Myths, Salvation and the Great Secret

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Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from, 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

Finding God


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


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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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 with a list of topics in Austin LGBT History

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

Advice to Future Gay Historians

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What is Gay Perspective?

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Myths, Salvation and the Great Secret with Rich Grzesiak

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

Queer men, myths and Reincarnation

Was I (or you) at Stonewall?

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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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

The Nature of Suffering and The Four Quills

You'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

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

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

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

Drawing a Long Straw: Ketamine at the Mann Ranch

Alan Watts & Multiple Solipsism

How I Learned Chakra Meditation

Je ne Regrette Rien

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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

The Monastic Schedule: a whimsy

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


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

Sex with God

Merging Religion and Sex

Revolution Through Consciousness Change: GSV 2019

God as Metaphor

More Metaphors for God

A non-personal metaphor God

Jesus and the Wedding Feast

Tonglen in the Radisson Varanasi

The Closet of Horrors

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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


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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?

A Different Take on Leathersex

Seeing Pornography Differently

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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

My first Peace March

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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

Our friend Cliff Douglas

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

In Search of Lost Lives by Michael Goddart

Queer Magic by Tomas Prower

God in Your Body by Jay Michaelson

Science Whispering Spirit by Gary Preuss

Friends of Dorothy by Dee Michel

New by Whitley Strieber

Developing Supersensible Perception by Shelli Renee Joye

Sage Sapien by Johnson Chong

Tarot of the Future by Arthur Rosengarten

Brothers Across Time by Brad Boney

Impresario of Castro Street by Marc Huestis

Deathless by Andrew Ramer

The Pagan Heart of the West, Vol 1 by Randy P. Conner

Practical Tantra by William Schindler

The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal

A New World by Whitley Strieber

Bernhard & LightWing by Damien Rowse

The Mountains of Paris by David Oates

Trust Truth by Trudie Barreras

How to be an Excellent Human Being by Bill Meacham

The Deviant's War by Eric Cervini

What Is the Grass by Mark Doty

Sex with God by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

The Sum of All the Pieces by Paul Bradford

All the Time in the World by J. Lee Graham

Jonas and the Mountain by Janis Harper

Two Hearts Dancing by Eli Andrew Ramer

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

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

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

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

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


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

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

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

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

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

Finding God
Finding God In The Sexual Underworld: The Journey Expanded

2020 Revised Version

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.

An Interview with Toby Johnson

by Rich Grzesiak, Oct 13, 1983

[Author's note: In 2022, in preparing this for posting—after Rich and I reconnected over memories of our mutual friend Mark Thompson, the editor at The Advocate who arranged this interview and I found a copy in a box in my office closet—I've added comments in brackets to correct or update things and to point out how differently things unfolded than we were expecting at that time in July 1983 when we met for the interview. That was at a time AIDS was not understood at all; the gay community was still "in shock."]

Grzesiak interview

“Certainly, there’s always been a tradition of gay mystics. Just look at Allen Ginsberg. There’s something about the gay sensibility that’s mystically inclined.”
     Does that statement startle you? Are you turned off by the discourse of visionaries? Do you believe that humanity can completely comprehend its condition and can use science to penetrate its very soul? Or perhaps you believe there is something more valuable than the scientific rationalism that has dominated 20th-Century thought and, yes, even gay social commentary.
     If these questions make you uncomfortable, I recommend you read Hardware Age. But if you have always wondered about the things we cannot explain, you might want to peruse the recent works of Edwin Clark (Toby) Johnson.

     Johnson is a gay man of wide interests and a complex style. For several years a member of the Marianist Brothers and later of the Servite Fathers, he studied at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and at the Service Priory in Riverside, Calif. In 1970 he left the Servites to continue his education in Northern California. Trained in psychiatric nursing at Napa State Hospital [while in grad school], he received a Ph.D. in counseling and psychotherapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies. [While at C.I.I.S., he volunteered on the team that put on the talks and seminars of the famed comparative religions scholar Joseph Campbell and became an advocate for Campbell's understanding of religion and myth from over and above any specific tradition.] His religious beliefs now extend far beyond traditional Western Judeo-Christian thought. In this cynical age, Johnson believes that “God exists in all of us,” especially among gays.
     Johnson has written two fascinating books that are as unorthodox as they are profound. In The Myth of the Great Secret, he states the case for “divining the world” by realizing that we are our own heroes. His latest work, In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld (William Morrow), a highly unusual account of his experiences while writing a report on juvenile prostitution, personalizes what Johnson calls the “hero journey.” His research emerges with the rich texture one would expect from a self-described “hippie, psychologist, mythologist, scientist and mystic.”

