Karen Ocamb

Who's History? My Curious Encounter with the Radical Faeries

Filed By Karen Ocamb | February 20, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Media
Tags: Don Kilhefner, Harry Hay, LGBT history, Mark Thompson, Mitch Walker, ONE Institute, Radical Faeries

I don't do gossip, which is kind of unfortunate because I hear a lot of good stuff. And I actually do strive to keep my personal opinions out of my reporting - stuart_t.jpgan old ethic, to be sure, but a comfortable one that enables me to tell someone else's story as truthfully and as unencumbered by ego as possible.

So thank god for blogs! I've had an itch to tell a particular story for some time now - but because I'm personally involved, it never seemed appropriate. Ah, but covering a discussion by Dr. Don Kilhefner and author Mark Thompson about the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Radical Faeries last Sunday, I realized that if I don't talk about it - perhaps no one else will. So here goes...

First, let me set the stage.

The Players

In 1979, Harry Hay, who founded the Mattachine Society in 1950, and Don Kilhefner, who co-founded (with Morris Kight) the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles in 1970, organized a group called the Radical Faeries. The basic idea was to explore gay soul and gay identity, springing off the work of creative gay men such as Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter.

Harry_Hay.jpgKilhefner, a PhD who also co-founded what is now the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and the Van Ness Recovery House, is a practicing Jungian psychologist who is still advocating the spiritual and psychological exploration of gay identity. Mark Thompson is an author, journalist and retired therapist. As the cultural editor of The Advocate, Mark wrote the cover story on Harry Hay about the plans for the first Radical Faerie gathering that is credited with spreading the word beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Here's where it gets personal... In the late 80s, when I started freelancing for the LGBT press, I covered Don and Morris Kight a lot - and Mark was my editor at the Advocate under Richard Rouilard.

I'd see this tall, skinny old man who always wore bead necklaces and flowery hippie-type shirts at different ACT UP and Queer Nation demonstrations. But I didn't find out that Harry Hay and John Burnside were my neighbors in West Hollywood until Wayne Karr introduced me during a faerie celebration of Harry's birthday.

Harry was amused by me. I had come to gay journalism out of a sense of being of service because so many friends died - and I was a blank slate as far as LGBT history was concerned. Harry loved filling me in.

I also met Doug Sadownick when he was partnered with performance artist Tim Miller and they'd show up to ACT UP demonstrations. Doug was writing for the LA Weekly at the time and was an unabashed advocacy journalist - sometimes, I thought, skewing or creating details to enhance a story which were not facts I witnessed or quotes I heard when covering the exact same event. I understood it to be a new-journalism version of "dramatic license" - though that ran counter to everything I knew about reporting.

Michael Callen's Last Days

When AIDS activist, writer and singer Michael Callen started falling ill, Doug organized a team of people to be his care providers. Michael, along with Richard Berkowitz and their doctor Joseph Sonnanband, virtually invented the idea of safe-sex and Michael also co-founded HIV/AIDS organizations that directly involved PWAs.

I met Michael outside a Holly Near concert, introduced by Torie Osborn. He knew my writing and I knew his at Genre. We became friends and he, too, educated me about all things gay and AIDS - though we disagreed over HIV since he thought AIDS was caused by STDS weakening the immune system, not HIV. He later changed his position, but more from being worn down, I think, than a real philosophical shift. Anyway - he was an ardent feminist and used to chide me for not knowing my lesbian singers. We laughed a lot.

I signed up with Doug to be one of Michael's care providers (in addition to his wonderful lesbian nurses) and when he moved from Hollywood to West Hollywood, that intensified since he moved one block down from my apartment. Doug disappeared because he was writing a cover story for Frontiers on APLA.

Michael and I got to be really close. And since I could speak heterosexual, I became the liaison between Michael's family and Michael when they came to visit him at Midway Hospital from their home in Hamilton, Ohio. Doug was not too happy about that - or the family showing up at all. He intimated that they had abandoned Michael and didn't deserve Michael's love or attention and it was offensive that they intruded during this crucial time when it was important that Michael be surrounded by the ones who really loved him.

I didn't feel that way. What I got from Michael was that he really wanted to repair the relationship with his family - but it was awkward and painful and there was so much stuff in the way, he didn't know how to do it. The family - his mother, father and brother - felt the same way - they tried so hard, in their straight way - to set aside their religious and regional beliefs and reach out to their gay son dying from AIDS who they really loved. Michael and the family thanked me for being a buffer and go-between.

When Michael Died

Michael died on Dec. 27, 1993. He was proud that he had outlived society's expectations - having had AIDS since 1982. And he'd performed "Love Don't Need a Reason" - an AIDS anthem he co-wrote with Peter Allen and Marsha Malemet - at the 1993 March on Washington - holding that last high note longer than his idol Barbra Steisand could, even with lungs filled with KS.

