Gay Soul: Finding the heart of gay spirit and nature by Mark Thompson

GSThe Huffington Post includes it in its list of ‘20 books that changed the way we felt about ourselves as LGBT people.’ “It taught me that we are a unique tribe, but that sexuality was only one facet of who I really am.”

The author has a series of with well-known community figures, spiritual leaders, and artists such as Harry Hay, Ram Dass, Andrew Harvey, Paul Monette, James Broughton.

We thought that the interview format was good, though there were sopme leading questions.

It was thought provoking.

The idea that gay men have some sort of shamanic, unique insight because they are outsiders and felt different from an early age was popular at the start of the last century. Whether this will last now that the stigma is lessening is questionable.

Richard Isay says that: We live in a society where fathers are often distant from their whether those sons are gay or straight. … But they’re more distant from a child that they sense is different. Our society is not tolerant of differences, particularly differences that wrongly may be labeled as “feminine.” The idea of not appearing male is particularly odious to straight people. And not feeling masculine to many gay men as well in our society.

(This distant father thing – is it cause or effect? Chicken or egg?)

He reckons: I don’t know if we have a unique vision, but I do think we’re an awful lot more interesting than heterosexual men. We’ve been through more. We’ve me a greater variety of people. We’ve had to deal with more outside of ourselves and inside ourselves as well. It causes us often to be more thoughtful than straight men. Gay men who don’t know themselves are not particularly interesting. Some are trying to live gay versions of conventional heterosexual lives and have blocked off a lot of what’s different and interesting inside of themselves.

To the accusation that gays cannot hold down long-term relationships: We may hold onto an unhappy, unsatisfying relationship from the past with the hope that it will change. Or feeling that what little we got, even if it was bad, is better than nothing….There’s the rage, shame, and resentment that all of us carry us—a need to express our anger at what society does to us. And then there’s need to re-create our early relationships. If we’ve been rejected by a father, for example, we will be inclined to enter into a relationship with a partner in which reject him as revenge for what was done to us, or place ourselves in a position ere we are again rejected. A lot of gay men feel it’s easier to have sex in five minutes and go home.

James Broughton reckons that gay men make a contribution to straights: The most androgynous men, whatever their sexual preference, embody the sturdiest gay spirit. They are freer of the rat races and the desire to be like everybody else. What could give all men liberation and depth would be a realiza­tion that their souls include all the reaches of human possibility.

He advises: Be not shy of the love you can share with other men. Fear of love is fear of the sublime. Put lovemaking before moneymaking and troublemaking. To be a   lover is to practice the major art of life. You must love even if it hurts. It will hurt more if you don’t love.

He also points out the untruth of body/soul dualism: “Those who see any difference between the soul and the body have nei­ther,” said Oscar Wilde. The soul expresses itself throughout the body, in its members, organs, nerves, and cells, in all actions of desire, daring, and droop, wherever you ache and wherever you soar. Every nook and cranny of yourself flutter and stretch, exude and hum, in experiencing the pleasures and pains of being alive. The body is a holy place of romp and renewal. It is not the shameful sewer that orthodox religions insist upon. Novalis said, “There is only one tem­ple in the world, and that is the human body.” From your tiptoe to your topknot you are throbbingly alive in the dance of the divine mystery. The genitals, the anus, and the perineum are the holy trinity at the root of your torso’s experience. The penis is the exposed tip of the heart and the wand of the soul. The perineum animates all the chakras. The anus is the transforming and recycling volcano that fertilizes new growth. The proper activity in a temple is worship. Open your temple to love. Visit other temples.

Paul Monette has become discerning about enemies: I’ve been furious and blunt, as you say, in my impatience and rage with religions…. And yet, in the midst of this nightmare and calamity of AIDS, I have seen such eloquent work done by people who are part of the clergy.

He advises gays to know their rich heritage: The one thing they can’t take away from us is knowledge about our-astonishing literature in twenty-five years. You’ll have to know it. Ignorance is not bliss, and ignorance will not hold back the darkness. I believe that there is a great deal more homo-ignorance than in the world.

