Out on a photo walk with friends, we spontaneously decided to climb up to the scenic vista point of Corona Heights. With my pink plastic Holga camera in hand, I snapped shots of my friends against the backdrop of brown boulders and the skyline of San Francisco, when suddenly, a giant purple caterpillar, a gnome in a ball gown carrying a purse, and a man in a fantastic blue dress and feather hat to match appeared at the top of the hill above us. In total awe, I ran up the hill to discover who these magical humans were. A group of 15 or so introduced themselves as the Feyboy Collective, a sect of a larger community called the Radical Faeries. My pals and I had happened upon them in the midst of a magazine photo shoot. A dazzling display of glitter, sass, and some sort of mock ritual sacrifice, these Feyboys were, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever found on top of a hill in San Francisco.
It turns out the Radical Faeries are more than just a handful of beautiful weirdos living in San Francisco. They’re a part of a politically radical movement of gay men who’ve been around since the 1970s, and include millions of members around the world. Through art and pagan-influenced rituals, the Faeries are all about challenging the status quo and creating a culture that celebrates the eccentric. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco harbors the largest and most active groups of these fabulous and progressive queers.
Excited to learn more, I was thrilled by the invitation to check out the HQ – the Feyboy Mansion, which was actually Pinkfeather and fellow Feyboy Kyle’s SOMA apartment. When I arrived, they welcomed me in with a hug, and we began discussing the colorful history of the Radical Faeries. In the ’70s, founder Harry Hay was the first person in the U.S. to recognize homosexuals as an oppressed cultural minority, and the first to promote being gay as a social identity. At the time, many gays thought that in order to gain acceptance, they should imitate heterosexuals. Harry founded the Radical Faeries in 1979 as a way for gays to reject society’s norms. The Radical Faeries spread their message through artistic and ritualistic gatherings and festivals, first all over the United States, and then around the world.
“There’s an aesthetic and vibe to every city. San Francisco Faeries are glittery and fantastically over the top, but also unpolished.” says Pinkfeather. “There’s a theatricality to us. In SF, gays have often been a little more outrageous, a little more gender fuck, a littler weirder.” This proud history of theatricality includes the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, founded by participants in a 1979 Faerie gathering that same year.
Harry Hay was also a communist, and the Faeries have always been class conscious and concerned with social justice. Kyle explained that the very nature of their community is anticapitalist. “We are working toward something more cooperative, something more about resource sharing and support; our very nature is anti-consumerist.”
All of the Faerie events are pay what you can, and no one is turned away for lack of funds. Anyone can stay for free at the Faerie sanctuaries, and Faeries can travel and stay with other Faeries all over the world for free.
DIY and thrift is a big part of the Faerie fashion aesthetic, and all goods and services are traded and bartered when possible. “Any time we can work outside of the capitalist system we do,” says Kyle.
The Feyboy Collective was founded to create an intentional community to help further the cause of the Radical Faeries for the next generation. On the collective’s website, they describe themselves as a “queerdo community center facilitating shared creative space, hosting events from D.I.Y. workshops to sex parties and acting as a launchpad for aspiring SF radical artists and activists.” Pinkfeather comments, “Weird girls like Kyle and myself are sidelined in mainstream gay culture. We moved to San Francisco to find the radical queers. We want to push boundaries of what we can get away with culturally and artistically.”
The Radical Faeries sound like the biggest thing that no one has ever heard of. Pinkfeather and Kyle say that’s somewhat on purpose. The movement, while totally inclusive, is an underground group. They want to maintain a safe space for its members, but they also want to be out in the open, interacting with the community at large. And that’s where their events come in.
The Feyboy Collective plans and hosts Radical Faerie events and funds a variety of art projects. Several years ago they were given a large space on Market and Castro the week leading up to and including Pride. From this blank canvas, Faetopia, was born. Faetopia 2012 included queer cinema screenings, a visual art gallery, burlesque, drag, historical exhibits, a DIY fashion workshop, and sex positive seminars. On Pride Sunday, the Feyboys hosted their signature event, the Faerie Freedom Village, which is one of the largest scale Radical Faerie events of the year.
Faeries from near and far travel to attend the Faerie Freedom Village. The grassy knoll at Civic Center Plaza is walled off and turned into a magical Faerie Garden where Faeries, and anyone else who is game, are welcome to party, dance, and do whatever s/he pleases. I attended this year and surveyed what seemed to be a relaxed garden party with outrageous clothing (or none at all). Two naked kids basked peacefully in the sun with their naked parents. Things got raucous when the drag show began, courtesy of drag group Meow Mix. Nothing says San Francisco like a lip-syncing, gyrating queen a stone’s throw from City Hall.
Harry Hay promoted gay as an identity separate from heteronormativity. What I saw that day was a celebration of that identity, and any identity different from traditional culture and gender roles. The Village is an accepting space created free of any form of capitalism, where a community can come together and connect through radical expression and celebrate their beautiful freakiness.
One of those beautiful freaks celebrated that day was Crumbsnatcher, a queer musician in a little kid’s dinosaur hoodie. Crumbsnatcher strutted onto the stage accompanied by two guys in full animal costume. “This guy is a furry,” the MC declared. “Let me introduce Crumbsnatcher!” While the furry dino rapped, his animal entourage did a freak dance that grew progressively kinkier. Eventually, a partygoer from the audience joined them, until all four were writhing on the stage. This glorious display of weirdness was definitely the highlight of my day. Being yourself can be a radical thing, and performances like this encourage people to be whatever kind of person they want to be.
Later that day my friend met a cute, pixie-ish boy in a black leotard, who she insisted was her spirit animal. He invited us to follow him to the official after-party. Our adventure through wonderland continued and turned out to be a more private version of the same kind of radical expression and celebration of queerness that we saw in the Village. At first glance it seemed like a calm, grown-up party in a nice condo with a wide offering of snacks. But this was no run-of-the-mill condo party. Throughout the night, I caught snippets of heated discussions about radical politics, but it wasn’t just the conversation that was passionate. We witnessed a lot of nudity and some cuddling, and later my friends and I stumbled upon a hot tub filled with naked men and accidentally walked into a sex dungeon complete with whips, chains, swings, and even more naked men.
When my only-in-San-Francisco night ended, I thanked the hosts for helping keep our city radical. As I walked out the door, I looked back at the regalia of dressed-up fabulous freaks and remembered something one of the Radical Faeries had said to me earlier that day: “There’s more to learn from wearing a dress in one day than a suit in a lifetime.”