Spiritual Questions in Gay Counseling



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Also on this website:


Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from smashwords.com, the Apple iBookstore, etc.


Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III


Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness


Gay Perspective


GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe


Secret Matter


SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan


Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods


The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil




Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams



charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers


Myth of the Great Secret


THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell



In Search of God


IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey



Unpublished manuscripts


About ordering


Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series


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  Toby has done five podcasts with Harry Faddis for The Quest of Life

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness


Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"


About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996


The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate


A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality


Why gay people should NOT Marry


The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage


Toby and Kip Get Married


Wedding Cake Liberation


Gay Marriage in Texas


What's ironic



Shame on the American People


The "highest form of love"


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Gay Consciousness


Why homosexuality is a sin


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


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


The Gay Succession


Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?


The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter


Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium


Easton Mountain Retreat Center


Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism


The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey


The upsidedown book on MSNBC


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Enlightenment


"It's Always About You"



The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara


Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara


You'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



Meditation Practice



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



World Navel



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


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Gay Spirituality


Curious Bodies


What Toby Johnson Believes


The Joseph Campbell Connection


The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)


Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy


The Two Loves


The Nature of Religion


What's true about Religion


Being Gay is a Blessing


Drawing Long Straws


Freedom of Religion


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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


Having a Church to Leave


Harold Cole on Beauty


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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption


Not lashed to the prayer-post


Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality


Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process


Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)


Redeem Orlando


Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar


Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson



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Mystical Vision


"The Evolution of Gay Identity"


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


Avalokiteshvara at the Baths


 Eckhart's Eye


Let Me Tell You a Secret


Religious Articulations of the Secret


The Collective Unconscious


Driving as Spiritual Practice


Meditation


Historicity as Myth


Pilgrimage


No Stealing


Next Step in Evolution


The New Myth


The Moulting of the Holy Ghost


Gaia is a Bodhisattva


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The Hero's Journey


The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016


The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)


You're On Your Own


Superheroes


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Seeing Differently


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


Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom


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


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The Vision


The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside


A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside


The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis


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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


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The Secret of the Clear Light


Understanding the Clear Light


Mobius Strip


Finding Your Tiger Face


How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated


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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube


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About Alien Abduction


In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke


Karellen was a homosexual


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


Intersections with the movie When We Rise


More about Gay Mental Health


Psych Tech Training


Toby at the California Institute


The Rainbow Flag


Ideas for gay mythic stories


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People


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 Mark Thompson


About Sterling Houston


About Michael Stevens


The Alamo Business Council


Our friend Tom Nash


Second March on Washington


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


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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


Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen


War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar


The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal


Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal


The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre


Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak


A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey


Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes


The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes


Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour


In Walt We Trust by John Marsh


Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary


A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary


Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott


Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou


Internal Landscapes by John Ollom


Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks


Yes by Brad Boney


Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler


Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal


Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson


Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette


The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson


The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire


"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught


Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology



The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons


Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert


The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker


Out There by Perry Brass


The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh


The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan


It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja


ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake


Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard


Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson


Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch


Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan


The Substance of God by Perry Brass


The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols


10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort


Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe


The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke


The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann


Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall


Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long


Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner


Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard


Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak


Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan


Rising Up by Joe Perez


Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez


That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco


Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman


Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang


MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether


Double Cross by David Ranan


The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak


Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry


In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson


The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson


Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray


Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak


Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor


Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien


Queering Christ by Robert Goss


Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage


The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato


Catland by David Garrett Izzo


Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson


Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main


Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd


Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza


What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett


Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans


Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen


Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden


The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood


Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman


The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak


3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke


Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak


Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon


Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message


Life Interrupted by Michael Parise


Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire


The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman


Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny


Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman


True Religion by J.L. Weinberg


The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer


Everything is God by Jay Michaelson


Reflection by Dennis Merritt


Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson


Hard Lesson by James Gaston


God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson


The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson


Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther


Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen


The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether


The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber


AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar


Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost


The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal


Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal


In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane


Walking on Glory by Edward Swift


The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey


Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire


Enigma by Lloyd Meeker


Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson




Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:




Gay
Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe


Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here







Gay
Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness



gay-spirituality-audiobook
Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here








charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman







secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction

updated







Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance





Getting
Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 






The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE




johnson-the-fourth-quill-audiobook
The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here






Two
Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams




Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here






Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth:
What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III








In
Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld










The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.




