Faerie Gatherings are always transformative affairs but this one would teach me a most important lesson. This was my fourth Gathering within the Tribe and for reasons I couldn’t understand, I felt sad and heavy within half an hour of arriving at Paddington Farm. Old insecurities around ageing, isolation and loneliness began to re-surface and though surrounded by love, laughter and trustworthy friends, I felt totally isolated.
If I couldn’t feel happy here, where the hell could I feel happy? The sadness persisted for two days, along with an increasing sense of irritation growing towards a number of individuals that both worried me and saddened me further. One sentence sums up my experience so far:
“Welcome to the family!”
This may seem like a grim start to a blog extolling the joys of a Faerie Gathering but it’s not the negative it appears to be. Indeed, I learned some of my most important lessons through this gathering. No one can be happy all the time and just because I was unhappy didn’t mean I wasn’t in a powerful and healing space.
Lesson no.1: Some of this shit may be ‘them’ but a lot of it is very much ‘me’ so let’s call it quits. I began to see the people pressing all my negative buttons were also having their own buttons pushed for different reasons. I’m learning if my inner child hits out, then for the most part I’ll only be hitting another vulnerable child. It’s taught me that by and large, hugs are much preferable.
Lesson no.2: Reliance on friends. My wobbly start to the Gathering has only served to reveal the extraordinary depth of care that flows from certain Faerie hearts. I experienced the unconditional love of one of my tribal elders and his gentle, almost unshakeable wisdom helped me navigate through the minefield of my own feelings. I also discovered everyone needs a Faerie Godmother from time to time. Mine has proved to be more of an Angel Godmother in this instance and she carefully wove a safe protective space around me during my time of vulnerability.
Lesson no.3: Role reversal – even my towers of strength can have feet of clay. On several occasions, the very people who kept me afloat during my own crisis began to crumble for varying reasons of their own. Ironically, I found myself as their pillar of strength, giving the same love and support they had given me. Lesson learned? Neither my friends nor I need be perfect to be strong. Being weak for much of the time is inevitable and maybe it’s time I accepted that. My hope is we won’t all be weak at the same time and there will always be someone to lean on for the person who needs support the most.
Lesson no.4: Most families are dysfunctional – Get over it. Through the course of any gathering I generally botch my way through a variety of interpersonal issues. I don’t always get it right. I very often get it spectacularly wrong. As a community, we also grapple with important issues, sometimes with heated or frustrating debate. This gathering was no exception. My lesson learned? I’ll never agree with everyone and I’ll never see the world through their eyes. Nor will they see the world through mine. I may upset you and you may also upset me. What matters most is that I learn to forgive and learn to permit difference. I may even learn to be more sensitive, when I learn to respect your wishes, even if I don’t understand where you’re coming from.
Lesson no.5: If it all gets too confusing, just bloody well escape for a couple of hours! On the afternoon I hit rock bottom, my Angel Godmother suggested we go for a walk to clear our heads. This walk was probably the most important event of the Gathering for me, for by that stage I needed solitude and detachment to navigate through my own emotions. We walked up Glastonbury Tor and from that incredible vantage point I could see for miles around and also spot Paddington Farm, looking small and insignificant in the wider landscape. For whatever reason I felt lifted and changed by the time we returned and better still, I felt less isolated.
Having periods of struggle through a gathering makes you appreciate the magical times so much more. These special times with logical family and tribe have to be experienced first hand. They cannot be fully described. The joy of this particular family is that it’s always growing, for each gathering I attend brings new and special individuals into my life, as well as strengthening and re-affirming previously forged connections. The most potent magic however was to be found walking up the Tor and around the fires with the drums. Faeries come alive when there’s drumming and especially this time as we invoked Brigid on the eve of Imbolc, the first flowering of Spring.
I may have begun the Gathering with a heavy heart but I left with a grateful heart. Partings and goodbyes are always sad but I know the Logical Family is always there for me, even though we are scattered throughout these Isles and further. My heart yearns for when we next come together.
“I only ever see you between places, heading off somewhere” he said to me. “I don’t feel like I’ve had time to get to know you”. My first emotional response was guilt. Here was a wonderful new faerie whom I had somehow failed, by not being more available for him to connect with. But hold on. If this is non-judgemental space, why am I judging myself? And why is it incumbent upon me to facilitate that connection, if this is also co-created space? Why should I feel obliged to be present and correct for everyone else, who do I think is taking the fucking register here?
All these thoughts flashed through my mind but the words I felt best able to offer this most endearingly earnest of my kin were “If you see me passing by and you want to talk, just ask if we can get some time together.” Looking back it still seems the most Faerie of possible answers. It helps a newcomer to be aware that they are equally as responsible for their experiences at a gathering and it also serves to remind me I’m as entitled to my own way of being as anyone else. But perhaps it lacks some context.
