Return to The mystical gay novels of Toby Johnson
As Tom and Ben cuddled together sandwiched between the blankets, they stared up at the night sky. It was truly incredible. They were high in the mountains, as close as you could get on earth to the stars, and their light burned down in myriad points of brilliance. Tom noticed he could make out lights further down the road. A blazing fire in a hearth or perhaps the steady light of kerosene lamps suffused a warm glow through the windows of what appeared to be a long, low rambling house perched at the end of the valley right on the edge of the mountain ridge that comprised the town of Perspective, Colorado. "That must be our destination," he whispered to Ben. They both fell asleep imagining what they were going to find there.
When Ben thought about utopian colonies, as Tom had said Professor Hauptmann characterized the Clear Light Colony, because of his seminary background, he naturally thought of St. Ignatius Loyola and the early Jesuits. They had been Spanish soldiers and the paintings of them hanging on the walls of St. Athanasius' had shown them against the backdrop of old Spanish villages. Ben drifted off into a dream of buildings with red tile roofs and walls of white, faintly pink stucco.
"I think we shouldn't show up too early," Tom said in the morning, "give 'em time to wake up before visitors arrive."
"I agree," Ben answered, rolled over into Tom's arms, and closed his eyes ready to go back to sleep. The spot where they'd camped was shadowed by the mountain on the other side of the valley so sunrise came late. Though they'd placed their bedroll atop a mound of thick soft grasses, it had still made for uncomfortable sleeping. Neither was too anxious to wake fully.
After drifting in and out of lazy morning sleep, they cuddled again and made easy love, then bathed in the warm pool of the hot springs. Ben playfully pushed Tom off balance so he fell into the cold swift current of the waterfall. They laughed and laughed and Tom, in turn, coaxed Ben near enough the frigid pool so he could throw him in as well. By mid-morning the sun had risen above the facing peak and its piercing warm rays dried them.
"Let's go see who this Montgomery Hightower is," Tom announced.
As they neared the building they'd seen glowing in the night, they discovered it was really a series of small wooden cottages with wood-shingled roofs connected by a broad open porch. The place was situated in a wide meadow and looked almost as though it were surrounded by a carefully tended lawn.
"Look," Ben pointed, "I see some people sitting on the porch." Indeed, under a vine-covered arbor, hanging with lavender flowers which as they got closer they could see were wisteria, there appeared to be three women in light pastel frock dresses and broad-brimmed sunhats, sitting at a white wicker table sipping from china teacups.
The road forked near the houses. To the left it went back behind to a barn and several sheds and what was perhaps a stable; to the right it curved around the front of the connecting porch and led up to where the ladies were having their mid-morning repast.
"Good morning," Tom shouted from the road, "we're looking for Professor Montgomery Hightower."
"C'mon up," called out a man whom neither of them could see. "There're steps over there."
Tom noticed behind him to his left a short flight of stairs led up to the raised porch. They had to detour back a few paces. The steps took them up so they approached the ladies in the sun hats from behind. Ben followed along obediently. He didn't have any idea what they were getting into. The whole show was Tom's now; he was the friend of Eli Hauptmann's.
From somewhere Tom heard a man's voice say, "Why, Dorothea, these two handsome young gentleman are coming to call on you."
"Of all times to have visitors," another voice answered. Someone else guffawed.
As Tom approached, the three ladies stood up and turned to face him. Tom was just about to apologize if they'd arrived at a bad time when he found himself dumbstruck. The nearest lady, who was reaching out a white lace-gloved hand to him, appeared completely bald under the wide straw sunhat set back on her head and she had a full curly gray beard that reached down almost to the middle of her chest.
"I'm Monty Hightower," she said.
Automatically Tom took Hightower's hand in the ordinary male greeting. Hightower laughed embarrassedly. "You must excuse our, uh, costumes. We weren't expecting visitors. People seldom show up here uninvited, you know. It's quite a long hike."
"Yes, sir," Tom muttered. "We know."
Another of the ladies spoke up. She was clean-shaven, about the same age as the first gentleman; she had a thin, almost delicate face, an aquiline nose and a long neck with pronounced Adam's apple. "I'm Alex McMahon. But you can call me Georgia," he smiled widely. "And this is Herbert Fadiman--he's Heloise this morning." He pointed to the somewhat younger and more roughly-hewn man beside him with a thick black mustache. "And lest you suspect our Professor Hightower of being more of an Abelard than I'm sure he'd want you to think, perhaps he should explain." The man laughed heartily at his joke. (Neither Ben nor Tom understood it.) "Dorothea, it's your turn. Explain."
