Keynote Address: Harry Hay, 1990

Harry Hay, 2002
Harry Hay, 2002

Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, was invited to keynote the first Gay Spirit Visions conference In November 1990. An excerpt from Harry’s keynote follows.


“Where have we been and where are we now?” is an interesting topic because it is one of the places where my head is at the moment. One of the places in my Consciousness where my preparations for the two addresses I made at the university this week took me, has made me realize that we—as a distinct biologically determined human variant—have been developing our own collection of Gay Consciousness (by inventing it as we went along) for a long, long, long time. Maybe for as far back as when Species Homo began to emerge as hominids.

Taking the liberty of citing Sir Julian Huxley, the great biologist of the century, who said, “No negative trait” (and as you know, a negative trait in biology is one which does not reproduce itself) “appears in a given species millennia after millennia after millennia unless it in some way insures the survival of that species.” (Parenthetically, we should hardly be expecting that the heteros have been hastening to discover how we Queers are about to insure THEIR survival. If anyone’s going to discover it, it obviously is going to have to be US!)

One of the most obvious observations might be how often, at not only previous Faerie gatherings but even at the planning sessions for this one, that it is our Faerie collective inclination to be functioning by consensus; to reflect on how it really is, for us, rather distasteful to engage in the endless bickering and to placate ego-posturing in the give-and-take of so-called democratic procedures. Recognizing, in a rush, those of us here tonight who were at the First Radical Faerie gathering eleven years ago in 1979, that the galvanizing revelation that overtook us all on that occasion was the instant centrifugal rush by which we all realized how we had been longing (maybe all our lives hitherto) to connect in a circular celebration of our Faerie inclination to loving, sharing, consensual interaction with one another. For me, this has always been intensely interesting and important, because that was exactly the way it was with the first discussion groups first coming together in my first Mattachine Society 40 years ago. That same breathless, nameless excitement, as though it was something we’d always known, something that must have happened long ago of which we were a part. And now it was about to happen again…

Perhaps the most important thing encompassed by my Mattachine Society was that for the first time in American homosexual experience our guild brotherhoods developed BEING GAY into a POSITIVE SELF-LOVING identity. Up until then, we had been only perverted heteros—EVEN IN OUR OWN EYES. According to every known social REFERENT, we were heteros who occasionally degraded ourselves through degenerate behavior. The best that I would hear in the 1930s was that maybe I, someday, would discover words which could explain to heteros just how beautiful our deviant voices and visions really were. But that we might be a different people altogether wouldn’t be a concept until the 1970s. Although sometimes I’d wonder if, in the ballads of Thomas the Rhymer, I wasn’t hearing of the Faerie People as being a different race.

In 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion exploded. The powder-train that my Mattachine had been laying across the country in the 60’s took off like a barrage of Roman candles. The “I” in the positive Gay identity changed to “WE,” and suddenly from everywhere Gay Brothers and Sisters were on the march, making the first lap of that social and political change which had always been implicit in the original dream of Mattachine – the vision of a social minority who had contributions to share. At this point I need to point out the huge difference between the American Gay Movement and all the movements that came previously in Europe, as well as those that still exist in Europe. The Mattachine Society, as I conceived it, and all the others who have developed subsequently, have been perceived as politically-based, so that we all have continually perceived ourselves as being on the cutting edge of change. The European groups, of both the 19th and 20th centuries, have perceived themselves as “social” in orientation and therefore were and are concerned, not with political and social change, but with “accommodations” just as our middle-class “sell-out” assimilationists are now.

In the early ’70s, the Gay and Lesbian Brothers and Sisters, exploding out of the Stonewall rage, screamed and hollered and zapped their way into the public media in ways never before experienced by the Gay Movement. But for all its rhetoric and thunder, and the political friends it was making in high places, the Movement remained essentially lily-white and middle-class—and hetero-imitative like you wouldn’t believe. By 1978, the steam that had impelled the earlier zapping fury had mostly dissipated—apathy was everywhere in Gay and Lesbian land. The first Radical Faerie Gathering was a call to the Radical Brothers to see what all we might have developed and experienced since Stonewall. Also, I had this wonderful vision about a new type of consciousness which I felt we had been carrying with us down through the millennia, waiting for that time when the hetero “subject-object” way of growing and developing would be obsolete, and new directions would have to be taken if the race were to survive. The murderous nuclear competition between U.S. Imperialism and Soviet Imperialism had become so lethal that the fate of the planet seemed at stake. I felt that those Gay Brothers who could share my new vision of what I was calling “subject-subject” consciousness, might be able to begin to learn to turn the fide.