You see, I am a liminal faerie. A will o’ the wisp. It’s rare to find me in the centre of big ritual or parties. Due to my bizarre and hilarious food allergies and intolerances, I usually have a separate kitchen and therefore aren’t around at communal mealtimes. I can experience social anxiety in large groups, so sometimes I’ll retreat from them. Yes, I’ve found myself leading workshops, hosting the auction or the odd heart circle before. The great swathes of time in which I find myself reverting to a solitary, more introspective state of being tend to be more natural for me.
It’s taken a number of years to find myself at peace with my liminal status. I’ve come to accept that this means sometimes I might miss out on some aspects of a gathering. Don’t get me wrong, I marvel in delight at those who dive into the throng, the supple social swimmers who glide through rivers of interaction while I barely paddle. But the benefits of my view from the sidelines have gradually become more apparent to me.
As with almost every gathering, while at Glastonbury for Imbolc I caught a cold. Kisses, hugs, puppy piles and dormitories spread colds like nothing else. As such, on the morning when everyone was getting up early to visit the wells of Glastonbury and mingle with the locals, I slept in. Hearing the yoo-hoo from bed, I could have grabbed the nearest frock and ran over to join them, but a shower was top priority to clear my overnight congestion and bring me close to humanity/faedom.
So I emerged a half hour later, foam-arisen like a hirsute Aphrodite, thinking myself alone on the farm. As it turned out, there was another whose joi de vivre was decidedly absent that morning. And so we passed an hour or two in cantankerous companionship, two grumpy old queens airing their issues, blessed by the knowledge that we had transformed our solitary experiences into a shared cathartic qvetching workshop, attendees:2.
The night before, I wasn’t feeling drawn toward the main Imbolc ritual. Instead I sorted laundry, read, was kind to myself in terms of energy. And as I was coming back from the laundry room, bumped into a faerie who was quietly leaving at that point. So I didn’t drum that night or sing and celebrate with the crowd. Instead I had the genuine honour of being the only person to be able to bid farewell to this thoughtful and enigmatic gentle man, to offer his last hug of his third gathering.
Where once I held a sense of shame, of lacking, in my moments of being on the edge of a faerie community, now I can start to find delight in these delicate little opportunities that such a position offers.
So in hindsight, if I could offer that new gathering faerie a more florid response, it would be this;
Come find me in the quiet spaces inbetween. Seek me out in the kitchen, when a boy has broken your heart. Look for me in the corridor, when you can’t find your room and are in just a towel. Discover me by the riverbank, when we’re both feeling disconnected. Here in the shadow, at twighlight, on the sidelines, this is where small gentle acts of connection and magic happen. In these moments we will see each other, share our hearts’ stories and find deeper understanding.
I see the path I am on, the behaviour I exhibit, the words I offer and receive. I feel the rush of elation with one step, the heavy burden of shame with the next.
This is achingly familiar, from the instinct to pull away to the vulnerability of being open-hearted and loving. The twists and turns of emotions at a Faerie gathering are dizzying and mercurial. I stumble on, trusting that the path will lead me to the centre as much as I trust in the process of the heart circle.
It feels as if I’m passing back a way I’ve already come and yet it is different, leading deeper into the Mystery. In between the stumbling I also feel myself about to leap in flight. It is exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.
I have offered my id as a sacrifice to Dionysus/Aphrodite and I am Maenad, a raving one, destroying all in my path, invulnerable and prophesying as my bleeding soles take one more step, just one more, always one more. Every touch, kiss, embrace fuels me still, pushing me further on, although I have long forgotten the question I held as I began the journey.
This bone-shearing, raucous, playful, chaotic, whimsical pilgrimage of queerness, connection, vulnerability and resilience is all I can remember, all I can taste, and all I want or need.
The gnarled dance of one who doesn’t dance, equal parts Salome, Kate Bush and Baba Yaga, cannot stop of be undone. It is the search for sustenance like the root of a tree, a tendril burrowing deeper and further down into the earth, reaching out, reaching down, and reaching inward.
Were I to see from above, if I remembered such a place, I would see the shape of the labyrinth, leading me home to myself. With such perspective I might find comfort in correspondences;
Seven coils, laid out around the centre
Seven paths, inward and outward
Seven days, seven nights of the gathering
Seven chakras, from root to crown
Seven planetary bodies, seen with the human eye
Seven gates, as Inanna passed through to the Underworld
Seven seasons, as Buffy lived (and died twice) through
But thought and reason elude me, for I am lost in the movement, ever onwards, to the centre. One path to tread, unicursally leading me to the point where there is an ending of sorts. Almost as soon as the awareness of an ending creeps in, I find myself there. I stand in the heart of the labyrinth.
The diary that I have kept for this gathering is a mirror standing tall, implacable in its cold reflection. As my breathing stills and thought once again permeates my emotional being, I am presented with the manifestation of myself, my selves, my other.
It is the Minotaur, the bull-headed beast of raging need and mistrust. The creature imprisoned, fed on the sacrifice of youths’ bodies. Asterion, the shamed one. It takes everything I have to hold still, to look him in the eye, to not back down, to not turn and run.
With each word I read from my journal I note another detail of the monster. How he is “too intense” (how many times I have been told that!). How clumsy and unseemly he is. How territorial he has become, even in his solitude and how his insatiable desire and longing are too much for any mortal being to gaze upon.
