radical faeries queer commune collective rural wild communal living lgbt lgbtqia lgbtq theory womanshare edward carpenter
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Gio Bruère-Dawson
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April 22, 2024
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Dreaming About Queer Communes

“When we start our queer commune…” you may have said during a party, a drink in your hand, imagining what life could be if you all organized collectively, gathered in the woods somewhere. Well, if all of us have once dreamed about such a project, know that some have been making it a reality for decades. Let’s jump from country to country, back in time and to the future, to explore history and discover the possibilities - and limits - of rural communal living.

Growing up as queer kids, we envision the city as the only possibility for our emancipation, the only territory we can more or less safely live. Once we’ve reached it and got around to it, it’s to the countryside that we turn our attention as a form of escapism, especially in this climate crisis context. Beyond this blurry fantasy, there is a rich history of theorization and experimentation we can all learn from. But first, let’s start by clarifying what’s a queer commune.

Although when talking about queer communes, we get a rather specific idea of what they may look like, it is more of an umbrella term that doesn’t tell us much about their actual forms and organizations. There are many different types of queer alternative rural communities, and this article is not an attempt to list them all, nor is it to make a typology, as it would deserve way more than this small online article to do so. But if each community has its own basis, some shared essential characteristics still exist: they are built in rural spaces, function by sharing resources and responsibilities, follow a non-hierarchal organization and are queer through their residents, their identities, and political views.

Far from being a 60s or 70s invention, queer communes date much further back and have been conceived and experimented as a political tool for queer liberation. In his not-yet-translated novel Écologies déviantes: voyage en terres queers (Deviant Ecologies: a journey into queer lands), independent journalist and activist Cy Lecerf Maulpoix traces back the link between ecology and queerness in the Western world to Edward Carpenter. The nineteenth-century socio-anarchist thinker, philosopher, and poet defended a new form of society where marginalized groups would find a place, close to nature and each other. He himself had a farm in Millthorpe, Derbyshire.

Later, as queer liberation movements gained momentum in the US, a group of gay activists including Harry Hay started the Radical Faeries. Beginning as occasional rallies between gay men in the countryside, it became a network of communities set up across the US and later Europe. Taking from environmentalism, anarchism, and neo-paganism, communes within the network started emerging in 1980. It’s worth noting that they were at first exclusively cis gay, that many of their spiritual basis and rituals were products of cultural appropriation, and that Harry Hay was an active supporter North American Man/Boy Love Association, a pedophile organization. Today, communes of the Radical Faeries still exist, just like Folleterre in northern France which has been going for 20 years, and are not solely cis gay but more broadly queer. However, the criticism concerning their colonial, orientalist, and essentialist roots remains relevant, which is a common factor found in many white queer communal projects.

Other land-based community movements started in the 1970s-80s and still exist to this day, such as the Women’s Land movement. A practical application of 1980s lesbian separatism, one of its first communities was WomanShare, founded in 1974 in Grant’s Pass, Oregon by Carol Newhouse, Billie Miracle, and Dian Wagner. Other collectives followed in the area, such as Cabbage Lane, Oregon Women’s Land, and Rootworks. Similarly to the Radical Faeries, these lesbian communes were predominantly white and upper-middle-class. Sharing the essentialist views on womanhood of mainstream Second Wave feminism, they were also closed to transgender women.

Today, if many of these communities still refuse to rethink themselves,  others strive to evolve, actively acknowledging the prevailing mechanisms of domination in their endeavor to establish a more inclusive queer commune. Lycan El Lobo Coss and Bianca Fox Del Mar Ballara are a good example: in 2020, they became residents at WomanShare and initiated NativeWomanshare, focusing on supporting queer BIPOC and Two Spirit people. Many other queer communes are being created, but they tend to have little to no official presence on the web to prevent themselves from local authorities harassment, an issue still central to this day.

Another issue is the development of “wellness rural retreats” for rich white queer marketing themselves as queer communes, a trap we must not fall into.  While there is value in learning from the successes and failures of past queer communes, our efforts shouldn't solely revolve around creating our own off-grid eco-villages. Instead, let's keep learning from radical decolonial ecology and channel our energy into strengthening and nurturing our queer communities wherever we currently reside.

Resources :
Bowmani, Zsea, Now Is the Time for Black Queer Feminist Ecology, 30 Tulane Journal of Law & Sexuality, 2021.
Ferdinand, Malcom, Decolonial Ecology: Thinking from the Caribbean World, 2019.
Gaard, Greta, Critical Ecofeminism, 2017.
Lecerf Maulpoix, Cy, Écologies déviantes: voyage en terres queers, 2021.
Sandilands, Catriona, "This Land Has Called Forth from You Your Strength as a Lesbian": A Separatist Ecology?, 2002.

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