But Michael wanted to die on Christmas Eve. He was ready, he told me as someone whom he asked to help him die. But the vial of morphine was on a timer. When I asked his doctor - Robbie Jenkins - about it, explaining truthfully why I was interested - Robbie said they had taken precautions against assisted suicide because it was against the law and Michael was a high profile patient and they couldn't afford the publicity. Robbie apologized.

I was with Michael the day he died. It was a Sunday and Michael's ex-lover Richard Dworkin (who produced Michael's Legacy album), who had flown in from NYC and basically taken over, was taking a several hour break. Michael was in a coma but we believed he could still hear.

So when his family called, I told them Michael didn't have much time and they should tell him they loved him and say goodbye. I told Michael they were on the phone and then held the phone to his ear. First his brother, then his father told him they loved him and were proud of him. "I love you, son," his father said.

And then it was his mother's turn. She talked to him awhile - promising to bury his ashes under his favorite apple tree in their backyard. And then she said, "I love you, Michael. I will always love you."

A tear rolled down Michael's cheek. "I love you, too, mom." It was the last thing he said. He lapsed back into a coma - as if he'd been holding out to say those goodbyes. I talked to the family a bit and then hung up. Richard came back shortly thereafter. I told Michael I'd see him later and I left.

Two hours later, they called to tell me Michael had died. I rushed back to Midway. There seemed to be a lot of commotion. Doug and Richard were acting like rivals and Sandra Golvin was in the room howling in what was apparently some ritual. Richard told Doug in no uncertain terms to get her out of there. I waited a bit and then went in to say my goodbyes.

Doug Sadownick's Scream

I wasn't alone with Michael for long when Doug came in. I told him about what I thought had been a miraculous reconciliation before Michael died - and Doug suddenly started screaming at me. Literally screaming. Just steps away from Michael. He was screaming something about how I had violated Michael's very being - because Michael didn't want to have anything to do with his family.

I said that's not true. And then Doug started screaming at me about how this was really all about me and my shadow - by which he apparently meant my Jungian shadow. This was all about me wanting healing with my family who had abandoned me - on and on and on.

He was so intense and persistent, I wondered if he might not be right. Sitting on a bench outside Michael's hospital room, I stopped and mentally went over everything. I checked my heart. I'm in a 12 Step program that requires rigorous honesty if I'm to stay clean and sober - and I went to that place and asked the question: did I facilitate the reconciliation between Michael and his family because of my own family issues?

The answer was no. Michael was my friend and this was always about him. I looked at Doug and wondered why he would choose this moment to be so cruel - in the name of being helpful.

By the way, Don did help me after Michael's death and the Northridge earthquake triggered an emotional breakdown from all the unprocessed grief. He told me I was on a "spiritual quest" which gave me a more positive way to contextualize the overwhelming darkness. The concept helped some of my grief-stricken friends, too.

I have been estranged from Doug Sadownick since Michael's death - this is the first time I'm publicly telling this story. I avoided Doug and the people he hung out with - he and Tim Miller, who I admire greatly, broke up. It was not difficult - our paths didn't cross much.

The Mitch Walker Connection

My awareness of Doug resurfaced in 1998. I decided to produce a short documentary on LGBT history to air on West Hollywood City Channel. The idea originated when I realized that Harry actually wrote about the unique gay identity and gays as an oppressed minority in a paper in 1948 - making 1998 the 50th anniversary of the "start" of the LGBT liberation movement. My camera person Robert and I drove Harry around to different spots where he first thought up the idea of the Mattachine Society and where they first met.

We had long talks - which at some point turned to a discussion of a fellow named Mitch Walker. Apparently Mitch and Harry once knew each other - around the time of the founding of the Radical Faeries. Mitch was now a therapist with his own little band of followers - including Doug - and Harry said they were "viciously attacking" him. I'm not sure how or why or where - but Harry was pissed off.

Mark Thompson also was having trouble with Mitch, Doug and another member of Mitch's clan named Chris Kilbourne. "Gay Body," the last in Mark's trilogy of "Gay Spirit" and "Gay Soul" had just been published and Mark was being inundated with nasty letters attacking his character stuffed in his mailbox at home and in mailboxes at Antioch where he was getting his MA degree in psychology. The small group also showed up at Skylight Books in Silver Lake during Mark's reading and shouted "shadow" questions that left Mark so frightened, he and Malcolm were hastily snuck out the back by Betty Berzon and Terry DeCrescenzo.

I told Mark and Harry that this sounded like a story. Both said that they'd "come after" me. I said if John Duran and I could survive intimidation from the White Aryan Resistance - I wasn't afraid of a handful of screaming therapists. "They'll come after your dogs," they said - which gave me pause.