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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.






SPIRITUAL QUESTIONS IN GAY COUNSELING

(1988)

TOBY JOHNSON, PHD 
From: The Sourcebook on Lesbian/Gay Health Care, Second Edition,
Edited by Michael Shernoff & William Scott, 1988,
 published by the National Lesbian/Gay Health Foundation

Available from Amazon.com
The Sourcebook on Lesbian-Gay Health Care

Back to mainpage




The problems that more than half the c1ients over the age of 35 bring to therapy, according to Carl Jung, are basically religious in nature (Jung, 1938). That is a bold assertion that perhaps made more sense in the first half of the century than now. After all, despite the politicization and popularity of Christian Fundamentalism in the late 198Os, in the latter half of the twentieth century basic assumptions about life and the techniques for seeking truth have become more and more secularized. One might think Jung's observation about problems in therapy outdated. On the other hand, one might look at the rise of Fundamentalism as serious religious concerns strugg1ing willy-nilly to manifest in an inhospitable environment. In the same way that in Jung's clients in the second half of their lives religious issues appeared as psychological problems, so perhaps in the second half of this century religious issues appear as social problems. What Jung meant by his assertion is that the issues of the second half of life often revolve around the question of meaning. Gail Sheehy recently popularized the notion of transitional life-crises (Sheehy, 1976; Levinson, 1978). The important questions of the first half of life involve such practical matters as achievement of personal competence, development of sexual identity and prowess, choice of career and (possibly) mate and establishment of a social niche. To the extent that those choices have been made successfully, they are almost necessarily followed by the discovery that they are not enough -- "Is that all there is?" in the words of the song. Thus the crisis of mid-life involves the questions: "What is life for?" "What does it all mean?"

The questions about the meaning of life derive from seeing one's life in a larger context. This enlarged perception tends to come to individuals as they accumulate enough life experience to begin to see their own present experience in the context of their whole lives. By the time a person reaches forty years of age, he or she has seen major changes in styles and social fads, economic cycles, political regimes. The present has come to make sense in the larger context. The individual then might begin to ask in what context that larger context makes sense. That question is a primary source of the religious concerns (Frankl, 1963; Peck, 1978). In the same way that reaching middle age naturally results in a re-evaluation of the meaning of one's life, so experiencing tragedy demands a similar re-evaluation. The practical issues of competence, sexuality and career pale in the face of death. Is that all there is? (A good argument, indeed, can be made that the origin of religious thinking was primitive anthropoids' recognition of -- and resistance to -- mortality and transience and their development of myths of afterlife and eternity to soothe death anxieties.)

The two themes of mid-life evaluation and rethinking in the face of tragedy are coming together in the lives of lesbians and, especially, gay men in the late 1980s. What might be called "the first generation of liberated lesbians and gay men," i.e., those who were reaching adulthood during the sexual revolution and the rise of gay liberation at the end of the 196Os -- and who were also part of the youth culture that couldn't trust anyone over thirty - is now reaching middle age. Simultaneously, they are facing the tragedy of AIDS. (Ironically, AIDS satisfies one of the impetuous commitments of the youth culture: the intention to live fast and burn out quickly before age could sour life and force one into over-thirty adulthood -- Die young, stay pretty. Of course, AIDS seldom allows the second half of that imperative [Johnson, 1984].)

The experience of individual and community tragedy raises serious questions -- "Why did this happen to me?" "Why did this happen to my friend(s)?" "What does it mean for me?" These are not answered by the usual solutions of counseling and psychotherapy. Changing behavior, developing adequate coping styles, releasing emotions, reducing stress, achieving insight to psychodynamics -- none of these adequately address the transcendental nature of the questions. (Psychologists influenced by linguistic analysis, for instance, are likely to tell clients that "Why?" questions cannot have meaningful answers.) These are spiritual/religious/ metaphysical questions that demand answers outside the individual and outside the culture.