Every confession of vulnerability I have recorded is another strike of Theseus’ cock-like club, each declaration of connection and love another stab of his phallic sword until the beast lies fallen. Broken and bleeding, sides heaving and sweat slicking his hair, his breathing ragged. How can I not love him now, as I love broken things or broken people I can heal and thus prove my worth to? I pull him to me and lament all the hurt, the misunderstanding, the senseless anger, the years lost now.
When this passes, as all things do, I look around and register the change in light, the transience of time and also the acceptance of what has been. The crumpled body has evaporated like a heavy dream, though streaks of blood and filth remain.
As I return to my other life, the life between gatherings, I find myself back in the coils of the labyrinth, this time moving outwards. I apply reason and consideration to the experiences I have undergone, to the changes that are wrought in me.
As my feet retread the pathway back out, I assimilate the loves and lessons into myself, into my rational and irrational mind. I make a point of being kind with myself, of allowing myself the chance to do a little better every time I make this journey. I return with messages to and from myself, from Spirit and from the Gods.
I wrap concepts into words, the way I would package fragile ornaments for a move. Placing each one with care where I can retrieve it later and still find it whole. I recall and honour those whom I shared the journey with, shared moments with and shared a bed with.
Soon enough I find myself stepping out from the labyrinth, back again into the other-realm. I do not look back over my shoulder. I honour the path, the coils, the centre and the lessons learned as I take a breath and take another step.
There was something truly magical about the Solstice Gathering. It may only be my second but I sensed something quite out of the ordinary going on, even by Faerie standards. I’d be surprised if anyone went home unchanged and reading other people’s accounts of the week only confirms to me what I already felt. Transformative magic descended on Glastonbury for us and as a community, its presence was both welcomed and embraced.
The magic worked at so many levels within me but not least with my self-image. Without realizing, I’d arrived at Paddington Farm feeling middle aged in all the wrong ways. Call it mid-life crisis, call it whatever, but I haven’t been dealing with the approach to Fifty as confidently as I wanted to portray. Two botched relationships had eroded my emotional and sexual confidence and looking in the mirror only affirmed the grey and sagging aspects of my 48 year old being to my mind. Imagine therefore the astonishment of being gently and spontaneously embraced, then kissed by a handsome Faerie you have come to love and admire. He only whispers two words, as he looks me fully in the eye before continuing his embrace. The words are, “You’re beautiful.”
The words mean so much, but the sincerity was unmistakable and managed to reach within me like nothing else over the past eighteen months. C.S. Lewis once said through the character of Jane in “That Hideous Strength”, “I don’t think we were meant to see ourselves. We’re mirrors enough to see another.” Searching myself in the mirror over the last eighteen months has brought little but negativity. By contrast, being mirrored by a loving Faerie brother gave me a long overdue vision of my true self, along with the courage to step into it.
Another great joy for me was the opportunity to run a Tarot workshop and to spend time reading for people one on one. It’s a joy to guide someone through a reading and watch them as realisations dawn and inner connections are made. There are sometimes tears, both of grief and joy but there are also tears of relief when fears are faced or the wisdom to face obstacles becomes clear through the messages in the pictures. For me, each reading is a privilege but don’t ever be fooled into thinking it’s a selfless process on my part. Reading for someone gives me the rare privilege of connecting on a level that wouldn’t be possible in another setting. The barriers come down and you get to see the real person and in every instance of reading for one of the tribe, I came away knowing my connection with that person was deepened profoundly.
In several instances my negative preconceptions were challenged and I came away with whole new levels of respect for the people in front of me. If I read for you, you may also have noticed how I calm down and let the real me begin to show. That’s because it’s the one place where I feel safe enough to let the brash, camp humour drop and be myself. When I can be that person outside the reading room I’ll have made my own progress. All in all, the cards can be a powerful tool for healing and self-discovery but they can also be a tool for bonding, sharing, trusting and understanding within our community.
Perhaps my most important breakthrough came around the fire on Solstice Eve. I’d given plenty of eloquent excuses why I was going to spend a quiet Solstice back on the field, in my tent or in the Farm House living room until Octopus called me out wonderfully on my bullshit: “Honey, I think I can hear your shame speaking.” No fooling that Faerie as they say.
I made my way somewhat apprehensively to the fire, having avoided it for several days previously and it didn’t take me long to realise my fear; wildness and raw masculinity. There was plenty of it round the fire and for once I learned to fully let go. I’ve drummed at two previous gatherings but it’s here that I realised I was born to drum. It’s in my blood and my blood goes wild with the pulse and the rhythm. This time I learned not to resist; just to give myself wholly to the flow.
