Kraig Blackwelder oral history interview, 2018-04-14

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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RANDALL CUMBAA: Okay, we're ready to begin. My name is Randall Cumbaa. We're here at the mountain in Highlands, North Carolina, and conducting oral history for Gay Spirit Visions, and we're currently in the chapel. Would you please state your full name?

KRAIG BLACKWELDER: Uh, full name is Kraig Michael Beamon (?) Blackwelder.

CUMBAA: Alright, and where do you currently live, and about how long have you lived there?

BLACKWELDER: I live in Chicago and I've been there since 2002, so sixteen years this stretch.

CUMBAA: Alright. I'd like to start with little demographic stuff, so, where you were born and when and then kind of look at your parents and any memories you have of them and where you were born and where they met and maybe grandparents if you can go that far. So, tell us about yourself.

BLACKWELDER: I was born in Cody, Wyoming. I was a bit of a changeling as a 1:00child. My parents were very much of my home town. My grandpa led hunting trips back up into mountains, my mom was a cowgirl who did barrel racing at the rodeo, and I was this strange, bookish, introvert kid who liked other boys.

CUMBAA: And when were you born?

BLACKWELDER: In April 1968.

CUMBAA: So, tell me about your parents, like where they born, how they met if you know that.

BLACKWELDER: I have to dig way back. Um, they met one summer. My mom was doing 2:00her thing, my father was a travelling heavy equipment operator, if I remember correctly, and they had quite the whirlwind passion romance thing and -- lo, nine months later, there I was. Much to my mother's husband's chagrin.

CUMBAA: And recollection of your maternal grandparents?

BLACKWELDER: My grandmother was from -- originally, she was born in England. She moved over when she was very young with my great aunt, and they had lost their mother when they were young, like, preteens, and they never learned any sort of 3:00skills. They were probably the least domestic people of their generation anywhere. It was ridiculous. My grandfather -- well, I think it was my grandma, but he wasn't actually -- my grandmother and my grandfather, biological -- met and they got married right after World War --or was it right at the beginning of World War II. Right around World War II. My uncle was born, my mother was born, and then this nice Mormon lady came and lured my actual grandfather away from my grandmother, so he -- and the name of this woman whose practicing family values religion -- he left my grandmother and went off to start a new family with his 4:00new wife, who was Mormon and with whom he had six kids or something. I think of them as the trashy side of the family. And then my grandmother was this sort of single mother of two in Cody, Wyoming. She wound up living with my great aunt, who was my grandfather's sister. I guess she felt sorry for her brother's behavior, so she sort of took in my grandmother and her kids, and they were raised -- I don't know this stuff from stories, but it was kind of messy. My great aunt lived on what is now -- or what was before, and then sort of wasn't, and now definitely is again -- the internment camp where they kept the Japanese 5:00at Heart Mountain, just outside of Cody, Wyoming. And they had a little farm right out there, right in the shadow of Heart Mountain. So -- yeah, that's -- my mom was in a weird position. She and my uncle sort of raised themselves. My grandma was this dysfunctional woman who was always at the bars looking for a man. It's really sort of sad telling her story. And years later, my mom wound up dropping out of high school when she was in tenth grade, I think. Just because she wanted to get out of the house and get something different. Her husband was 6:00-- well, I don't know much about what he was. I hear -- I have a couple of occasional memories -- not much to go off of. My mom met this other guy, they had a romance, I was the fruit of that -- yeah, it's very sad country music story, really.

CUMBAA: And the other side of the family? Grandparents on the other side?

BLACKWELDER: Uh, I know nothing about the other side.

CUMBAA: And your mom was born -- your dad was born in Wyoming. How about your mom? Did we--

BLACKWELDER: My mom was actually born in Kearny, New Jersey. My grandma had this really strong New Jersey accent, which really stood out in Cody, Wyoming, where -- the land of no accents whatsoever. My mom was born in New Jersey but she was 7:00like three months old when they moved to Cody, so she didn't have an accent. Yeah, that's -- and my great aunt, I had -- I had a very old, very female heavy family at the time when I was a kid. There's my great aunt, who was my paternal --my maternal grandfather's sister. There's my great aunt, who's my grandmother's sister, and there's my sister. They were the sort of -- the matriarchs, I guess? It was very funny because my great aunt -- my Great Aunt Lee was skinny as a rail, my Aunt Barrel (?) is round as a barrel, and my grandmother was this short, squat little thing with a big poochie tummy. But 8:00they were -- they worked together in that way women did at that time. I remember holidays being really nice, that's -- our family always did a big thing for Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and that sort of thing.

CUMBAA: Are your parents still living?

BLACKWELDER: My mother is. In fact, I'm going to be the best man at her wedding this summer. This will be her seventh and probably final marriage. Yeah, she's had quite the life. Her current boyfriend is the first guy that's she's dated that I've really liked, and I'm actually very happy to give her away at this wedding. 'Cause I think this one will actually stick. It better 'cause she's 9:00like seventy something at this point.

CUMBAA: Oh gosh. Any of your partnership history? Can you tell us about that?

BLACKWELDER: Like, relationship?

CUMBAA: Yeah. Boyfriends, girlfriends. Both.

BLACKWELDER: I got some of my mom's questionable taste in men. Actually, one of my failed romances sort of (unintelligible) came across GSV. There was a guy in Atlanta that I had fallen head over heels in love with. He was very handsome. Unfortunately, he also had Asperger's syndrome, so he was much more able to 10:00empathize with the workings of a watch than with another human being. So that didn't go very well but I was just so smitten with him. He was so handsome. And when that that went horribly, horribly, horribly south, I decided I needed something to get the emotional hairball out. I ended up doing a body electric massage thing. And while I was doing body electric in Atlanta, all the -- a good quarter of the guys at least were talking about -- "blah blah, oh yeah, GSV", "blah blah, GSV", "Gay Spirit Visions", "Oh, blah blah". I'm like, what's this GSV stuff everyone's talking about? And I was so happy with everything I had experienced and learned at body electric, that I was like, very open and very new to something new and interesting to something that would get my mind off 11:00that bastard, what he did to me. So I went and was immediately hooked. It was like, really empowering, and yeah. It was a good emotional time. Um, let's see. There's that one guy and that other guy and that guy I was madly in love with and there's that sociopath. Um, and then I've been with a very sweet and wonderful man, going on about three years at this point. And I am delighted with him, and he's delighted with me. This seems to be the good one. Finally.

CUMBAA: Good, good. Do you have any siblings?

BLACKWELDER: No. My usual way of answering that question is, "I ate the rest of my litter." But no, I am an only child. I have occasionally told my mother that 12:00I would have wound up as the only child one way or the other, but I suspected that is colored by the fact that I am an only child. I am an introvert, I need my space, and a sibling would just not agree with that.

CUMBAA: Any experiences -- a few experiences -- from your childhood that you believe had a profound effect on your values, your personality, your passions, or the person you are today?