Lesbians and gay men may have an especially difficult time with such questions because social intolerance toward homosexuality (at least after the fourteenth century, according to Boswell [1980]) has been linked to Western religion. Many gay people, having recognized that the church lied about homosexuality, understandably feel religion can't be trusted on other issues. Today, of course, the anti-gay preachers have insensitively jumped on their own AIDS bandwagon and used the disease to justify hateful teachings that should, figuratively speaking, have Jesus Christ "turning in his grave." Unfortunately, these biased -- and truly unchristian -- preachments not only alienate gay people asking metaphysical/spiritual questions, but also dump a series of painful, misguided questions onto people already overburdened. "Is AIDS evidence of God's hatred of homosexuality?" "Am I damned for being gay?" "Could Jerry Falwell and the Pope be right?"

In psychopathic terms, these "problems of meaning" appear often as depression and anxiety. They look like "transitional crises" and "adjustment reactions" and, like most such non-pathological problems, they may simply go away with a little venting, a sympathetic listener and some supportive counseling. After all, people tend to grow out of transitional crises simply by getting older. But AIDS isn't going away; the sense of loss of loved ones who have fallen victim to it isn't going away; the societal turmoil and anti-gay scapegoating isn't going away; and the basic questions about the meaning of life in the context of tragedy aren't going away.

One manifestation of the spiritual crisis is an urge to commit suicide. Because the questions are "ultimate," they tend to call for an "ultimate answer." Suicide not only eliminates the questioning, it provides a kind of answer by moving the individual into the life-and-death context that frames the questions. In this latter sense, thinking about suicide (as Albert Camus and the 1950s Existentialists observed) is an important way of asking spiritual questions. For mental health professionals, on the other hand, c1ients' suicidal ideation tends to move the diagnosis to a new category in the D.S.M. and to mobilize a whole series of legal concerns about reportability and professional liability. (As this author has suggested in his Plague: A Novel About Healing, [1987], for some individuals facing the debilitation of AIDS, choosing a quick end to the disease might be appropriate. As more and more PWAs consider such a choice in the absence of effective treatments that stop the debilitating effects of the disease, counselors may be called upon to facilitate decisions that their training has rejected and that raise yet another series of spiritual/metaphysical questions.)

For all that most modern psychotherapists would not like it so, therapy frequently tends to be surprisingly conservative: its aim is to alleviate the client's distress; this is usually accomplished successfully by normalizing the client. Psychiatrists may prescribe medication to make disturbing questions go away. Whi1e gay therapists are often conscientious about interpreting individual problems as consequences of societal problems, e.g., homophobia (Hetrick, 1984), and to encourage "gay rage," at least as a phase of coming out, psychotherapy, in general, tends to "internalize the problem" and, inadvertently, "blame the client" in the name of assisting the individual to accept responsibility for his or her own life (Lerner, 1987). Therapists -- perhaps especially gay therapists -- are apt to avoid religious issues, but some of the questions posed truly call for religious answers.

One solution for the therapist faced with such questions is to refer the client to gay churchpeople at M.C.C., Dignity, Integrity, etc. That may be a good referral once the client has arrived at answers and decided to pursue religion. It may not be a very good one before, however, since it tends to assume an answer, which may not be the one on which the client will decide. For all the very good people in M.C.C. and the other gay churches, the reality is also that, especially with the minor off-shoots of gay religion that do not have credentialing committees, these priests and ministers may be in their jobs not because they are great spiritual counselors but because their sexuality was discovered and they were defrocked. Besides, with few exceptions, the gay religions are just more Christianity and that's the problem.

In fact, isn't psychology really a "new religion?" The Fundamentalists, like John Ankerberg (notable for having accused Jim Bakker of homosexual acts), certainly think so and condemn therapy for that reason. One of the reasons clients come to therapy with transcendental questions is not because they think the therapist will make the questions go away, but because they believe therapy has better answers. After all, for many, psychology has become the new explainer of mysteries and definer of "meaning" (e.g.,"unconscious significance," "childhood wish-fulfillment," “conditioning") and the new arbiter of ethics (e.g., "normality," "therapist's permission," "personal growth"). (Burrows, 1986; Capra, 1982).

Practical questions raised by the spiritual problems in gay counseling then are these: "Are there really spiritual answers?" "Do we, as gay therapists, have religious/spiritual answers?" "Is there a gay spirituality?"
Perhaps the most effective way of responding to clients' spiritual questions is to assist them in researching the answers to these questions. The reason is two-fold: psychotherapy is almost necessarily nondogmatic, if only because therapy works primarily by empowering the client (and indoctrinating a client into a dogmatic system, even when that system is, like psychoanalysis, disempowering); and the appropriate religious technique for arriving at answers to the transcendent questions is exposure to the variety of spiritual thought. This technique seems especially appropriate for gay people because it naturally forces one into a "critical stance" on religion, and, if there is such a thing as a "gay sensibility," it probably derives from individuals being forced by their aberrant sexuality into a "critical stance" on life in general.