But truthfully - from a journalistic standpoint - unless Harry and Mark were willing to go on the record - there was no story other than some jerks making nuisances of themselves at a book reading.

But it gnawed at me. Clearly, they had so terrorized Mark that he refused to do any publicity for "Gay Body" - and that essentially killed his book career. Don called them "cult-like."

When Doug contacted me about doing a story on his new endeavor - he had a PhD now - I balked. I immediately told my publishers the story about Michael Callen and said I'd have to recuse myself from anything related to Doug Sadownick. I think I did a brief on his new LGBT Specialization psychology class, but for the most part, I shuttled everything over to the features and calendar editors - which was actually appropriate since therapy-related stories are more "lifestyle" than news, anyway.

And that brings me to last Sunday and the Radical Faeries discussion at ONE Institute.

When Therapists Collide

RadicalFairies.jpgDon Kilhefner had written two columns on the founding of the Radical Faeries for Frontiers and I wrote an advancer for IN Los Angeles magazine. Neither had received any complaints.

Then suddenly I received an email call to protest from Wendell Jones, who I vaguely remembered as an old ACT UP guy. The email read: "Come Honor the 30th Anniversary of the Radical Faeries by Protesting the Distorted Revisionism, Hypocrisy, and Abuse of Power By So-Called Community Leaders Don Kilhefner and Mark Thompson."

Here's part of Wendell's pitch:

"Renown for being a loose-knit organization of gay men attracted to the notion of an indigenous gay-centered spirituality, the Radical Faeries has also always unfortunately been surrounded by controversy due to the tendency by many of those involved to act-out unconscious violence in vicious, mostly passive-aggressive ways, an issue perhaps related to gay people being such a fiercely oppressed minority. This heinous lack of psychological responsibility in the Faeries is once again getting played out around the 30th anniversary celebration that is now being concocted by Don and Mark, and deserves a spirited response in favor of better psychological responsibility.

Don's recent articles on Radical Faeries history in L.A. gay magazine Frontiers (January 27 & February 24, 2009) self-aggrandizingly over-emphasize his own role in forming the Faeries movement with gay rights pioneer Harry Hay, while at the same time completely erasing the major part played by his one-time colleague, gay psychologist and activist Mitch Walker, offering only one very brief dismissive mention of Mitch that seriously mischaracterizes what actually happened as documented in Stuart Timmon's book, The Trouble with Harry Hay. This erasure of significant gay history is especially problematic because one of Mitch's primary aims in being involved with Harry, and then Don, in those beginning days was to bring psychological-mindedness and honesty to the proceedings by confronting overt authoritarian, dominating, passive-aggressive, and other coercive behaviors, both in himself and in others."

Huh? He goes on about "the shadow" as if everyone knows what the hell he's talking about. But then Wendell comes to his main point:

"Thus, it should come as no surprise that when any new Radical Faeries endeavor is being advanced with such ugly signs of the old violence still in control, a reaction to that ugliness may well spring forth. Presenters Don and Mark in that sense seem to be asking to be confronted about the distortions, manipulations, and abuse of power they have actually been maliciously generating for a long time through their extensive networking capabilities and historical prominence in the gay community."

OK - so Don and Mark are "asking to be confronted?" Abuse of what power?

I'm no therapist but I studied psychology in college. So here's my sophomoric take on Wendell's diatribe.

  1. Wendell seems to be projecting his own obsession with violence and ugliness onto Don and Mark. As I noted above, these two gentle human beings are not the ones doing any sort of intimidation or "violence."
  2. Wendell acknowledges that Don mentions Mitch - so Mitch is not really erased from history. Mark actually interviewed him for "Gay Soul." And surely someone into psychology knows that individuals may have differing interpretations of the same event. Let Mitch write his own book.
  3. I'm a longtime LGBT reporter and in the 20 years I've been covering people, places and things in Southern California - I have never once met Mitch Walker - who they claim is such an "activist." I have read some of his writings - which sound much like what Harry told me way back when - only more intellectualized. If Mitch thinks that his views should be the basis for the next phase of gay liberation - why hasn't he approached me to write a story on that - just as I've written about Harry and about Don's more recent efforts.

But here's the central question: if one of Mitch's primary aims is "to bring psychological-mindedness and honesty to the proceedings by confronting overt authoritarian, dominating, passive-aggressive, and other coercive behaviors, both in himself and in others" - why wasn't he at the ONE Institute event to confront Don and Mark directly?

What's Mitch afraid of?

And what gives him - or his followers - the right to tell me about my goddamn "shadow" when I have not asked for his "help," thank you very much.

Perennially Petulant Peter Pans

angry_protester.jpgAfter Don and Mark's presentation, a few of Mitch's followers shouted questions - stunning a number of the 100 or so audience members (especially the younger ones) who seemed to have no idea what precipitated this level of vitriol. Don said he had no idea what all the racket was about - he knew his truth and would respect that Mitch's follower had his truth, too.

