This one is a review of my experience at Between the Worlds last month.
I want to take a moment to announce what I hope will be my next big project. For a long time, I’ve been contemplating the idea of starting a campground of some type. I’ve often thought it might be a retirement project, but I’ve become more and more compelled to make it a reality sooner. Perhaps it’s dissatisfaction with my current day-to-day job, the call (or perhaps crisis) of midlife, feelings of deep loss after my mom sold my childhood home, the desire to get back to living in a rural area closer to nature, or some combination of the above. Whatever the reasons, I’ve decided to embark on the journey to making this dream of a campground a reality. I’m still in the early stages, and don’t know entirely whether the dream will be achieved, but I know it’s the direction I want to be heading.
Over the past year, I’ve been researching LGBTQ, Pagan, and even a few other types of campgrounds; I’ve formulated a business plan; and I’ve created a web page to mark the start of the project and to track its progress, as well as to start building an interested community. The first major milestone will be purchasing land and relocating. I hope to do this within the next year or two, and will also need to find a new job in the new town to hold me over until the campground opens. The likely location will be somewhere in central Virginia. I’ll be looking for a second business partner to help found and run the business. Things really won’t get moving in a big way until after the land purchase. At that point, I’ll be looking for investors and other sources of start-up finances to build the rest of the campground. I’ll also be looking for campground members and outside groups looking to host gatherings there. I’m hoping the campground itself could open within the next 3-5 years.
My concept uses many of the gay and bi men’s campground resorts already out there as a base, but merges those with other communities such as Pagans, and some adult lifestyle communities. While gay and bi men, and Pagan men will likely be the base audiences, other adult audiences would be welcome regardless of sexual orientation, gender, etc. This will be a membership-based adult campground resort. I hope to host a variety of theme weekends and even a handful of gatherings. I’d also open up the campground to outside conferences and gatherings. I’d like to create an open air Pagan / Hellenistic temple that could host drum circles and solar / lunar celebrations and rituals.
I wanted to take a moment to announce the start of the project, but I also look forward to input, advice, etc. If anyone is interested in helping this dream become a reality; if you think you might be interested in becoming the second business partner (or know someone who would be interested); if you think you might want to become a future investor once I get to that stage; if you think you might want to become a member, camper, or host a gathering there; if any of these things intrigues you, please visit my website for the campground and feel free to contact me with your ideas or to be put on the mailing list.
The website is: www.olympuscampgroundresort.com
You may have heard the expression in school never to wear green on Thursday because that makes you a “queer” or a “fairy”. What seems like a cruel made up children’s game to identify gay people actually underscores a long history of the color green being associated with gay men.
The term “fairy” has long been a term used to identify gay men. Its use has been largely derogatory, but some gay men have reclaimed it. In the book, Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds, by Judy Grahn, the author points out that green was the primary color worn by mythical fairies, and this connection ties into this tradition. The fairies have freer sexual morals than Christian cultures are comfortable with. In fact, given their extremely long, perhaps even immortal lives, the idea of eternal marriage and coupledom would only give way to boredom. So homosexual bonds were likely to have been acceptable. The color green is a useful color for mythical fairies because it helps them to blend in and remain hidden in their natural environment among the plants and trees.
As for the connection with Thursday, Thursday was considered by some to be “Fairy Day”. There is an additional connection to Thursday with medieval witches. When questioned under torture about their practices, some witches confessed that they practiced different sexual rites on different nights, and Thursday was the night associated with homosexual rites.
But the association with the color green and homosexuals goes back even further. Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit has more to say on the color green. At Ephesus, the transgender and often homosexual priests of the goddess Artemis / Diana wore garments of scarlet, violet, saffron, and yellow-green. In ancient Rome, green and especially yellow-green was associated with male gender variance and especially the passive role in male homosexual acts. These men were called galbinati, and are mentioned in Martial’s Epigrams. Martial talks about how these soft, effeminate men garbed in green lie on purple couches while being fanned by other men using red feathers. It sounds like the good life to me, but Martial criticizes their morality as being quote “grass-green.”