As children, lesbians and gay men sense that "we don't belong," "we aren't wanted (as gay), "we are different," "we are outsiders" (Clark, 1987). Ecclesiastical gay spiritual writer and Episcopalian priest John Fortunato (1982) calls this an experience of being "exiles." Secular gay spiritual writer and book editor Paul Reed calls it "longing." In Serenity (1987), he writes eloquently of an experience that is "integral to those of us who have been spiritually deprived by a society that denies us the food for our souls and hearts:"
Gay people are groomed for longing by the very fact of the lack of a place for gay people within society... The larger, prevailing society does not reflect the reality of gay experience. We know that we are here, that we are productive, that we love, that our lives can be as viable as anyone else's. But what we know is not common knowledge.

...We are kind and gentle people. We are a loving community from which violence does not readily erupt. But it is this difference of spirit -- this kindness of spirit -- that also feeds longing, for the schism between this loving mode of our community and the rough mode of a world we want to remake can be profound. We wish that things were different, we long for them to be otherwise, on a spiritual as well as physical plane, just as we longed for different surroundings and attitudes as gay children and teenagers coping helplessly in a foreign land.

...surely the world is filled with loving nongays who, too, long for social change (though I have always wondered about a certain question here -- do we seek social change and spiritual serenity because we are gay, or are we gay because we seek social and spiritual change?)

We learn to be observers rather than participants. That sense of being excluded, alienated and seeking admission to a circle that we feel does not really want us may be the source both of most of our sufferings (low self-esteem, dissatisfaction, sexual restlessness, compulsivity, etc.) and of our specialness (sensitivity, compassion, artistic ability, etc.). Indeed, it may be that, irrespective of the hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees of the modern-day Church, it is this sense of being outside and wanting more that leaves us dissatisfied with conventional religion.

The stance of being "outside" and "above" the content of individual religions is probably the most salient approach to religious truth today anyway. This is, of course, the attitude of Buddhism in its purest form, and Buddhism -- nontheistic, tolerant, peaceful -- is by far the most spiritual of the religions: no one has ever been murdered in the name of Buddha. This is also the attitude of cultural relativism imposed on modern consciousness by worldwide communication, easy travel, cultural exchange and scientific objectivity. In a world in which every country has myths of its own precious Savior, no one god or savior can be accorded primacy (Campbell, 1956). Thus, comparative religion forces students of religious anthropology into a kind of "meta-religion" in which it is not the content of religion, but the fact of religious questing that provides inspiration and enlightenment.

Such meta-religion does not provide answers, but validates the questions as themselves spiritual acts. Heterodox spiritual genius Blaise Pascal put into the mouth of God the words: "You would not be searching for Me if you had not already found Me" (cited in Evely, 1965).

This so-called "meta-religion" affects a kind of detachment from the details of day to day life, perhaps because it suggests that there are not facile, obvious answers to the significant transcendent questions; that is to say, it inculcates a "critical stance" on the questions themselves. (Certainly one of the reasons people have religious problems in middle adulthood is because the religion of their youth was likely to have taught them incredibly unrealistic expectations; e.g., the TV evangelists suggest that disorders, even as severe as AIDS, can be healed just by putting your hands on the TV and sending in a fat check.)

Purer forms of spirituality urge virtues of detachment, patience and compassion, reminding the individual that he or she is more than just the body, more than just the daily routine, more than just the physical and emotional suffering. At its very essence, spirituality is about life in a larger, more expanded context, beyond the immediacy of time and space, beyond the demands of ego. (It probably doesn't matter if such an expanded, ego-transcending viewpoint is "really true" -- i.e., if human beings have "souls" or whether we reincarnate or are part of "God.” What matters is that achieving a critical stance on ego and on the problems of day to day living frees one from the problems and questions and allows a kind of joy, even in the face of suffering. This joy comes from experiencing "meaning," and meaning comes from experiencing things in a larger context.)