Don told me that his truth was that he was there and Mitch didn't play as significant a role as his followers were suggesting - Mitch talked with Harry about the idea for the gathering, then they had a big fight and Mitch left - leaving Harry and Don to do the actual organizing.

Don and Mark noted that there are Radical Faerie groups around the world - some with women and heterosexuals who want to explore their gay identities. After the shouters left, someone asked why there wasn't a Radical Faerie group in LA. Don held out his hand and said, "Because of this." Meaning the angry divisiveness.

It's a shame. Many of the folks in the audience - especially the young people - wanted to find out about their history and perhaps find out about why gay people are different from heterosexuals.

Instead they were treated to a confrontation by perennially petulant Peter Pans who seem to delight in tearing down others - in the name of therapy.

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Interesting story, as I have known some of the people. I met Harry Hay in 1990 at a Radical Faerie conference in the mountains of North Carolina. "Harry Hay" had just been published and the New York Times had published a piece in their magazine section about Harry as being the father of the gay movment.
I had studied Edward Carpenter's theory and gave a workshop at the conference. I was very much into discovering the true role of sexual minorities in an anthropolical way through studies of indigenous cultures, Two Sprit Ones ect.
Around this time, I had also set up a non-profit AIDS CURE SEARCH around that time, and the idea was to raise funds to help Dr. Sonnenbend with his research. With the help of Sean Strub, founder of Poz magazine, I ran a full page ad in USA Today announcing the organization and received modest returns that I handed over to Community Research Initiative.
Jungian psychology was my mindset at the time thanks to the works of Alan Watts, Robert Bly, Joseph Campbell and I had lived at the Ojai Foundation wanting to know more.
Time progressed and I knew Tim Miller the performance artists who had a workshop in Santa Monica sponsored by George Carlin that I attended, George Carlin was a realist and atheist and by then I had given up Jungian thought in favor of Freudian theory and no supernatural stuff as with Jung.
I never had the pleasure of knowing Michael Callen but loved his sweet voice. Thanks for helping build bridges between he and his family. I welled up with tears at his last words to his mother.
I have been in contact with the One Institute over the past couple of years and appreciate their work. Too bad there is are differences between One Institute New York and One in Los Angeles. Hope they both survive the economic meltdown as they exists because of donations.
Thanks for mentioning Morris Knight a pioneer who contributed so much to LGBT history. His legacy is almost forgotten due to his being an atheist and not spiritual. At least that is what I hear from seular humanist friends living in L.A.
Great article. Can't wait for the book.

Gay men go through far more traumatizing experiences than straight men do, so it's not surprising that you'll see a larger number of neurotic gay men.

Talk about the irony in the accusations of passive-aggressiveness, though.

And I don't understand your Christ-like patience, Karen. If someone had tried to psychoanalize me by dragging up my family abandonment, I would reward their presumptuous smugness with a good left hook.

Karen, thanks for the article. I've been thinking about it all afternoon.

I think what you did for Michael and his family was an act of human compassion of the highest order.

Thanks, all, for your comments - especially about Michael. It brings back memories of a very, very difficult time when talking about matters of life and death were real, not rhetoric - and it felt like we, with our constantly broken hearts, knew more about spirituality than all the religious leaders in the world.

Thank you.

Doug Sadownick sounds like a dick. And you know what they say about birds that flock together...

I agree with Greg, I think your compassion with Michael and his family is one of the things that will mark your soul as worthy of moving forward - as his did for coming to peace with them.

i was a founding member ov act up hollywood (version 2.0) doug interviewed rod knoll (also a founding member) and i find the comments re doug spinning things, sometimes just plain making stuff up, to reinforce his point, to be very consistent with my experience ov doug ... i think he really does mean well but often does more harm than good in spite ov his intentions ... he was compleatly dismissive ov aids reappraissal and the article as published was little more than doug saying over and over that we were being dishonest by calling ourselves act up (which we redefined as aids coalition to undo propoganda)

Anthony in Nashville | February 21, 2009 12:29 PM

Interesting article. I've been intrigued by the Faeries since reading of them in White Crane, but I did not know there was such controversy.

In any group you can have factions that revolve around specific people, and if they are charismatic enough they can split the organization.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | February 22, 2009 12:22 AM

Very interesting article, Karen. The vicious infighting reminds me of what goes on in the trans community sometimes.

What struck me most is that my outsider's impression of the fairies was that they stood for thoughtful, gentle, nonviolent, and nurturing masculinity--which sounds like it couldn't be farther from the truth of their actions. How sad.