Johnson lives and works in San Antonio, Tex., where he is well known as a gay community activist [in the early to mid-80s]. He was recently in New York, where we talked about a number of issues: sexuality, leadership and gay politics, as well as subjects not normally tackled by gay writers—matters of life and hope, and even God.

Do you agree with John Rechy’s assertion that there’s no substitute for seeking salvation? How do we go about making our way though a gay world that has debunked most of its life-giving myths?

The issue of finding myths to live by is crucial. Human beings need meaning in their lives.

From one perspective we can look at reality and see there really is a connection between events. Maybe God really is active in the world. Our scientific rationalism suggests that things “just happen,” and most of us live in such a way that things just sort of happen to us. So we have to impose meaning on what we see, and we do that by creating myths.

The myths Rechy refers to in his literature appear to have been debunked only when one comes out of a very one-­dimensional epistemology in which things are either true or false—in which there is a single reality.

I think there are many realities—scientific, historical, statistical. Those are the ones we tend to think of as true, although if you examine them carefully, they prove to be not as devoid of falsehood as we originally took them to be. People do historical research and discover that we’ve misunderstood the past all along. An interesting gay example of this is John Boswell’s study of the church in medieval history [Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Univ of Chicago Press, 1980)]. We all knew that the church was anti-homosexual and Christianity was antigay.

Now along comes Boswell to expose the truth, and suddenly history changes behind us. [Boswell showed, for instance, that the strongest condemnations of homosexuality really only began in the early Middle Ages after the Black Death threatened to wipe out civilization, and non-procreative sex was blamed for the plagues in order to get the population procreating again; and that same-sex kinships rituals had long been performed in the Catholic world.]

As we become more sophisticated in our understanding of reality, we must appreciate what the ancients knew: that there is more than one reality and that we can select the myths we will give meaning to, ones that must have good consequences for our lives.

Christianity has taught us to edit our experience negatively, and all that does is create lots of problems. The ultimate argument of The Myth of the Great Secret is that if we begin to see things more positively, they will eventually begin to get that way.

We still don’t understand the historical Christian experience because of linguistic difficulties. The Bible tells us that Peter left his wife to follow Jesus. There’s obviously more to that story than what has been recorded in the Gospels.

Just imagine the difficulties inherent to interpreting literal accounts of biblical events over 2,000 years old. Pepsi Cola once had its jingle literally translated into other languages. The ad slogan in English was “Pepsi brings you to life.” Translated into German the jingle meant, “Pepsi brings you back from the grave.” In Taiwan the slogan became, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back.”

We still don’t really understand what Jesus’ relationships with the Apostles were. There is a funny euphemism continually used in the Gospel of John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Doesn’t that mean Jesus’s lover?

We know that one of Jesus’ closest friends was a prostitute (Mary Magdalene). The Apostles themselves were lowlifes—sailors. Through the filter of 2,000 years of history we’ve shifted them to the status of middle-class respectability.

A year ago Allen Young made a historic break with the American gay left, in his Gays Under the Cuban Revolution (Grey Fox Press). One of his main points was that when we lock ourselves into a black-and-white world view, we shred each other’s integrity—politically and socially—as gay community leaders.

You must remember that gay liberation occurred at a time when many people were very angry at the United States. In the parlance of Toby Marotta’s The Politics of Homosexuality, I’m a “cultural radical,” someone who wishes to alter the culture by altering the way he lives. But that doesn’t necessarily lead one to accept a Marxist analysis. In general the movement has gone far beyond the political/economic issues of the 1960s. [Toby Marotta and Toby Johnson were literary partners in the conversion of Marotta's Harvard PhD dissertation into popular language, and in production of Marotta's book of interviews Sons of Harvard: Gay Men in the Class of '67; together they worked in the juvenile prostitution study mentioned above; and together—thanks to Toby Marotta's Harvard connections—they got a wonderful New York literary agent and contracts for their several books.]

People have often taken the maxim “the personal is political” to mean that their political analysis allows them to target people for personal attack, purely because their opponent’s politics are unacceptable. Thus, everything political must equate to everything political.

Everything you do has political implications, but you aren’t necessarily supposed to be politically correct—the latter is the distortion. The personal decisions you make must be seen in a social context. How we behave somehow affects the collective mind. We have ethical obligations to behave in right ways toward other people, but the right ways are not as cut-and-dried as political analysis would have it. [There was a bad side of PC; the valid notion that you should be aware of the consequences of your actions got distorted into making other people wrong for minor infractions. There was a good side as well, and it is one of the great accomplishments of feminism and gay liberation; that is, that getting "your consciousness raised" about how your life affects other imposes ethical obligations on you. That is what being "political correct"—PC—was really about: being the best kind of person you can be.]

The Christian idea that we should love one another is irrefutably true. When we’re in a context where this is not the rule—with people crying to get what they want or be politically correct [in the bad sense]—they wind up shitting on one another.

