Ramboys, Horned Gods, and Queer Wizards
“When the first baby laughed for the first time,
its laugh broke into a thousand pieces,
and they all went skipping about,
and that was the beginning of fairies.”
-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
It was a sweaty July evening in 1994, and I was 10 years old. Spent from a day of bike-riding, fire-starting and boy-nerding around the suburbs of the North End of Winnipeg, I retreated to my family’s single-story bungalow, ravaged down dinner, then descended to the secret world of my un-finished basement. There I crawled through the labyrinth of a temple I had constructed out of bedsheets, blankets, old furniture and luggage, towards my sanctuary where a small colour TV lay crowned atop an altar built of old encyclopaedias. Therein, I prepared for my initiation to a queer order of art-wizards through the portal of a television documentary I had circled in my Mother’s copy of the TV Guide.
I had just finished Grade 5, and I had begun to understand that I was fated to become an Artist. From the earliest point in my memory I drew, sculpted and constructed fantastical worlds, and then created private spectacles and rituals which I would perform largely for myself – in the sanctity of my basement sanctuary. Fantasy, science fiction, and myth animated my imaginary universe, hailing from novels, comics, television, movies, video games, music, theatre and Art.
I began to have crushes on boys – mainly the athletic ones, who had little to no creative sensibilities or imaginary skills. At first they sought me out to help them illustrate their take-home storybook assignments, but after demonstrating my compositional prowess they began ask me to draw them as they imagined themselves to be – enhanced with wild hairstyles, tattoos, six-packs, transposed into athletic muscled-gods, superheroes and wrestlers – which I had the unique capacity to do with my own hands, like magic. I enlarged my social status in the jungles of the playground by learning to animate the fantasies of boys – which in turn triggered my own fantasies that were gestating as puberty struck. This became my access point: to penetrate the gendered divide that then existed between boys and girls (and girly boys). Art paved a way to integrate my deepest desires into my conscious creative self — to make them active components in my reality rather than remaining hidden amongst the monsters in my “closet”. These were also my first acts as a queer Wizard: the carving of fantasy into form, the anchoring of the imaginary within the “real” – through the magic and mysteries of Art.
The episode I had circled and ceremonially prepared to witness was from a weekly TV series called Adrienne Clarkson Presents, where former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, probed the work and lives of famous artists, architects, writers, and other visionaries in an attempt to broaden the cultural vocabulary of pre-internet insular Canada. I recall having once watched an episode on Vincent Van Gogh with my Grandmother.
But this episode was going to be different, I knew it in my queer bones the way a dog senses an earthquake hours before it strikes. It would be showcasing a Contemporary Canadian artist who was openly Gay, who bore a fantastical wizardly name, and who was working on an epic series involving the creation of a cultic, overtly sexualized, visual mythos. It was called Evergon: Making Homo Rococo, and it seemed somehow to merge all of the discordant aspects of my gestating self – each word in the title illuminated synapses in my imagination, like hieroglyphs whose shapes I could glimpse but not decipher.
Re-watching this 44-minute media artefact now, 24 years after I first watched it in the sanctity of my basement temple, I am mystified to see it not only as a time-capsule of media archaeology, but also as rare documentation of queer art’s insertion into a hardly recognizable mainstream. To her credit, Clarkson did not shy away from addressing the overt sexual themes in Evergon’s work, chronicling his open sexuality alongside of his practise, even featuring an early interview between himself and his Mother which would foreshadow a body of work the artist is famous for, involving photographing his Mother in the nude.
Here, Margaret discusses her own journey of acceptance of her son’s sexuality and lifestyle, climaxing with her willing participation within his mythology, posing in a series of images as the Wisdom Goddess Ramba Mama, for the promiscuous Ramboy cult. I reflect now upon the aftershocks generated from seeing an openly gay artist alongside of his supportive Mother, re-calling their journey of transformation and acceptance, and how that would inspire and inform my own “coming out” story – a rite of passage and pilgrimage which is central in almost all queer mythologies.
From inception to creation, the documentary portrays Evergon and his own band of wild boys, undertaking a ritual expedition from Montreal to New York to Boston, in order to undergo a fictive archaeological dig to locate sacred remains and artefacts from his invented culture of Ramboys. Upon arrival in New York, the pack is filmed roving through sex-shops, costume stores and eventually a taxidermist shop, wherein a particular stag-head (unusually positioned with its head curved inward) was first located and then extracted from its’ herd of trophy mounts. I marvel here at the magic of imprinting: how this horned archetype, the iconic centrepiece of the filmed photoshoot, (later to be re-used in several subsequent Ramboy works) would be the same very artefact I would choose to pose alongside of during my first collaborative photoshoot with Evergon in 2014. Eerily, Clarkson’s fantastical narration speculates that the stag head may well be “the remains of a long lost rival tribe” – and my own queer mythology, centring around a messianic multi-gendered stag cult, metaphorically fulfilled this prophecy.