BLACKWELDER: I think with things that really saved me at an early age was my interest in martial arts. I started taking taekwondo at the age of -- twelve? Eleven? Something like that. And between the self-esteem and the self-discipline 13:00that martial arts teach -- just worked wonders for me. And it was very timely and very necessary because I came out to myself when I was thirteen and I came out to the rest of the world -- like, the rest of my high school when I was fifteen? That was Cody, Wyoming in the mid-sixties -- or the mid-eighties. So it was not a convenient or comfortable time to be gay and out, but I just -- I have never had any sort of tolerance for playing little games and trying to pretend to like girls when I really totally didn't. I remember the day I came out to myself really clearly. I'd come home from school -- it was -- it'd probably been 14:001981. I was sitting in the front room. I had the soundtrack to the Heavy Metal movie playing in the other room, and I said to myself, "Kraig, you're attracted to other guys, aren't you?" Uh huh. "Kraig, you're not attracted to girls, are you?" Uh uh. "There's a word for that, and you should probably use that and acknowledge it." And then I wouldn't let myself get up off the couch until I said, out loud, "I am gay." And that was in '81, I was like, 13, maybe 14? And that was that. It was -- it was like uncomfortable and sort of weird to say, but as soon as it came out of my mouth, I was like, "yeah." That's it. Um, and that was actually -- once the question is actually answered and it's out there in the 15:00open, it's like -- yeah. That's -- I'm gay. Big deal. And I didn't have any more issue with it. When I started to come out to my peers, there was a little bit of an issue with it. I had been the weird kid from grade one. I hadn't known if that was poor socialization, lack of attention, being too smart for my peers -- I don't know. The outcome was from first grade to twelfth grade, I was the weird kid. I mean when I was in tenth grade, I was really into new wave fashion and I was the only kid in school wearing parachute pants, and I had like tiger stripe bandanas, and I had a shirt, like -- all zippers. And I loved the New Wave 16:00thing, and I was kind of a one man gothic sub culture in my high school. The additional thing of being gay was like, "Oh my God. Of course he's gay." So in some ways, being gay was less of a trauma for my peers than it would have been if I was an otherwise normal kid who, "Oh my God he's gay!" And I wasn't particularly concerned with how people found out or what they knew or whatever cos it was my identity. The one time that -- well, there was a couple times. There were a couple bullies in my school, as there are in all high schools, I think. One guy was this horrible tragic -- he was kind of a messed up kid, but 17:00he had a pack of bully friends that he liked to run with, and he and I tangled a couple times before, and there was one time in the hall -- it's like, a couple years after I'd stared taking taekwondo -- I'd been in it for a couple of years. He had taken taekwondo for a month, he said, "yeah, I don't like you! We're going to fight!" And I'd been trying to avoid him and his crew for a long time since. I was never looking for a fight, but I could deal with one if I had to. And he thought he was gonna be tough and show his friends how much taekwondo he knew, so he threw a kick at me -- I mean, I'd been sparring with grown adults for like, two years at that point. I just caught his foot and sent him on his ass in the hallway. And his friends were like, (gasp), and he was like (grr), and I was like, "oh my God, what have I done." And then I like, ducked into the library, and it was like, "oh, here I am, being all official and doing what I should be doing in the library. Look at me being a good kid. Hehe." And um, 18:00yeah. That was funny. I think he later went to jail for something. Probably the biggest trauma or fall out from coming out in Cody was -- there was this kid named Gary, and from the first time I met him, he had just been a nasty, obnoxious guy. The first time I met him, I was riding on my bike. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and he and a bunch of his friends were on their bikes and they came up behind me and he went over -- I always -- to this day, actually -- I keep my keys on a carabiner on my belt loop, and he reached over, grabbed my keys, and yanked me off my bike. And I had to have stitches on the palm of my hand and, it's like, "I don't even know why this kid knows me! He just pulled me off my bike!" And I was horrified, and I showed my mom, and -- 19:00ugh. So fast forward from that annoying thing from sixth and seventh grade to -- in tenth grade, I was pretty much out to my high school. I was in Mr. Anderson's Algebra II class. Mr. Anderson was a really terrible teacher. He would lecture us for about fifty minutes at the beginning of class about algebra, and he'd say, "Alright, read your textbooks, do your homework." Then he'd go down to the teacher's lounge for like the next thirty minutes -- like, bullshit with the other teachers, and, I don't know, drink coffee and, I don't know. Whatever. Yeah. But, yeah -- ugh. Man. There were some very interesting teachers at my high school. And every day in one particular week, Gary got a little more 20:00aggressive and belligerent. And it didn't take my entire IQ that he was revving up for something on Friday, because every day that week, I'd be there trying to figure out my algebra and he'd get out of his seat, come back, and be all like tough guy and -- so, by Friday, I figured he was working himself up to something. So I had a knife under my desk, 'cause I was not in the mood for any sort of bullshit. So I was there in my seat -- blah blah blah, blah blah blah, (unintelligible). "You know Blackwelder, I hear you're a faggot. I don't like faggots." And I was like, "Gary, get in your seat." "You're a faggot. I don't like faggots." And he starts doing that little slap game that bullies like to do, and with my taekwondo training, it's like -- block, block, block, block, block. But then, one made it through, and it was like, why am I even doing this? Why am I even humoring this asshole? So I like -- shing -- bring out the knife. 21:00He's like, "Uh? That's a knife, man." "I know it's a knife, Gary." "You cut me with that and I kill you." And I'm at the point where I'm like, may as well do a full drama. And then I was like, "I know it's a knife Gary. If I cut you with this, you're dead, man." And I was just kind of ad-libbing it at that point, and sort of playing up the 'I'm a scary weird dude'. Um, and so the whole class is watching this, he's freaked out, he can't keep doing what he's doing because -- knife -- and he can't sit down because -- losing face. So he's in this very awkward, uncomfortable position, and he's -- doesn't really know what to do. He's then saved by Mr. Anderson coming back in the room saying, "Gary, you're 22:00out of your seat. Get back there. What are you doing." Um, Mr. Anderson of course, since I was still sitting down, didn't notice that I was still holding a knife, and so Gary gets in his seat with this look like, 'that's not fair'. And the whole class is secretly, quietly going, (gasps). And you know, just -- class was quiet. And I'm honestly -- didn't think anything of it. But then Mr. Robertson, the sort of smarmy teacher who taught history who was very, very Christian, and like every Christmas, he would do the birth of Jesus story in class, which I think is actually a violation of something. I don't know. It's like, yeah, fine. Ram your religion down my throat a little more. Great. He was also the smarmy guy who was like -- he was the buddy of all the trouble kids. 23:00And he would feign concern and interest, and I really didn't like him very much. He would -- he was like, "So, I understand you have a little experience with Gary today." And I was like, "Yeah." And I was very blunt about what happened. He was like, "Do you still have the knife on you?" And I was like, "Nah, I ditched that in the garbage can." Which of course, he didn't frisk me to find out otherwise. And then at the end of the day, much to my surprise, my mom picked me up at school. She never picked me up at school. I always walked. And I was like, "What are you doing here mom?" And what I hadn't known was that shortly after math class, she'd been called in, and Gary was in the room with her, and the vice principal was in there, and they had a little chit chat about 24:00my behavior. And my mom said, "Well good! That little creep's been bugging him for four years! Bout goddamn time he did something! You deserve that, ya little brat!" Because, she -- she had to take me to the hospital when he pulled me off my bike and I had to get the stitches, so she knew exactly what a jerk Gary was. And she was -- whatever failings, my mother could definitely go into mother bear mode, and she did that. And the vice principal who knew me and who knew Gary sort of looked at Gary, and -- I'm getting this second hand, I wasn't like -- they never called me in, I didn't even know meeting happened. Which, to this day, is a little creepy. I should have been there. But, whatever. So the vice principal looks over and says, "Well Gary, looks like you have two choices. You 25:00can either ignore Kraig completely, or you can get to be his friend. But I think the way you're doing things now isn't working and you should probably stop." And that's honestly -- I credit that to like the last vestiges of Wild West justice in Cody, Wyoming, because if that happened today, I don't think I would have gotten off nearly that easily. I would have been suspended, arrested, I have no idea. But at that time, in that place, with that particular cast of characters, that's how it went down. And my mom questioned me, and I was like really sort of hostile and angry. It's like, "He deserves, (unintelligible)!" It's like, "I 26:00wish I'd actually done something!" And -- adolescence is such an energetic time of life. And it was like, hysterical after that, because if Gary saw me walking around town -- which is, I usually either biked or walked. It's like, "Hey, Blackwelder, would you give me a ride?" Or, on one occasion, he and some of his friends were smoking pot in his truck, and he was like, "Hey Blackwelder, wanna smoke on this?" And at that time, I was Nancy Reagan's very own anti-drug advocate. It's like, "No, I'm good." I was -- oh my god, I was so uptight about anything relating to drugs. One of my idols -- one of my heroes in taekwondo, he had -- he was one of my earliest crushes. His name was Andy. He was a black belt 27:00and he was blonde and thirty -- no, he was actually twenty eight, and I just thought he was dreamy. But then a couple years after I had had my crush on him, I found out that he smoked pot. And that was not acceptable. So I stopped talking to him, which. Ugh. I was such a judgmental little brat. But yeah, I was very uptight about that. Yeah, from my high school days, that's probably one of my biggest stories and events.

