Oct 8, 2013

Spring 1979: the Male Witch

When I was a freshman at Augustana College, I knew a lot of guys who liked guys only at night, and spent their days arm-in-arm with women.  But I had never met a real, actual gay person, unless you count the Fairy on the double date at the Hawaiian Lounge and the waiter whose soul I tried to win at Olivet.  There was a gay bar downtown, but I was too young to go to it. There were no gay organizations, no gay-themed movies playing at the Cineplex, no gay books in the college or public library.

But surely I couldn't be alone in all of Rock Island!  I did extensive research, interrogating my friends, making discrete inquiries of knowledgeable college seniors, asking around at the radio station, and eventually got a few names.
1. A middle-school teacher who was discovered, fired, and moved away.
2. The manager of a flower shop who was discovered, fired, and moved away.
3, Peter, who attended Augustana for a few years, but was discovered and expelled.

Only Peter was still in town!

"Be careful!" My informant cautioned.  "He's not only a homo, he's a witch."  He went on to describe demons conjured with a Ouija board, pins stuck into voodoo dolls, Tarot cards, crystal balls, potions, incantations, nude rituals in the moonlight.

My Nazarene sensors went off.  Occult -- Evil! Evil! Evil!  Maybe the preacher was right -- maybe gays were all Satanic.

Nonsense!  I chided myself for my irrational fear.  Peter was the only gay person in Rock Island, and I was going to meet him, witch or not! In February 1979, near Valentine's Day, I called, said I wanted to interview him for my radio program, and got an invitation to visit.  He lived with his parents in small, normal-looking house near Longview Park.

 He was nothing like what I expected -- and nothing like this photo -- taller than me, very hairy, and quite chubby, what we would someday call a Bear. He had long blond hair and a blond beard that somehow made me think of Santa Claus.

We sat in his living room -- which looked perfectly normal -- and chatted about Augustana for a few minutes.  Then suddenly he said "Let's get naked!"

I hadn't said anything about being gay!  "Um...I'm not...I didn't come here for sex," I stammered.

"No, no, I didn't mean that -- frankly, you're not my type -- I just like being skyclad. Close to Mother Earth."

So we took off our clothes, and Peter told me about paganism: a religion of the Earth, older than Christianity, attuned to the spiritual dimension, and not oppressed by a lot of "thou shalt nots": "an it harm no one, do what ye wilt."

"Sounds like paganism is ok with gays."

"Not really.  Most of the rituals are boy-girl-boy-girl.  But I'm working to change all that.  There's a group out in California, the Radical Fairies, that's trying to bring gay liberation to the Craft."

"Do you know any gay people in Rock Island?"

"A couple.  Mostly they move out to California.  It gets a little lonely."  He paused.  "How about a skyclad hug?"

I nodded.

I was enveloped in a warm, hairy bear hug.  It was not erotic, though we groped a bit.  It was like we were connecting on the spiritual plane.  Suddenly, without understanding why, I started to cry.

"I'm going to perform a spell for you," Peter said.  "It will help you find what you're looking for."  He chanted something about the God and the Goddess and blew on a small pink crystal, which he pressed to my forehead.  I left with the pink crystal and a book, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, which I still have.

The spell worked.  Less than a month later, my friend Mary invited me to visit her family for spring break, and try to determine if her teenage brother was gay.  And  before I graduated from Augustana, I met a number of gay people: a student preacher, a professor with handcuffs, an ex-priest with a pushy mom, a bookstore manager, a hermit, and a little-person postal worker.

During the 1980s, Peter was a guiding force behind the Radical Faeries, and instrumental in opening the pagan movement to LGBT persons.  Nenamed Sparky T. Rabbit, he became a nationally recognized writer, singer, chanter, storyteller, pagan activist, gay activist, fairy, and bear.  You can buy a copy of his album, Lunacy, on his facebook page.

He died on July 9, 2014.

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