The artists chosen name of Evergon, combined with his often braided beard, and his role as teacher and mentor to young queer artists sculpting their own imaginary worlds, aligned him in my young mind with other magical wizards wandering the labyrinths of fantasy (The Arthurian Merlin, Tolkien’s Gandalf, Le Guin’s Sparrowhawk and Zimmer-Bradley’s Taliesin). Allegedly a nickname given to the artist by a friend (that cleverly betrays neither sex nor nationality), the artists selected combination of word-forms simultaneously describes “the unsettled and fluid properties of identity: ever gone.”
But the self-inscription of Evergon’s identity is not limited to a single entity – rather, in anticipation of the growing discourse surrounding multiplicity and identity, and in the characteristically queer practise of crafting personas and fictional selves commonly referred to as ‘drag’ – the artist actively used three other interchangeable avatars, each with their own unique character descriptions and artistic agendas. These include Egon Brut – a 50-year old collector who is particularly fond of homo-erotic works, Celluloso Evergoni – the homo-rococo, homo-baroque, homo-high renaissance artist who bridges the contemporary practise of photography with painting and sculpture, and the singularly female avatar, Eve R. Gonzales, described by the artist as “an 80-year old Spanish woman with cataracts and sore feet” who wanders cemeteries photographing predominantly male statues, still-lives and fetish objects (and according to Clarkson’s edgy voice-over “puts the sap of sex into the dry branches of art history”.)
Procreation here is queered through avatar offsprings, and the fornication of these fictions inseminate and reproduce a series of artworks, and art-worlds. Much in the way that we ascribe central characteristics to ancient gods that exemplify archetypal attributes (i.e. Athena the goddess of war and wisdom, or Apollo the god of light and reason) the Evergon pantheon presents as a self-inscribed psychological database the artist has drawn on to express different perspectives of the same central phenomena, using fictional identity as a licence to articulate contradictions and stylize difference.
The Ramboys project was therefore understood from the onset by the artist as a collaboration between two of the avatars: Egon Brut and Celluloso Evergoni. The artist describes the Cosmogony of the Ramboys beginning:
“in early 1990 with a walk along the lakeshore park areas of
Chicago… There, spray painted on the buildings, trees and pavements,
were indications of racial territories of boy prostitutes, i.e., B Boys,
Jew Boys, Spic Boys, etc. We (Egon and Celluloso) began to think
about this in reference to William Boroughs’ The Wild Boys and
William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies… Back in our studio there
were ram masks from earlier works. Taking the ram as a universal
symbol for “male promiscuity” we began to fantasize a mythological
race of Ramboys.”
It is this integration of behaviours and rituals of contemporary queer life that inspired Evergon to not only fantasize, or fetishize, but mythologize. Baudelaire once wrote that “genius is childhood recovered at will”, and the late, great science fiction marvel Ursula Le Guin claimed that “the creative adult is the child who has survived.” All throughout the Clarkson documentary, Evergon discusses the importance of “play” to his process, at one point describing what he does as akin to “adult” children’s games.
Make-believe, the forerunner of fantasy, is as much a part of any child’s life, but perhaps most critically for queers, whose magicality and sense of play and promiscuity often continues throughout adulthood. Growing into themselves in a hetero-patriarchal world, queer youth are generally forced to develop themselves sexually within the safe and imaginary precincts of fantasy, and this element of projected imagination imbued with sexual desire colours the development of one’s sexuality, through the private, often isolating harvesting of perversions. Whether in the fantastical arena of the night-club (often referred to as a kind of gay church) or through the artworld where one is arguably “gay until proven straight”, the queer artist making ostensibly queer work ends up creating fairy-tales that tell queer stories, through play and performance and the production of fetishistic art objects.
Whilst Evergon cites Burroughs’ Wild Boys and Golding’s Lord of the Flies as fictional forerunners of the Ramboys, at ten years old my closest reference point was the Lost Boys of Neverneverland and the adventures of Peter Pan. Although now rightfully the product of post-colonial scrutiny for its abhorrent depiction of indigenous people, the story nonetheless chronicles an all-male boy cult, and their adventures and misadventures in a world of make-believe. The story’s protagonist, Peter Pan (queerly portrayed in its 1960 mainstream musical version by actress Mary Martin) bears mythological ancestry to the Greek God Pan, often depicted horned like the Ramboys, with a large erect phallus, typically seen having sex with nymphs or goats, and ‘playing’ or frolicking in fields, groves or wooded glens.