CUMBAA: Um, before attending your first GSV conference, were there any friends, mentors, neighbors, or events that shaped your spiritual journey?

BLACKWELDER: In 1989, I was going to University of Oregon and I had found the 28:00Radical Faeries. My friend Kristen had introduced me to her friend Nova, who was a Radical Faerie. And I was like, oh wow, another gay guy! Cool! Because that was very rare and strange for me at that time. So I met Nova, and Nova sort of turned me on to the Radical Faeries, and so I went on my first Radical Faerie retreat in 1989. And I guess I probably would have been like, twenty-ish. Um, and the Oregon fairies did their events at Brighton Bush Hot Springs at the time, which was really cool. And at that time I was really -- I considered myself a very strong Wiccan, and I was very comfortable on the Wiccan path. It 29:00seemed to make much more sense than other religions. And so I got involved in Wicca, and I was doing stuff with Radical Faeries, and that was just a -- it was a really neat time. And that was -- it was in 1989 that I wound up taking my Radical Faeries name, which is Nightshade. And I took it partly in reaction to the fact that every single other faerie in Eugene, Oregon, where I was living at the time, had a name like, "Light Glimmer, Day Glow, Sun Bubble." And it's like, "Do you all have to have these airy fairies light oriented names?" And thus, Nightshade was born. Partly out of just a reaction to all those other names, 30:00partly because I still had that gothic part of me, that was like, 'the goth kid'. The darker version of that. I've occasionally said that I'm not so much a Radical Faeries as I'm a radical goblin. So I had a great background in the Radical Faeries from there. After I left Eugene, I went down to Santa Cruz, and I was very active with the Radical Faeries in Santa Cruz. So, it's hard to get too much -- too much hippier than Eugene, Oregon and Santa Cruz, California. And when I was in Santa Cruz, I tried to grow my hair long, it didn't really work because it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I -- my hair does not get long. I just end up with this big old white boy afro. And it's kind of crazy 31:00because my hair dwarfs the size of my body, which is ridiculous but that's what it does. But the Radical Faeries were definitely my biggest touchstone to spirituality before I got in touch with GSV in -- would have been 2000 before I discovered GSV.

CUMBAA: Your first conference was 2000.

BLACKWELDER: Yes.

CUMBAA: Okay. GSV conference. How did you hear about it? How did you get here? Did you come here with anybody?

BLACKWELDER: Uh, let's see if I can remember all that. So, like I said, I found out about GSV through body electric. At the time, body electric classes in Atlanta were done by John Balu (?) and his -- like, sort of his lieutenants were 32:00Tony James and Al Cotton. All three of whom -- or, both of those guys and John Balu (?) are GSV guys. So it's like, everybody -- I kept hearing GSV, GSV, Gay Spirit Visions. It's like, what is that? So they finally told, me. I think I took body electric in -- it would have been Spring of 2000 and people started talking about the Fall conference. It's like, oh, okay. Sounds (unlike) faerie together. And people are being like, looking at each other like -- well, no, but yes, but no. Okay, but whatever. I'll do it. I couldn't tell you who I came up with, which is weird.

CUMBAA: Well, if you remember, we can add it.

33:00

BLACKWELDER: Yeah. What I mostly remember is that I felt really safe here. In my day to day life -- especially at that time -- I'm hyper-armored. Part of that's probably left over PT SD from my childhood, which was a bit more dramatic than most kids have. So a place where I felt like I could just take the armor off was amazing. Of course when someone who's used to wearing all this armor and being a tough guy takes and stuff their armor off it's, "Oh, I'm such a blubbering mess! I can't even. (blubbering)" It's like, I don't think a heart circle went around that I didn't break out, like, "I'm so happy to be here! I love you guys!" And it was just, oh my god. All this emotion, constantly welling up. But I felt 34:00really safe in doing that. It was a wonderful group of people and this sort of process, this sort of stuff we were doing was really powerful and it's like -- I mean, I don't think I had a heart weaving (?) that I didn't break down in. Um -- oh my god, so messy, so messy. But, I mean, really freeing, and I wasn't self-conscious about it because I knew it was a safe place for that.

CUMBAA: So, as you were hearing about GSV through the guys at Body Electric, was there anything they said about the conference that sort of appealed to you, that sort of drew you to the conference that you could recall -- how did they describe it I guess -- that was appealing to you?

BLACKWELDER: I think they -- I think I just got the basic sketch of 'men, 35:00spiritual, gay'. 'Cause like, "Hmm, men. Hmm, spiritual. Hmm, gay." 'Cause like, what more do I need at that point? I was -- I think I would have been thirty one or thirty two, and I was hoping it was going to be something like the community that I had with the Radical Faeries when I was on the west coast. And it was actually much more nurturing than I had had on the west coast with the faeries. And a marvelous cast of characters and people who later wound up becoming role models, and it was just really nourishing to my soul, I would say.

CUMBAA: I probably should have asked this question earlier, but -- your spiritual or religious background prior to GSV, and maybe prior to the faeries? 36:00Was there anything?

