Who are we, deep down? Beneath the masks we put on to blend in, how do we discover who we really are and what we really want in this life?
With infinite choices at our fingertips, in our apps or in the miles of malls rising all around, we must decide what values we hold and how we’ll live them out.
On the surface, it seems simple. People stumble along every step of the path, but the road markers are clear enough: You get a job, you get married, you have a kid, you retire. If you build the story of your life around those guide posts, you at least know where you’re going.
For those of us born lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), the streetlights along the road of life start to dim. If the revelation that you’re gay can end your career, if your country denies you a marriage license to the man you love, if you can’t bear children … what’s left?
These questions weigh upon people, especially here China. But a group of determined young men are helping those heavy hearts to fly, with a little sprinkle of faerie dust.
The sun rises in the spring 2017 gathering outside Beijing
Island of misfit boys
“Chinese people tend to hide their feelings and feel shame about being unfilial, in terms of coming out and living a gay life,” explains Francis, one of the original organizers of Beijing’s Faerie community. After he first attended the long-running Asian Faerie gathering in Thailand, his feelings began to change. “I felt free to be myself at the gathering, and I enjoyed connecting with other Faerie friends both emotionally and spiritually.”
The emotional connections come in the form of heart circles. The activity goes back at least as far as the original “Spiritual Conference for Radical Fairies” in the Arizona desert, organized by Stonewall veteran Harry Hay in 1979. One at a time, speakers expound in unscripted displays, sharing words of loss and loneliness, fear and hope, or relief in the taboo happiness they’ve finally allowed themselves to enjoy. For many, it’s the first time a loving community has listened to them speak from the heart.
“Respecting others’ sharing and supporting each other are shared in both Western and Eastern culture among LGBT populations,” explains Francis. “I wish there were more spiritual events in the Chinese LGBT community and I am trying to cultivate a good environment.”
The spiritual development comes from many angles. Hay’s “Radical Faeries”—from the Latin word for “root” and the reappropriated English term for folk spirits and gay men—combine a mixture of neo-pagan nature rites and post-religious community building. As it developed in the U.S. and spread person-to-person in gatherings across continents, it blends Hay’s idiosyncratic musings with beliefs of Native Americans, Wicca, and Jungian psychology. But each gathering is largely unbound by the traditions of others, providing an open invitation for any participant to lead a blessing. Beijing’s Mid-Autumn gathering saw a ceremony for the full moon with elements of both Chinese and European rites.
These pickup spiritual exercises don’t provide answers but give space for contemplation. With the sharing of the heart circle, an assortment of workshops, and fashion shows that encourage men to blur gender lines, they can find themselves transformed.
A moment from a spring 2017 rite
“I can’t even remember what I looked like half a year ago,” shares Colin, a local college student who attended multiple gatherings. “I was shy, not confident, and nervous when I talked to strangers. I didn’t come out to anyone at that time and there was no trace of anything gay in my life except myself.
“I was extremely shy in the Mid-Autumn heart circle last year. Looking at all the strange faces, I didn’t know how I would get along with them for the next three days. But after three days, I left with great nostalgia … After that, I volunteered at the Beijing LGBT Center for half a year, I met more gay friends, and I came out to almost all my good friends around me.
“Now we meet again after half a year, and my heart is still full of gratitude and love.”
Emotions won’t change the laws of China. Good feelings won’t let us marry who we love. What they can do is provide the foundation for a life that feels worth living. When the traditional path to fatherhood and personhood is unavailable, these men are finding their way forward. Stumbling in the dark, they hold hands and pick each other up when they fall.
Beyond the semi-annual gatherings, occasional weekend heart circles provide an anchor to the group. A vibrant WeChat group gives a forum for ongoing communication and support.
Pablo, an expat in Beijing who faced the loss of his long-time partner, found that strength in this circle. “Today, I feel a need for a community of brothers that support each other, help each other grow in their own ways, and continue building, little by little, in each other’s hearts and lives, that new world of respect, love, wisdom, and self-expression. I have felt that brotherly love in our Beijing Faerie community and I believe we are destined for great things, in our hearts, and in the world around us.”
Pablo, Colin, and the author at the 2017 gathering
Subject of my affection
A small group of determined people can change the world, by changing themselves and spreading that outward. It was a guiding principle to Hay, who saw homosexuals not as deficient heterosexuals who should hide and assimilate, but as harbingers of a better way. Our purpose, to Hay and many Faeries who followed him, is to teach the world to love on equal footing.
“Humanity must expand its experience of thinking of another not as object—to be used, to be manipulated, to be mastered, to be consumed—but as subject—as another like him/her self, another self, to be respected, to be appreciated, to be cherished,” Hay wrote.
The work of Beijing’s Faeries is to cherish. Starting with this minority of men who long for respect and appreciation, the aim is to heal the wounds that strangeness has shown. From there, love can grow, and spread, and change what is possible, for themselves, for China, and for the world.
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