Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 8 of 27

Gourley quickly left the bathhouse and rode his bike to the home of his best friend, Don Gorman. Gorman had a technique for bringing friends down from bad trips: He made them sit in a corner and peel an orange. If that didn't work, he made them peel another, until the concentration and isolation brought them back to the world.

The technique worked for Gourley, but he never again used recreational drugs -- not so much as a joint of marijuana. He eventually went back to the bathhouses, but he couldn't shake the idea that in an altered state of consciousness, he had picked up on some negative energy that had invaded the baths, evil spirits or bad karma. Something terrible was happening.


The cops were polite, if somewhat nervous. "We had some reports of nudity," explained one.

Pat Gourley tried not to smile. Three hundred gay men...running around in the forest...dancing to drums...and there was nudity? What a surprise!

The second Spiritual Gathering of Radical Fairies had gone off without a hitch -- or any cops -- until the fifth day of the convocation. Fortunately, most everybody had gone home, and the rest were obviously packing to leave; otherwise, the cops might have gotten an eyeful, and he'd be spending the afternoon bailing a bunch of irate fairies out of jail.

Not that the gathering, at a campsite near Buffalo Park, Colorado, had been one long orgy. Far from it. For a bunch of eccentric queens, they'd gotten down to some serious business.

Gourley had been put in charge of the local organizing team. He'd had to find the site, secure the permit from the forest service and rent two large tents for those who hadn't brought their own. He'd had to make sure that planning and buying breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks -- all vegetarian to please the widest range of tastes -- for 300 were covered, as well as arrange transportation from Denver (to keep down the car traffic at the site) and for those flying in from the far corners.

As local organizer, he was subjected to all sorts of advice on the agenda from Harry Hay and other movement luminaries such as Mitch Walker, who in the mid-'70s had written Men Loving Men (a gay equivalent of The Joy of Sex) and whose more philosophical book, Visionary Love, had just been released.

Hay had decided that the time was ripe for reviving one of the pet projects he had first envisioned decades earlier. The project, Gourley wrote in the pamphlet announcing the gathering, involved establishing a "permanent Sanctuary, through Community Land Trust, for all of us." Hay's vision was a gay homeland, a rural commune as self-sufficient as possible, almost Amish in austerity, though no one suggested that queens be told they would have to wear black. He wasn't advocating total separation from straight society -- that wasn't practical. Besides, it was his dream that someday straight society would recognize gays and lesbians for their contributions.

For decades Hay had argued that gays and lesbians were distinct peoples -- different genders entirely from their counterparts in the hetero world, a cultural minority that went back as far as time itself. In late-night conversations in Gourley's kitchen, they'd talked about the sanctuary as a place where gay men could withdraw for a time and wrestle with philosophical questions and ideas about presenting what they learned about themselves to the world outside. Maybe it would be in some sort of spiritual way, Hay said, noting that stereotypical or not, gays were often drawn to "helping professions." For example, gays traditionally had been attracted to the clergy and often assumed important roles in Native American religions. When they finally knew what they were about, Hay envisioned gays from the sanctuary offering their services to the rest of the world. Maybe as mediators to resolve issues, he mused.

Gourley liked the idea of going to the sanctuary himself. Maybe it was the old farm kid in him, but he saw himself working in the fields and participating in the great debates to feed both the bodies and the minds of his brothers. He wasn't quite as optimistic as Hay about straight society recognizing gays' attributes and welcoming them with open arms, but it was a nice dream.

For years the idea of a sanctuary had lain dormant in the mind of Hay, who thought the gay community was too absorbed in sexual liberation. But now he thought the second gathering would be the right forum to reveal his plan. Gourley had plenty of help from other activists such as Phil Nash and Tim Offutt, one of the rare "out" members of the gay black community, working out the logistics. His best friend, Don Gorman, who nearly a year earlier had brought him down out of the bad mushroom trip, did the art for the flier -- a mandala with its concentric rings depicting mountains, mushrooms, dancing stick figures and flying fairies tooting horns. For the front of the "tips" flier, he drew a man looking through a kaleidoscope at another mandala, a tribute to Hay and Burnside who, in Los Angeles during the Summer of Love, had owned a factory that made kaleidoscopes to sell to hippies. Of the two, Gourley was the more political and, if not for the balance Gorman brought to their friendship, could have easily tipped into reactionary politics, where everything is black and white and issues are placed over humanity. But Gourley could always count on Gorman's ability to put things into perspective. Oh, Blanche, sit down and do your nails, he'd say when Gourley climbed on his horse. But it was possibly what they didn't do that had the most profound effect on Gourley: Despite their closeness, they were never lovers. It wasn't about sex.

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Steve Jackson