BLACKWELDER: I had come across Wicca when I was in either junior high or high school. I had never resonated with Christianity. I think I just associated Christianity with nasty, mean, pushy people. I thought it was kind of an authoritarian religion, the way I'd seen it practiced. It was a relation -- religion that you were sort of obligated to go to church on Sundays for, and just -- I never, at no point did Christianity do anything for me. And my mom actually refused to let me get baptized. She goes, "He'll make up his own mind when he gets old enough -- chooses his own spiritual path." Which kind of shocked my grandmother, actually. Like, "Oh, you're not going to get him 37:00baptized?" Look at me now. Everything my grandmother said turned out to be true. So yeah, I read a book in junior high or high school called Witches, by Erica Jong. I don't know if she pronounces it Jong or Yong. But this is the same Erica Jong who was popular in the seventies for some of her feminist writings and novels and things. And the book Witches was ridiculously over-the-top, and gave this sort of romanticized notion of what witches were and who they were and what they did. But the one thing I remember coming away with from that book was Wicca is a religion that sort of understands the sacredness of the natural cycles of the world and that resonated with me completely because, how could anything be 38:00more spiritually real and satisfying than that? Certainly not some airy dude on a throne with a white beard. So I became fascinated by Wicca and I think the book that really cemented my interest in that -- which I read in college -- was The Spiral Path by Starhawk (?), which is a fantastic book.

CUMBAA: Okay. What do you remember about your first conference? You touched on some things -- feeling welcomed -- or safe, excuse me -- and getting rid of the armor. Anything else that you recall now?

BLACKWELDER: There were two individuals that I met who -- in the fullness of time -- wound up becoming mentors of mine. One of those is a person who I'm sure has come up in many other people's stories -- that is Treewalker. And at the 39:00time I knew him -- the items I knew him -- there were sort of two different times that I knew him -- I saw him only as this graceful, elegant elder statesman of sensible queer maturity. Other people who know Martin also have lots of other stories that do not involve any of that mature sensible stuff. I never met that Martin. The Martin -- the Treewalker that I know was always this wise, gentle, knowing, sort of strong, silent guy. He was amazing. He was the presiding elder of my first -- and possibly second -- GSV Fall conference. Uh, it's a little hazy. And the other figure that I came to know of -- who is a 40:00mischievous, wily old wizard was King Thaxton, who was hysterical. King Thaxton was an artist. He'd come from a wealthy family, but his family sort of looked askance at his artistic nature and his being gay and the fact that he was like, just not living up to their sort of high standards of propriety. I remember King had a brother named Wheeler, so there are certain things I assume when I hear about a family who would name their children King and Wheeler. Especially knowing -- from King's perspective -- what his family was like. And he was the antithesis of all that propriety and somewhere along the way, he had become HIV 41:00positive, and he'd had full blown AIDS for a while, and he had just experienced all this stuff, and so he was scandalous and shocking to his family, but he was a brilliant, brilliant artist. A lot of people in GSV to this day still have some of the mandala's he did. He had a piece in an art gallery when I was living in Atlanta, and he specifically took us there so I could look at it one day, and it was this -- it was absolutely brilliant. It's like under this big, Plexiglas dome or something. It was a diorama of this very wholesome town, and it was like, as you look closer, you're like, "Wait a minute, something's a little off." It's like, you know, there would be a church, and there'd be a wedding going on outside the church, and you look closer and -- over here on this far 42:00side of town, there's an alien abduction going on. There's like a flying saucer and a little beam and some poor guy caught going like, "Ah!" And there's like a lynching going on in this other part of town, like, "oh my God." And it felt very much like -- in the same way that David Lynch's films sort of liked to juxtapose this Fifties wholesome image of America with the actual weird stuff that was going on in America, that diorama did the exact same thing. And, it's like it's -- America, so innocent, no noble, so really screwed up in this lynching and so really weird in this alien abduction. There's like so much to see and the whole thing was just extraordinary. It's like, you could stare at this thing for half an hour and I probably did, and just keeping finding new thing after new thing after new thing. And King -- at that point, I think he was 43:00in his late fifties, early sixties -- I think -- he was just -- he was sort of cackling with his pride at this amazing piece of art that he'd created. And he -- his place was really cool too. He'd done a study of cemetery jars, which apparently is a funerary practice. It's like families -- and I don't remember who this was. It was an Appalachian thing, it was a black thing, but people apparently put these vases filled with trinkets that reminded them of the deceased next to the grave of people. And he'd created one of these as an art project, and that was amazing. He had an amazing art collection in his home, some of which belonged to him, some of which he was keeping for friends who knew 44:00that he appreciated art. There's one painting that he had that was -- it was very tasteful in what it showed and did not show. It was a shoulder and then on top of the shoulder, sort of being propped up by the shoulder, was a foot. And what was going on in that painting was anyone's to determine, but yeah. I think it was in his bedroom for a reason. But he was just -- he was hysterical. He always had this sparkly, mischievous glint in his eye, and he was really -- he was an extraordinary man. There's a picture he did that was a part of an art collective, and each member of the art collective posed as some sort of medieval 45:00archetypal figure, and for King Thaxton, the one that he chose -- which is flawless -- was a wizard. He had this tall wizard hat and he had a wand and he's looking over towards the right side of the photo, and he just has this mischievous glint into his eye, and -- he was a manifestation of trickster energy in this world and it was marvelous. And I think a hefty amount of that rubbed off. 'Cause I mean, at this point, I am fully in realization of the fact that my own spirit animal is a monkey, which is a trickster figure. So I appreciate and admire someone who knows how to channel trickster energy well and powerfully.

CUMBAA: What did you learn from Martin? What did you--?

46:00

BLACKWELDER: Oh man. He was -- like in his professional life -- some sort of organizational specialist, and he understood how organizations worked, and I think he used all that knowledge in his role as presiding elder of GSV. There were times where he would talk about the stages of an organization. He would say, "Oh yeah, GSV is in this state of it's organization, and it's doing this." Um, and then there were other times he and I would talk -- he would say, "Well, you should never let people fell obligated to do things. The way I liked to phrase things is, 'I would invite you to'." And I said, "'I would invite you to.' Oh. That's brilliant!" And so now I find if I'm calling a meeting together 47:00for GSV Chicago or if I'm doing something formal with GSV here -- which, now occasionally happens. Inexplicably, somehow, I've become the presiding elder of GSV. I will try and use Martin's language or Martin's phrasing, because he had such a mild but warm presence, and he was -- just his way of organizing things and getting people to do things and helping to get things done -- he was very subtle but very effective, and I never ever would have been an organizationally minded person under other circumstances. I've always been an introvert and happy to be an introvert and happy to read a book or browse the web, as opposed to 48:00interact with other people. But with some tutelage from Martin, I suddenly got a sense of how one could be -- have kingly energy about one and get things done that need to be done. And he was just very wise -- pone thing I remember him saying is, "There are only two GSV events. This one, and the rest." And it's like, at the time of that, "What a weird idea." But then the more I thought about it, I was like, "Oh my god, that's exactly how it is!" It was like, I no longer worry about, "Did I do that at the 2009 thing? Was that 2009 Fall, or 2010 Spring?" I don't care. It's the GSV that is not this GSV event. Of which there's just one.

CUMBAA: Where do you think he got his insights from?

