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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
Toby's Experience of Zen
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
What happens at Death?
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
A Funny Story: The Rug Salesmen of Istanbul
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
Drawing a Long Straw: Ketamine at the Mann Ranch
Alan Watts & Multiple Solipsism
Henry Seale Interviews Toby Johnson
Deep Consciousness: A Gay Perspective
April 26-27, 2008 Toby Johnson led an "In-House Retreat," titled Deep Consciousness: A Gay Perspective, at Ironic Horse Studio in Albuquerque, NM, the home and art & culture studio of Peter Grahame and Henry Seale.
In preparation for their meeting, Henry interviewed Toby through email.
Here's the text of that interview.
***Sadly for those who remain, in Peter's beautiful words:
"Henry happily, peacefully left the planet for parts unknown, took an early flight Wednesday morning, February 20th, 2019."
May his memory be a blessing.
Henry Seale: What do you think the present, past, and future role of gay men is in bringing about spiritual renewal in the religions of the world?
Toby Johnson: Good question… and good place to start a conversation. This really is the theme of most of my books. One of the great influences in my life was the comparative religions teacher and mythologists Joseph Campbell. He's best known for his aphorism "Follow Your Bliss." I read his books in college and grad school, then met him in person and became part of the crew that worked his seminars and lectures in Northern California during the 1970s.
One of Campbell's ideas was that the myths and religions of old have lost much of their power because they are not consistent with modern, scientific worldviews. The authority of Church officials or of the Bible don't make sense to citizens of a liberal democracy, such as we have in the United States. We look to the future for truth, not to the past. Almost everything believed in in the past has been proved untrue, after all.
So we need a "new myth," a new way of conceptualizing and dramatizing the meaning of life. That is actually what religion is for, isn't it? Not to describe "metaphysical truth," but to give people a reason for living and a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves.
Following my own bliss has shown me that perhaps this "new myth" is the understanding of religion, myth and spirituality from over and above--from an outsider's perspective. In that way we can understand that ALL the myths and religions are true, in the sense that they are all metaphors for the meaning of life in the expanded context.
Well, gay people are naturals for such an understanding from an outsider's perspective. We are outsiders all the time. We learn how to take other people's firm beliefs and opinions with the proverbial "grain of salt." We see that most people (especially the religious ones) are wrong about the nature of sex and of homosexuality. Wouldn't we expect them to be wrong about most other things as well?
Henry, what you call "spiritual renewal" has got to mean finding a way to make sense of religion in the modern world AND helping the world to get away from the evils of religion--like inquisition, jihad and crusade.
History shows us that people we'd now call "gay" were the shamans, mystics and prophets that started religion in the first place. It's appropriate that we be part of the "modernization" of spiritual meaning.
And, besides, the treatment we get from the Fundamentalists today is THE very evidence that that kind of religion has gone wrong. The whole message of Jesus Christ was that being good isn't about obeying purity rules and taboos, but about being kind, compassionate and loving people. That Right-Wing preachers and politicos rail against homosexuals, instead of being loving, is evidence they've missed the real teaching of Jesus.
And gay people --not all, of course, but many-- ARE the kind, compassionate people Jesus was calling for. Blending genders/overcoming gender distinctions makes us gentle and sensitive to others.
SO, we contribute to the spiritual renewal of Earth by offering an outsider's perspective that EVERYBODY ought to be adopting and by demonstrating sensitive behavior.
Henry: Why do you think some activists view you as a "separatist," a view I have a hard time reconciling with your books?
Toby (laughing): I have to admit I have a hard time thinking there are activists out there who think anything about me. One of my own experiences--as an outsider-- is that I’ve been fairly invisible. But I'd be pleased to think anybody had an opinion of me.
And, well, I do think of myself as a "separatist" in a way. I learned a long time ago when I was working in a gay-identified mental health clinic in San Francisco that men and women and gays and lesbians--and by extension, black people and brown people, etc., etc., all have different ways of seeing the world. Men can't speak for women. Gay men can't explain lesbians' perspectives. This isn't separatism as exclusion or rejection, but as respect for others' views and experiences.
How I'd like to frame what you've called my "separatism" is as specific gay community service. As a psychotherapist I worked with gay men; I believed gay men needed gay therapists, that is, gay role models. My own work has always focused on improving gay life by finding our place in the world AS GAY where we can participate and contribute.
There are a whole set of gay activists who see their work as changing laws and educating straight people. That work is important. My own work has focused on the gay men. I'd rather help gay men think about themselves positively and affirmatively and so to live good lives.
Besides, I don't think we really want to be "assimilated." Being normal is the booby prize. I think we have "special talents" as gay and our contribution to the world is to be gay in the best way we can, not to be just like everybody else. What's the contribution in that?