The editor does well to point out that there are many fakes: Any person on a spiritual search is likely to meet all sorts of preposterous­ prophets; questionable messengers of the divine are almost certain to be en­tered on the inner quest

Andrew Harvey acknowledges what many feel: I prefer the word breakup” to “breakdown” because I think you do break completely, but you break into another dimension in which you are at the same time infinitely more agile, more awake, and more loving.

Also that: reputation is nothing and that the only valuable thing is to remain true to the soul.

By way of definition: I mean by the word mystical entering into conscious direct relations with the divine. It must be conscious and it must be direct to be mystical. Mystical is not theological; it’s not having a series of ideas about God, however lucid wonderful. It’s not emotional; it’s not having a series of feelings, however deep and adoring, about God. And it’s not intellectual, in any sense, even in the most refined sense.

He goes on: Homophobia is entirely about extinguishing the feminine and extinguishing the child. Because what are the two great enemies of the masculine myth—the woman and the child!…. homophobia is rooted in the derision and fear of the feminine, so is the destruction of the earth. The destruction of the earth has from our ignorance of where and who we are, which is totally interdependent ­with everything else.

So far so good but I balk at: The earth has AIDS because of the way we’ve treated it.

Instead of saying that ‘AIDS is God’s wrath’ he seems to be saying that it’s Gaia’s wrath.

Andrew Ramer talks of ‘coming in’ as well as ‘coming out’. Coming in refers to the inner, spiritual journey by which the gay man tunes into the gay tribe, the collective unconscious of gay men. His childhood was unusual: “My father did the best he knew how as a straight man to introduce me to gay culture,” Ramer recalls, even though he is quick to admit that those at­tempts were frequently “terrifying.” Andrew’s parents would often argue over their young son’s nonconforming behavior, his father advocating tolerance. “You can’t change people,” he’d proclaim. “Let’s see what we can do to make him happy as he is.” ……Andrew still remembers those outings well.

“All the men were screaming queens,” he says, with a slow shake of his head. “They all had on little cashmere V-neck sweaters, were incredibly skinny, had bad skin, and wore penny loafers and very tight pants. I thought I’d turn out exactly like them.” As the evenings progressed, the men “got drunker and drunker and sat around the piano singing Broadway songs, which I knew but wouldn’t admit that I did…..Born in 1951 to a left-wing, atheist, political, Jewish family in Queens, New York, Ramer had plenty of other lessons about being different while grow­ing up. “I was raised in an environment where I was taught that in a tribe, which was Jews, we have a responsibility not only to educate the world about who we are innately but also to support one another, take care of ourselves, and make lists of all the famous Jews that have ever done anything of significance in world history.”

Gays lead others: ` If gay men are making theater, eventually straight people will come. If we invent a new way of dressing, eventually everyone will dress that way. So in little ways, we’re still doing our innate job for the whole society…. If all of us decided to stay home for a week, the entire cultural life of the planet would grind to a complete halt.

Harry Hay was very interested in the results of a recent study at University of California, Los Angeles, that show there are more connections between the right and left hemispheres of gay men’s brains than in other people’s. This supports my view that gay men are those who are constantly trying to put dreams into words, music, and motion—into new ways of talking to one another. We find the means to bring into articulation our innermost visions. That’s it’s tremendously important right now for gay men to be in sensual and sex-contact as much as possible—it enables that articulation.

On casual sex: In the sexuality found in bathhouses and backroom bars, gay men keep making objects out of each other. The ensuing ejaculatory affairs undoubtedly re­in an eagerly sought release, but they end up being spiritually negative if not, indeed, spiritually taxing in many cases, not to mention a drain on the immune system. I’m more inclined to feel that some of the things that go on in tantric practices are as important, if not more rewarding, in the long run.

So some gay men lack empathy and are fairly alien.

He prefers ‘homophile’ to ‘homosexual’ because it moves the emphasis from sex to love. The Church of England produced a report which used this term though people thought it was because of a fear of sex.

If bishops produced a statement about the earth being flat, that wouldn’t make it true.

