Hay, an American gay rights activist was striving to answer the same question back in 1979 when he formed the Radical Faeries, a movement that seeks to discover the true meaning of being gay. He spoke out against what he perceived as the harmful heterosexual assimilationist attitudes of the mainstream gay movement, insisting that gayness is about so much more than just a sexual preference. Men who identified with this message wondered what would happen if Queerfolk were set apart from society, free to investigate their true spirit in a completely gay culture. So the call to discover a gay identity, distinct from the layers of heterosexual cultural indoctrination, began. Faerie sanctuaries were formed in the U.S.A. and gradually spread around the world.
Faerieland, the Australian Radical Faerie sanctuary is a beautiful forested piece of land that has been the home to the Oz Faeries since 2002 thanks to the vision and dedication of several men who communally own and maintain the property. They have an open door policy that welcomes all gay people who are seeking something more – be it a rural gay experience, sanctuary from a hostile world or a safe space to explore the complex relationships between their spirituality, identity and sexuality.
Celebrating gay culture in rural areas as opposed to the urban gay experience is central to the Faerie movement, which at it’s mythological roots emphasizes Pagan and indigenous culture, although you don’t need to live in the country to be a Faerie and you don’t have to subscribe to any doctrine. It has been said that it can be as challenging to define “Radical Faerie” as it is to define “Human Being.” To be a Faerie is an act of self-definition. What can be said for certain is the Radical Faerie way of life has helped many gay men understand and strengthen their gay identity despite living in a society that at its best accepts but does not understand and at it’s worst rejects and denies the true meaning of being gay.
My personal work has always focused on marginalization and stigma in the context of fringe communities. In this respect the Radical Faeries felt like a natural fit for me. While I am not gay, the common ground I had with the Faeries plight for acceptance was my broader understanding of the detrimental effects of stigma in one’s life. What excited me most about discovering Faerieland was the possibility to photograph a story where the crux for change lies in the culture of the wider society, not within the fringe community itself. It was a joy to photograph a story about love, acceptance and creativity that also carries a strong message about the problems and prejudices in society and culture today.
Claire Martin is a documentary photographer based between in Los Angeles, Calif. and Perth, Australia. She is a member of the Australian Documentary Photo Collective “Oculi.” Her work is distributed through Agency VU in Europe and Redux in the USA.