To my surprise, I found myself screaming wildly to the treetops as I drummed and for the first time in my life I connected fully with my raw masculine spirit. It felt liberating to be wholly queer and wholly man at the same time and that feeling has stayed with me ever since. My minds eye only sees a magical blur of fire, ecstasy and dance when I look back to Solstice eve, yet several clear moments jump out at me. I see Earthsong across the fire and she really is the fairy Godmother of the Drums. I see two precious Faerie sisters weaving a dance of astonishing feminine power and beauty through the pulsating rhythms of male revelry. The Dryad is more than a match for the Faun and in this instance she truly is Lady of the Dance. Most precious of all I remember sharing the drum with Octopus. We co-created Faerie Fire together momentarily – so fitting, as I wouldn’t have been there without his honest calling.
If this wasn’t all enough, two big miracles happened for me during the course of the week. I’ve always yearned to see the Aurora Borealis and an unusually strong Solar Storm happened to coincide with our gathering, making the Aurora visible as far south as the English Channel. Call it what you like but I call it my gift from the God and the Goddess. My other miracle was in the form of an individual Faerie. The meeting and the connection are too personal to share in full but this sharing realised a dream for me and revealed threads of inspiration and common experience that reach way back to my teenage years. That Faerie knows who they are and the revelation of their real self was the most priceless gift of the week; one that makes me respect and value them all the more, not less.
My final gift came on the morning of my departure. Throughout this and the Spring Gathering, I’d used my real name as no Faerie name seemed to fit. I’d given up hope and stopped looking but the name found me when it wasn’t expected. Turret called me ‘Bright Eyes’ that morning and it stuck to my heart instantly. It takes me back to C.S. Lewis and his view of the mirror. Yet again, a beloved Faerie brother became an authentic mirror, revealing a hidden part of the real me. When you next see me at a gathering, I’ll still be Chris, but I’ll have been Bright Eyes for some time by then.
On my way to the most recent Albionfaeries Summer Solstice Gathering, on a train somewhere between Gloucester and Bristol, an idea struck me for something I could contribute during the week. I wanted to host a drag workshop.
Personally, I have a chequered past with drag and gender aspecting. I can recall when I was around 9 years old and going through my “Adam Ant phase” my Mother gave me a Cadbury’s Roses tin of makeup to go and play with. I have a vague memory of a couple of years previous to that, in The Body Shop standing next to my Mother again, dumbstruck as a man applied lipstick in the shop mirror.
However, as with most other little gay boys my survival instinct kicked in and it was time to hide such little acts of fabulosity away from prying and judgemental eyes. Also the media of the time decried those who did not adhere to the heteronormative model as perverts and freaks. Like so many of us, I took this message to heart and tried to distance myself from the world of wigs and frocks.
To me, there was an expectation that meant if you were gay you had to wear a dress. I was going to rebel against that, even if it meant conforming to established gender norms as hard as I could! Ah, the folly of the young. But this stayed firmly in place for many long years. Sure, I loved RuPaul as when I was younger, especially the year Chanel 4 had Camp Christmas, including her Christmas Special and Quentin Crisp’s Alternative Queens Message. But that wasn’t me. Even though I adored the likes of Rocky Horror, Priscilla and To Wong Foo, even Stonewall, it was more as a guilty pleasure, or at the very least as a spectator. During my years involved in local LGBT events and services I knew a few of our local Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence but I never really understood the call to personally engage in drag as me (with the sole and fleeting exception of Rocky Horror at the Edinburgh Playhouse, aged 17).
It was only under the gossamer wing of a rather loud, loving and misunderstood dutch drag queen Faerie that my ideas were challenged and altered. He taught me the humility that is the bedrock beneath the bravado. Once I saw the person behind the mask I could understand the power of the mask as a ritual tool.
It is most accurate to say that I do not present a feminine visage. Androgyny is beyond my repertoire. I am 100% bear and resigned to it.
However, these past few years, I have been exploring the world of gender dress-up as an expression of my faerieness and queerness. At the wedding of two dear friends this month I was Drag Mother of the Bride. I packed more frocks than t-shirts for my last gathering.
Not being one of the pretty queens gives me a freedom that I’ve only just discovered. Again, the faeries who have tread paths in heels or barefoot have inspired me. The ones who sought out the most vile taffeta monstrosities, the longest string of pearls and the biggest docker boots they could find. The faeries whose wardrobe for a week-long gathering is 2 scarves (and that’s only in case the first scarf blows away). The ones in figure-hugging dresses and no knickers, thin fabric showing off their cocks. With them to guide me, I can engage with drag without the requirement of having to try and look femme, or to “pass”.
Drag is a historically potent symbol in Radical Faeries, representing the reclaiming of the sissy energy, the staunch refusal to engage in the heteronormative constructs of the outer world and healing that little inner boy who just wanted to play and dress up but wasn’t allowed to freely. From the outcast queer street kids to the Native American Two Spirits, the idea of drag as a means to escape an imposed identity and to transcend into something wonderful and other-than, not less-than. I love seeing images of Harry Hay at marches and events with what I see as Faerie Drag, button down shirt with a skirt and pearls.
Early on in the gathering Wild Boar asked me about where we could set up a drag room for the gathering. We took some time to think of the best location and while we were mulling it over I asked if he would like to co-host the workshop, knowing his strengths are wildly different from mine but we complement each other well. His exuberance and playfulness is well set against my introspection and need for structure.