In her 1984 book Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds, author Judy Grahn speculates upon the origin of our modern slang word “horny”, suggesting it might descend from the Celtic horned god Cernunnos, who was “especially linked with male sexuality and often appears with an erect cock. Moreover, with an erection, he is sometimes portrayed in the company of men, not women.” Modern neo-pagans have resurrected this archetype as a totem of masculinity and sexuality, which aligns with Evergon’s appropriation of the ram as a symbol of male promiscuity. Grahn speculates upon the etymological associations of a number of queer slang words, most notably Bulldyke coming from the Celtic warrior Queen Boudicca, and the words “faggot” “flaming” and “poof” all associated with homosexuality in men, emerging from the myth of the torch-bearing effeminate male who stole a faggot of fire from the Goddess, and burned by the flames of the feminine, carried ‘civilization’ to all of humankind.
I suspect that while Egon Brut focused on the sexual and masculine symbolic associations of the Ram, Celluloso Evergoni, with his interest in historicity, might have imagined the trajectory of the young horned boy extending much further back in time. In Ancient Greece and Rome, a variety of ancient cults utilized the iconographic motif of the kriophorous or ram-bearer to depict a standing adolescent male bearing a ram stretched across his shoulders. In his 2nd century text Descriptions of Greece, the ancient writer and scholar Pausanias recounts a story wherein Hermes, the messenger god:
“averted a pestilence from the city by carrying a ram around the walls;
to commemorate this Calamis made an image of Hermes carrying a ram upon his shoulders. Whichever of the [male] youths is judged to be the
most handsome goes round the walls at the feast of Hermes, carrying
a ram on his shoulders.”
Ironically, this signature image would later be de-paganized (and therefore de-sexualized) and transformed into the Christian iconography of “The Good Shephard”, wherein Christ is transposed in place of the handsome youth, and the ram is de-horned and transformed into a lamb, symbolic of the innocent and gentle flocks that Christ ministered to. Mythologies themselves can sometimes be more promiscuous than their subjects.
One cannot look at the Ramboys, with its seductive play of light on polaroid, or any of the homo-rococo, homo-baroque or homo-high renaissance works attributed to Celluloso Evergoni, without considering their relationship with the iconically queer Caravaggio. In an ironic counter-play to the above mentioned mythological transformation (where the pagan ram became the Christian lamb), Caravaggio’s 1602 painting St. John the Baptist depicts a beautiful naked youth posing as the saint, intimately embracing a Ram. This symbolic association baffles Art Historians, as the archetypal Ram bore no overt symbolic connection with the Saint, who instead was regularly depicted with a lamb, referencing his foretelling of the arrival of the coming Saviour.
One of the few female protagonists in the Peter Pan story is Wendy, who, charged with the care of her adolescent siblings, gets swept up to Never Neverland with Peter and becomes a kind of maternal figure to the exclusively male community of Lost Boys. At first they reject her, but gradually they reveal a hunger for her maternal life force, to both soothe and comfort them, and read them stories until they fall asleep. Evergon claimed that while constructing the all-male cult of the Ramboys, he “wanted the boys to have some sort of wisdom goddess that was not paternal – I wanted it outside of masculinity so the only option was to take it into the feminine.” For this, he employed his Mother, Margaret, to take on the role of the RamBa Mama, who perhaps surprisingly anchors the cult in a historical trajectory of queerness going all the way back to the Ancient Near East.
“Mother Cults” emerging in Phrygia and then spreading throughout the ancient world, were often adorned with an order of feminized male priests (which may or may not have been hierodules, or sacred temple prostitutes, who performed sex rites for other men on behalf of their goddess), and many of these orders required ritual castration on behalf of their initiates in order to join. This eerily echoes the practise in drag of tucking and taping the cock below the ass, but also in the contemporary advent of sexual reassignment surgery, which is itself can be read in terms of queer historiography, as an ongoing practise of queer ritual castration.
This line of ancient eunuch priests included the Galli of the Phrygian Cybele, the megabysos of the Ephysian Artemis, the korybantes of the Meter, the cults of Hecate in Lagina and Caria as well as the syncretic Greco-Oriental cults of Aphrodite and Astarte. They were often described as having long effeminate curly hair, ornate jewellery and make-up, dancing through the streets clashing cymbals and drums in ecstatic frenzy encircling depictions of their Great Mother. In St. Augustine’s signature work City of God, the Bishop of Hippo attempts to interpret the religious and mythological significance the eunuch cult represents:
“The mutilated Galli serve the Great Mother in order to
signify that those who lack seed ought to devote themselves
to the earth. But is it not their very own devotion which has
caused them to lack seed? For do they acquire seed when
they lack it by following after the Goddess ? Or do they
rather, by following her, lose the seed that they have ?”