Oh, and you did a mitzvah, helping to reconcile Michael and his family. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

Brynn -

Actually, the faeries are about being gentle - towards each other and Mother Earth - big environmentalists. But the interesting thing re the masculinity - and please know I am certainly not an expert - but it's about allowing men to embrace the feminine principle at the same time as a good thing, as opposed to with the shame imposed by heterosexual society.

Freedom of expression at its best - as an honored exploration of human potential.

Here is a paragraph I cut out from my first draft because the piece was too long - but it's still an important note:

"By the way – at the same time, women were also exploring what it means to be a woman (think Germaine Greer, Anais Nin, Adrienne Rich, etc) – as Glenne McElhinney pointed out during the Radical Fairies discussion at the ONE Institute. Glenne is the project director of www.impactstories.org Impact Stories – LGBT Oral Histories. After author and therapist Mark Thompson showed his amazing photos of the fairy gatherings, Glenne said she had photos of women’s gatherings that exactly mirrored the fairies."

AH, the resurfacing of Mitch Walker and his acolytes
is a breath of stale air. Who farted?

Some of us folks from SF went to a faery gathering in Southern Cali
in 1983 and 1984. I think it was the one in '84 when Mitch showed up
and was in his groove about "you're not looking at SHADOW!!!"
The response of many of us was WTF is Shadow? MW was unresponsive
when we asked what he meant, and just kept reiterating.
He had a particularly smarmy delivery at one circle, passed around
some Mother Nature in a pipe, and was all about how he was teaching us to BREAK the RULES of the gathering. Ho Hum.

As was our wont, we let him go on until he ran out of steam, perhaps a weakness in that heart circles can be so easily hijacked by individuals on a rant (or off their meds).

The typically faerie response, however, came at the talent show where we
were treated to "shadow theater." Remember the old family games of
putting up a back lit sheet and making images of birds and butterflies and the like by moving your hands in front of the light?

At a later gathering in Oregon, another acquaintance who was a
therapist said Mitch was "certifiable." And I would add, rather transparently so.

David Kerlick, who had not yet taken the
faery name Marvelous Persimmon, or retired it.

Thank you....you made me laugh out loud and long.

I just understand why folks are so afraid of this man...

Thanks for your piece Karen. My partner happened to do the first extensive piece about Berkowitz and Callen's Safer Sex pamphlet back in 82 or 83 (for Mandate of all places).

Michael was a beautiful soul and it was an act of beauty to help him reconcile with his family- don 't let anyone take that away.


Thanks for this great piece documenting a faerie controversy. My own comments are a rather free-flowing dance around some of the ideas you have raised in your piece. Forgive me if the comments seem a bit all-over-the-place.

I'm a Radical Faerie from Philadelphia, and I'm also a collector of faerie history, so your piece is going in my files.

Schisms always point to something interesting in a culture. I think the Los Angeles faerie schism you have documented points to another question I have been asking-- why a faerie culture that prides itself so much on largely anarchistic principles is so intent upon documenting who was there as a founder in the "beginning".

I am of the belief that Harry Hay, Don Kilhefner, Arthur Evans, and other "founders" of the faeries didn't so much found the movement as rediscover and repackage ideas that are part of a continuum that goes back at least as far as Edward Carpenter and Walt Whitman, and indeed further back to ancient cultures (Native American, Hellenic, Asian to name a few) that celebrated their queer leaders.

This does not mean we shouldn't acknowledge and celebrate Kilhefner, Hay, Evans, Thompson and others who have carried forth and repackaged such traditions, but it does seem to me an unnecessary fight to determine who the founders were. (One faerie's opinion, as we always say-- many would disagree with me). I prefer the faeries when they are, as we say in the 12 step world, about principles rather than personalities.

Your article also points to another key theme we need to address: the impact of the intense trauma of the AIDS epidemic on the boomer generation of gay men and their allies. We have done very little work to support or acknowledge the gay men (and allies like you Karen) who lived through so many deaths. It's unthinkable that we haven't done more work to create places for this generation of gay men and their allies to heal themselves. We have important lessons to learn from the work done with holocaust survivors, Hiroshima survivors, and other survivors of great trauma. The time for that work is now, before the boomers die.

Without excusing Sadownick's raging at you, I do view it within the context of a horrible and challenging pre-protease decade when many people acted with courage and integrity, and some acted out inappropriately. Others had a mix of such behaviors. Your article is a stark reminder of this range of behavior seen from friends, family, and caretakers. I too saw the worst behaviors intermingled with heroic action. Fifteen years later, it seems like a different life to me.

And speaking of different life, I think your article also asks us to look at the intergenerational impact of this trauma-- young gay men are indeed shocked at the level of anger expressed by older gay men (the Mitch Walker acolyte version is just one version-- see Larry Kramer for another)-- but there is a lot of that anger yet to be expressed- and often it gets expressed unhealthily, and often towards our youth (with the bitter and unuseful question "how could they be so irresponsible??"). I think older gay men largely haven't really learned to be elders (this is a Kilhefner idea, BTW)-- and thus instead of nurturing and supporting the youth and young adults, they often act out their unprocessed grief in ways that leave our youth puzzled, patronized, and antagonized.

