I WAS A LITTLE AFRAID I wouldn't be able to find the Radical Faeries.
The faeries are a crunchy granola bunch of queers who stage a male-only annual at Breitenbush Hot Springs—that's just outside Detroit, Oregon, surrounded by the Willamette National Forest—to have deep conversations and practice their magick (with a k). But on a tip from a guy who goes by the faerie name Pan (the god of "mountain wilds and rustic music"), I turned up at Three Friends Coffee House on Saturday afternoon and found myself in a thicket of faeries. It was a heavily bearded thicket.
I sat down next to a guy with a handlebar 'stache near the door and extended my hand.
"I'm Sarah," I said.
"Hello!" he replied enthusiastically. "I'm Leo Starfucker Sunshine!" Mr. Starfucker Sunshine explained that one day he was telling the guys in heart circle about the wonderful time a ray of sunshine gave him an erection. After that, "Starfucker" just kind of stuck.
"Heart circles are the foundation that allows the rest of faerie magick to occur," continued Starfucker Sunshine, explaining that groups of faeries meet up monthly for these discussion groups in Portland and stage them at retreats like Breitenbush or on a faerie commune called Wolf Creek in Southern Oregon. "We ask people to tell a story that's in their heart, not already in their head. It's been the most important place I've ever experienced to process my grief."
Sure, you can laugh at the faeries with their big hearts, big beards, and peculiar fantasy spellings. You can laugh at them because they often wear funny clothes and have funny names and talk about spirits with alarming frequency. But if you're going to throw yourself into a ridiculous subculture, the faeries are a good one to get mixed up in. They just want love, really. Lots of love! For everyone!
"When I was in my 20s, the faeries were too scary for me. I was too uptight," says a faerie who goes by Keystone. "I thought of them as the guys who paint themselves purple and walk around on stilts in the Pride Parade. At that time I was a bar kid."
These days, Keystone is reformed. He's queen registrar of the Breitenbush gathering this year, trying to remain fabulous while figuring out the logistics of inviting 180 men to spend four days at a hot springs where they're not supposed to drink or do drugs. Doing each other, of course, is perfectly acceptable.
The Radical Faeries were founded far away—in Arizona in the 1970s—but the appeal of the lifestyle in Portland is clearly strong.
"A lot of us believe that Portland has the biggest and most vibrant faerie scene in the world," said Sunshine Starfucker, pinning the responsibility for the strong community on the weekly coffee meet-ups, the popular national faeries gatherings so nearby, and the fact that Portland is home to a lot of proud pagan Keep-it-Weirders, queer or not.
Two of the few female-identified faeries in the bunch reclined in the huge sofa chairs in the corner of Three Friends. Stella Maris was busily adding beads to the feather of a great blue heron, to be used for wafting burning sage in some ceremony at some point.
"The gatherings are highlights of my year. We're anchoring our community in the sacred," said Stella Maris. So how did she feel about being barred, as a female, from Breitenbush? "I honor men's space," she replied serenely.
A clean-cut guy sat next to Stella, who stood out from the mostly older and heavily bearded crowed.
"I had learned about faeries in queer studies class," said the relative youngster, who goes by Mama J. "Then, of course, I fell in love with a faerie. I like that a faerie can be a Buddhist and a business consultant and a BDSM aficionado all at the same time."