While the Ramboys are almost certainly not castrated (in fact they typically are portrayed with an overtly phallic and athletic masculinity), they do metaphorically centre around their Wisdom Goddess, and similarly face the issue of “lacking seed.” Evergon sought to address this problem through mythological means, the visual inscription of an alternate method of procreation: the stealing of human babies by the moonlight.
This mythographic kid-napping and boy-rearing similarly references the ancient Greek practise of pederasty, wherein an older more experienced male (erastês) would mentor a young male (erômenos) in all manner of life, including perhaps most controversially, in sex and sexuality. Then, when the boy grew older, he himself would take an erômenos into his training, and thus cycles of sexual and spiritual instruction were repeated. Evergon’s use of this metaphor addresses the controversies of this behaviour in our contemporary world, but perhaps more importantly confronts fears still active in mainstream debates surrounding homosexuality and the “gay agenda” to steal innocent youths from their heterosexual enclosures and turn them into queers by ways of perversion and intoxication.
Both in the Clarkson documentary, and a video interview done with the artist whilst in the Canary Islands, Evergon claims that photography, rather than a tool for reproducing “the real”, for him is a technology of fictions. Evergon, Celluloso Evergoni, Egon Brut and Eve R. Gonzales themselves are an ongoing orgy of fictions — built atop of one another to produce a layering of play, sex, seduction and myth.
The word fiction itself comes from the Latin “fictio” which translates as “something fashioned” or “something made”, and this exposes the role of Art, and artifice, central to the wizardly practise of casting fantasy into form. Evergon’s reified practise of make-believe led me at ten years old to understand that my talents and my desires could intertwine, and that when joined together, could produce a kind of alchemy that crosses space and time. The Ramboys are just that: an ancient queer culture excavated from the fleshy cruising grounds of Evergon’s own imaginary garden of earthly delights.
Thus, the exhibition Ramboys: A Bookless Novel, produced by NeverApart — a kind of queer artistic Never Neverland for the contemporary era, curated and presided over by Michael Venus, another self-imagined magically constructed entity– is itself a queer Temple, charged with the holy task of remembering and reinserting into culture the relics of our brave queer forebears who made myths to mark our histories as they set about to build the fields, glens and wooded groves that we now graze and frolic within.
If queer culture really is a culture – or a cult – it is in need of its own origin myths, and for those origin myths to be circulated in multiple forms and myriads of languages, in order that the Moon Babies coming into their queerness can envision their own worlds to create and inhabit, just as I did at ten years old in the safety and the sanctity of my secret temple. The world needs more worlds, and queers need not write themselves into the world-as-is, but rather invent, author and invite those from the other worlds to take a walk on the wild-side, to the far reaches of our gardens and play where the faeries dwell. The enchanted kingdom of the Evergon multiverse, peopled with Ramboys, Wisdom Goddesses and Moon Babies, is a queer Eden that can be returned to again and again, through portals that only the outsiders know how to find.
” Do not seek to become like your opponents. You have the
burden and the great joy of being outsiders. Every day you
live as a kind of triumph. This you should cling onto. You
should make no effort to try and join society. Stay right where
you are. Give your name and serial number and wait for
society to form itself around you. Because it will most certainly will.”
Michael Dudeck is an artist, writer and cultural engineer, whose work focuses on the invention, construction, performance, and dissemination of a queer, religious mythography called The Religion Virus.
1 “Evergon: Making of Homo Rococo” Adrienne Clarkson Presents. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). July 19, 1994.
2 Renaud, Jean-Francois. “Ramboys: A Bookless Novel and Other Fictions.” Ramboys: A Bookless Novel and Other Fictions, Egon Brut, Celluloso Evergoni & Eve R. Gonzales. The Ottawa Art Gallery 1995, 11-33.
3 Domfer Videos. “Evergon 1997 in the Canary Islands.” Online video clip. https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=WS8TXDYD5VQ. Youtube, Nov. 1, 2008. Web. Date accessed: March 1, 2018.
4 Russel, Bruce Hugh. “Queer Epiphanies and the Pathogenesis of Paranoia.” Ramboys: A Bookless Novel and Other Fictions, Egon Brut, Celluloso Evergoni & Eve R. Gonzales. The Ottawa Art Gallery 1995, 50-51.
5 Grahn, Judy. Another Mother Tongue. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984. 138. Print.
6 Pausanias, Description of Greece, vol. 4, trans. William H. S. Jones, Cambridge MA: 1935, p.265.
7 Domfer Videos. “Evergon 1997 in the Canary Islands.” Online video clip. https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=WS8TXDYD5VQ. Youtube, Nov. 1, 2008. Web. Date accessed: March 1, 2018.
8 Budin, Stephanie. The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.
9 Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. City of God Against the Pagans. R. W DysonCambridge : Cambridge University Press ; 1998. 298.
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