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Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
|Radically Gay: The Life
& Visionary Legacy of Harry Hay
The New Myth of “Spiritual, not Religious” Through the Gay Window
The hundred years since Harry Hay’s birth have seen a revolution in human society. The Universe has been discovered, both the incredibly tiny: particles within particles, and the unimaginably huge: galaxies beyond galaxies. The human race has looked back on the Earth from the moon; we have achieved a perspective no human being has ever been able to before. For gay people the changes have been enormous. Charles Dickens’ opening sentence from A Tale of Two Cities truly applies: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
It is considered an important step in psychological development to be able to hold two seemingly opposing propositions in mind at the same time. It forces you to rise to a higher perspective in which best and worst are not in conflict, but somehow coexist as aspects of one another. You see two worlds: the ordinary world and the one from the higher perspective.
This bifurcation of the world is at the heart of gay consciousness and it underlies—I would argue—“the New Myth,” the stance of “Spiritual, not religious,” and “the Gay Window.”
— — —
Heterosexual people experience the world as radically divided between male and female. You are only one or the oFloating manther and can’t be both. They celebrate the conflict: vive la difference. But they also call it the “battle of the sexes.”
Floating Man by Bill Biggers
Gay people grow up learning to see the heterosexual world because it’s all around us, but, I think, we don’t experience the difference. Our attraction is not across the male female divide. In fact, we don’t seem to take the divide very seriously. We can be both male and female at the same time—or neither! In Harry Hay’s Radical Faerie Proposals for the March on Washington Organizing Meeting, Harry talks about what he calls our “spiritual neitherness.”
Our attraction is to another self, another Subject, to use Hay’s famous expression. Our attraction is not to opposites but to sames; our beloved is not an object to our subject, but another subject like us.
We grow up discovering that there are two worlds—like the two cities in Dickens’ title—the world everybody else lives in and then the one that has homosexuality in it. As we grow up, we might discover the real gay subculture that is a homosexual world. But always there’s that distinction between the world “normal people” live in and the world we live in because we understand about sex and homosexuality.
One of the traits of the “gay wise man archetype” is understanding homosexual and sexual dynamics that other people don’t—and won’t—see, and therefore being a teller of truth. A funny and poignant version of that gay wise man is the mad drag queen with a heart of gold—a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford character who is able to speak the truth that no one else dares to say.
— — —
This bifurcation of worlds, I think, appears also in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who seems to have been a homosexual, as the phenomenon and the noumenon, the consensual world people generally experience and the real world. It also appears in the notion of the bifurcation of nature by homosexual astrophysicist Arthur Eddington, the idea that the writing desk is this thing made of wood that is solid and the scientific reality that it’s actually mostly empty space with tiny atoms great distances apart on the atomic scale.
That gay people are raised, inadvertently, by straight society to be able to rise to a perspective—the outsider’s perspective—and see a straight world AND a gay world and to understand the straight world as but one way of viewing this is what I have called “Gay Perspective” and which Harry Hay called “the gay window.”
Through that gay window we are likely to see religion in a different way. Being able to understand religion from over and above, from the outsider perspective is something that, personally, I learned from reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
I was a Catholic seminarian when I was assigned that book for a college course on Jungian interpretation of literature. I was dealing with understanding my sexual feelings and identity at that same time. The comparative religions approach demonstrated by Campbell helped immensely as I struggled to reconcile my religiousness and my sexual deviance. I saw that by rising to a perspective the two seemingly conflicting elements could actually coexist and in a way that made them both better and richer.
Donald Boisvert wonderfully captured how the effort to deal with one’s homosexuality inspires s kind of sanctity.
How could I possibly ever reconcile [my attraction to other boys] with some grand, altruistic life purpose? This question, I believe, lies at the heart of the gay vocation in the world, and of gay spirituality and sanctity more specifically. It summons us to consider how and why we do what we do, and the reason that our vocation so often lies in areas of beauty, creativity, and service. Much has been written about the fertile manifestations of our marginality. I will put forth a radical proposition, though it is historically impervious to proof.