I explained that the workshop I’d created was designed for Faeries who might have some issues with drag, like my own from the past, or perhaps different. We would start with a discussion, look at what items we liked, have a show and tell, maybe even try things on if everything went well. He was on board and once we had the room set up we held the workshop.
This was not to be a how-to, with perfect make-up tips, contouring, padding, lashes and all the wonderful resources available through the likes of youtube. The idea was simple – how can we make drag more accessible and joyous for everyone?
We shared our stories and discussed obstacles we’ve encountered, both external and internally – questions around inclusion and gender, size, attraction, families, expectations of others. One Faerie told of how he would be repulsed sexually if a man was in drag, how he had never done it and couldn’t. Another hadn’t done drag in years, since he was much younger but had lost it somewhere along the way.
We brought all of our niggling insecurities and confusions into the open, shared without any shame and supported each other, as we tend to do. This is our process and it works.
Before long I invited everyone to find an item in the drag room that appealed to them and then we could look at it together, find the beauty and the tackiness, look at colours and textures. The idea being that a tactile and appreciative experience could then bridge into trying things on.
Within minutes we leapt merrily over a couple of stages and I couldn’t have stopped people trying things on if I had wanted to! All the mutual support that was needed was on-hand, whether that was offering encouragement or accessories, helping to find the perfect dress, dispensing cuddles or the great sari emergency that befuddled the best of us.
It is one of the most treasured memories I’m taking from this gathering. A room full of people showing off, becoming extroverted and fearless, transforming together in a carefree and communal way. We then hived off into other areas of the gathering, spreading our energy and enthusiasm with us, earning more admirers as we went.
Faerie Drag Power for me is about playfulness, empowerment, creativity and challenging norms. These are deeply fey values that enrich our experiences not just of gatherings but life too.
For anyone wishing to connect with some of the more queer political applications of drag, I recommend Men In Frocks (Kirk, Heath – Gay Mens Press, 1984). The chapter on the Rad Drag Queens that emerged from London’s Gay Liberation Front in the 70 may prove helpful reading for those who view drag as inherently misogynistic. For an exploration of drag throughout history and on a global scale, try The Changing Room (Senelick – Routledge, 2000). It’s about more than just Drag Race, hunties – crack a book occasionally. Then come back with a 700 word essay on the Cockettes.
So it’s been just over a week since I heaved my rucksack onto my back, kissed/hugged some new found friends goodbye and tearily made my way back to civilisation. After what was one of the most cathartic and honest experiences of my life.
Due to prior commitments, the last seven days have been wildly different to the previously wonderful 4.5 days spent on that great farm in Glastonbury. The very next day I was surrounded by about 300 other gays at a pool-party for Sitges Pride. For the first time in my life I’m actually enjoying the spectacle of it all and not feeling body shamed or self-conscious. Followed the next day by a BBQ with a bunch of old friends who’ve recently come back into my life, and I realised I have very much missed. Then I easyjetted it over to the beautiful city of Rome – for a week’s crash course on people and crisis management. Strange but true.
It is in that great Italian city, where I am now, in a cute little Air bnb flat, just off the beautiful Plaza Cavour – where about an hour ago, I felt compelled to commit some thoughts to paper. Due to the cancellation of one of my friends’ flights I have found myself alone in Rome this weekend, with only my wits to keep me company. Not such a wise thing sometimes.
Today having spent the afternoon walking around the stunning city, whilst marvelling at the remnants of 3000 years of human endeavour, something fundamental happened for me. Something within me shifted and like the parting of the curtain within the emerald city, I suddenly could see the truth of the old man behind the illusion of the Wizard. Stick with me friends of Dorothy, you will see what I mean.
Since my departure from the land of the Faeries I have been getting these sweet little after-shocks of emotional realization, that can and have hit me out of the blue. One such aftershock hit me today, and it nearly knocked my off my feet. For the truth of it was so strong and clear that I had to steady myself. It was something I have known for many years, but have never, ever been able to give it voice or shape before.
I hate myself or rather, I am racked with self-loathing. It is like a cloak of shadow that I have wound so tightly around my soul that it is always with me. It consumes me. It shapes how I see, feel and perceive the world around me. It provides me with vitriol that I use against myself and against all those whom I can target – in a bid to make my shadow-self feel better.
I am only just realising this, only today have I seen this truth for what it is. There is a part of me that hates myself so much, it would actually happily see me destroyed. This revelation was so strong that I almost had an out-of-body experience. I felt, for a while, as though I was outside myself, looking at a strange being inhabiting my own body, someone/something that I didn’t recognise or like. Or to put it another way, I felt how I imagine the perpetually handsome Dorian Gray would have felt each and every time he lifted the cover from the painting, to see how truly ugly it had become. Somehow separate and distinct from the ugliness – yet still one and the same with it.
Then a second thought hit me.
Why have hated I myself and for how long? Why did this start? Then a third.
