Imbolc marks the first of three spring festivals in the pagan tradition. It is difficult for us to imagine spring in what feels like the depths of winter, but if we look at the ground the first shoots of green are beginning to reach towards the Sun.
Winter represented a life-and-death struggle for ancient people. In a world only warmed by fire, the snow, cold and ice of this season held people in its grip. The food for humans and animals had to last until the next growing season. The threat of illness put entire villages at risk. The Festival of Imbolc provided communities with hope about the growing warmth of the Sun and the safety of the coming harvest.
Our first Men Cuddling Men event felt like Imbolc. Our warmth, affection, and touch under the full moon and eclipse on January 20 was an amazing experience. It also opened a wound for some of us because the physical touch we experienced that night highlighted how intimacy deprived this world often leaves us.
The winter from intimacy we’re experiencing is not our fault.
As corporations make money off our sexual desires through advertising, pornography, and apps like Grindr, our desires become optimized in a way that crowds out intimacy. We can touch during a hookup or in a romance, but intimacy outside of these contexts is often viewed with suspicion and fear. Have you ever heard yourself thinking, “I can’t be affectionate with him, he might misinterpret things and think I have sexual or romantic intentions.”
The economic system, including how it commodifies our sexuality, produces ‘subject-object consciousness’ where people and the natural world are seen as a means to an end instead of ends in themselves and all natural relationships become relationships between things. Harry Hay founded the Radical Faeries to create a space that transforms ‘subject-object consciousness’ into ‘subject-subject consciousness.’ He also formed the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights organizations.
Harry Hay promoted an ethics of developing ‘subject-subject consciousness’ on the basis that ‘one must always treat others a subjects like themselves, never as objects, or as a means to some instrumental end.’ For Hay, subject-object relations amongst gay men were a product of the increasing ‘hetero-normative’ focus of urban gay life that accompanied the growing commodification of the gay scene. He hoped that the rural retreats, gatherings and communal ‘sanctuaries’ developed by men inspired by the Faeries would create space where queer men could collectively build new relationships with each other based on intimacy and an ethics of speaking from the heart.1
We’re living in the winter of ‘subject-object consciousness’ and people struggle with loneliness everywhere. Men Cuddling Men felt like Imbolc because in the winter of our situation we touched our being as a species and it gave us hope for richer community. We’re ultrasocial mammals whose brains are wired to respond warmly to one another. We cuddle because we’re human.
We call upon Brigid, the Goddess of the Sacred Flame, Maiden of the Snowdrops and the first stirrings of spring.
Give us the vulnerability to nurture one another
with the gift of intimacy
that makes us fully human.
For additional thought:
“Capitalism Killed Intimacy and Replaced it with Pornhub,” by Joana Ramiro, Jacobin Magazine.
1 Gavin Brown, “The creation of autonomous queer spaces,” Anarchism & Sexuality: Ethics, Relationships and Power, Routledge, 2012, p. 209.