The man who'd introduced himself as Monty Hightower, who was still shaking Tom's hand, replied hesitantly, "Well, you see, it was such a lovely morning, and being Midsummer's Day and all, we thought we'd just dress up. We all lived in England at one time, you know."
"Oh, I didn't know. And I hadn't realized it was Midsummer's Day," Tom answered as though somehow that explained it all.
"Oh yes, Summer solstice, June 24th," the man who'd called himself Georgia commented. "Funny thing. The Christian world celebrates the solstices on the wrong dates, you know. Christmas on the 25th instead of the 22nd and John the Baptist on the 24th instead of the 21st. Hmm! Calendar's off by three days."
"We've been traveling," Ben piped up. "You lose track of time that way too."
Hightower dropped Tom's hand and, in a nervous gesture, pulled the sunhat from his head. He gestured toward the chairs.
"Please, please sit down. Perhaps you'd like tea or coffee... or maybe something stronger."
"Coffee would be great," Ben answered. Tom still seemed stunned. "We're just waking up."
"Well," said Alex McMahon, "you've walked a long way for just waking up. You've certainly earned a cup of coffee." He perched himself on the edge of his chair and poured a cup from a brilliantly-polished silver coffee pot. He handed the delicate fine-china cup to Ben. "And you?" he said to Tom.
"Please," Tom answered and then explained, "I'm a friend of Eli Hauptmann's in Chicago... "
"The Grand Duchess Maria Theresa," McMahon interrupted gleefully.
"You must forgive Alex," Hightower said. "She gets carried away sometimes."
"Oh, Monty, it's Midsummer's. We'd certainly look sillier dressed up like Bottom with mules' heads."
Though he didn't understand the Shakespearian reference any more than he had the Medieval historical one earlier, Ben laughed along with Alex. He'd somehow fallen into the playful humor of whatever was going on. Tom was more serious. He was still trying to explain what they were doing here.
"Sit down, sit down. Let me go get a couple more chairs." Hightower gestured again.
"I'll take care of that," spoke up Herbert Fadiman for the first time. "You still had better come up with a good explanation." There was a jocular ring in his voice. As he walked into the house to get the chairs Tom noticed he had an odd gait, not a limp, but a sort of half lurch between steps.
"Well, I got it," Ben announced. "It's a summer morning tea-party."
"Right," Alex said, delighted that the young visitor seemed to understand that that was explanation enough. "If you can't dress up on Midsummer's Day, I always say, when can you dress up?"
Hightower looked down at the frilly white and yellow ruffled dress he was wearing. Then looked at Tom. Then looked at Alex. Then looked back at Tom, smiled, and said very matter-of-factly, "Now you were saying you know my friend Eli Hauptmann."
By late afternoon Tom and Ben had been shown to the little two-room cottage off the main house which Monty, now dressed much more like a gentleman farmer, told them was theirs "as long as you want to stay--and, of course, as long as you contribute to the community and fit in. But you'll find we're very easy-going."
"We'd certainly expect to earn our keep," Ben answered.
"Oh, there's lots of work to be done around here: from the barns and stables to the kitchen to the office. Either of you boys know how to work a printing press?"
"I was just working for a printer," Ben exclaimed. Then dropped his eyes, "Can't say I know anything about the press though. But I can learn."
"That's what we all said when the danged thing arrived. You can't imagine how much trouble it was carting that up the road."
"What are you printing?" Tom asked, always the sensible one.
"That's a good question. Well, now, we're hoping to start a small journal of ideas."
"Ideas?" Tom asked.
Monty smiled warmly. "If you know Eli, you must know some of the things he thinks about. I met him in England, through our friend Edward Carpenter. Edward has some very important things to say. I came back to America a few years ago, inspired by his example and eager to disperse some of his ideas. We're especially interested, you understand, in his notions of the intermediate sex. You do understand?" He said the last sentence hesitantly.
Tom cleared his throat. "Eli told me... "
Ben took a step closer to Tom and put his hand on his shoulder. Interrupting, he said, "I think we understand."
Monty smiled. "I thought so. But, you know, I was a little reluctant to ask. Well, now, I hope through this philosophical journal to reach out to others of our kind. I think they need to know they're not alone... and that they have special talents and sensibilities.