BLACKWELDER: Some of it is what I think he did professionally. Some of it, I 49:00think -- in other parts of his life -- other parts of his life I never saw -- he was a wild child. Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, all the excesses of the baby boomer generation dialed up to eleven, the whole nine yards, and I think -- well, one of my favorite phrases is, "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." And that has been one of my mantras every day since I learned that, because it is so true, and if something you're doing doesn't go well -- well, look at you just gaining better judgment. And I think that Martin probably had gained a great deal of good judgment and his hard edges had really 50:00been filed down by some of his excesses. So by the time I got to know him, he was mild, calm. He always seemed benevolent and sort of slightly heaven-touched in that sort of marvelous, leadership sort of way. And I was really delighted that he, for the second GSV Chicago potluck we had -- it would have been November of 2010 or 2011 -- I can't remember at this point. Martin came up to 51:00Chicago from Atlanta to sort of give GSV Chicago his elder's benediction, which was so exciting and made me so happy and so pleased. He made a huge impression on the other GSV guys -- partly because he was wearing this long gown/robe thing, and was wearing some sort of turban sort of thing. He was in full magisterial mode in giving his blessing since the GSV Chicago chapter -- that was only its second event, really. They were like, "Oh. This is -- different from what I expected." And it was -- it was actually, it was really -- it was marvelous. It was Martin to a T, and he was so wonderful to have in Chicago, and yeah. It was just -- it was a marvelous benediction, especially since it was his 52:00idea. They did -- when I left Atlanta in 2001, I think it was Martin's idea to do sort of an investiture ceremony so that I was fully invested with a seed of the GSV tree to nuture that and grow a new branch wherever I landed, and it was Martin -- Treewalker -- Andrew Ramer, Kim Pitts (?), King Thaxton. They were the four GSV people who attended my investiture. And it was -- I mean, I can't think of four better people. Martin is the presiding elder. King was this wily wizard, 53:00friend, mentor, guy. His partner, later when -- this would have been in 2005 when he informed me that King Thaxton passed away. His partner Jonathan said, "you know, he always had a big crush on you." I was like, "Lucky me." I mean, if that's what it took to get mentoring from this wily, brilliant, fox spirit guy, then so be it. Andrew Raymer, who at that point was still sort of the spiritual advisor and guru to GSV, and Kim Pitts -- Pitts? Was it Kim? Not Kim.

CUMBAA: I think it was Pittman.

BLACKWELDER: No, it was not Kim Pittman. That's what I'm confusing it with. It's, um -- he moved to England.

54:00

CUMBAA: Brad Pitts.

BLACKWELDER: Yes Brad Pitts! Thank you. So -- and he was a Wiccan studying under one of the other GSV members who I mentioned -- met right at that first thing. So the four of them were this perfect foursome of magisterial, spiritual gay figures, and they were all blessing me with their wisdom and their ability to start a GSV branch wherever I went. And it was awesome and amazing and at one point, there was a piece of fabric that they draped over my head as symbolic of something that I should probably remember but don't. But it was magical, and it was awesome, and in retrospect it was like, "Wow, that was a really cool 55:00ceremony." And then I figured, I would never need to use that. Of course any city of any size that has gay men is going to have a specific subset of gay men who are on a spiritual path. Haha. Not so much. So the next city I lived in was San Diego, and I never really -- I couldn't get over the lack of seasons. It drove me nuts. Also the guy that I was dating that took me there was kind of a jerk. So I wound up moving back to Chicago. And Chicago had a group of gay pagan men called the Brotherhood of the Pheonix, which ironically took a huge amount of its mythology from John Stowe's book Gay Spirit Warrior. Which I thought, 56:00"That's kinda cheeky." And I always wondered if John Stowe knew that there was a religion based on his book. And I kinda don't think he did. But the Brotherhood of the Phoenix was not GSV. It was not heart centered, it was mind centered. And it was like, all this studying of old hermetic lore, sort of repurposed for gay dudes with a heavy infusion of John Stowe's Gay Spirit Warrior. Which, I suppose if you want to make a religion out of that, it is what it is. And I was fine with that. I was on the board of that organization for two years, but I started realizing it was very much a cult of personality created by the guy who had created the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. And he had decided that the Brotherhood, and he had decided that the Brotherhood of the phoenix had sprung perfect and 57:00flawless when it came out of his head, and nothing about it was ever going to chance, and those of us on the council kept saying, "You might want to fix this. You might want to do this. You might want to try that." "No, it is perfect!" So after a while of trying to deal with his sort of cult leader mentality, I left the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. I was like, whatever boys. And it was right around that time I started GSV Chicago.

CUMBAA: Okay, alright. We were, believe it or not, talking about your first GSV experience. That was a wonderful journey though, but -- so, anything else that you remember from your first GSV experience -- GSV conference .

BLACKWELDER: I remember the views, I remember being in the great room lodge, some process we had there. Just this seeming near infinite well of emotion I had 58:00that would break loose and trigger the water works at just the drop of a hat. It was kind of ridiculous but kind of wonderful. Yeah, that's mostly what I remember on my first.

CUMBAA: Any particular rituals that you remember? I -- excuse me, that were new to you? Any of that? Was that -- 'cause you'd come from the faeries, which were sort of similar.

BLACKWELDER: I was actually really heartened by the fact that there were still some things that were similar to the Radical Faerie stuff that I had done. The Radical Faerie retreat that I had done had a talent show, GSV had a talent show. The Radical Faeries had some faeirie hymns, and some of those "Dear Friends, 59:00Queer Friends," is still used by GSV, so it was slightly different but to me it felt like a spiritual community that was the Radical Faeries grown up. I would frequently described GSV as 'the not so Radical Faeries'.

CUMBAA: Okay. Favorite conference activities.

BLACKWELDER: Like, ever?

CUMBAA: Yeah, whatever.

BLACKWELDER: I absolutely love the talent show. I've always loved the talent show. It is irreverent and hysterical and sometimes slightly mortifying and sometimes absolutely beyond brilliant. I think probably the hard -- some of the moments in my life where I have laughed the hardest have taken place at GSV 60:00talent shows. And on my second fall conference, a short story I had just gotten published in an anthology had just come out, and I was very very proud of it. And I'd been reading it to friends of mine individually, and I had read it at a bookstore in Atlanta. It's like, "My story's out, my story's out!" And I decided to do it at the talent show, for the 2001 talent show. It's a short little, fairly graphic horror story called Kyrie Love, and I think it was the only time I've ever seen anyone walk out of the talent show. Because it's a dark little 61:00gem of a story, and I was bound to determine, by god, I'm going to this amazing story with these people, and they're used to bad poetry or strange skits or cheesy lip singing or drag things. They were not prepared. And it's -- there's some somewhat grisly parts, and it was -- I can honestly say that the audience was absolutely silent.

CUMBAA: Has the talent show changed over the years?

