Recruiting Queer Communards! Homophobia, Sexuality, and Community Living
Throughout this article the author makes use of expressions and stereotypes which have been used to describe homosexuals in a derogatory way: ‘queer,’ ‘fag,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘twisted,’ ‘freak,’ etc. Though the publishers of this directory are not altogether comfortable with these terms, the author chooses them consciously, believing that playing with stereotypes without shame subverts their power and transforms them from forces of hurtful oppression into tools of freedom and liberation.
Probably most intentional communities, like most schools, churches, workplaces, and families, have homosexual members. We are everywhere, after all. But we are most definitely not a visible presence everywhere. Many queers living in community suffer from homophobia, pressures to conform to heterosexual community norms, isolation, and invisibility.
Though I had fantasized since childhood of living in a commune in the country, it had never occurred to me that I could live in rural community and in the midst of thriving queer culture. The gay and lesbian community I was part of in New York was comprised of many folks who had fled the isolation of being queer in rural areas, small towns, suburbs, and smaller cities. Queer culture and country living seemed mutually exclusive. That is, until I met the radical faeries—outrageous playful subversive queers with city circles and rural communes. They magically enticed me to Short Mountain Sanctuary, which has been my home ever since.
The radical faerie ‘movement’ is diverse and decentralized. It includes communities like Wolf Creek, which offer ‘faggot-only space,’ and communities like IDA, Pumpkin Hollow, Short Mountain Sanctuary, and Zuni Mountain Sanctuary, which define ‘faerie’ much more broadly.
Short Mountain, like many other radical faerie communities, is first and foremost a queer space. That is the organizing principle that binds us together and draws into our ever-expanding circle a constant flow of queer folks with communitarian aspirations. Beyond that our shared ideology is hard to pin down. Part of our group identity is our indefinability. We are faeries, creatures of magic, myth, and mischief. It is not just the sexuality of gay men that we honor. This is a world for free/fluid/evolving/ experimental/spiritual/political sexual expression, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and polyamorous people, pagan monks, naturalists, and fetishists of many flavors. Often our community includes women. Sometimes the gay men and lesbian women end up becoming lovers. (Go figure.) We also attract a broad spectrum of people who are transgendered: female-to-male and male-to-female transsexuals, folks somewhere in the midst of their transformation (including some who elected to stop it somewhere in between), drag queens, and butch dykes. Almost all of us enjoy playing with our gender identity, doing things like wearing exotic lingerie while sporting a full beard. We call this ‘genderfuck.’ Once, a straight guy who stayed with us for a while took ‘Breeder’ as his name. Queer culture, in my opinion, does not thrive by gay men cloistering themselves away from everybody else. It flourishes when we celebrate sexuality in all its kinky quirky variations.
Three of my fellow communards lived in predominantly straight intentional communities prior to moving to Short Mountain. (Editor’s note: Interested readers can contact the author for additional information about any of these experiences.)
In 1972, Weeder was part of a community and sexually active with other men when he was told, ‘If you want to stay in this community then you can’t be homosexual.’ Forced to choose, he recalls 27 years later, ‘I wanted to be in community more than I wanted to pursue homosexuality.’ Weeder then spent eight years at The Farm, succumbing to the pressures of ‘hippie family values’ to marry and have kids. (Editor’s note: We asked several current and former members of The Farm to verify this. The general consensus seemed to be that, while Weeder accurately reflects the atmosphere at The Farm at the time he was living there, attitudes have since shifted to be much more supportive of homosexuality.)
Eventually he found himself having sex with men again, seeking work assignments that would bring him into proximity of gay cruising spots and creating elaborate alibis. ‘Repressing my sexuality wasn’t working,’ he says in retrospect. ‘The lies were driving me crazy. One of the major appeals of community living was that I wanted to live a life where I could be truthful with people.’ Weeder left the community, split up with his wife, and lived in urban gay scenes in the southeast until he met some faeries at a Christmas potluck who attracted him to Short Mountain. His now grown daughters visit periodically.
Half a world away, Delilah became involved in the Israeli kibbutz youth movement in his early teens, embracing a vision of transforming culture and society through collective living. After high school and mandatory military service, he went to live on a kibbutz. Although he had had sexual experiences with other young men, he was still in a state of denial about his homosexual desires. At the kibbutz he experienced a feeling of support and belonging that enabled him to open up to his sexuality for the first time. ‘It was the moment when my sexuality couldn’t be split off from the rest of me anymore.’ At this critical juncture in his life, several gay and lesbian people from the United States came to live at the kibbutz and inquired about the kibbutz’s policy toward gays and lesbians. The kibbutz didn’t have one and had never before had occasion to consider one.