In pre-Modern France, bisexual and homosexually inclined courtiers called mignons wore green as the primary color in their tights, along with yellow or red. Often one leg of their tights would be green and the other yellow, and they might have a red cape. Their costumes were derived from three sources — the costumes of traditional troubadours, the costumes of fools, and the costumes of the legendary fairies.
Because green was associated with the margins of society, it also became associated with heretics who carried a green cross in their ceremonies.
Green was also a signifier of homosexuality among British poets. The association of the color green with homosexuality survived into the 19th Century and may even have been reclaimed at that time. A green carnation was adopted as a kindred symbol by Oscar Wilde and the English Decadents, and during the same time a band of men in Paris wore a green cravat to signify their homosexual inclinations.
So as you can see, the color green has a long history of associations with homosexuality, fairies, and magick. Wear it proudly — especially on Thursdays.
One of my favorite adult memories of Halloween was from a time I was living in Colonial Place in Norfolk. The whole neighborhood got into the spirit of the holiday with decorations, haunted yards, adults dressed up in costumes ready to give candy to the trick or treaters. On Halloween, the whole neighborhood looked like a place out of a spooky movie. I lived in a house with some artistic folks. The landlady even made an authentic looking werewolf costume out of paper mache and fur. She was already a tall, lanky woman, but she made herself even taller with wooden blocks on her shoes. On Halloween night, unsuspecting tweens and young teens would round the corner onto our porch only to be confronted with a realistic looking seven foot tall werewolf standing over the bowl of candy. Many would run away screaming and then their parents would reassure them, come up onto the porch, spy the werewolf, and run away screaming themselves. My landlady believed that the children should “earn” their treat. She also didn’t give candy to those children who didn’t wear an actual costume.
I’ve told this story time and time again over the years, most folks sharing in the fun that the parents were scared too. Last week I told the story to a co-worker and she suggested that this was terrible. The children were probably traumatized.
As I handed out candy to trick or treaters last night, I reflected on this. I’m no longer in a neighborhood that gets so much into Halloween, but my next door neighbors did and I watched as they handed out candy while in costume in their front yard. I watched as the reluctant kids backed away in droves from the woman in the pumpkin mask handing out candy. I watched as some “earned” their candy by confronting their fears, while others avoided the house and their promised treats because their fear got the better of them. I watched as parents encouraged their children to face their fears, and then I realized… this has all the hallmarks of a rite of passage.
The whole scene reminded me of historical rites of passage and coming of age rites where the adults in a community or village conspire to help the youth gain confidence and independence by confronting their fears and proving they are ready to ascend to the next age grouping. This can be done by sending the youth out into the woods to survive and to hunt on their own, by sending them out for a vision quest, through enacting a mythic ritual, or even by forcing them to face a monster or a wild beast (usually an adult in a mask).
Trick or treat has a number of elements associated with rites of passage and the hero’s journey. There’s a call to adventure – the chance to dress up, roam the streets, and get candy. There are gifts given to the child to help them on their quest – a costume so they can blend in, a bag to hold their bounty, maybe a flashlight or glow stick to light their way. The child meets the guardian at the threshold – the mundane or masked adult handing out candy at the door, porch, or property boundary. If the adult is masked, the children have to face their fear if they want receive their boon. The adventure takes place at a liminal time – dusk on All Hallow’s Eve. The children’s parents act as guides encouraging them that there’s nothing to be afraid of – only a person in a mask. Sometimes the person will take off the mask to show them there’s really nothing to fear. After trick or treat is over, the children bring their bounty back to their homes. Their parents and siblings often share in their prize.
The next year the ritual begins anew. The child is a little older and has more experience than they did the year before. As they grow older, they may start to taunt the masked guardians. “You’re just wearing a mask.” They still may be reluctant to get too close. The years go by and they master their fears (or they become dominated by them). At some point they’re too old for trick or treat, so they start going to Halloween parties at school or hosted by friends. This is another chance to prove their independence, though someone’s parents are probably close by. For good or ill, some start using Halloween as an opportunity to pull pranks, while others go to haunted houses, watch scary movies, and so on. These are yet more opportunities to assert their independence and to face their fears.
