Welcome Home: Radical Faeries and Queer Worldmaking

Michael Lecker

Major Professor: Roger N Lancaster, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Tim Gibson

Enterprise Hall, #318
November 10, 2015, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


This dissertation’s central argument is that queer worldmaking in practice differs from dominant theorizations of it. Queer theorists predominantly define queerness as ephemeral, momentary, based in
negative affects (such as shame, melancholy, and loss), and as a solely negating force. Through the Radical Faeries, this dissertation demonstrates that queer worldmaking can be a sustained and ongoing
project, in which LGBTQ people displace heterosexuality as the ideal and establish alternative registers that create a sense of dignity for LGBTQ people without assimilating heterosexist norms.

The Radical Faeries began in the US in the1970s as a group of gay men who would temporarily separate themselves from contemporary society through rural retreats in order to explore communitarianism,
spirituality, and the creation of a distinctly gay male culture. The group continues to gather today and the movement has spread throughout Western and Central Europe, Southeast Asia, North America, and Israel.
It also now includes people who are not gay-male-identified, although gay male culture remains central to the community. This dissertation both records and analyzes US Radical Faerie culture. I collected data
through 151 interviews and two years of participant observation within three Radical Faerie communities—Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—and their corresponding
rural gathering locations (called sanctuaries). Through this research, I found that Radical Faeries engage in a queer worldmaking project through (1) co-created and regularly occurring gatherings, (2) a
unique kinship system that is unconditionally accepting and temporally and geographically expansive, and (3) a carnivalesque spirituality based in both Neopaganism and LGBTQ culture and history, which
elevates non-conformist gender and sexuality to the divine. Through the construction of space, kinship, and spirituality, Faeries encourage each other to explore their genders and sexualities and to fulfill needs and desires unmet by dominant culture. This creates a deep sense of belonging, connection, affirmation, and dignity for Faeries, as non-conforming LGBTQ people. The Faeries’ longevity attests to the strength and need for such a project: the movement continues to endure the HIV pandemic; it survives intergenerational ifferences within the LGBTQ community; and it thrives despite the growing acceptance of conforming LGBTQ identities in the wider society. Through a thick description of Radical Faerie practices, I
show the limits of queer theory’s prevailing approach to worldmaking by theorizing some methods queers use to establish continuity for their spaces, a kinship system that suits their needs, a past, present, and future for their people, and a sense of dignity and purpose through spirituality.