In June of 1989, I was drawn to Sheridan Square in New York City to celebrate the 2oth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. I journeyed from Salt Lake City specifically to leave a rose on the doorsteps of the Stonewall Inn in remembrance of those who fought back that night. From that spot, the modern Gay Civil Rights was born, which allowed me to live my life openly as a gay man. Stonewall had made my destiny and fate tied to every other homosexual who was out of the closet. After Stonewall, we became a movement, a people.
On Christopher Street, I saw yellow flyers posted to walls, illustrated with a screaming-in-your-face, crazy-ass drag queen. In huge bold type the caption read: “Do you think Homosexuals are Revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are! Stonewall Rebellion 1969.” I was intrigued. The flyers were posted by a group calling themselves the Radical Faeries. I had vaguely heard about the Radical Faeries. I knew they were connected with Harry Hay, one of the founders of the Mattachine Society in the 1950s, and that some of them had communes in the Pacific Northwest, but I had never met any in Salt Lake City. The poster also announced that these Radical Faeries were hosting a tour of the old Stonewall Inn to commemorate the anniversary of the riots. Again, I was intrigued.
So I strolled to where the Stonewall had been and found it was now a stylish, black and white, chic clothing boutique. All signs it had been the former notorious bar had been removed. Once there, I learned that the Radical Faeries had rented out the basement of the building, and they were hosting a guided tour of what they called “20,000 years of Gay History in Five Minutes.” How could I resist?
Descending the stairs into the basement I came first upon a shrine to Judy Garland, whose death, I was to learn, preceded the Stonewall riots by mere days. Gay lore is that Garland’s death and a full moon had set the stage for the events of 1969. A mock coffin of Judy was layered with stacks of Maybeline nail polish, assorted makeup, yellow roses and pictures of little Dorothy Gale.
With no time to stop and absorb the shrine in detail, I was ushered along the brick corridor to a scene set in prehistoric times where gay cavemen, dressed in fur and leather, sporting grizzly beards, were painting gay graffiti on cave walls and humping each other. Wisked away, I was quickly escorted to the Classical Period of history where gay Greeks were dressed in togas or bare chested, wearing pleated linen skirts and sporting Dorian-carved capstones as headwear. They pranced and sashayed and fawned over a nearly naked, oiled up Olympian youth. Leaving the scene too soon, we were pushed into the Dark Ages, the burning times, when gays were used as faggots to burn the witches. Gay boys were seen tied to posts as colored lights and tissue paper simulated flames, and robed Monks with huge crosses hanging from their necks muttered Gregorian chants.
Did I mention this was “Five minutes of History?” We immediately jumped right into the 20th century , the 1960s to be exact, where gay go-go boys did the shimmy in gilded cages while uniformed police shook their night sticks obscenely at them. At this point, each of us were handed a yellow foam brick to throw at the “pigs.”
Finally, from there we were ushered out of the airless basement into a larger room where we were instructed to form a circle. There we all were, sprinkled with faerie dust and taught a song that would help end patriarchal suppression of gay people, and then swiftly shooed out the door.
In that brief, dramatic tour of the basement of the old Stonewall Inn, I experienced a life transforming shamatic experience: a conversion of the soul, if you will, by the Gay Spirit. In that hot and humid basement, sweating like only you can on a hot New York City night, something was calling me home to a place I had never been.
Outside in the cooler night air, I was so enthralled by the experience that I began to hawk the merits of the Radical Faerie tour, calling to passers-by to enter the Faerie realm. I actually persuaded several cute guys to go inside. As I was shrilling the virtues of the tour, this Faerie came out and saw what I was doing. He came to me and asked if I would do the Faeries a favor. He told me how the Faeries were dying of thirst in the sweltering building and asked if I would take $10, cross the street and buy an assortment of soda pop for them. I looked the guy straight in the eye and said, “You picked the right person because I will do it. You can trust me.” He smiled with a twinkle in his eye and replied “I knew I could. That’s why I asked you.” So, after returning loaded with drinks, dispersing his change, he tapped me on the head with his Faerie wand and said, “For your good deed, I dub you an honorary Faerie.” I don’t think he realized how much I took to heart that symbolic gesture as an anointment.
About 1 a.m., still bursting with faerie magic, hundreds of people who were still left in the streets were corralled by the Radical Faeries into a huge circle in the middle of the intersection of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue. We held hands as the Faeries led us in songs, as we danced and we hissed, (which I learned is what Faeries do when they are happy). The Faeries had us do high kicks as we sang the iconic tune from the Stonewall Rebellion:
“WE ARE THE STONEWALL GIRLS-
WE WEAR OUR HAIR IN CURLS-
WE DON’T WEAR UNDERWEAR-
WE SHOW OUR PUBIC HAIR
WE WEAR OUR DUNGEREES
BELOW OUR NELLY KNEES
WE ARE THE STONEWALL GIRLS
WE WEAR OUR HAIR IN CURLS”
To close the circle, some three hundred voices sang, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” My soul was fulfilled. A spiritual longing for home was satisfied. True enchantment enveloped my being. True liberation from the chains that bind the captives and the mending of the brokenhearted could now begin. About 1:30 a.m. this tired little Faerie boy walked home from Christopher Street to 34th Street through the darkened streets of New York City to the YMCA Sloan House, all by his brave little self. Feeling truly liberated and in tune with my gay spirit, I felt protected by the Faerie dust and enchantment all around me!
Upon returning to Salt Lake City, in July 1989, I put out the Faerie call, and Connell O’Donovan and Michael Pipkim answered. On July 2o, we met at my Buckingham apartment on A Street. It began to thunder and lightning. It felt wonderful. It was magical. It felt as if the elements were stirring. About 9 p.m., officially and ceremoniously we formed the first Radical Faerie circle here in Salt Lake City.