On June 20th, Atlanta's Radical Faeries will gather at The Arts Exchange for the 5th annual Midsummer's Night party. The gathering begins at noon, with a schedule full of rituals, forums, and discussions before the dance party kicks off at sundown. Set appropriately during Stonewall month, it will be a night to celebrate nature, community, and what it means to live fully in our queer bodies.
Three local Radical Faeries were gracious enough to come into my studio and open up about what being a part of this group means to them. Melissa Coffey, aerial dance performer and longtime fae, brought in a wide assortment of costumes and props for the shoot. I watched as she pulled out piece by piece, dressing up the two scruffy boys, Jonathan Alexander and Andrew Fernandez, who also came to participate in the photoshoot.
As she unpacked more boxes, the air was perfumed with what can only be described as mothballs and body odor. Many of Coffey's costumes were still grass-stained from past gatherings, and I got the sense that this was not their first time playing dress up. With playful precision, she placed sequins and glitter on their skin.
"I believe, as a female bodied person, that they have intentions of welcoming all types of humans that want to live with open hearts. Sometimes, the fae are the only group of people I find myself nurtured by." - Melissa Coffey
There are several misconceptions about who the Radical Faeries are. They have been described as many things: a boys club, a cult, a clique. I admittedly bought into some of these stereotypes. I have never attended a gathering, although many of my peers attend regularly. Whenever I was asked to attend, my mind would immediately jump to season two of True Blood, when the evil maenad Maryann turns the town of Bon Temps into one outdoor orgy. I'm a fairly reserved person and I mostly prefer the indoors, so how could I enjoy myself amongst a group of free-spirited hippie gays? Will I be forced to indulge in some peyote-induced nature walks? Maybe I misjudged them.
Like any subculture, the faeries deal with their own share of problems. Most decisions are made through an open forum, which can often lead to chaos. Everyone's opinions are welcome, and no single fairy holds power over the others. At the heart of it, they are only striving to create spaces that feel safe for as many people as possible. "Many fae spaces are governed by no rules at all, and that in itself attracts some and discourages others," said Coffey. "Safe space means I can breathe fully, I don't have to explain everything about myself with my words or my image. I can love myself as it is, and if others want to, they can also."
"What I've taken away from it is the feeling of being surrounded and embraced by other queers who truly appreciate each other. Total acceptance and authenticity. " - Jonathan Alexander
Atlanta has all types of LGBT subcultures, but it became clear to me through conversation and understanding, that the faeries are a vital part of the queer community. There was tenderness to the way that the three interacted with each other.
Having recently moved to the city, Fernandez had never met Coffey or Alexander. His first Atlanta fae experience was at the Shartthrob party at Mammal Gallery in May, and he explained that he was immediately drawn to the group's energy and openness to outsiders. After brief introductions, he was quickly initiated into the group with rhinestones and a shower of glitter.
Several people have volunteered to be on hand for the Saturday event, in case patrons are feeling overwhelmed or simply need someone to talk to. Look for the "Mental Health Crew" wearing pink armbands.
For more information on the A Midsummer's Wet Dream, including schedule of events and accessibility options, check out their Facebook event page.