BLACKWELDER: It changes from year to year. It changes radically. I would say that the difference in the talent show between 2017 Fall and the 2016 Fall was night and day. There are some years when it's the no talent show, and it's like, 62:00"Oh bless your heart for doing that up there." And then there's other times where it's like, "Why are you not taking this national?" I mean, it varies wildly. Radical Faery shows have always been like that, GSV talent shows are like that. I mean, some of the most brilliant things I have read -- I remember the talent show from 2001, which must have been the one where I read my story -- Cassandra read some of his poems and there was a poem that -- the poem itself is just about a house that's flying, but it's a metaphor for his schizophrenia sort of surging up. And it's -- it's a powerful, amazing, brilliant poem. And then other times you'll get some cheesy reading from somebody's journal or a 63:00completely incomprehensible puppet show -- and I'm not making that up. Um -- yeah, you're laughing because you remember the one. No, that's all I got. The talent show has always been amazing. And the parade of beauties is -- how does one describe the parade of beauties unless you've seen it? Sometimes you'll get the guys who are already a little bit less gender conforming doing the drag thing, and you'll like, well of course, that's -- but then you wind up with the dude who the day before had just up here on his motorcycle and he's in like some frilly frock, and you're going, "Huh, didn't see that coming." So I always look 64:00forward to the talent show.

CUMBAA: Thank you. Changing gears just a little bit -- keynote speakers. Any favorites? Any memorable ones?

BLACKWELDER: I am horribly biased, but Sister Unity will always be a standout for me as one of the great keynote speakers of all time, I think. Other keynote speakers -- I got to see Christian De La Huerta speak -- do a keynote speech up here, which I thought was amazing. And then immediately after hearing him up here, he also did a reading at a bookstore in Atlanta, and I did that too, and I just -- I like Christian De La Huerta. I think he's a solid, down to Earth 65:00thinker. At the -- after the GSV conference, after the bookstore, there was this little sort of head in the clouds, airy fairy gay kid, "So, I've been doing a lot of partying, having a lot of sex, and there's been a lot of drugs. It's been very intense. How do you avoid that emptiness that takes place after that?" And then Christian De La Huerta looks at him after that and, like -- "don't do that." And it was like, "bing, duh." But I just remember that very clearly. Um, we've had some really good keynote -- Greg Wallack (?) came up here, and he did 66:00a think about story telling that I thought was really powerful. We've had some inexplicable and kind of bad keynote speakers too, but I suppose we shouldn't talk about them.

CUMBAA: Correct. So the next one should be particularly interesting -- about planning a conference, and you were the convener last fall. So, kind of tell what it was like. The other thing I would like to capture that we had wanted to capture from Martin, but missed that opportunity was how you went about creating the container and safe space? So, two questions, there are three. Sort of, what was your conference as a convener? What was that experience like for you? And 67:00some detail about creating the container for us.

BLACKWELDER: At the time that I was asked to convene fall conference, I had wanted to convene a fall conference for years. Years. I had first after he'd broached the topic with Treewalker around 2009, and -- I just -- I had all this creative energy about it, and what I might wanna do, and -- it was just kind of a -- it's not the sort of thing you ask for. At least, as I see it. Being a leader isn't the sort of thing you ask for, it's the sort of thing you wait to be asked to do. But honestly I knew what I wanted to do and who I wanted as a keynote speaker even before I had been asked. In fact, I had actually started a 68:00dialogue with Sister Unity years before I had been asked, saying, "So, I'm not an official representative of this group, and I can't offer you any sort of contract, but if it were ever to come to pass that you were asked to go to the mountains of North Carolina to speak at a conference of gay spiritual men, would you ever be inclined to do something like that? Ever, maybe?" And I think I probably broached that question probably as early as 2012 or 2013. I -- there's a guy from GSV Chicago who'd moved there from L.A., which is where Sister Unity is based, and he was -- he'd done a lot of stuff at the Sisterhood of Perpetual Indulgence stuff -- events. And so I had a connection to Sister Unity, and he 69:00put us in touch, and in those early -- sort of tentative pings, I got a sort of, "Yeah, I guess. I could do that." So it was like, "Okay, that's enough for me. That's good, that's fine. I just want to put the idea in her head and get things started. And then every now and again, I would repeat that ping, like, "Would you be interested?" And the answer is, "Yeah, I guess." And then finally I was asked by a member of the GSV council at the time -- it was Todd Humphrey who called and said, "Would you ever maybe want to convene a GSV Fall conference?" It was like, "Finally, you asked me!" And it was like, "Yes. Do you have any idea of what you want to do?" And I was like, "Yes." It was like, oh, okay. I'll take that as a yes. "Yes." And then immediately I started, you know ratcheting 70:00things up with Sister Unity, making sure that came to pass because I had wanted Sister Unity to speak at a GSV conference for years. Years. Since I first saw one of her videos on YouTube. And I'm not -- I have challenges with working with other people. Sometimes I find things get watered down and committee-fied. Sometimes I'm a little impatient, a little impetuous, but when something is entirely my baby, I become an orchestra conductor. It's like, I had my baton, like, "Keynote speaker, altar people, here we go." It was like, bom bom bom bom 71:00bom bom bom bom bom. And it was -- there were times when I felt like I was being a Theme Nazi. When I was getting that ready, like, "No, everything has to pertain to the theme. The theme. The theme." 'Cause like, in years prior, it was kind of like there's sort of kind of been allegedly a theme, but it's like, it was really sort of about that and about that and about that and about that, all at the same time. Which made no sense. But it was a fun time. But by God, while I was doing it, I was going to be on topic. And it was, and it actually -- the parts that I had control over went perfectly. The parts that were completely out of my hands that I had nothing to do with went perfectly. So I considered it just the blessings of a divine universe, and I could not have been happier, and that was exactly what I would have wanted. I could have had a little bit more 72:00energy, done a little bit more, but that's probably -- I think it was balanced pretty well. Convenience is a thing, because there are a lot of balls in the air. You have to sort of get your juggling technique down. But it's really gratifying when you can get it right. It's sort of casting a bell. You know, like, you go through all this trouble to cast it and you're ready to ring it like, "Is it going to crack? Is it gonna be off? Is it gonna be flat?" And it's like, bong. And it just resonated in this beautiful way, despite the fact that that initial crack was probably the big crash of Doug's car with Sister Unity down in Atlanta before they came up here. So it was -- I mean, it was challenging. It was challenging in a way I expected it to be challenging, and it 73:00was fun, and it went beautifully. And honestly, I sort of felt like I had -- a number of years ago, in 2001, I wrote an article for The Visionary about ecstatic experiences and what they are and how they're used -- sort of historically. Ecstasy comes from the Greek word ekstasis, which means to be outside of oneself, or be beside oneself. And the idea is that you are pushed out of your body so that something bigger and more powerful can inhabit you and take control. That's exactly the same theory that -- like, voodoo works on. You call them the lwa, and the lwa comes and rides you. But it's all ecstatic 74:00experience. And I felt like I was just a vessel for this higher, other thing. Because I was on things and calling shots and oding things and I had the convener staff and I was saying things and people were laughing, and it's like, "Mmm, you wanna laugh? That's good." And I would say how things were going to go, and things went that way, and wow, this is really cool. So yeah, yay for ecstatic states and higher things taking over and doing the convening for me. But that was my experience convening, so it just felt like I was channeling some other divine power.

CUMBAA: Creating the container forest.