‘That was a horrible time,’ groans Delilah. ‘Half the people were cool, half were homophobic, people threatened to leave and the kibbutz almost split.’ The community spent months processing the conflict, brought in outside facilitators, and ended up agreeing to disagree in a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ neither yes nor no compromise on the homosexual question. ‘I got to the point where I needed to come out,’ Delilah says. He moved to New York, where he lived for several years before coming to live here. Although coming out resulted in his leaving the kibbutz, Delilah believes that the encouragement he felt there was what enabled him to do it. ‘My life here is completely consistent with a path I’ve been on for 20 years,’ the Israeli dissident says.
Ocea sought refuge in his first community after his parents’ hostile response to his coming out to them as a teenager in 1981. He was attracted to that community by its social critique and the promise of creating a new society that it offered. Ocea characterizes the community’s attitude toward his homosexuality when he first joined as, ‘We accept you, and you should be working toward overcoming your neurosis and becoming heterosexual.’
Ocea stayed there for 10 years. Occasionally he would have sex with other men who lived there, but mostly they were as uncomfortable as he was about homosexuality. As he ‘came out’ more, the attitudes there toward his homosexuality became more and more hostile. Here is a brief excerpt from a lengthy missive issued by the community’s founder: ‘The truth is that no matter how much you enema with perfume douches or coyly call it Ôthe chocolate canal’ it wasn’t made for thatÉ. Nature will damn you, or any of us for any unnatural inorganic preferenceÉ. You’re just a spoiled petulant neurotic trying to make a life-style out of a fetish.’
By the time he learned of the existence of Short Mountain from an earlier edition of this directory, Ocea was desperate to explore his queer identity. In his letters to us he wrote, ‘I am being forced into a mold I can’t/won’t accept. I have to take control of my lifeÉ. I really long for, corny as it sounds, my long lost sisters and brothers.’ Ocea arrived six years ago and has lived at Short Mountain ever since.
Some people imagine a bunch of queers living together as a nonstop orgiastic pleasurefest. Well, we also decorate, dress up a lot, make gorgeous floral arrangements with the flowers we grow, cook gourmet cuisine, sew, knit, crochet, and embroider, dish each other endlessly, dance, and party. We practice the butch arts required to maintain our twisted lifestyle in this woodsy faerieland: we grow food and build buildings, raise goats and chickens, harness electricity from the sun, and cut firewood. We also process conflict as it arises.
Even in our out loud and proud queer community we face visibility issues. Last year Mish and Kasha had plans to go into town together to do errands. Kasha showed up dressed as he usually is, wearing a skirt over leggings, fingernail polish, jewelry and big hair, ready to go. ‘Being himself’ is being a freak, and he thinks nothing of it. Mish, a community elder who has his own eccentric outfits and likes to shock and turn heads in a more anonymous context, felt that for Kasha to go into town dressed like that was disrespectful and could potentially endanger our community. Another time, two long-term visitors to our community (both men) ended up drunkenly making out at a big local event with thousands of people. They were harshly criticized by members of Short Mountain for engaging in behavior some judged to be reckless. Visibility can be complex and scary. We do live with a palpable sense of vulnerability as queers living in a conservative Christian rural area, but we are all out of the closet and none of us tailor our behavior to accepted local norms. As our extended community grows, we become bolder all the time.
The Faerie Gatherings that various faerie communities put on every year are an opportunity for attendees (women/men/kids/other) to explore their own queerness and experience a powerful sense of community. The magical freedom embodied in the queerness of faerie gatherings resonates for free-thinkers and nonconformists of diverse description. Breaking out of narrowly defined gender roles is a goal for many people in the communities movement. The faeries offer fertile ground for exploring those possibilities.
Radical faeries have established communities in Tennessee, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, and faerie groups have bought land in Minnesota, Ontario, and Vermont, where they gather and camp and plan someday to establish communities. Faeries are coming together in Europe and Australia as well, envisioning future communities.
Of course, there are many other paths for queers interested in living in community. Join a community. Revolutionize a community. Start a community. Be visible as queer in the community you are already part of. Encourage other queers into your community. Encourage other members of your community into their queerness. Only we can create queer visibility and presence in the communities movement.
- See community listings for Ida, Pumpkin Hollow, Short Mountain Sanctuary, Sun Valley, Wolf Creek Sanctuary, and Zuni Mountain Sanctuary.
- Rural Gay Web site: http://www.ruralgay.com/
- RFD: A Country Journal for Queer Folks Everywhere. PO Box 68, Liberty TN 37095, USA. Short Mountain publishes this magazine, which includes faerie contacts around the globe, contact letters, and regular updates and articles on queer communities. http://www.rfdmag.org/
- Queer in Community (QIC) network, c/o Mahantongo Spirit Garden, RD 1 Box 149, Pitman PA 17964, USA. Email: [email protected], http://www.ic.org/qic/
Sandorfag has lived at Short Mountain community in Tennessee since 1993, at 247 Sanctuary Lane, Liberty TN 37095, USA.