Eventually the children, tweens, and teens grow up. They may enact this ritual yet again with their own kids. They may act as parental guides or threshold guardians bearing candy. Or they might fall into the category of those who have become cynical and chose not to celebrate Halloween. Even adults have to face their fears on this day — their fear of the worst in humanity. They know that it’s only other humans under the masks, but that’s not necessarily reassuring. What else might the mask hide – serial killers, rapists, sex offenders, folks who might poison or put razor blades in the candy, human traffickers, body part snatchers, and all our other unconscious fears brought to life? Most folks are normal, everyday people under the masks, but it only takes one or a few bad apples to spoil the celebration. Adults too have to decide whether to face their fears or to be owned and dominated by their worst nightmares.
With all rites of passage there’s always the opportunity to grow by facing fear and asserting confidence and independence, but there’s also always the risk of trauma. Not everyone can face their fears, and those who don’t pass their test often become traumatized by the test and owned by their fears. Trick or treat can be an adventure or a trauma. It all depends on how you approach it and whether or not you let your fears haunt you.
How does one go about creating men’s groups, events, and spaces without being exclusive or discriminatory? Or is that just the nature of these types of things in the same way that forming groups of any kind creates a smaller segmentation of society?
What about transgender folks? Is being male a matter of having the right biological parts or is it psychological? On a similar note, if it’s about a mindset, does that mean that masculine oriented women are a better fit than feminine oriented men?
If we start making exceptions to whatever we consider male, does that risk opening the floodgates and turning a men’s group into something that discourages men from opening up or that changes the energy and the dynamic of the group into something it was never intended to be. Given the example from Part 1 of this posting, at what point does the bowling league become a basketball team if it starts trying to be inclusive and representative of basketball players too?
One of the former men’s groups I was part of, restricted membership to biological males. The jest was “you had to have a member to be a member.” When one member’s wife was pregnant with a boy, she poked a loophole in the “rule” claiming she actually had a “member” until such a time as he would be born. At a men’s retreat run by another group, we had a woman show up to our event not so cleverly disguised with a fake mustache. We let her stay, but she only stayed about an hour. In some instances, we specified certain events (like specific workshops, rituals, and men’s retreats) as just for the guys, but public events and social events were welcome to all. Sometimes we’d go out to eat after an event, and some of the guys would bring their girlfriends / wives. If we had parties, we’d invite men and women.
The stance we’ve taken with most of the men’s groups and events I’m currently involved in is that, we won’t turn anyone away who sincerely and respectfully feels they have something to gain from being there. At the same time, we continue to define our groups and events as men’s groups and events. This stance is the most inclusive, but how it will affect the future of these men’s spaces is yet to be seen.
“Today, more men seem to be interested in men’s covens, ritual circles, or similar groups stemming from other traditions… Such groups can be a source of support and of exploration of the particular energy men can generate together. They also give men somewhere to go while the women are at their women’s groups.”
– Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
There are many misconceptions about men’s groups. As I said in my last post, gay men often fear these groups are made of hyper masculine homophobes, and straight men frequently fear these are gay men’s hookup groups. Women have their own preconceptions about men’s spiritual groups — associating these groups with exclusive “good ole boy” clubs of the past that actually did go out of their way to oppress women, rather than as spiritual or self-help groups where men are trying to understand themselves and find their place in the universe. They often believe these groups are there to put down and complain about women, though in actuality the groups meet for male bonding and to discover what it is to be men in our society or in a self-help or spiritual context. The men’s groups I’ve been involved in usually have been made up of men with at least moderately liberal and enlightened viewpoints who try to be sensitive and aware of women’s issues, even if they don’t always do a good job at it.
When I was involved in groups specific to gay and bi men, I’d often get challenged by Lesbians about why there needed to be men’s specific groups. Many never seemed to notice just how many women’s groups and Lesbian groups there were in our local community, or to realize that gay men might have things to discuss in an environment made up of other gay men. Perhaps we had issues that other gay men would understand, but that many Lesbians wouldn’t understand or would be turned off by.