Perhaps the gay movement has been guilty of “sloganeering,” of mistaking political axioms for real political analysis.

I have a great tendency to romanticize early countercultural ideals. I learned to be a hippie when I was in the monastery. Right now we have the controversies surrounding Larry Bush, NGTF [National Gay Task Force], GRNL [Gay Rights National Lobby] and The ADVOCATE—maybe that’s part of becoming successful in America, because that’s what Americans do to one another. [FYI—Larry Bush was the Washington D.C. correspondent for The Advocate, and the first openly-gay reporter accredited by the White House. He published articles in both gay and straight publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, and Playboy, and also published the Bush Report, which was concerned with gay political and cultural issues. He was also the Washington liaison for the National Gay Task Force. His efforts influenced the creation of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, the establishment of voluntary spending limits for San Francisco candidates, electronic filing of campaign reports, and conflict of interest reporting for City Hall aides.]

Whether it’s hippiehood or homosexuality, the Roman Catholic Church seems incapable of dealing with either. Do you think the church hierarchy will ever deal with its aversion to homosexuality?

Recently I learned that Pope John Paul II had asked for a copy of The AIDS Epidemic [Saint Martin’s Press]. Still, if the church makes declarations against gays, all it accomplishes is the alienation of homosexuals. There’s no need for them to do that. If they come out with a positive statement on gays, they alienate all the homophobes.

Historically, the only choice left to the church on gays may be silence, which is what happened with birth control. After much raging controversy it just stopped being talked about.

[That comment proved remarkably naive. The Priest-Pedophila scandal was right around the corner and would embarrass the Church into being even more anti-gay as it turned out most of the priests were closeted, and many psychologically immature, sexually callow, and ethical inadequate homosexuals. You know, if not for the pedophilia and the layers of cover-up and denial, and the public reaction "Who knew so many priests were homosexuals?", the revelation of gays in the priesthood should have been "Who knew so many homosexuals devoted their lives to the service of God?"]

We’ve created many self-defeating myths to get us through gay life: the doomed queen, the sex-obsessed stud, life in the fast lane, to name just a few. But we’re finding that none of the myths are working to give life positive meaning in the AIDS era. As these myths die, do you see an upsurge of interest in spirituality among gays?

I hope so, for salvation is the issue. That doesn’t mean heaven but the full life—loving relationships, living well. I am not referring to the old Christian eschatology about salvation.

A spiritual approach to life is important because the spirit is as intrinsic to human experience as are our bodies and minds. Omitting spiritual awareness is like neglecting our bodies’ needs.

When we create new myths, we should hark back to, and be consistent with, the ancient traditions. A myth like the resurrection has survived for over 50,000 years because there’s some thing intrinsically human about it. The myth of the doomed queen means nothing unless we can place it in the hierarchy of historic mythology. If we’re going to base our life on myths, let’s choose a very basic [perennial and life-affirmative] one, and not the doomed queen.

There’s something very true about the myth that drugs can bring you enlightenment. We took LSD to show us heaven. Then we starred doing drugs just to go to the discos, but that’s a dead end. The truth about myths, like the one that “drugs are good,” is not historical but experiential. [Discovering the "proper use" and the "right kinds" of substances has been one of the hero challenges of gay culture: some drugs offer enlightenment; some hot sex; some addiction and physical deterioration; some camaraderie; some joy; some doom. The development of the drugs that made AIDS survivable and, with PrEP, sex less scary, added a whole nother kind of experimentation gay men were willing to take on themselves—for better or worse.]

As a community, how can we create heroes—or heroic myths—when so many of us are busy fighting for survival and at the same time are so terribly ignorant of our gay past? Do we have to reconstruct our past before we can gain a heroic future?

The reason we develop public heroes is to discover the heroes in ourselves. The hero journey permits us to piece together all our experiences and to grow in positive directions.

A more basic myth is that of the great secret, that there’s some place to go, something we ought to know but don’t: If only we knew this one bit of information, everything else would make sense. Today we’re afflicted with a fatalistic notion that we’ll never find the secret, so why bother looking? Let’s just be satisfied with a new VCR, we tell ourselves. But there’s a great human hunger to understand the meaning of life.

There seems to be a tremendous contempt among gay intellectuals for any interest in spirituality, let alone religion. Have you experienced that?

Yes. People think I’m really nutty because of the religious paraphernalia I’m fond of. But in Texas where I am political, people aren’t even aware of this part of me. [Fifteen years later I'd be editing White Crane: A Journal of Gay Men's Spirituality and win a Lambda Literary Award for a book called Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness in a category called Spirituality/Religion. And gay bookstores would have whole shelves of books about religion for LGBTQ+ people.]