"You know," he went on in a rhetorical tone, "people's universes are affected by how they see themselves. Our people have seen themselves badly for centuries and sometimes participated in the badness, being sinners just as they were told they were. We believe it's critical we change how we see ourselves and how we participate in the world. Our effort around here is to create positive spiritual self-concepts and to educate our people about the really important role they have to play in the future of humankind.
"I am convinced," Monty announced dramatically, "that we are to be, not sinners, but saviors, that the earth has created us for a purpose that will become clearer in the future. Our task here at the Clear Light Colony is to educate our people to be receptive to the role the World Soul will have them play."
"But maybe the first thing we have got to do is to learn to thrive in spite of--or even because of--the wall between us and the rest. I mean, people like us have been the great artists and mystics and philosophers all through history. Maybe what's helped them become great is that they had to become special; they couldn't just be like everybody else, because they weren't.
"Yesterday I remember I was saying people can grow through adversity. Maybe if there were no adversity our kind--the queer people that we are--wouldn't have any reason for being. Maybe it's the job of the showers in the scheme of things to transcend the world and thereby transform and save it."
"Show-ers?" Ben asked. Once again he felt bewildered.
"When I was a boy my daddy raised horses--real fine animals. He took the best ones to county fairs and horse shows all over the state. He didn't want the fillies getting pregnant when he was going to show them so he kept 'em in a special corral. They were the 'show stock.' My daddy always called 'em the 'showers.' They were for beauty. The rest of the herd he called the 'breeders.' 'Course the shower fillies got moved over to the breeder corral when they got older: the way animals contribute to the future is biologically. With people it's a little different: people can contribute spiritually too. But it's the same distinction: breeders and showers.
"There are people whose primary function is to breed; they are male and female, each representing half of the whole; they're important for the future; they're part of the Great Chain of Being and Great Round of Creation; they carry on the biological evolution this Mr. Darwin has got in so much trouble for telling us about. There are other people whose primary function is to show; they are special; they are both male and female simultaneously or something in the middle comprising both halves; they step outside the Round and break the Chain because it's only outside that people can be special; it's only outside that you can get a perspective. Those who do so carry on--or at least remind the rest about--the spiritual evolution of the race that is even more important for the future.
"And, mind you, the future is going to be very different. Thomas Malthus has calculated that unchecked breeding is going to become a terrible problem in the next century. The success of science and the invention of machines is going to change the way human beings understand truth and the way they understand the rules that govern behavior.
"Because our people have been outside the rules for so long, we are able to understand that the rules are changing. We can look at the rules from our perspective outside and see that modern consciousness is not shackled by old commandments. The rules for the future must be not based on claims to authority but on the reasoning of the mind and the urging of the heart. Whatever function same-sex love played in the ancient world--Greece and Rome and all that that Plato talked about--it's something different now. The needs of the world are changing, and because we've got a perspective on things, we're responsible for showing the way.
"What we are to show, I think, is the special virtues that come from blending maleness and femaleness: strength with gentleness, logic with feeling, resolve and diligence with nurturance and sensitivity. The polarity of the sexes has been the major source of conflict and turmoil in human history. War and greed and deceit are all generated by male posturing for female attention. Our lives show how masculine and feminine traits can be merged into a viable synthesis that transcends the conflict of opposites.
"We show what real success is. From our perspective, we can see that opulence and power and self-aggrandizement are illusions. From outside, we can see the real success is savoring life." Monty waxed eloquent. "Enjoy the beauty of the world, my son. Prefer the beauty to riches. Prefer experience and adventure to possessions and security. Prefer people to things. Strive to serve those around you and be grateful for their service to you.
"Live simply with the abundance life provides. There is more than enough of everything for everybody in the world if we all just take our share and watch out for others to make sure they get their share...
"Oh, I know I'm sermonizing again," Monty laughed, "and I know it sounds a little megalomaniacal but I believe that our claiming our rightful identity in the coming world shows the way for the human race to survive. We are the shining examples--like Jesus Christ--that resurrection comes from facing adversity and transcending it."
"Gee, Professor Hightower, that's very impressive," Ben answered.
"You can call me Monty," he smiled. "Or Dorothea, if you like."
"Say, do you really think Jesus Christ was, uh, shower and not breeder?"
Montgomery Hightower looked at Ben quizzically, with just a hint of mirth in his smile, "Well, wasn't he?"
Return to The mystical gay novels of Toby Johnson
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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