Luckily, we have faerie gatherings around the world where young queers can join us to see what the faerie culture has to offer. I have met many faerie elders at these gatherings who have shown me possible routes for my own adulthood and elderhood. Faerie space isn't for everyone, but often it provides a crucial place for queer people to explore their unique roles in society.

And that leads me to my final thought-- I think faerie culture is alive and well and perhaps even thriving in Los Angeles-- it may just not look like it does in other cities and gathering spaces. I think Don Kilhefner overestimates the power of a few difficult faeries to shut things down. I've gone to gatherings for 15 years and learned that sometimes it is these "difficult cases" who provide the fertile ground for what will grow next. I would predict that the 100 people who showed up at the One Institute-- even dare I say some of those Mitch Walker acolytes- are up to important work of building faerie communities in Los Angeles-- and we should look out for new projects and ideas blooming in the land of Kilhefner, Hay, Isherwood and Kight.

Chris - thank you so much for your note.

Please - I never meant to imply that Harry and Don "founded" or originated the spiritual impetus for the faerie movement - they always paid homage to Native American culture and the genius of Whitman and Carpenter.

My sense is that what they did was translate that spiritual philosophy into a contemporary experience around gay rights - and most importantly , translated it into action.

Don, does, indeed, talk a lot about and hold workshops on the responsibility of elders to the next generation and has written extensively about it in Frontiers. But I am not aware of much happening around post-traumatic-stress for survivors of the worst of the AIDS crisis. I still get choked up thinking about my friends - and sometimes - as in this post - writing about it helps.

And connecting with people like you who know what I'm talking about helps too....Thanks much!

Thanks for your response, Karen.

I didn't mean to imply that you yourself had called Don and others founders. Don himself, in fact on the flyer for the ONE Institute event, calls himself a founder of the Radical Faeries.

Now some of this is just semantics-- I think Don Kilhefner is due great honor for what he has accomplished both for the faeries and others- but I also think the title "founder" is antagonistic to those who consider themselves key to the movement and are excluded from this particular founding story (others might include Arthur Evans, Murray Edelman and Joey Cain) and I think the claiming of "founder" by Don was also antagonistic to Mitch Walker and crew. So I think some of this kerfuffle has to do with egos (personalities rather than principles)-- and I would have us focus on our principles.

So my main point around "founders" was to say that there is a way of telling the Radical Faerie history that is less hierarchical, while still acknowledging people like Don Kilhefner who played a key role in the structuring and visioning of the Radical Faeries.

Hope that is helpful to the conversation.


Right. But just like with AA - you need "founders" to get the thing up and running. Bill W. and Dr. Bob saw the need (their own) and "founded" AA (with lots of help) modeled on the Oxford movement and Jung - etc. It's just they were the ones who organized it into something operational.

That's what I think happened with the Radical Faeries. Harry lived with and studied Native Americans and extrapolated the "third sex" theory and gays as an oppressed minority, and talked with Mitch and Don about applying that to gays - and Harry and Don wound up putting the thing together - hence being called "founders."

Of course I'm no expert - I'm just sharing my personal experiences and the sense I walk away with after having Harry and Don and Mark explain it to me over the years. And BTW - just as the principles of AA are available to those who do not think they have a problem with alcohol and drugs - so too the principles of the radical faeries are available to others besides gay men. It's just that the Radical Faeries as organized by Harry and Don saw the particular need among gay men for their own space to explore their own identity.

ANYWAY - I hope this post serves as a jumping off point for a new dialogue in LA - one based on openness and positive exploration rather than divisive negativity. That was my intention.

Having attended the 1979 gathering myself and knowing a little about Harry and Don and to be honest dont' remember Mitch at all other than the name came up recently and never spoke with him direcly that I can remember and having spoken with both Harry and Don on several times over the years. I also attended the lecture a last week at One. I find it all very interesting that people are still fighting over the smallest things. From my point of view I think that it is time to come together and treat each other as the spiritual / human beings we are. I am unsure as to what Mitch feels that he has said and still feels unheard about. I would think at some point he would hopefully take the high road and see what can be done to bring us together instead of the seperation that seems to be there. There were about 12 of us who attended the 79 gathering that were are One last week. I spoke to several of them who also wondered what the problem was. I for one think that it is some to put the past to bed and start a new page in life and create a worth while day for us all.
Mark Blair

Rather than take pot-shots at either side, I'll allow Mitch to speak for himself. This is an article published in the White Crane Journal, on the 15th anniversary of the Faeries.


