Gay Saintliness

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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

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

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

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: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

You're Not A Wave

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

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles

The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash

Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Gay Saintliness

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.

Sanctity and Male Desire

So writes Donald Boisvert in his marvelous book
Sanctity and Male Desire: A Gay Reading of Saints (
The Pilgrim Press, 224 pages, pb, $22.00)

 I added the italics and underlining to emphasize the operative words in this passage.

Christian de la Huerta, author of Coming Out Spiritually: The Next Step, identifies ten spiritual functions of gay and lesbian people.

Here's the review of Boisvert's book I wrote for White Crane Journal #64

    Upon first look, Donald Boisvert's new book Sanctity and Male Desire: A Gay Reading of Saints seems of interest primarily to Roman Catholics.  The Introduction is about the place of the saints in Catholic religious education, and the chapters that follow are about various saints that influenced Boisvert's own psychological and religious development. Certainly others raised Catholic will resonate with this book (I certainly did). But the discussion in the book goes far beyond parochial Catholicism, and so the main thrust of this review must be to recommend this book to non-Catholics (and ex-Catholics who'd resist anything even vaguely related positively to the religion they left behind).

    Boisvert is a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal. He was in the seminary as a young man with the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, then went on to earn a doctorate in religious studies as a layman. His previous book was Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men's Spirituality (The Pilgrim Press, 2000, reviewed in WCJ #48). He was a participant in last year's Gay Spirituality Summit.

    The reverence of the saints in Catholic devotion is, to non-Catholics, one of the strangest things about the religion. In many ways, it's been one of the most regressive aspects, focusing on superstitions, contrived (and often unbelievable) histories, and bizarre manifestations of zeal (including all manner of martyrdoms--some self-brought-on--and outrageous forms of human torture). Understood in the light of comparative religions, on the other hand, the reverence of the saints demonstrates the true universality –indeed, the polytheism--of Catholicity, for many of the saints represent the importing of local deities, heroes, tribal legends and myths into Christianity as the religion spread beyond being simply a sect of Judaism. In this sense, the veneration of the saints shows Catholicism as a much broader and more inclusive religion than the Bible-based versions of Christianity that have resisted change since the text was canonized at Nicaea by the Emperor Constantine. In many ways, Catholicism is more like Hinduism than it is like Christian Protestantism. While the saints, of course, aren't incorporated into the Bible, their stories get at least as much importance in popular Catholic devotion as the words of sacred writ.

    The stories of the saints are teaching mechanisms by which particular virtues, talents, life-situations, and manifestations of zeal are personalized. The various traits and powers of God as healer, miracle-worker, and wish-granter are personified in the stories of flesh and blood human beings.  Especially for children learning Christian doctrine, the saints are symbols and demonstrations of theological propositions and religious concepts much easier to understand and identify with than the abstractions they represent. They are role models of the good Christian life.

    Donald Boisvert describes with reverence, but also with poignancy and appropriate humor, how as a boy he created an altar and shrine to his favorites, lighting candles before their statues as part of childhood play. The themes in these saints' lives went on then to shape his religious and personal maturation--just as they were supposed to.

    The book devotes chapters to some of these favorites: Michael the Archangel, Sebastian and Tarcisius, John the Baptist, Joseph, Paul and Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Dominic Savio, and more. Except for Michael the Archangel (the Christianization of Mars, the Roman god of war), Bosivert's saints were actual people. In each presentation, he explains not only the history or mythos of the characters, but also the spiritual and religious meaning and the life model presented. But then he goes way beyond what orthodox Catholicism would understand--and this is the exciting richness of this book--and gives what he calls the "gay reading" of the stories.

    Central to all manifestations of so-called gay spirituality is honesty and frankness about the sexual and erotic dimensions of life. And that's exactly what Boisvert gives us with his "gay readings": a personal–and sometimes surprisingly "frank"--analysis of this secret layer of the stories of his favorite saints.

    In the way that the saints represent a history of Christianity beyond the foundations in the time of Jesus, Boisvert's analyses present the sexual layers of the religion that are generally never acknowledged. The prime example is his discussion of the various ways Jesus--and Jesus's body--has been depicted in art. God Incarnate is shown as a beautiful man with, sometimes, a "hot body," even (or especially) when naked under torture. The “honesty and frankness" are remarkable. This discussion of Christianity gives gay men a reason to reconsider the richness of the religion that seems so often inimical to our concerns.

    But the most important argument of the book is Boisvert's recognition that the drive to "sanctity" is an essential part of “male desire" (hence their linking in the subtitle) and of the social activism of the gay political and cultural movement.  Over and over again, gay politics is about "saving the world," not just getting one's own--and one's family's--needs met by government. Gay lives are so frequently focused on beauty, creativity, and service. Boisvert beautifully captures the gay compulsion to be the best little boy, the best social contributor, the most successful lover, and especially the most honest person one can be. It is the drive for sanctity and integrity that impels us to come out and be openly and idealistically gay.

    I recommend this book to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I want to especially recommend it to those of you who are annoyed with or estranged from Catholic upbringing. I promise you, you'll be surprised and pleased and even possibly inspired and spiritually justified by Donald Boisvert's blending of religion and eroticism. He tells truths about our human psyches that most religionists don't acknowledge. For that reason alone, this book adds a new dimension to gay spirituality.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight 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, three 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. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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