A Radical Faerie sanctuary in southern Vermont practices a different kind of camp
Courtesy of Faerie Camp Destiny
Faerie Camp Destiny
Deep in the woods at the junction of Grafton, Chester and Rockingham lies a sanctuary for Faeries. But these aren’t your average Tinkerbells. Many of these Faeries have beards, tattoos and piercings. Sometimes they dress in drag, and other times they wear nothing at all. They honor the earth and each other. And they love camp.
Welcome to Faerie Camp Destiny, the Radical Faerie sanctuary of New England and one of 10 such refuges around the world. For the past 20 years, a group of Radical Faeries — typically gay men with a bent toward environmentalism and spirituality — has been slowly building a retreat on 166 acres that the consensus-based nonprofit owns in Windham County. The Faeries number about 50 core members, with roughly 200 more who participate less regularly and nearly 1000 on their mailing list. Recently they finished work on their kitchen — a straw-bale, timber-frame structure designed and built entirely by Faeries.
Endora is one of them. (Members of Faerie communities have a strong tradition of naming themselves, and some never know each other’s real names.) He has been involved with the community since its inception and, because Faerie Camp Destiny has no appointed leader, Endora serves as the organization’s de facto spokesperson. When he’s not walking the sanctuary’s labyrinth or dancing around a fire, Endora, who lives in Lincoln, teaches comparative religion courses at a local college. He agreed to chat with Seven Days about the sanctuary, the role of Radical Faeries and what it means to go to camp.
SEVEN DAYS: What exactly is Faerie Camp Destiny?
ENDORA: Faerie Camp Destiny is the name of the Radical Faerie sanctuary in New England. And by sanctuary, what I mean is lands that are held aside as a place where queer people can come together outside the main culture and figure out who we are outside of that regular context.
SD: How did it get its name?
E: Well, when we were looking for a spot up here, we checked out a few houses. The vanity plate of the real estate agent said DESTINY. So we started calling it Destiny, which was a little hokey for all of us.
SD: So “camp” is a double entendre?
E: Yes, for campy, queer stuff. Plus, we camp out.
SD: Tell me, what is your definition of a Radical Faerie?
E: Radical Faeries are notorious for refusing to be defined. I would say that Radical Faeries are predominantly gay men who want to figure out who they are in relation to each other and to the earth. During the 1970s, right after Stonewall, the question was, What does it mean to be gay? Does it mean we are just like everybody else except for who we love? Or is there more to it? Is there a spiritual component to it? The Faeries started off as a way to explore that, more or less.
Another thing that’s really key in the Radical Faeries is the connection to the earth. I think, for a lot of queer people, they’ve been told they’re unnatural at every level, so part of it is returning to nature and seeing who you are in nature when left to your own devices.
SD: When did the Faerie movement begin?
E: The Faerie movement began in the mid-1970s through groups meeting in certain urban areas like San Francisco. [They were] people who were interested in exploring spirituality and sexuality. At the same time, in New England, there was a magazine called RFD that tried to network gay men who had gone back to the land. They left urban society and moved to the country, but didn’t have any connections.
1979 was the first official gathering, in Arizona, and it was called by a man named Harry Hay. He is seen by many people as the founder of the Radical Faeries, but that’s very simplistic. He called the first gathering.
SD: So the movement is intentionally leaderless?
E: Yes, absolutely. There are no leaders. It’s anarchist in that way. We run everything by consensus, so any person has the ability to block a decision. What we try to do is listen so the whole group can go forward with a decision together.
SD: That sounds hard.
E: Yes, it’s hard, and yet we’ve bought 166 acres in Vermont together. We’re really committed to consensus as the way we make decisions. Partly because queer people have been marginalized in decision making for a long time.
SD: How did Faerie Camp Destiny originate?
E: Since the Faeries began, there’s always been a New England circle. In the late ’80s there came to be a desire to have our own sanctuary here. In 1993, we began the process. We found land down in southern Vermont that we could afford and that met our needs in terms of privacy and seclusion. We bought it in 1996, and we’ve been there ever since.
SD: What will Faerie Camp Destiny look like when it’s finished?
E: One hundred acres will be off limits, set aside for conservation. Then there’s a small parcel of 15 acres that is now a meadow with a kitchen in it. It will probably have a workshop and a few small cabins around it and some tent platforms. Eventually we want to have five to six residents, or stewards, living there year round.
SD: It seems like what you’re doing sort of bucks the stereotype of what a gay man is. Is that intentional?
E: Well, some of it is intentional. I don’t think it’s against effeminacy, which is not a problem from our view. But the question is, if you come at it from more of a tribal or indigenous perspective, what is the role of queer folks on the land outside of urban environments? There’s a desire to not replicate bar culture or assimilation.
Some of my favorite images from Faerie gatherings have been this really butch guy with a beard chopping wood, and he’s in a little miniskirt. So all these kinds of juxtapositions of unlikely things are part of what to me is most interesting in Radical Faerie aesthetic; this putting together of things that don’t match, and somehow they all reflect some type of cohesive identity.
SD: Who are the Faeries in Vermont?
E: It’s a wide circle. Destiny has a lot of Vermonters involved. It has a lot of “alternative lifestyle” people, meaning people who live in communal homes, or hippie types who are gay and don’t always feel fully included or visible in those communities. We also have a good many people who are urban, and this is their way to get out in the country and reconnect with nature. I think a lot of Faeries are queer people who are connected to the earth in some way, searching for some sense of spirituality, and yet feel the need to be self-determinative, autonomous beings, not buying into any kind of cult or dogma.
What we think holds us together is getting to know each other as complete human beings. The goal is to take everybody wherever they are, knowing at some level that we’re all shaped and wounded by the dominant culture. When people come to a Faerie sanctuary for the first time, they say they feel like they’ve finally found their family.
SD: So what happens at Faerie Camp Destiny?
E: We have these weekend to weeklong gatherings. It’s the usual camping-out-in-the-woods stuff. They aren’t scheduled, by and large. Among the things that happen are morning heart circles, which are circles where people speak what’s in their hearts. And we try to learn about what it means to be queer through that. It can go for hours.
At night there’s usually fire circles with drumming and dancing. There are also rituals, which are not part of any particular tradition, but tend to be earth based and earth worshipping.
SD: What do you get out of being a Faerie?
E: Well, it’s changed over the years. When I lived in the city, it was a great opportunity to get out in nature with other gay people and also have a sense of humor and camp and fun. I never wanted to go hiking with the L.L. Bean gay hiking club. But being out in the woods with a bunch of other sissies was great. And being out in nature when you lived in New York was great. But now that I live in nature all the time, it has different meaning.
For me these days, a lot of it has to do with feeling like you’ve found your people. You’re with other people who share a love of the earth and embrace sexuality as a good thing, who share a deep suspicion of gender and the roles that society puts us in and who have a real sense of play about everything. Nothing is sacred, except maybe the earth. And even that you have to make fun of. There’s this real awareness that I have never seen anywhere else that something can be held as sacred and can still be totally held up to camp and parody and wit.