I invite the reader to note that Mitch doesn't hold himself above or apart from other gay people in this article. It's not, I think, his fault that some of us find it difficult to follow the path he's blazing.

Karen, enjoyed your article and glad you have approached the subject not only as it relates to the Radical Faerie gatherings and what went on at Mark and Don's presentation at ONE but it is the entire idea of infighting within the movement gives me the creeps...!

If GLBT history needs to be corrected then present your information in a mature fashion and let it tell the story on its own weight...!

If "Diversity Is Our Strength" that also means diversity of thought not just gender, ethnicity, etc...!

After a delightful afternoon having to listen to the pent up anger of the serogate plants in the audiance was a cold way to show the love and free spirit we heard from Mark and Don.

Don and Mark were presenting their experience with the gatherings, if this other group, as I said,from the balcony has a story to tell, then write it down and tell it to the community without stepping on a room full of good cheer...!

Many Blessings, HRH

LLoyd Leifer | March 16, 2009 4:12 AM

I just read your blog and feel an overwhelming need to comment.

What you managed to do in the first part of your blog is to vomit up a 15 vendetta against Doug Sadownick using the Faerie protest as your rationale. You even justify your diatribe as some type of political cause: “Sunday, I realized that if I don't talk about it - perhaps no one else will. So here goes...” What a noble person you are. You’re a well known journalist. You should be ashamed

Then your acid tongue turns to the protest on Feb 15. Don Kilhefner’s accounts of the origins of the Radical Faeries erases the contributions of Mitch Walker which are documented in other places like “The Trouble with Harry Hay.” Mitch Walker is a courageous man who is not afraid of confronting people on the acting out of their shadow. People, like you, Kilhefner and Thompson, when confronted with dealing with their internal life, get defensive. And guess what, you projecting your rageful shadow on him and those with the same beliefs. Whether you agree with it or not, the protesters were there to offer up these ideas and add truth to the historical record. Inside at Kilhefner’s talk, some of the protesters asked Don about the discrepancy between his view of the Faerie origins and the account described in “The Trouble with Harry Hay.” There is a picture of one of these protestors in your blog yelling at Kilhefner. Tell me why didn’t you take a picture of him a minute before when he was calm as he asked Don a simple question and was dismissed? Because that picture wouldn’t have proven the story that you really wanted to tell. It reminds me of the mainstream media coverage of gay events where they show only the individuals that will scare Middle America. I think you have a future with Fox News.

I did get a good laugh at your attempts to be psychological, especially after your comment (referring to Mitch Walker): “And what gives him - or his followers - the right to tell me about my goddamn "shadow" when I have not asked for his "help," thank you very much.” Your synopsis of Wendell’s projection is ironic considering your projections on Doug and the protesters in this blog. And that introspective moment when you ”went to that place and asked the question: did I facilitate the reconciliation between Michael and his family because of my own family issues. The answer was no.” How long did that internal conversation take to get your self-fulfilling answer of “no”? Do you think that internal answers like that are instantaneous like getting candy out of a vending machine? Do you have any idea how difficult and time consuming it is to honestly wrestle with unconscious motivations – not in a 12 step way where you give up control to an external being, but in a Jungian way where you take an active responsibility for owning your unconscious material. Do you really think that the answer to such provocative questions, after you’ve had an internal dialogue, is a “yes” or a “no”? Or maybe, the answer to such a question has nuances. Unless of course you don’t want to deal with what I am discussing, then the “yes/no” answer makes perfect sense.

By the way, in the picture above of men standing in a line holding signs, I’m the one on the right, holding the green sign. I’m standing with my brothers of true Gay Soul as we promote the ideas of psychological responsibility. Only when we acknowledge our unconscious, our shadowy feelings of rage, jealous, sadness, etc., can we go inside and grapple with them, instead of projecting them on others as you did in your blog.

Doug Sadownick, Mitch Walker, Chris Kilbourne and Wendell, are role models for our community. To anyone who intuited the violence of your blog and, while reading it, felt somewhere inside that something had gone awry, I invite them to go to www.uranianpsych.org and join us in Plummer Park for our two monthly talks. It’s not cult-like Kilhefner states; it’s actually the anti-cult. Attendees are encourage to talk about their real feelings; both the love inside of them and their shadowy material.

Lloyd Leifer

Your piece is instructive. I am a gay psychotherapist of Jungian bent and came across the Uranian Center for Psychoanalysis website and Mitch Walker's recent speeches, etc. I had a good opinion of him from his article on the Double of many years ago, but the bitter victimist tone and the terrifically dense and idiosyncratically opaque style of the texts made me wonder what had happened. One of his sentences ran to 262 words!

Where human ego and passion meets dedication to a "higher" cause, this kind of splitting and alienation is very common.