Now I know why so many hairdressers are gay: as far as gay men are concerned, we really don’t care about ….struggle. If anything, we would like to share in helping you win. We are able to dress a woman’s hair or body because we have no interest in possessing her whatsoever. Therefore, I can listen to her tell me what she wants to be she would like to look and then help her do that for herself. Every hetero man wants her to be an object: to excite him, satisfy him, do something for him. He thinks of her as an object in his competition game. I see her as she wants to see herself, and so I can share with her all of the talents I have at my disposal. I’m sharing in her joy in herself because I have no interest in her as an object.

Against the idea of some sort of third sex, Will Roscoe says of berdaches, shamans and the like: It’s not a gene or something built the brain; it’s a set of social practices—social forms and techniques and roles. They occur and reoccur in many times and places because they work and because the way we are psychologically. We were taken with his statement that: Not everybody has to be, should be, or is required to be a flaming queen. But our growth lies through examining the flaming queens among us. You’ve got to be comfortable with that queen. You’ve got to take her hand and walk down the street—and I mean that literally. If you’ve never gone in gone in drag, if you’ve never hung out with some gay guys while they’re in drag in public, I don’t think that you’ve made the progress toward self-acceptance that you need to make. You’ve got to learn to feel comfortable with the most outrageous and sometimes degraded images of us. You can’t just love the good parts of gay men; you’ve got to love the so-called bad parts if you’re going to love yourself as a gay man, too.

Clyde Hall said: Indian people think of the two worlds being separated by a very thin veneer, like a curtain.

It reminds me of Celtic talk about ‘the veil is very thin here when talking of some numinous place.

Given the title of the book, how does one define ‘soul’? I don’t believe in such a thing because it is dualist. However James Saslow comes close to what I think when he says: I’m not sure I have a definition for soul. Spirituality has to do with relationship of the individual to the whole universe. But to the extent that 1 that I have a soul, I’m an atheist. I would put it this way: If the universe as a whole is the big circle, within that there’s this box that is logically organized society, and within another little circle that represents the individual soul. The soul is local and within me—it’s my core identity. I believe there is some connection betweeen little circle in the middle and the big circle at the horizon—they’re both tot rather than logical and organized.

As to their being a purposed in life, I like it when he says: Maybe we’ll find that isn’t have a great evolutionary purpose; maybe our purpose is pure play. I would rather like the idea of a mythology in which gay people represent the play pie, in which our role is simply to be the agents of increasing spontaneity aesthetics and fun.

Ram Dass spoke of a longtime companion. Later, he said, “I got into a lot of trouble for that interview. I choose to be open and honest about my life. When it affects others I must respect their privacy.”

I can’t make him out. He was born Jewish, espouses some bits of Hinduism yet has taken the name of one of the Sikh gurus, albeit adding an extra ‘s’.

(Maybe someone had a sensde opf humour – it was later pointed out to me that it could be spelt ‘Rammed ass.’)

Then he goes on to espouse a Buddhist idea, albeit a good one: Suffering stinks, and then suffering becomes grace. It still stinks, but it’s grace. You’d rather not suffer, unless you’re a masochist, but f you do suffer, you work with it and experience what it’s showing you, which Buddha’s point of view is where your mind is clinging. Because you always suffer where there is clinging.

Where he is good: awakening is the recognition that there are planes of consciousness and that you exist on all of them. You are limiting self incredibly to define yourself only in terms of the physical/psychological planes, as if they were absolutely real. So it’s an awakening into the relative reality of the world you thought was absolutely real. It’s awakening to realize you’re in a prison you’ve created by your own thoughts—that your conceptual definitions of reality are imprisoning you from what reality is, which is something that has no concept.

I used to know someone who regularly travelled to the United States to attend Body Electric workshops so it was interesting to ready Joseph Kramer’s explanation of the theory behind them. His thought about full body orgasms owes a lot to William Reich.

After reading Guy Baldwin I still don’t understand S & M. From my very limited knowledge, though, I think I agree with him when he says: There are a lot of people out there who are doing S/M for reasons that I don’t approve of, in the sense that I don’t think they are engaged in S/M for life-enhancing purposes. Some have harnessed self-destructive impulses to their sexu­ality and found a way to manifest that in the S/M scene.

Ed Steinbecher gives a good tarot meditation.