Henry: Tell me about your relationship with Joseph Campbell.
Toby: I read his main book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES for a college class in Jungian literary criticism. I was--to use an expression of that day--just blown away. I was in the process of going from one Catholic religious order to another at the time: very religious! But all of a sudden it all seemed to make sense. The way to understand religious truth was as metaphor and poetry.
Later when I was living in San Francisco, I saw he was giving a talk at a conference center in Ukiah, north of the City. I was a poor hippie flower child at the time and so applied for a work scholarship. I was asked to come up a day early to help clean the building. Campbell also
arrived early and I had the opportunity to meet him more personally than just attending the talk. I guess I did a pretty good job as a work scholar because I was invited to join the staff of the center. So for four or five more summers I went up to Ukiah to cook and clean and listen to wonderful talks about new paradigm thought-- and to hear Joseph Campbell when he came for his annual appearance.
Later, the team from that place reassembled in the City to host his appearances there as well. Then after his death in '78, his books and papers got collected in an archives at Pacifica Graduate School outside Santa Barbara. I was on the original Board of Directors. I guess my "bliss" has included helping the rest of the world learn about Campbell's approach to religion and myth.
Henry: Why do you choose to base yourself in San Antonio?
Toby: I was born in San Antonio--just a few days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, by the way. It's a beautiful city though perhaps a little behind the advance of American culture: it's dominated by Mexican Catholicism and the U.S. military--both conservatizing forces.
In the late 70s, I'd worked (with nick-namesake Toby Marotta) in a study of mental health and social service programs for runaway youth involved into prostitution. "The Hustler Study" we called it. We lived in inner city/ red light hotels in New York and San Francisco and interviewed gay teenagers out late at night standing on street corners. It was quite an adventure!
By the time the study was over in 1981, I'd become convinced the best thing gay men in San Francisco could do for themselves and for gay liberation would be to go home to their hometowns to spread "the gospel of liberation." And I'd been scared by some of the things I saw doing the Hustler Study. (I was almost murdered by one of my interview subjects--that still gives me the willies to think about!)
So in 81, I moved back home to San Antonio. I was "that gay therapist" here for a while and the gay spokesperson who was willing to go on TV to explain gay issues--which increasingly became about AIDS. In 1984 I met my partner, Kip Dollar. We moved to Austin a few years later to run the gay bookstore. I retired from doing therapy and focused on writing. I really believe gay literature is one of the ways we help shape our community's self-image and concept of the meaning of life.
Kip and I did the bookstore for seven years, then ran a couple of gay B&Bs--another way of doing gay community service (and, one might say, a "separatist" service, in the sense that the idea is to give gay people accommodations where there won't be straight people to have opinions about them).
Coming back home was very good for me. I was in Texas then during the last decade of my mother's life, and was very pleased with that. While she died in the early 90s, Kip's mother is still living and we're staying in San Antonio so he can have the same good experience.
My name in religious life was Peregrine, which means "wanderer." Both of us have got a wanderin' streak. So maybe we're looking for other places to go...
Henry: What do you see as the future for same sex domestic partnership in this county?
Toby: Kip and I have been champions of long-term relationships. We're just celebrating our 24th anniversary together. In Austin, because we were very visible as owners of the gay bookstore, we participated in several political events related to "same sex marriage." We are actually the first male couple registered as domestic partners in Texas (Travis County, where Austin is had a registry for partner benefits for county employees briefly in the early 90s.)
I think it is very important for gay people to get the same kind of treatment under the law that straight people get. "Marriage" has ramifications for property ownership and personal finances. Since we live in couples we should have the same recognition of interpersonal responsibilities as everybody else. But I don't particularly think traditional heterosexual marriage is a very good
role model for our relationships. We don't think like straight people. Our vision of the world is not polarized into male and female. Our lives aren't about reproducing biological offspring.
I think perhaps the most important consequence of the same sex marriage debate is that it demonstrates to young gay men and lesbians that love and partnership await them as they grow older. They are not doomed to be lonely old men and spinsters--the way the pop myth taught.
And I think we demonstrate to all people straight and gay, that one doesn't need to reproduce to live a good, happy, contributing life. With overpopulation of the Earth as THE single great problem facing us--and one which is virtually ignored by the non-gay masses--the message that you don't need to have children to have a good life is VERY important.
Henry's partner Peter Grahame is an accomplished artist and photographer. He has created beautiful collages blending these two creative mediums. Peter created covers for Toby's books Gay Perspective, Getting Life in Perspective, and Secret Matter.
His book of photos of gay men as holy cards is titled Contemplations of the Heart: A Book of Male Spirit.
Below is Peter's Christmas card for 2019.
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
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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