One thing it indicates to me is that, despite the opinions of Hay or Walker, gays are not that different from the rest of the race!

Dear Karen,

I know that this is a blog and you are not bound to any sort of journalistic objectivity. However, I don't believe your treatment of the important ideas that are being debated by Don, Mark and the individuals advocating gay-centered psychology as the vanguard of the gay liberation movement is responsible or constructive. We should be encouraging discourse. As gay people, most of us are at least dimly conscious of how it feels to be stigmatized, erased, rejected or downright demonized. Don and Mark may have mentioned Mitch Walker -but only in passing and in a most cursory way. Their feigned indignation might be comical if it weren't so pathetic that two grown gay men who have lived through so much cannot simply acknowledge that a third founder of the Radical Faeries split off from the group to pursue a vision of homosexual identity that is sourced in psychology rather than the extroverted focus promoted by the faeries and Harry Hay.

While gay-centered psychology may not be for everyone, it is disingenuous to say that young gay men and lesbians are being dealt a disservice by insisting that they grapple with these concepts. In my opinion, young homosexuals are hungry for a new and vibrant vision for what it means to be a homosexual person. I was at the archives and I heard Don's talk and I can say with perfect honesty that I was not moved or inspired to learn that Navajo lesbians were once referred to as "woman who hunts rabbits!" Don's clarion call for all gay men over the age of 55 to get involved in organizing a faerie gathering as a means of energizing, educating and radicalizing a new generation of gay men rang empty and frankly is bizarre. Any gay person of any age or generation can become a leader. What is required and needed in our community is more people taking the internal journey toward self-realization, confronting their internalized homophobia, recognizing the insidious influence of heterosexism and coming out fully -and continually- as a process of becoming a real gay or lesbian person. Mitch Walker is advocating such a process. I would not presume to concisely or accurately characterize his ideas here, but your readers can do so by googling Mitch Walker and reading some of his essays. The language is onerous at first, but the ideas are so unabashedly gay-affirmative that they shatter the shame that keeps us from stating the obvious: being homosexual is good.

Your account of Michael Callen's valiant struggle with AIDS and Doug Sadownick's actions was both touching and enraging. Touching because it is evident that you both cared deeply for Michael. Enraging because you either misconstrue or intentionally contort the notion that as gay people, many of us are not fully accepted by our families or -more accurately- a source of intense shame and consternation for our families. AIDS struck at a time when our movement for mainstream acceptance was just getting off of the ground and added an unfortunate dimension to these tenuous negotiations between gay sons and lesbian daughters with their dumbstruck and homophobic parents. I am not aware of Michael's mindset at the time of his illness, however, I know Doug to be a thoughtful, courageous and ethical gay man. The idea of family as the people that we choose to love and who truly love us (versus the people we are "supposed" to love) reflects a sophisticated appreciation of gay identity. Doug's actions should not be taken out of context or speculated upon in such an irresponsible way.

It is evident that you have been harboring these resentments for some time. I don't know your work or point of view, but just by reading this entry, I can tell that you have allowed your resentments to color your judgment and ability to be fair and open-minded about the real issues, the ideas and the big picture. You say that you wanted to be of service to the community and that's why you became a journalist. However, you cannot speak in two voices (one public and one private) and expect to be taken seriously. Please do some research about the vision being advanced by Mitch, Doug and their colleagues. There are few conspiratorial plots or "cults" that can do more damage to gay people than the ordinary, everyday hatred and loathing that homosexuals have to deal with routinely. The controversy is not where you are focusing on; I contend that the real controversy is whether we, as homosexual people, will ever sufficiently "shed the ugly frogskin of heterosexism?" to loosely quote Harry Hay. In this regard, we -myself included- are charged with an immense challenge to embrace the democratic values that are part of our homosexual birthright: to treat eachother with love and respect, to refrain from bitterness, and to deal with our differences as we would have the world deal with us.

Doug Mirk | May 2, 2009 1:55 PM

Now I'm all confused. I just Googled Mitch's name wondering if I wanted to go hear him speak in West Hollywood tonight. I was briefly involved with many of the people you wrote about. There's two sides to every story. Yes, Mark interviewed Mitch for Gay Soul, but that was before he decided that Mitch wasn't one of the "founders" of the Radical Faeries. Mark had other "issues" that caused him to drop from the Mitch group (I won't go into them now). Reading all this brings up all kinds brings up all kinds of confused, "shadowy" feelings--an unsettled something in my gut. I don't really care who founded the Faeries, although I am disgusted by people who pose as "gentle" and "loving"--but who really want me to bury my anger deeper than it already is by joining their bandwagon. There is something insidious about being told to just accept Mark & Don's version of truth & disregarding all that Chris, Doug, & Mitch have to offer. They may be angry & hard to swallow, but they have something important to contribute.....I think.