This is what we’ve been experimenting with for these last ten years. Radical Faerie experience has spread across this country and Canada. It has made its way to Australia and New Zealand, and in the last several years it has spread into England, Scotland and Ireland, with occasional echoes in Scandinavia. The most immediate result of our work has been in the conscious encouragement of the use of the loving-sharing consensus. Our occasional impatience that our subject-subject way of perceiving, and our work in the loving-sharing consensus, does not spread as fast and as far as our impatience does is political naiveté. The hetero-male subject-object mindset is supported by the hierarchical dominant-male competition by which men developed the incentives needed to spur themselves to achievement. It was, of course, the social process par excellence whereby the hominid strain, having devised as yet ONLY an oral culture was able to train all its offspring and so remember EVERYTHING discovered by the ancestors because anything forgotten is lost forever.

In the two million years during which our hominid ancestors were slowly evolving, our planet was also evolving in terms of its spherically volcanic nature. When cracks and crevices in the walls of a given social climate permitted, when a given culture required new solutions which the hetero ice-age originating MIND-SET couldn’t assess, the phylogenetically inherited potentials to perceive and invent (what we today recognize as Gay Consciousness) have indeed appeared. They appeared briefly and brilliantly at given junctures in history: in Ancient Imperial China for three or four hundred years; in the great Songhai educational center of the Western Sudan for a century; or on a Chimu village pot whose myth stretches back into the mist. Each of these episodes is, in turn, followed by long ages of blank – ages not so much of silence as of VOID! And yet, WE WERE THERE! Silenced, muzzled, driven out of villages and towns again and again and again in myth and story; burned at stakes and in wicker baskets, and giggling at some hysterical absurdity even as the flames began to leap; drowned face down in bogs; obliterated by being thrown off cliffs. Yet we continued to appear in this generation or that, as though to assure the cosmos we were still a viable syndrome in the hominid biological make-up. Remember my earlier quotation from Sir Julian Huxley, “No negative trait appears in a given species millennia after millennia after millennia unless it in some way contributes to the survival or that species?”

John Burnside and I felt in the late ’70s that the obsession of the Harvard sociobiologists to find THE gene which makes us all Queer was much too simplistic. We felt that the ongoing discoveries on the brain’s several hemispheres, and its mysterious intercameral connections, were marking not only new territories to be perceived, but new dimensions of territoriality to be perceived. We felt that all the new and exciting discoveries in Ethnology—the recognitions of Lorenz and Tinberggen and Fox and Morris and others—indicated that in our own phylogenetic inheritances we would have received many of the traits we would need for survival, and for learning to adapt to what had earlier been threatening and alien. We would have acquired that which—in the course of evolutionary development, reassembled in consciousness—would be the one new dimension Humans had evolved through natural selection. It would be only natural to call upon the newer disciplines—Ethnology or Sociobiology—to supply new models by which to encompass it.

We proposed Gay Consciousness needed to be perceived as a syndrome, a sheaf of hundreds of traits inherited from ancestors weaving together in hominid psychosexual natures so as to develop, in a small percentage of humans, what is known in physics and chemistry as “the critical mass.” This biologically inherited, as well as phylogenetically inherited, “critical mass” in turn precipitates out a separate strain of people, a mutant strain of people psychically as well as emotionally different enough from their Parent Society. A strain that could devise ways of being totally self-reliant in situations where the Parent Society—as presently constituted—couldn’t survive. The psychic and emotional differences of these Separate People had combined to create a spiritual difference and the key to their new dimensions of vision was their lovely deviant sexuality.

Meantime, for us Radical Faeries here and now, I would like to suggest that in our last eleven years we have, through our Country Gatherings and City Circles, been devising ways and means to cut through the many layers of guilt and shame our Parent Society has forced us to disguise our Separate and Deviant lives within. And now many of us are experiencing even newer pressures to begin releasing visions of memories of ancient discoveries in physical and spirit hearings that we were forced to silence and subvert and bury and pretend to forget in order for us to survive. Some of us feel we are occasionally visited by spatial blurs, things that seem to have sought crevices in past times and perhaps, were partially or even wholly denied. Last summer, for example, John and I began a sex magic ritual, brain-storming workshop, (a week-long session as we envisioned it) that has been pressing on me to explore for many years.

In these next few days, here at Highlands, a number of us have brought new Faerie Spirit Visions to share. I fervently pray that what we bring is pure Faerie in Spirit, and not reworked or warmed-over Hetero material garnished with a little glitter here and there. The Radical Faeries, and all Gay spirit-seeking groups, need to attempt to keep as pure and as untrammeled as possible those channels from our precious secrets that have been long guarded at the cost of lives if they are to now be brought into service as powerfully and as brilliantly as they have long deserved.

Reprinted by permission.