Someone asked me once to succinctly describe the Radical Faeries in one sentence. I said something to the effect of: "Radical Faeries are queer, often don't fit into or like mainstream gay cultures, are open-minded and open-hearted, often have pagan or other older and/or nature based spiritual practices, and are often artists, activists, and freaks." As far as I understand the history, we Faeries sprung up alongside the mainstream counterculture (how's that for a n oxymoron) on the West coast in the 70s. It started out as all gay men and the demographic still tends that way, although Philly Faeries welcome queers of all genders and sexes.
I first heard of the Faeries in a Queer as Folk episode wheretwo characters attend a Faerie gathering weekend in the woods. All of the Faeries I've met groan at this a bit since it wasn't, to their estimation, an accurate representation, but also generally acknowledge that it was a sweet attempt. Especially sweet because it was largely a framing story around a tribute to Harry Hay, generally considered the leading Faerie founder. It was not long after that that I saw Harry Hay in the documentaries (at least I think it was both of them, it's been a while) Before Stonewell and After Stonewall. With his long white beard, and long, dangling earrings and necklace he was a touch genderbent and totally fascinating to me. It was several years later that I found the Faeries here in Philadelphia.
Yesterday was our Solstice potluck and Heart Circle. The Heart Circle is probably the most consistent ritual across Faerie communities and, as I've yet to be to Short Mountain or Faerie Camp Destiny or any of the large Faerie sanctuaries, the only ritual I've participated in. In short, it is a totally safe space to share whatever is going on in your life, good or bad, with people who won't interrupt, and won't respond or give advice unless you specifically ask for it. Everyone has equal opportunity to speak into the circle and all things spoken are confidential. When you think of how often the average person is given the opportunity to speak from the heart to her/his/hir community with their undivided attention (generally never), it is actually remarkable. Furthermore, the Faeries were born of generations of men who were never to share their feelings, and plenty of Faeries, male not not, may still have the Heart Circle as their only outlet of this kind.
The rest of the evening following the Heart Circle was remarkable. People sat around the room in groups of twos and threes, eating, sharing food, trading back rubs and snuggling. Sometimes the attention turned from the little groups to everyone in the room interacting together. Maybe it's just my raucous family giving me an inaccurate perception, but most times when I'm in a room with 12 people all involved in the same conversation, it becomes rudely competitive and loud. Instead, after having had the experience of balanced and loving sharing in the Heart Circle at the start of the evening, everyone shared stories and laughs in turn and without stepping on each others' toes. Nothing was forced. Everything was in flow. This is what group dynamics look like when it starts from a place of acknowledging and honoring every member of the community. This is why Harry Hay told us, "Have fun, but remember the Heart Circle."