As ever, I enjoyed reading Malcolm Boyd. In 1976: he announced his homosexual­ity in a New York Times interview. The gay movement was in its nascent stages, and he wanted to join. Neither the gay movement nor the church—nor the world, for that matter—knew quite what do with this self-outed celebrity. Too open for religion and too religious for being gay, Boyd now found that more doors had closed than were opened. He had no choice but to keep on running.

He said: Being gay for me means gentleness, sensitivity, warmth, and service to others. When I meet a gay person who is the opposite of those things, I am of­fended. Because that’s someone who has not realized himself or herself.

To the question How can gay people begin to redeem and separate out the hopeful message that perhaps does exist for them in Christianity?: The principal way is to quit concentrating on gay spirit and get involved in the muck and the reality of gay soul. Too many gay Christians have been re­mote, transcendent, have been involved in churchianity rather than Christianity_ It’s essential to discover a relationship with the radical Jesus Christ. Gay soul the great meeting place for gay Christians and gay Buddhists, gay Jews and gay agnostics. Anybody interested in gay spirituality and theology has a meet’ place in gay soul. However, we have not met there enough.

Later: I feel some anger and rage, getting back to anger and rage, about the fact that a small group of gay people are controlling some of the media represent what is supposed to be gay life and the gay community. Probably seventy eighty percent of gays are honeycombed into the culture or are still in the closet The prototype of the gay male may really be a flabby, tweedy gay schoolteacher who lives in relationship with somebody in a quiet neighborhood. We’ve projected some very mistaken and distorted images of gay life. What’s essential now is to start dealing with gay people as we are. As for the seventy percent or m that are closeted, I’m fascinated. I want to know who these people are. I want address them; I want them to address me. These people are living a gay life. These people are grappling with gay soul.

Thought provoking: Martin Luther King taught me that nonviolence is the way you pick up the telephone. I like that because it’s so specific. Whenever I pick up the telephone I realize how close or how far from nonviolence I am. Some people think that nonviolence means being passive. Gandhi, who practiced nonviolence, was as involved in social action as anyone in the world. But it’s how you accomplish social action. What are your goals? That’s the point. As gay people, we have to be socially active at every level. We’re asserting our own rights, we’re asserting the rights of others, but at the same time I think the way we do it needs to be through nonviolence and uncondi­tional love. It’s important that these be recognized as active, not passive.

He says: Look at the beatitudes, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who have been persecuted. To me, the fact that God is concerned with the poor and the persecuted is very deep.

So far so good, but they he naively asserts: I believe that God has a plan.

Mitch Walker disagrees with Foucault’s social construction theory but fails to give reasons.

One of our members did and said: In the end, I was not convinced that ‘Gay’ is the 3rd (or 4th) sex. For me, being Gay describes ONE ELEMENT of who I am. I am emotionally and physically attracted to men.    That is not a TOTAL description of who I am. Being Gay has enabled me to meet and have friendships/relationships/sex with guys of different social classes, backgrounds, religions, nationalities. Gay covers all classes, castes, religions, backgrounds, political and socio/economic groups.
It absolutely does not mean that we are all THE SAME. I just have to venture into The Pineapple (local gay bar) to know that the ONLY thing I have in common with most guys in there is that  we enjoy SEX WITH MEN. I also believe that  there is a whole spectrum of sexual identity from 100% Homosexual at one extreme…….through bi-sexual, metrosexual, bi-curious… 100% Heterosexual at the other, and that most men are clustered at the 95% Gay or 95% straight level, but that this can change with circumstances.  So, in spite of all the attempts to paint GAY as inherently a different class, breed, sect, religion….and to inbue us with special powers or skills – hairdressers, counsellors, artists, painters, interior designers….whatever –  in the end (if that’s the right expression), Gays can be  tall, short, blonde, redhead, Tory, Labour, Liberal, SNP, UKIP (maybe not)……I  have met both angels and devils in the gay community. I am still left with a fascinating question, which ‘Gay Soul’ makes me think about, but does not answer. What is Gay? Going to bed with a so called ‘Straight’ guy can be very exciting;  but the fact that he wants to know what it feels like to be fucked doesn’t actually make him Gay. Does it?

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