BLACKWELDER: I have very strong feelings about boundaries. I think that people 75:00should be taught to maintain healthy boundaries from elementary school on, and one of the things -- every year we always have a questionnaire we send out after our events, and I've looked at those over the years, and I've seen that one of the things people complain about was feeling like somehow boundaries have been violated. And I find that frustrating. So one of the things I stressed in the opening is, "Maintain your boundaries. You are in charge of your body, you're in charge of what you do, you're in charge of how you conduct yourself this weekend. Maintain your boundaries, don't cross other people's boundaries, and if everyone maintains their own boundaries things work out so much better." So from 76:00the very get go, one of the things I stressed at the opening speech was maintaining boundaries, making sure you feel safe, and I believe that I specifically asked was maintaining boundaries, making sure you feel safe, and I believe I specifically asked (unintelligible) to mention that in his heart meeting as well. Because if you can -- if you feel empowered to make your own boundaries, then that makes things so much easier for the rest of the time. Like, if you want to say yes, say yes. If you want to say no, say no. If you want to negotiate -- something slightly different from what somebody's suggesting, then do that. And -- I think that's been a theme with GSV last two or three years? And I think that's something (unintelligible) brought with him that has been really good and helpful.

CUMBAA: You mentioned about contributing to the -- writing an article for The Visionary. Have you done more than that -- more than those? Have you made any 77:00other contributions in that kind of way?

BLACKWELDER: I haven't. At the time when the visionary was coming out -- we had the quarterly thing -- I loved it and thought it was cool and thought of GSV as my new spiritual home and I just loved it and wanted to contribute something. I was like, "Hmm. What do I know something about that I could share?" And I don't remember why at the time, I was like really -- I was doing a lot of research in ecstatic states of mind, ecstatic states and how they were used sort of traditionally and other cultures and that sort of thing. And so I just -- I had so much love I felt towards GSV that I wanted to sort of do something to sort of give a gift by knowledge, and I figured an article in The Visionary was one way I could do that. So, for the -- I can't remember which 2001 issue it was, but it 78:00was definitely a 2001 issue.

CUMBAA: Have you ever felt uncomfortable at a GSV conference?

BLACKWELDER: The close -- the answer is no. The closest I've ever come to uncomfortable is after I read my short story at the talent show at that time, this guy came up and said, "You should've given us a warning about what that story was about. That was too dark and violent for this talent show." And the funny thing is -- that was 2001, and immediately after that I moved away to San Diego and then was living in Chicago and didn't really think about coming back 79:00to Chicago for a while -- or, I mean, to GSV down here for a while. But the next time I was back down here, which I think was probably fall conference of 2009, two or three people come up to me and go, "You were the guy who read that story." And this would have been eight years later. But apparently that story made quite a ripple because -- yeah. And I think that one guy -- I can't even remember who it was right now -- I don't think it was anybody who's still coming. It's like -- he may as well have said, "Your story violated me. I felt uncomfortable." Which, I suppose I could have given some sort of warning? I don't know. I mean, my faerie name is Nightshade, hello.

CUMBAA: What have you taken from GSV and incorporated into your life?

BLACKWELDER: Holy mackerel, lots. GSV has been this amazing, empowering 80:00chrysalis for me. It has definitely given me -- strength? Strength isn't the word I'm looking for. Knowledge? Experience that I never would have had before. Because in addition to coming up here, and doing stuff up here, doing the process, I've been leading GSV Chicago since 2010 or 2011. I should know whether it's 2010 or 2011 but I can't remember. And I'm an introvert. I will happily be quiet and not deal with people for extended periods of time, and I never would have had any sort of interest in leadership or mentoring or guiding a group or conducting a group or anything if it weren't for GSV. All of my organization 81:00experience has been completely due to GSV and I've learned skills here through doing GSV stuff that translate perfectly -- beautifully well to events down there in the default world, off the mountain. So GSV has been a huge font of learning and knowledge and organizational wisdom and how to deal with people and how to -- yeah, interact with groups. And it's always, always the same two mentors guiding me. On one hand, I have Treewalker's calm grace, and on the other shoulder I have King Thaxton's wily mischief, and it's always those two voices 82:00guiding me when I'm doing GSV stuff and it's hysterical how directly and clearly those two mentor figures translated into my own action and it's beautiful and it's sometimes when either Martin when his quiet, stately gentleman manners or King with his smart little mischievous kid thing going on. It's the two of them constantly in my head who are helping me do things. Sometimes it feels so strong -- that I can feel one of their presence or the other -- that it'll bring tears to my eye. I still feel like I'm in one of those wonderful GSV gourmet hugs with those men.

CUMBAA: How have the conferences changed over the years?

83:00

BLACKWELDER: I think they're less sexual now. Now that may be because I'm less sexual here now. I mean when I first started coming to GSV things, I was like, "Hey, wanna come to my cabin?" There was a puppy pile that I convened in 2009 that was kind of infamous for a while. In fact, I heard -- I was kind of shocked that the council asked me to convene the fall conference that year because that puppy pile that I convened several years back apparently caused quite the kerfuffle, which I guess I should feel terrible about, but all I can do is smile.

84:00

CUMBAA: Oh, let's see. Is there anything that GSV as an organization can do -- or that we can do at a conference -- that would support your spiritual journey in the future?

BLACKWELDER: That's like saying, "Is there anything air could do to help my breathing?" GSV is already so deeply connected to my spiritual growth. I mean, not just my spiritual growth, my actual professional growth. I mean, I've learned skills here that I've taken to my work life. I can't think of anything off the top of my head. It seems to feed my soul so much every time I come over 85:00here. Sometimes it's the hugs, sometimes it's just the ambiance of being upon the mountain. Sometimes it's a particular workshop or maybe it's dancing around the fire in a drum circle. But I always just -- I always feel very very nourished after a GSV event.

CUMBAA: What would you recommend to someone -- or what would you say to someone -- who's attending their first GSV event -- who's thinking about coming up? Or has already made that decision?

BLACKWELDER: It's a magical place -- it's a magical collection of people that 86:00you are unlikely to meet any other place in the world, and it's a spiritual source of joy.

CUMBAA: Okay. Got two questions left. One of them is sort of a broad question of your memories of our deceased brothers, and sort of any particular stories you recall about them? Your sort of -- the energy they might have brought to the mountain? Maybe a physical description? What we're trying to do here is piece people's stories together to get a better picture of them since they cannot tell their story to us now.

