Sunday, June 16, 2013

Once upon a time there was a forest

Originally published in RFD No. 154 Summer 2013. RFD is a reader-created gay quarterly celebrating queer diversity.

This is the story of a forest that came to life, once upon a time, inside a large warehouse loft in an industrial corner of Brooklyn. The Forest of the Future, as it was known, was a place like never seen before, in which all manner of magical creatures — visual artists, performers, political activists, storytellers, sex workers, techno-witches, kitchen wizards and radical faeries — came together to collaborate in a kind of autonomous creative zone they had built for themselves and their communities.

The artists and organizers who created this forest had a rather queer intention with respect to the legends it would reference and the legacies it would engender. They built it as a symbolic space in which to nurture a strategic shift in the cultural perception and construction of gender itself. Everyone who entered was invited to sow seeds of trans-formation within their own hearts, minds and bodies, and to cultivate in themselves a commitment to tranifest a radically better world for all people.

Forest of the Future: A Sanctuary at the Edge of the World
By Ricardo Nelson on Vimeo.

During its very short life — just two weeks in early March 2013 — the forest was host to a series of events that included performances, photo lectures, film screenings, parties, sharing circles and more. The Summit of Stories was perhaps the most rare among them, in which advocates for queer, trans, and third-gender rights — from places as varied as Sweden, Nepal, Germany, Brazil and Kyrgyzstan — held a teach-in to share with one another tales of their struggles around the world, strategic advice and resources. Both the Forest and the Summit were produced with funds raised through private donations, and matched by a very generous foundation.

Sadly, like so many dreams, this fantasy forest could not last forever. But to keep its memory alive, I asked Quito Ziegler and Bizzy Barefoot — two of the principal artist-activists in this story — to tell us about it in their own words. What was The Forest of the Future, I asked, and what was its significance?

Bizzy Barefoot: It never was quite the same thing from the very first moment to its last moment. But, from conception to end, it was a place of community deepening and coalescing. It was a forest in which we could truly curl up and find our heart-space with one another.

Quito Ziegler: It started out as a dream. It was a vision rooted in different experiences and impulses of mine towards building communities, towards drawing different people and things together, towards creating space for artists to just create and be without the pressures of finances or time. In that way, it was also a gift. It was a gift of resources that was given to me that I wanted to give to my community.

Frank Susa: There was a moment when we were sitting around together in the space and Bizzy said, “We are inside Quito’s dream.” I knew what you meant. I knew that I was also inside my own dream at the same time. And I was obviously somehow also inside yours as well, Bizzy. How was that for you, knowing that there were all these people inside your dream and dreaming along with you?

QZ: I’ve never wanted to be alone in my process of dreaming. Never. How lonely and boring is that? That’s part of the thing I love about the Faeries. Finding faerie community a couple years ago was like the ability to start dreaming collectively with people who want to play along.

BB: It was mostly such a beautiful joy, as dreaming usually is. It’s always a beautiful joy to make love through art. It is one of my favorite ways to make love with my friends.

QZ: I must say, this experience gave me insight into just how big my dreams have gotten and how many people truly share them. Yet, one of the criticisms I received from others on this project was that I didn’t own my decision-making power enough. That’s been hard for me to reconcile because I took a lot of advice from so many different contributors. I asked a lot of questions and actively listened to others’ suggestions so that the end result would be wiser and deeper. And no one person’s contribution was more important than anyone else’s. What mattered was how much responsibility one took, and how hard each of us worked to get things done.

BB: I struggle with ego in art. I’m trying to have very little of it if at all possible, especially in collective projects I’m involved in. It’s hard, though, when you’re also “in charge.” When your collaborators ask why you chose one technique or concept over another, it’s easy to become defensive.

But, on the day we were going to open and everybody was feeling the stress of being an art rock-star — under the pressure of being against a hard deadline, wanting to get it done, wanting it to be badass, wanting to be seen as real, legitimate artists — I got to be the one to say, let’s let go of that art-ego-stress and remember this is a community building project. And we got over it by playing in our pool of buttons together and reminding ourselves this was a labor of love.