When did this start? When did I first look in the mirror and only see my faults? The answer is that I don’t know and I never want to know. A very, very LONG time. Almost for as long as I can remember.
Then I thought about how these thoughts manifested. What I had heard the voice in my head say to me, over and over again:
My eyes are too deeply set! My brow too Neanderthal! My stomach is too big! My nose too wide! My legs too thin! My hairline too low…On and on I went, listing the ways the negative voice could always find fault, when all others saw something completely different.
All were very real thoughts I have entertained, things I have said to myself repeatedly, building up a mental image of myself as some sort of missing link in the chain of human evolution. Somewhere between Neanderthal and homo-sapien, but even less attractive.
And then all at once, a new realisation hit. All of this was total and utter BOLLOCKS. These were untruths, negative opinions of myself. With no basis in reality and no evidence for their existence. Bullshit and rubbish I have been carrying around with me for far too long.
The negative thoughts/voices – whatever you want to call them, have been so loud, for so long that they have shaped me. NO that word isn’t strong enough. RESTRAINED me. Forced me into contorted, twisted shapes that were uncomfortable and unnatural to me.
I stoop, because I feel I am too tall. And thus I now have rounded shoulders and a painful lower back. I breath in because my stomach sticks out – which it would do if I stoop. On and on these thoughts have taken physical and emotional manifestations that have become so overpowering that I nearly lost all sense of self in the vortex of negativity.
Jesus H Christ! This has even destroyed my love life and my relationships. I am too scared to talk to people I am attracted to for fear they will see an ugly wretch, barely worthy of their contempt – when this frankly isn’t true. Then, even with those whom I am not entirely attracted to but want to try to connect with, I become so self-conscious – that they can only see someone who is nervous, agitated and clearly not happy in themselves, so they run for the trees.
Well, enough is enough. This is bullshit and I can now see it for what it is. It genuinely does feel as though the exploitative old man, whispering negative thoughts from behind the curtain has been exposed, and now I know he is there I have vowed to destroy him. No longer will I listen to such crap about myself.
I know I am fairly good-looking. I know this as I have been told it many, many a time, and have always shrugged it off. Well from now on, I shall accept that compliment in the manner that it was intended and not recoil from it, as though someone had poked me in the eye with a hot branding iron. So when I look in the mirror I will see what is there. I may not be perfect, but I am happy and that suits me just fine!
I know I am respected in my job and career. I actually have the awards / accolades and experience to prove that. So old man, nothing you can say can / will take that away from me.
I also know I am strong, for over my 39 years, I have survived many different trials. Not only those that are caused by the chaos that is external life. But battles that have raged within, those created by the thoughts / feelings of self-loathing. For here I stand, at 39 years of age discovering myself, liking myself, and growing into a much stronger, happier me.
Last week I found a new me. A confident me. A me that I can see myself truly becoming. So I am owning that new me. Today I am WOLF. WOLF is a work in progress. But WOLF is happy and there is no self-loathing here.
WOLF is Giles. Giles is WOLF. The two will always be one. But WOLF is the good, positive, strong Giles. The real Giles, not the shadow self – the shadow self is dead!
Thanks Faeries. You don’t know the gift you have given me. The gift of freedom, it was only 4 days, but such an important four days.
This year, as part of the Albion Faeries summer solstice celebrations, a circle of courageous faeries came together to share our experiences of embodiment: to talk about how our body issues; anxieties, fears, comparisons, resentments and projections shape our experience of the world, our intimacies and relationships.
Our circle was well attended by a diversity of bodies vis a vis size, shape and age: slim and skinny, big and wholesome, young and old. Our collective was mostly white, mostly male and cisgender – but also genderqueer.
We recognised the lack of representation by our female, trans, black and brown brothers and sisters and honoured their unique experiences. We hope our thoughts and process help initiate further circles where all bodies; their histories, narratives and futures can be held and welcomed, seen and heard, loved and supported.
We set out our space with love and intention and our facilitator encouraged discussion around a number of talking points. As an introduction, participants were invited to reflect on why they had come to the workshop:
Why are we here? What moved you individually about the workshop title? What particular feelings and / or grievances do you have about you body that you want to share and / or understand?
Each individual was given space for five minutes to talk around this opening point. A variety of experiences / trauma / conflicts and reflections were offered. Some of us had experienced serious accidents and had been left with the pain and insecurities of scars and surgeries. Some of us, perceived as ‘not having body issues’, felt silenced, unheard and isolated in our pain; not ‘taken seriously’ by others about our anxieties and fears. Some of us were confused by our bodies and by others bodies too – feeling like the body and the symbolism around the ‘preferred’ and ‘body beautiful’ were barriers to finding connection and relationships. Most of us felt dismayed at the pervasiveness of such notions, feeling that even ‘spiritual’ and ‘queer’ communities were just as afflicted and affected by such exclusion and reductivism.
Some of us disliked particular areas of our bodies: our bellies, our faces, our stretch marks, acne, teeth, gums, varicose veins, grey hair and general appearance. Some of us felt a little resentful that just as we were embarking on newly discovered queer-trajectories and callings, our bodies betrayed us by ageing and becoming less appealing to those seeking out the youthful body, the adonis or its non-binary equivalent.