BLACKWELDER: Shawn Iverson Cook. Shawn was an amazing individual. I just -- I 87:00thought of him as the guy who did really fun, perky, wild drag for a long time, and then a number of years ago -- probably 2010, I'm gonna say, I think -- we had a panel where people told their own stories and Shawn got up there and told her story and such an amazing, interesting character. By day, he was a diesel mechanic. By night he just loved putting on the girly clothes, and he did fun drag, and he was actually reasonably pretty as a girl, and really handsome as a guy. And -- sweet guy, interesting guy, nice guy. And it was right after the GSV 88:00conference when we had the panel that featured him that he died. And that was a huge tragedy because I had been thinking of Shawn as one of those young faces at GSV who'd gonna wind up being the -- one of the main corner stone GSV folks. So when he died, it was hugely sad. Hugely sad. 'Cause he was such an interesting persona and such a nice guy and did such good drag. It was just a loss, and of course I can't think of Shawn without thinking of Craiglee because it was -- I mean, like literally within a week after their marriage that Shawn died. And it was just -- that was heart breaking. That's one of the saddest stories I think I've ever heard in my entire life. And such a sweet, wonderful, vital human 89:00being that wound up dying over a tiny tiny tiny tiny itty bity tumor, like --. Treewalker. I -- Treewalker will always be the spiritual presence of GSV for me. I think it was spring of 2001. I wanted to go to the spring retreat. I was a freelance writer at the time, and it was sort of hard to make a lot of money. At least in the freelancing lane I was in. So I was adding to what I did as a freelancer by doing massage as well and I was checking with Martin one time -- 90:00Tree walker -- you know, what does it take to get a scholarship to go to a GSV event? And he said, well how much do you need? And I named a figure -- it was like, $200 or something, I'm sure. And he goes, how much do you charge for a massage? And I said whatever it was. And he said, so, then if you -- you know, I can come by and you can give me a two hour massage, and then I'll just give you the amount of money you need. And I was like, oh. Okay. Well that works. So I worked on Martin for two hours, and that was definitely the longest massage I'd ever given. Most of my clients, I worked on for an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. Yeah, it was just really cool. It was just basically what I was already doing. Sort of, a double client, and that was enough where it made up what I 91:00needed to be able to come to the spring retreat that year. And that was just -- that was such a kind, warm, generous way of helping me get up here. And it was just -- I think he was being really sweet. One time at a gift exchange, I had him in my small group. I don't know how I knew I was going to have him in my small group, somehow I did and I had this cool, old -- I guess pencil holder in the shape of a gnarly old tree that -- ever since I found out his name was Treewalker, it had made me think of him. And so I brought that up as my gift in a small group and in theory, the way it's supposed to work is Spirit is supposed to determine who gets what gift, blah blah blah. But the way that we chose who 92:00was going to give the first gift was the youngest member, which wound up being me. And Martin's in my group and it was like, this is my perfect opportunity to give him this thing that makes me think of him. So I picked what I knew to be my gift, and I acted like I didn't know who I was gonna go to. And I was like, oh, I think this wants to go to Treewalker. So I totally cheated and I totally gave him the thing that I wanted to give him as my gift, and I think I may have told him that I cheated later, and I think he's -- I think he was like, "You know, you're really not supposed to do that." Kerry (?) Jackson was -- I was sort of shocked when I heard that Kerry had died because he'd always -- he was one of 93:00the people who was in my body electric class. He was like -- there were three people who were sort of -- John Blues called them lieutenants, assistants, helpers. And Tony James was one of them, Kerry Jackson another, and he was just such a sweet, wonderful guy. And it was cool to see him up here, and see him in this context in addition to the body electric context. So. John Mongo, oh, that was such a loss. John Mongo was a therapist in Atlanta when I was first involved 94:00in GSV, and he was this big guy. I mean, I think he must have been like, 6'6. Just broad and -- he worked out at my gym sometimes. Dude, hot. Oh my god, I had such a crush on John Mongo. He had this big, strong daddy energy to him. Like, if you ever need to just completely break down and cry, he would be the big strong daddy who can hold you in enormous, treelike arms, and, you know, make everything safe. And I would occasionally see him at my gym, and I'd just like, (sigh) "He's so big and dreamy." And when I came back, there was -- I have that gap from the last fall conference I went to in 2001 to the fall conference in 95:002009. I specifically started coming back because a couple of people that I looked up to and liked, I found out had died. The two most noble ones of those were King Thaxton and John Stowe. And it occurred to me, you know, this group is not immune to the passage of time, and there is mentoring to be gotten before some of these people leave embodiment. And there's embodiment -- there's mentoring to do for other people. So that's kind of what prompted me to start coming back again, and when I found out that John Mongo had died, I was really saddened -- really saddened, because he'd just been this rock solid human being. 96:00This big, deep voice -- really, strangely reassuring presence, and when I found out that he was a therapist, it was like, of course he'd a therapist. Could you imagine a more comforting person? And when I found out that he had died, I was really horrified. He was way too young for that. And (unintelligible) Ramon Noya. King used to take me to the GSV council meetings when I was living here and Roman Noya was on the council at the time. And he was an amazing man -- a genius art director. He was a lighting engineer and he did a lot of lighting at the Olympics that were held in Atlanta. And he had this saying that I never understood. It was something -- I think he was Cuban, I think it was something 97:00he brought with him from there. When something good happened, he would say in this beautiful voice, "Blessings we all receive." I have no idea what that means to this day. It's like, I guess? Does it mean we all receive blessings? Is this an example of a blessing we're getting? I was never sure what he meant by that, but it sounded really good in his beautiful accent. And yeah -- I remember when he -- that was huge, because Ramon Noya was -- he was a mentor to a lot of people. I think Acorn really had a strong connection with Ramona, and it was -- that was a huge blow. Already mentioned that. Phoenix Rolldown (?) Smith was amazing. He was this young, sort of lean African-American man. Really sweet, 98:00good energy, and he went on a mission -- I think -- he was travelling to some very far, yonder distant country to do -- I think missionary work? And he was -- Christianity isn't my favorite spiritual path, but he was one of those people who practiced it I think as it was meant to be practiced. And he was really interesting, wise man. And he was another one of those people I thought of as one of the young, strong figures of GSV when I first met him. And boom, within just a couple years, he contracted some weird meningitis or something and died, and it's like -- what the hell. It was -- that was really sad. John Stowe. He 99:00used to make flower essences and they were just flower -- essential oils that he made himself? And I still have one tiny little jar of one of his flower essences. And on very very very rare special occasions, I will use it as an anointing oil if I'm doing some sort of ritual work that is especially important or especially magical or for which I want his particular, wonderful sort of blessing. He was a handsome man, and he was just walking in the mall in Atlanta with his partner, and out of nowhere, in his mid-fifties, just had a massive, catastrophic heart attack. And it was -- he was a smart, interesting individual. 100:00Really good smile, nice guy. I still wonder if he knows the Brotherhood of the Phoenix used his book to create a religion. And I think the last name on this list that I recognize is my favorite of all these people, King Thaxton, wing of men. One of the things that King did for which he was known was he had a green man outfit. And it was just a whole body costume, it was made out of leaves. They were made out of fabric, and a green man mask. You do this quiet, silent green man presence. He would like don the costume and I think it was one of his ways of having an ecstatic experience because he would channel the green man and 101:00he would do that at -- up here, at various GSV events and other contexts too, I think. But the green man was part of his blessing. And I think it was King Thaxton who wound up getting the labyrinth created here at the foot of the mountain. He was instrumental in making sure that happened and that is very appropriate that he would do something like that. Yeah, I think that's all the folks that I remember.

CUMBAA: Thank you. The final question is, have we forgot a question that would be -- that we maybe should ask about you or about GSV? In your experience with GSV. Or is there anything you just wanna add.

102:00

BLACKWELDER: This is an amazing organization. I want it to be strong for years and years to come because it adds so much and I do sometimes worry bout its future because gay men are so used to having religion -- not as much spirituality -- but religion used as a beat stick against them that I think a lot of times, gay men are hostile towards the idea towards spirituality until at least their mid-thirties. So that's hopefully there will be things that channel men into GSV and the old guard would be able to sort of retire and the new generation will take over.

CUMBAA: Okay, anything else?

BLACKWELDER: Nope.

CUMBAA; Well, thank you.

103:00

BLACKWELDER: My pleasure. Thanks for asking good questions.