Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Leaping The Fire

In an unbidden instant, a bright ember ignited a cascade of thought and action within me. In my imagination a mercurial figure with mighty and proud leporine ears turned to me and said “you cannot be my Consort, there are no games we can play together” with such drollness that I was immediately won over. Within a few short hours a story I’d struggled to write for several months seemed to flow as effortlessly as if I were copying it by rote. 

artist and source unknown
This was the point from which my Beltane Faerie Story seemed to blossom forth. I’d been struggling to write about experiencing queerness and Beltane for some time, from conversations that had started the previous Spring:   Deep and heartfelt sharing of the quiet hurt and exclusion felt when the menfolk and the womenfolk are separated to talk about their part in the “mysteries” that lead to the birth of a Divine Son then the digging of a symbolic feminine hole in which to plant an equally symbolic masculine Maypole.  Spirited debate on social media about some of the perceived heteronormativity present even in the writings of druids we admired, that lazy lack of thought beyond the pervasive norm of opposite binary-gender pairings which, while not actively discriminatory, did nothing to acknowledge the non-heterosexual, non-childbearing, non-fertile, non-binary gendered members of our community.  Out and out slanging matches based on the clear premise that these neo-traditions were entirely non-excluding so long as you just played along with them to maintain the status quo, on which more later, and that if one didn’t like them then one should bugger off to some other tradition and stop trying to mess up druidry by making it all politically correctness gone mad.

Amidst it all, a correspondence between myself, Penny Billington the editor of Touchstone and a young academic whose intellect and sense of social justice I greatly admire. I fondly imagine it as being akin to The White Council, although Penny assures me I’m no Cate Blanchett and that she certainly looks nothing like Christopher Lee. Their commentary was so insightful and had such depth I felt like I was running to keep up, but it did wonders to clarify my thoughts.

The White Council (c) New Line Cinema
The story was published in Touchstone and then featured on Druidcast Episode 84. I had that mix of feeling happy that work I had done was out in the world and fearful of having put myself out there quite so visibly. Brené Brown talks about keeping yourself small and under the radar to avoid feeling vulnerable, yet in vulnerability finding the birthplace of creativity and innovation, and I had stuck my head well and truly above the parapet.

There were reactions. People had opinions in my direction. Most were positive. Not all were kind. Some were downright personal. There emerged an idea that I was somehow trying to steer druidry into a new, non-traditional form. What was my end-game?  Why did I become a druid if I didn’t love The Goddess and The God? Why was I trying to change the nature of the Gods in order to fit my lifestyle?  If I felt so unwelcome, why didn’t I just leave? What would this gay-druidry look like and why didn’t I go off somewhere and do this gay-druidry with the other gay druids and leave everyone else in peace to do it the way it’s always been done? And so on…

It’s worth noting at this point that I usually choose ‘queer’ to describe myself. Gay is fine too, but I am wary of the androcentrism it conveys.  I worry that most people just read ‘gay’ as ‘gay man’, limiting advocacy of lesbians, bisexuals, genderqueer, *trans people, non-binary, androgenous, asexual and intersex people gathering under the rainbow banner of what Dan Savage wryly refers to as “our beloved acronym” of LGBTQIAA+

It took me a while to notice that due to the limitations of my talent, nearly everybody had missed a significant amount of what I was trying to convey: “Beltane Faerie Story” is a satire. It’s supposed to be faintly ridiculous, from the glorious Beltane Hare-spirit crowning a Champion with a pair of furr’d ears to the final Ceremony with added extra verses for the queers.  "Which version are we doing this year?" I imagine the Archdruids muttering. "The gay ritual or the normal one?"

If I did have an “end-game”, then my ulterior motive would be that it should seem ludicrous that a spiritual tradition should have to go to preposterous lengths to be accommodating. It should already be inclusive or it simply isn’t fit for purpose. That means we don’t need “gay druidry” any more than we need “gay tea” or “gay cars”, just tea that tastes good to anyone who wants to drink it and cars that anybody can learn to drive.

Many, many months later I was to hear Penny in conversation with Philip Carr-Gomm as recorded at the OBOD 50th Anniversary Celebrations. I heard it on Druidcast as somehow I missed the actual interview. She interrupts Philip near the end of the conversation and changes the subject onto the contribution being made by gay OBOD members and in what she says I hear threads from our conversation and feel deeply moved.

Her summation is characteristically erudite, a passionate ally she dismisses heteronormativity stating simply that, “what we do want is a druid robe that everyone is able to shake their shoulders in and feel comfortable with”.

So I'm still here, still in a comfortable robe, but more often in jeans and a hoodie. Still working on actually feeling comfortable in my own skin, but still celebrating Beltane.  I celebrate passion, I celebrate the greening of the land, the physical sensuality to be found out there in the world. I leap the Bel Fire, the fortunate fires that bless our endeavours as we emerge from the dark half of the year. I pass through two pillars of flame, the Gateway of Summer, hoping to burn away the old parasites that cling to me.

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