In the Pagan community, I often staff tables at events where I’m promoting a Pagan men’s group I’m involved in, as well as an annual Pagan men’s retreat I help plan. Almost always, there’s at least one outraged woman who feels it’s her obligation to point out how men’s groups are sexist. They never seem to notice how many all-female groups and covens there are or to realize that our men’s groups are about self-discovery and not about oppressing women.
Very recently at one such table, a woman seemed very upset and asked me “why aren’t there any Pagan women’s groups or events?” I would have been just as surprised by her question if she had come up to me at a Druid table in the middle of a Pagan event and asked me why there aren’t any Wiccan groups in the Pagan community. The thing is women’s groups, women’s events, and non-Druid Wiccan groups are all around. If you don’t see them, you aren’t looking. There are priestess retreats, women’s covens, Goddess events, and I remember a recent announcement for a womb ritual. In a balanced world and in a balanced religion, there should also be men’s retreats and men’s groups, and the exploration of Pagan gods. It’s not about putting other people down, but about exploring the divine within and without from the perspective that makes the most sense to you – whether it be gender, a particular spiritual path, a specific mythology, or whatever. As I mentioned in my previous post, a pluralistic society allows for all types of niches and combinations of groups. If one isn’t for you, move onto the next one or create your own.
There was something I found ironic about this woman’s question too (and I’ve also noticed this a number of times with Lesbians interacting with gay men’s groups). There was an underlying tone in the message that seemed to be asking why I (a man) wasn’t out there creating women’s groups and women’s events, as if I even have the background, life experiences, or body parts to do so. While it is my responsibility to treat women respectfully and take their needs seriously, I yield the responsibility to create women’s groups and events (or to be aware of existing groups and events) to women themselves.
Besides my men’s groups, I also write articles about events I attend for the greater communities I’m a part of. Not terribly long ago, I reported on a Pagan event and was publically reprimanded when I shared the article on Facebook. The reader took offense because all the rituals and most of the workshops were run by men and because women led the entertainment, belly dancing, children’s activities, and even a workshop on hair braiding. I was not at all involved with the planning of this event; I only reported on it. Somehow because I reported on the event as it actually happened and because the woman knew I was involved in men’s groups, I was apparently involved in a conspiracy to enforce gender roles on an event I didn’t even help plan. The irony in this case was that the woman who complained about the gender divide at this event was actually involved in the event in a role that perpetuated the actual gender divide she seemed to be blaming me for and the event was planned mostly by a group of women. In reality, there was no conspiracy, the men and women involved with the event gravitated organically toward certain roles – whether from socialization into these roles, whether because these roles meshed with their hobbies and interests, or whether from some combination of these factors. I do concede that my original article could have been more inclusive than it was and that I focused on aspects of the event that I’ve been socialized to consider important, but there was no conspiracy on my part as a writer or on the part of the event’s organizers to enforce traditional gender roles.
I share these incidents, not to oppress women somehow, but to show a need for greater understanding and acceptance about what men’s groups are all about. I also feel it important to show the inconsistencies and ironies associated with negative attitudes towards men’s groups. I personally feel there is room in this world for men’s spaces, women’s spaces, coed spaces, and even spaces for folks who feel they fit somewhere in between traditional genders.
To be continued…
In case anyone missed it, my latest podcast is now available. I uploaded it a few weeks ago, but I’ve been very busy so I’m just now getting around to announcing it. If you subscribe to my podcast on Podbean or iTunes, you probably already saw the new episode show up earlier this month.
In this episode, I continue where I left off in Fifty Shades of Gay – Part 1. Besides sharing some personal news and announcements, I talk about all kinds of alternatives to traditional heteronormative relationships for gay and bi men including living together, civil unions, serial monogamy, casual monogamy, casual non-monogamy, open relationships, open marriages, triads, polyamory, swinging, platonic relationships, Bromances, Boston marriages, BDSM liifestyles, intergenerational relationships, long-distance and Living Apart Together relationships, hiring escorts, and being happily single.
You can find the Discovering the Male Mysteries podcast on Podbean, iTunes, or by visiting my website at: http://www.melmystery.com/