How does it feel to inhabit a body that doesn’t conform to mainstream prescriptions of beauty and allure? How does it feel to be disenchanted / depressed or resentful of your own body when it or parts of it feel ‘ugly’ or are sick and weak? How does this affect our lives and relationships?
This section was timed at around 10-15mins and was an open session with people volunteering reflections and insights. Here we uncovered a great sense of awareness and mourning around the painful experience of being in the world with a body that doesn’t ‘match up’ or that ‘plays up’. Some of us spoke of entertaining a love / hate duality with our bodies; recognising and appreciating its potency, capability and inherent beauty but feeling resentful of its ‘shortfalls’ and ‘weaknesses’. Some of us described the act of recoiling from others touch or interest – literally flinching at the approach of another body or intimate encounter. And also of second guessing and being suspicious of the others intentions: the internal narrative of ‘they’re not really interested’, or ‘I’m not enough’.
The common experience here was on of inadequacy, which was referenced continuously. Some of us spoke of an energetic experience of ‘closing inwards’ or ‘closing down’, a ‘shrinking feeling’ and a ‘peeling back’ from the world; a clammy fear of being seen and avoiding the gaze of others.
In times of complete disillusionment with our bodies, some of us spoke of adopting an asexual energy and position as a defensive strategy: ‘no one wants it anyway honey, so put it away’. Our natural impulses toward sexuality and intimacy were denied through fear of rejection or having to expose a body that we felt interminably shameful about. Some of us spoke about wanting to just disappear, to be invisible – in humour (but also, in deadly seriousness), some of us spoke of the magic trick of invisibility accompanying a visit to a gay bar, when the affected gaze of the audience to only detect certain bodies, denied the existence of our own.
We all blamed our bodies at some point for all kinds of events and misfortunes: ‘if only my body would do or be such and such, then such and such would be easier’. As a result, at times when our bodies needed the most compassion, in times of ill health or disease, we confessed to subjecting them to all manner of insults and scolding for their ‘lack of perfection’.
Ultimately, all of these experiences converged to instil in us an unbearable low self-esteem. Some of us were so distraught by our embodiment, that we actively retreated into disembodiment, or of taking notions of the energetic body to extremes by inhabiting them as a defensive alternative to being our bodies as material.
Some of us reflected on how all kinds of sexual practices and fetishes were explored as a way of coping with having a different body: how swim wear, leather and sports gear (not exhaustive) allow us to engage sexually and provocatively but to also hide our skins (well, at least partially). The significance of the dark-room in gay sex spaces was not lost on us.
Finally, we closed our section in realising how, whilst being so neurotic in our fear of rejection from others, we spend most of our waking day rejecting our embodied selves.
Where do our body anxieties stem from? Whose idealistic and normative prescriptions of the body are we trying to live up to? And where do they come from?
This section ran for another 10-15mins and was another open session. The intention here was to grasp some of the social factors that inform and influence the context for our bodies and our experience of them.
An interesting insight was into our similar experience as queers as growing up in a straight (white) man’s world: and how, our bodies would ‘betray’ us from an early age, appearing too effeminate or not masculine enough. This would provide the early context for a deep distrust of our bodies and sow the seeds for our delight or retreat into disembodiment. Or perhaps our love of costume and drag – to hide our skins of shame. Our ‘bodies as betrayal’ extends to the bodies expression of natural sexual interest and expression too – how we psychically punish our bodies as youngsters for exhibiting arousal for our same-sex attractors. Shame was recognised as a common emotion and experience for us all and a primary factor in distorting our own body-image.
Some of us commented on the unrealistic portrayals of the body in the media and in fashion especially. Some of us had worked specifically in this industry and reassured everyone of how much of a hot mess models look before being pampered, preened and photoshopped. All of us recognised the damaging effects of this propaganda. All of us felt beleaguered by the trend of a new style for assessing the validity and worth of bodies on ‘the scene’ by ‘rating them’. How our magnificence and complexity had now been reduced to two, three or four stars if-you-should-be-so-lucky.
Many of us felt this phenomena to be fascinating and relevant in the context of our capitalist and consumer culture: how our bodies have been reduced to commodities and forced to operate by the instrumental and transactional logic of capitalism. Dating apps like Grindr have only confounded this problem: we now ‘shop for cock’ and scroll menus of flesh completely disembodied from their human and spiritual realities. Grindr is commodity-fetishism at its zenith.
Further, categorisations and labeling of our bodies (most predominately on that gay scene) excluded those that aren’t deemed to fit and further inflamed the commodification frenzy of them. Not to mention, the fact that the idea of the solid, smooth, athletic body of prowess that is the now everywhere standard, especially within our LGBTQI communities, leaves no room for the visibility and compassion for bodies affected and depleted by a whole spectrum of social issues that affect us disproportionately (chronic and mental health conditions, drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and poverty etc).