I venture to say that a significant, if not a predominant, number of male saints have been homosexual, that they have struggled with the meaning of same-sex desire in their lives, most often for the person of Christ, that some succumbed to their sexual urges, while others chose quite consciously to sublimate their needs in works of heroic Christian virtue and fortitude. And, furthermore, that such needs and desires, as evil, sinful, or condemnable as they were thought to be by the saints themselves or by any number of “godly” others, have been the core, fundamental forces for good, motivating, sustaining, nourishing, and inspiring these great works. (pp. Sanctity and Male Desire 149-150)
In his Preface to Queer Spirits, Will Roscoe says:
Don’t we lead mythical lives? Even the most unassuming of us can tell amazing stories of victory against overwhelming odds, self-respect forged out of mind-boggling hate, invention and wit mothered by inescapable necessity. When Joseph Campbell spoke of the hero’s journey he should have used us as his example—although he never did. We’re the ones who arrive at wholeness after an oblique journey to the margins of the social order and back again, who suffer inordinate wounds and are healed, who win the gift of “insider-outsider” vision and can therefore speak with authority to men and women alike.
Some of you may know that I only partly tongue in cheek fancy myself “Joseph Campbell’s apostle to the gay community.” It isn’t so much Joe Campbell in particular that I want to champion, though he was, in fact, a wonderful fellow, but the stance of understanding religion and ultimate truth from a perspective over and above. I associate all this way of thinking with Campbell because he was my personal entry into it.
Because I had a read his book, I signed up as a work volunteer for a seminar he was giving the first year I moved to San Francisco; I ended up on the crew that worked his appearances in the Bay Area for the rest of the decade, and so was one of his “official followers” (something he wouldn’t have liked—he didn’t want to seem to be a guru—but he did like having people gush over how wonderful his ideas were, especially young men, like the son he did not have. His wife was a dancer and they chose not to have children for professional reasons. Remember, he taught at a girls’ school, Sarah Lawrence College so didn’t have male students. I was one of those bright-eyed young men who gushed.
Campbell was interested in what he called “the new myth.” That is, now that humankind has developed a global culture with historical and cultural perspective, and can see that there are different religions around the world that are all terribly different, but are also just different manifestations of the same thing, how do we believe them?
Could a “new myth” develop that includes and explains them all? Could there be a new world savior, like a Jesus or Buddha, who reconciles them all? Probably not. There are lots of messiahs these days and nobody takes them very seriously.
But maybe the concept itself of how all the religions can be true at the same time even though they conflict mightily might itself be a higher meta-myth that makes overarching sense of religion even though the actual stories, myths and doctrines don’t make sense anymore in any literal way. We need a model which can explain all the behavior we observe, a theory that includes all the points on the curve.
The image of the earth seen from the Moon, for Campbell, captured this new perspective as nothing else could.
— — —
I think gay people are naturals for this higher perspective on religion, as we are for a higher perspective on everything. Indeed, that’s a major characteristic of so-called gay consciousness—seeing through the gay window.
This higher perspective that Campbell alluded to—and that I think is what satisfies his question about the new myth—has shown up in modern culture in the expression “Spiritual, not religious.” This expression, of course, can just mean that one doesn’t have any interest in religion and is sort of lazy about such issues, but doesn’t think of oneself as a bad person therefore. But it also tends to suggest that one feels a deeper moral sense and higher spiritual sense than the religion of “believers.”
I want to acknowledge Daniel Helminiak with the insight that “spirituality” doesn’t require meditation without mythGod or any of the other elements of religion to exist. Spirituality is about human consciousness. Daniel is, of course, author of What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality. He has many other books, let me mention Meditation without Myth; What I Wish They'd Taught Me in Church About Prayer, Meditation, and the Quest for Peace.
At the end of Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell wrote:
The descent of the Occidental sciences from the heavens to the earth (from seventeenth-century astronomy to nineteenth-century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in twentieth-century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. (Hero, p. 391)
Since Campbell wrote those words in 1948 or so, the use of the word “man” has, of course, changed—in great part because of the women’s movement and sexual liberation, and the new sciences he wrote of have come to include ecology, brain science, and consciousness studies—even more about the nature of humankind.