When people perceive that you’re gay and religious, does that pose problems?

Well, we must remember that the great reality of our day is pluralism, that there are many truths. Among the organized religions, the opposition to homosexuality doesn’t arise from any injunction in Leviticus but rather from the suggestion that our lives imply that there’s more than one reality or truth. Gays disturb their assumptions about the nature of reality, their ego­centricity. Remember too that the Romans had no reason to wipe our Christianity; they opposed the Christians because these new-found religionists wanted to wipe out everybody else, such was their belief that their creed was the only truth.

How do you regard organized gay religious groups like the MCC or Dignity?

We go to church to have our religious consciousness raised. To the extent that their liturgy is effective in this respect, I enjoy having my spiritual awareness stimulated.

A flaw in these groups is that they’re not sufficiently “gay,” in the sense of recognizing that to some degree being “gay’’ involves being critically aware of society. Gay churches too easily accept traditional Christianity without trying to take a critical distance and reshape the religion.

Every time I refer to the MCC I belong to in San Antonio as “the gay church,” someone objects, saying, “We’re a Christian church with an outreach to homosexuals.” Even Troy Perry subscribes to this descriptive notion. But they’re wrong—they are a “gay church.”

One of the functions of religion is healing. Maybe that is the main function of gay religious groups these days.

Could you explain that in greater detail?

Maybe there is some truth to the idea that AIDS is a manifestation of sinfulness. Susceptibility to viruses has strong psychological components. Guilt and stress do make one more susceptible to viruses. That’s what I mean when l say that perhaps AIDS is a manifestation of sinfulness. To the extent that many gay men have feelings of evil buried deep inside and have no way of reconciling them, these feelings may well bubble up in self-destructive ways. [The sinfulness isn't the PWAs' but the churches and preachers that vilify homosexuality and make a natural human feeling into something evil in order to have somebody else to blame.]

Compulsive sex is bound to be emotionally unsatisfying. It’s interesting that AIDS has appeared when the first generation of the sexual revolution has hit its 30s.

We really aren’t free unless we have some kinds of limits on our freedom, and those limits are based on responsible behavior. We’ve had people who have behaved irresponsibly in the name of gay liberation. Many of us were reluctant to say so because we feared we’d be seen as gay Jerry Falwells.

[This conversation was happening at a time when AIDS wasn't understood and within the gay community there was a great debate raging about who was spreading whatever it was; there were said to be people spreading it intentionally and others seeking to get infected intentionally.]

As far as sexual morality goes, if we talk in terms of what makes people happy—i.e., virtue—then that’s a much better way of nurturing behavior than saying, “Here’s a list of what’s forbidden, now see to it that you don’t perform any of the following sexual acts.” Christianity has been forbidding things for almost 2,000 years, and it hasn’t accomplished anything.

Issues of personal responsibility intrigue me. You’ve been involved with est and Werner Erhard. Est claims that individuals can and must take responsibility for their lives and turn acts to their personal advantage. What would you say to a gay black or a lesbian feminist who would assert that est denies institutional responsibility for issues like racism and sexism?

Your question reduces to solipsism, and we don’t really know how to deal with solipsistic realities—that two things can be true simultaneously, that individuals can take control of their lives and that institutions do bear collective responsibilities too.

The problem with est is that it got caught up in the trappings of middleclass California affluence, but that doesn’t negate the kernel of truth it imparts, something well worth contemplating.

Certainly one interpretation would be that we live in a mechanistic world where people out there have power; I have none, thus I am oppressed. Another approach is to try one of these gimmicks—for instance, if you put out positive vibes you can change what happens to you. It does sound silly, but when you do it it seems to work.

Remember the mechanistic view of the world is far from a complete picture. It doesn’t do any good just to say, “I’m oppressed.” Things change—politically, socially, whatever—-when people  take responsibility to do so.
The argument of est was that you really have to take responsibility for your—and the world’s—experience, and not to use the est philosophy to your own advantage. Changing consciousness, after all, always starts with the individual.

What if all homosexuals were to positively will themselves to hope for a solution to AIDS instead of just acting powerless over it? The Christians are putting forth lots of positive vibes that AIDS will kill us all off. The sad reality is that we have no way of counteracting this because we’re so modern that we don’t believe in any of this.

Your commentary assumes an existing gay community capable of response. Do you think this is a valid assumption, given the proven impotence of our community in certain parts of the country?

When we talk about the gay community, we’re talking about a tiny percentage of homosexuals. The number of people actually patronizing gay places, social or economic entities, is actually very small. There are large numbers of gay people that we know nothing about, whom we’re not reaching at all. Let’s face it: There are more of them than there are of us. And we do have an obligation to reach these people. But the question that afflicts us, as on so many other points, is how?

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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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