Gay people are naturals for "meta-religion.” In actual practice, clients can be helped to such an enlightened stance by being confronted with openly religious questions like: "What do you think about God?" "What do you feel about God?" "What kind of personal faith experience is meaningful for you?" or "What is your own awareness of spirituality?" After these or similar questions are explored, as well as all the feelings that exploring these questions brings up for the individual, he or she can then be encouraged to investigate what religion is really about and what a specific gay religiousness might be.

Regarding the psychological nature and effects of religion -- and dealing very sensibly with the problems of the Church -- Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled is an excellent and readable starting point. There are several excellent books regarding the variety of forms gay religion can take. These include: Mark Thompson's Gay Spirit (1987), Arthur Evans' classic Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture (1978), Judy Grahn's Another Mother Tongue (1984), John Fortunato's Embracing the Exile (1982), and M.C.C. ministers Troy Perry and Larry Uhrig's autobiographies, and this author's own In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld (Johnson, 1983).

The approach of meta-religion does not violate the objective, non-interference stance of therapy and psychotherapists need not fear encouraging clients toward it. Indeed, good therapy might demand dealing with these issues, if only because gay counseling today necessarily deals with death. And achieving "critical stance" is one of the prime effects of psychotherapy in any event.

 Will the answers the c1ients come up with be ultimately satisfying? (Johnson, 1982). The task of maturing spiritually -- especially in the face of tragedy -- is to give up the illusions of childhood. So no, this kind of meta-religious sensibility won't provide the kind of satisfying assurance that came with naive belief. Life is never the same once one has discovered there is no Santa Claus. But an adult learns the message "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" and that becomes satisfying at an adult level. That is the satisfaction of meta-religion (and it avoids the pitfall of being anti-religious, which is just another way of being dominated by the Church of one's upbringing). It offers curiosity and wonder in place of certitude. And those, the great spiritual teachers tell us, are the best source of Enlightenment anyway.

Edwin Clark (Toby) Johnson, PhD is a psychotherapist in private practice. This article was written in 1987. Lots of changes have taken place in gay life--and in Toby Johnson's life. By 2004, he had retired from private practice, run the gay and lesbian bookstore in Austin with his partner since 1984, Kip Dollar, operated two country B&Bs with Kip, editred White Crane Journal for seven years and published six more books.

Link to main page: tobyjohnson.com



REFERENCES

Boswell, J. (1980). Christianity. Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Burrows, R. J.L. (1986). "A Christian Critiques the New Age," Christianity Today. May 16, reprinted in Utne Reader. op. cit. pp. 86-96.
Campbell, .J. (1956). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Cleveland: Meridian Press. Capra, F. (1982). The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture, New York: Simon and Schuster.
Clark, D. (1987). Loving Someone Gay (Revised Edition). Berkeley: Celestial Arts. Evans, A. (1978). Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Boston: Fag Rag Books. Evely, L. (1965). That Man is You. Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press.
Fortunato, J. E. (1982). Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians. New York: Seabury Press.
Frankl, V. (1963). Man's Search for Meaning. New York: Washington Square Press. Grahn, J. (1984). Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words. Gay Worlds. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hetrick, E. S. & Stein, T. (eds.) (1984). Innovations in Psychotherapy with Homosexuals. Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.
Johnson, E. C. (1983). In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld: A Mystical Journey. New York: Morrow.
Johnson, E. C. (1982). The Myth of the Great Secret: A Search for Spiritual Meaning in the Face of Emptiness. New York: Morrow.
Johnson, T. (1984). "Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process," The Advocate, March 6.
Johnson, T. (1987). Plague: A Novel About Healing. Boston: Alyson.
Jung, C.G. (1938). Psychology and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press. Lemer, M. (1987). "Public-Interest Psychotherapy: A Cure for the Pain of Powerlessness," Surplus Powerlessness, excerpted in Utne Reader, No. 20, March/April, pp. 39-47.
Levinson, D. J. et al (1978). The Seasons of A Man's Life. New York: Knopf.
Peck, M. S. (1978). The Road Less Traveled. New York: Simon and Schuster. 
Reed, P. (1987). Serenity: Challenging the Fear of AIDS -- From Despair to Hope. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
Sheehy, G. (1976). Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. New York: Bantam. Thompson, M. (1987). Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin's.


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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. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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