Some of us commented on how the lack of representation of bodies that are different from the mainstream accepted and celebrated types only bolsters our collective desensitization to bodies deemed ‘other’ or ‘out of control’. In particular, categorisations and labeling of our bodies (most predominately on the gay scene) excluded those that aren’t deemed fit and / or desirable and further inflame the commodification frenzy of them.
It was agreed that the situation has reached fever pitch: an ever narrowing self-perpetuating cycle of exclusion and shame accompanies the media-orgy and fetishisation of the body beautiful. We all acknowledged that non of us belonged to any such ‘boys club’ – and yet recognized that whilst those bodies weren’t represented amongst us, how their particular body issues were unique, significant and valid in their own right.
Yet, even in a state of some prescribed ‘non-perfection’, sickness or ill-health – what do our bodies allow? What are our bodies really, beyond biased and corrupt notions of beauty, capability and worth?
Another ten minute open session. Here we discussed ideas of what the body signified or represented ‘authentically’ (to us as disruptive, open-minded and spiritual queers). Here we enjoyed the notion that our bodies were vessels / vehicles / platforms from which to enjoy and celebrate the world and each other. Beyond the above reductivism, we smiled at our bodies as conferring gifts and abilities, such as our innate drive for creativity: our small circle for example, boasted dancers, gardeners, writers, artists, healers, actors, singers and songwriters, musicians and poets.
We agreed that our bodies, ultimately, are vehicles for connection, for love and intimacy and for building community – the notion that disability, disease or a failure to achieve or possess a certain body type should disqualify us from such bounty, are abstract and destructive concepts born of an abstract and destructive culture.
Some of us enjoyed the idea, inspired by our own journeying with medicine plants and otherwise, that our bodies are but magnificent containers for our consciousness. That what we perceive as individuality is a confusion and a distraction – that this is a momentary, transient and permeable experience: consciousness is eternal and our embodied lives are an experience. We rested together in the miracle and awesomeness of our bodies, the mystery and mystical nature of them. We found solace in reconnecting with their fundamental interdependence with and interconnection with the world around us – how our lives are a perfect symbiosis from the microbial and beyond.
We encouraged together a sense of gratefulness for this realisation and reflected at how easily these understandings were forgotten in the nexus of bodily-symbolic violence and commodification. We connected with the promise of our bodies for our personal development – our facing of fears, our learning and our embracing of the strange, unknown and of each other. We took refuge in the ability of our bodies to transform and for us to act upon our bodies in the pursuit of our personal transformations. A touching story came to the circle, when in her parting moments, one of our Mother’s declared: ‘I am not my body’. Closing, we all nodded in recognition of this familiar experience and knowledge of similar realisations.
Moving forward, what are our strategies for resisting commodification of our bodies? For celebrating the glory of our bodies and resisting mainstream prescriptions for allure and beauty?
A twenty minute session by accident. We first dealt with some conflict around what these strategies were and should be. We agreed that what they are not is yet more prescriptions for ‘what we should do’ to our bodies, or how we should be in them. We agreed that the cycle of violence must stop by learning to accept and love our bodies how they are in the moment, without change or regime on the route to some notion of perfection.
All of us pledged to investing in future co-created space where we could safely enjoy our bodies as they are, to be heard and seen in our vulnerability and to see and touch other bodies free from constraining bodily-ideals. We agreed to work to create spaces where we can progress in grappling with and ultimately transcending limiting and damaging ideas of what constitutes an acceptable and/or desirable body: to ‘fuck gender’ and do it anyway. Integral to this is to compliment the intellectual with ‘heart space’ – to bring love into our relationship with our own bodies and to approach other bodies with love too. To ‘be the change’ and to impact on culture by limiting our personal indulgence in reductive and exclusive desires.
We suggested that restricting our exposure to portrayals of the body beautiful via mainstream media would be nourishing for us: the TV must be sacrificed for our freedom. At the same time to ‘treat our bodies well’ by doing whatever it is to them that brings us nourishment, happiness, contentment or support: to indulge frequently in self-care and to reward ourselves continuously for the courageousness of just ‘being in the body’ and living out our embodied lives.
We promised to smile more, at our bodies and at others too – as a way of signalling our respect, adoration and acceptance of them. But we also recognised the importance of ‘being okay with not being okay’, to give space for sorrow when our bodies are not performing as we would have them, or when looking a certain way – whilst importantly, remembering our discussions and lessons here to guide us again to a place of ease and contentment.
Finally and in recognition that our time together put a limit on the diversity and infinite number of ways we can celebrate our bodies consistently as a way of being, we also set out to challenge ourselves. To step into vulnerability, safely – to celebrate our bodies from within, to allow them to be seen and celebrated more by others.
This process was undertaken on the day of the solstice and I can say that I saw some courageous celebrations of our bodies that evening – and it was beautiful. We were beautiful x
To: Faunalicious, Queever, Big Sister, Brunelle, Brother Sun, Marlena, Stan, Pink Dalek, Hagbard, Badger, Cunty and Swallow.
From my body to yours, Octopus x
You can read more by Octopus at his personal blog here.