We’re only just coming to understand what all this stuff means, but certainly one way of reconciling all contradictory religions is by understanding them all as about human consciousness. God and the gods are metaphors for our own deepest identities. And we have to relate to “God” in a different way.
I think Harry Hay’s idea that gay men relate Subject-subject, rather than subject-object, resonates with exactly this concept of God. “God” is not an other, but a reflection of deepest/highest Self. And so the way to relate to God is as self to self, subject to Subject. The way to relate to the world is to see it as a reflection and outflowering of one’s own consciousness.
— — —
I don’t know that Campbell had any direct influence on Harry Hay, but the comparative religions approach most definitely did. For, according to the story in Stuart Timmon’s book, one of Harry’s first encounters with the word homosexual and the idea of love of a like comrade, not an oppositely sexed wife, was with Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex.
Carpenter, like Campbell would a century later, viewed religion from over and above and observed that “Uranians” had played a pivotal role in the development of religion and continued to possess a kind of special insight.
The very idea of “Uranians” manifests this. In the way that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so homosexuals —the 19th C sexologists proposed— are from Uranus. Ignoring the blatant pun, we can understand that Uranus was the most recently discovered planet; its discovery paralleled the discovery of homosexuality as a category of human being.
— — —
The story goes that as an 11 year old boy, Harry hung around the public library and had befriended the librarian. He’d discovered that there was a shelf of books in a locked bookcase—one with the word Sex emboldened on the spine. He convinced the librarian she should get one of these, then new, permanent waves in her hair and since the only time to do that was during library hours, he volunteered to spell her while she went down the street to the beauty shop. While she was gone, he got the key and opened the bookcase and there found Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex. So one of his earliest encounters with homosexuality was as a phenomenon of anthropology and religious history.
Harry got caught, by the way, by the librarian when she arrived back with her new hairdo.
I’d say, following Carpenter, that people we’d call homosexual or gay or queer—we have so many distinctions now because we’ve had time to think about the richness and variety of this form of non-heterosexual, non-breeding consciousness—are always on the cutting edge of the evolution of consciousness. We’re part of the prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder that Campbell correlated with the New Myth.
Buddha by Bill Biggers
Campbell’s wonderful retort to the accusation he must be an atheist was: “Anyone who believes in as many gods as I do can hardly be called an atheist.” But that’s an entirely different kind of not being an atheist. Indeed, such an overview includes being atheist too—or nontheist to use the Buddhistic term for transcending literal belief in the myths.
— — —
Kenneth Burr Coming out Coming Home
I want to observe that there is another kind of bifurcation within the world of gay religion and gay spirituality. For some people, gay spirituality means getting gay people to go back to Church and become active within the religions of their upbringing. (e.g., Coming Out, Coming Home: Making Room for Gay Spirituality in Therapy by Kenneth A. Burr)
MCC and the various gay affinity groups within the established churches represent this trend. The Radical Faeries, gay Wiccans, The Body Electric represent the other side of the bifurcation, rejecting traditional religious myths altogether and conjuring up our own gods and traditions.
The comparative religions, “spiritual” approach does not have to reject conventional religion, though it does change how you understand the truth value. But on either side, the truth value has to be reevaluated. Gay people within MCC, for instance, for all they might seem to be “evangelical,” and scripture-based, still have to take the Bible with a grain of salt. They necessarily transcend traditional belief. You don’t have to abandon your religion, but you do have to understand it differently, more as an art form, like the opera or the ballet, that conveys beauty and meaningfulness, but not literal truth. As 21st century human beings, we’re simply beyond that.
The One in All -- Stevee Postman
This is the direction the whole human race must be moving in; we’re, as usual, up toward the front of the line. Remember the old joke that “when they’re running you out of town on a rail, get to the front and wave a baton and make it your parade.”
I would say that in the long run the most important contribution of the gay rights movement is going to turn out to be the transformation of religion.
I think Harry Hay would be very happy with that.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
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