FS: How was the creation of this forest a labor of queer love?

QZ: It wasn’t about just imagining the future given the current systems that we’re stuck in right now. We were asking specifically what could a queer future look like? How could we do things differently if we actually want to live in the world that we dream of?

In a queer future, our relationship structures will not be the way that they are in the dominant society now. The way we make decisions will be different. The way we take care of each other will be in a queer way. The way we feed each other, the way that we find rest and sustenance in each other, the way we create and build and work together, and grow and learn and transform together.

There’s an ecosystem to all this, in that every single organism has its place and it contributes something to the whole, and there’s this whole circle of life. An ecosystem is there to create and sustain life. A queer ecosystem creates queer life and sustains it queerly in some way.

FS: As the largest and most interactive element within this queer ecosystem, what part did the Ancestor Tree play?

BB: The world I came up in was disconnected from my own history, as was the case for most queer people. We were robbed of knowledge, guidance, inspiration, support, understanding. I wasted time growing up because no one was there to tell me that the person I was becoming was not a gay person at all. Nobody was there to say, “You are something else and you don’t have to settle for the suburban-pleasure-bunker dream-package.” No one was there to tell me that my parents were lying. No one was there to tell me it’s going to be okay.

QZ: I’ve been telling my own story just this way for a couple of years now. Growing up, I had no queer mentors. I didn’t even know I was queer. I’m not a lesbian in the typical sense of the word. My tastes are more about the energy of the other person and not about their gender. But, I didn’t have a language for any of that. I didn’t have a model for any of that.

BB: Because people don’t know their history, they don’t know about their present. I think of kids today who have HIV at the ripe old age of 20, and they act like they don’t have a care in the world. They can get their meds and their disability check, and that’s all there is to it. Not a thought is given about why they might get to live and who made that possible. Not a thought is given when they get online and start saying the most disgusting things about people who are older than them, making their elders feel completely unvalued, unattractive and disenfranchised. It never occurs to these young kids that the people they’re disparaging went to war, and they suffered and they almost all died. And these kids would be dead too, if it wasn’t for their bravery.

QZ: There’s no way to really look forward without understanding where we’ve come from, because we’re all part of a long continuum of things. If we want to move forward as a community, it’s important to remember where we’ve been.

FS: Did any particular visions of the future come to you through this project?

BB: The clearest vision I had was of us sleeping on the floor in our own space and feeling safe, able to find intimacy with each other because the door was closed and the magic was set. This is what we’ve created in the past, and we intend to create again. By we, I mean the full spectrum of radical queers who worked on this project. If there’s a future, we’re it, because we’re trying to reconcile who we truly are — fags, dykes, two-spirits, faeries, whatever you want to call us — with some of the most institutionalized traps of the past — the traps of heterosexual culture and the traps of capitalism. This has been happening in Radical Faerie sanctuaries for years, and it will continue for years to come. That’s the only future I’m even bucking for — one that looks a whole lot like us being our truest selves, unabashedly, without criticism or obstruction.

FS: So a queer future is one of safety?

BB: The safety of sanctuary is the future.

Frank Susa, better known by some as Sunbeam, is a writer, organizer, and fundraiser living in New York City. To learn more about The Forest of the Future, visit

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dear Mr. President: About Russia...

Please sign this petition by July 11th. If we can get 100,000 signatures by then, we will get the attention of the White House.

>>> <<<

I think we need presidential attention on this issue, not just for gays and lesbians, but for anyone who believes in the basic freedom of speech.

Russia's & Putin's track-record on freedom of speech has be atrocious, especially recently. First, "Pussy Riot" and now this. And this is just for starters, in fact.

The President would never support a general boycott for Russia; but would he consider an Olympic Boycott? On the basis of freedom of speech, I think he should do this. Not to mention, for his own image as someone who stands for basic civil liberties.

Nevertheless, Americans should not stand by when one of the world's super-powers so blatantly treats gays and lesbians as second-class citizens.

Learn more here:

Russia unanimously passes anti-gay law, followed by immediate arrests

And here:

US Ambassador concerned over Russia's 'gay propaganda' ban