The gathering I went to my first February coming out was called a “Faery Gathering”. That was short for something like “The Midwinter Brietenbush Gathering of Radical Faeries”.
I have run into gay men who have never been to a faery gathering, and never will go. But they offer to tell me, with great authority, all about “The Faeries”. On the other hand, I’ve been to lots of faery gatherings, but I’m at a loss to describe what they’re like.
I went to the first one, and I liked it very much. Later, someone mentioned that there were men who went there, and freaked out, and had to leave. I was amazed. “Why?” I asked.
“Probably, they were used to the bar scene,” he speculated. “In the bars, there’s this certain social structure, and everybody knows the rules. At a faery gathering, all that’s blown wide open, and you don’t know what might happen.”
In gay fiction, many of the stories are set in the bar scene, or at least are predicated on the assumption that the reader knows all about it. To me, the gay bar scene seems very weird.
If somebody were to write stories about what happens at a faery gathering, the narrative might seem very weird to bar guys. But the Brietenbush gathering was the first thing I ever did among other gay men. So faery gatherings are my baseline. To me they seem very ordinary and normal.
The guys who offer to tell me with great authority about faery gatherings always brandish the image of guys running around in outrageous drag. That’s probably because it is pictures of those guys that end up in the publicity. Yeah, there are guys in drag. But I never wore drag, and I never encountered the least breath of a hint that I should.
There were lots of guys like me. Just being who they were. In fact, that’s what the guys in drag were doing too. If there’s any way to sum up what a faery gathering is, it’s a space where you can do whatever you need to do for yourself. So, guys who like to do drag do it. Guys who don’t, don’t. That simple dynamic made it a great milieu to come out.
Faery gatherings, like my first one, are a wonderfully touchy, huggy space. I was still getting used to that. I was somewhere in a group with Gary when a new guy came up I had not seen before. He was beautiful, a small muscular man with wire-rimmed gold spectacles, strawberry blonde hair and a bushy red beard.
Gary gave him a hug. They squirmed in the hug, enjoying each other. They playfully fell on the ground together, still hugging. They kind of pulsed their interlaced legs and somebody quipped “rabbits!” The two of them did sort of suggest bunny rabbits, humping innocently, automatically, and naturally.
I was introduced briefly. The new guy’s name was Jeff. I did not have much to do with him the rest of the gathering; I was overcome with shyness over how gorgeous he was. But, with the address list in hand afterwards, I wrote him a letter. It was one of my romantic, explicit, and very forward letters, others of which I am so embarrassed about now.
But this letter to Jeff hit the mark. He wrote back saying how much he’d like to be friends, offering a place to stay if I were ever in Seattle, and hoping we could be snuggle buddies. Since then, I have somewhat got used to that, though not much. How adorably beautiful guys don’t seem to know that they are. In fact, they can have sort of a low opinion of themselves, and be quite susceptible to attention.
Somehow, I did not see anything untoward about carrying on with more than one guy at the same time. This overlapped the months while I was having to do with Gary. If I’d thought about it, I might have analyzed it as some hybrid between dating and male bonding. Both were too nascent to require any expectations of commitment or exclusivity.
Maybe I subconsciously knew both these guys were long shots, not likely to lead to anything ongoing. Also, it seemed perfectly reasonable to exspect the two of them might well be carrying on with each other.
I visited Jeff in the spring, when the trees were budding in Seattle. We went out to breakfast. He loaned me his VW bug to get around the city while he was at work. We met up again in the evening. He took me to a place called the Crystal Steam Baths, where you could get a private room, like a sauna, with all these options of warm water and vapor. That was great, since I had a bad cold at the time. We slept together at night, and I was very enthusiastic about that.
Then we were taking leave, and I was asking when he wanted to get together again. He demurred. I flashed on a New Yorker cartoon I once saw. This high-powered executive type is standing at his desk, which is crowded with telephones. He’s talking on one, saying, “No, Tuesday’s out. How about never? Does never work for you?”
Jeff had been nice about it, but the message was clear. Never. I walked away down the street. It was a glorious spring day. The newly budding maple leaves overhead were just beginning to rustle and cast a dabbled shade. But I was blue.
I guess I’d come on too strong. What had I been thinking, pawing at him so much? What did I expect, putting my foot in his crotch under the table at a public restaurant, like the girl did in the movie “Flashdance”? How could I have been so inconsiderate, voraciously fellating him in the morning, when he obviously needed to get up and go to work?
The funny thing was, I hadn’t really even wanted to. But somehow, I had this fragmented notion that that’s what you do. That’s what you do with a guy you like, to let him know. Duh.
I’d blown it with Jeff. So to speak. We were, at least distantly, in the same circle of friends until he moved to the East Coast a couple of years later. He was always polite to me. But after that first time, I felt like he always kept me at arms length. Never.
So, another tough lesson learned.
Of all the gay men I was meeting, nobody was as recently out as me. It was a long time before that changed, until I was no longer the least experienced one in the horde. This gay thing was sometimes wonderful, like a new toy. But also it had a lot that was obscure.
When you grow up in a culture, there are so many details you know without knowing you do. You just know how to go about things, how customs work. You know what’s the right thing to do and what’s not.
In the gay world, I felt like I was constantly stumbling over these unspoken expectations. But at the same time, I was always holding out for my own authenticity. I had a strong resistance to becoming a certain way, just because it was the “gay” way to be.
Somewhere in that first year, somebody expressed the idea that when you come out, that’s like starting over and being born. However many years have gone by since you came out, that’s your “age” in gay years.
There’s some truth to that. There are certain subtle things you never get used to, except by the slow increment of time going by. And there are things that you pass through at a certain stage of your life that you can never go back to. Treasure them, even if they are washed in tears.