Sterling Houston by Dennis Paddie



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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Unpublished manuscripts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.



Sterling Houston Walkin’ His Blues

An affectionate portrait by a fellow Texas playwright.


This article appeared in the March-April 2007 issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review


by Dennis Paddie



S
terling Houston, an experimental playwright who died last year, embodied the archetype of the American artist who moves with his dreams out into the world but comes back home with his dreams intact to do his major work. His life illustrates a motif of the modern acceptance of homosexuality and spread of gay culture: the gay artist who goes to the big city, gets liberated, then returns home to spread the good news of liberation, urbanity and an outsider’s perspective.


Sterling HoustonHouston created his ouevre out of the organic whole of his life as a gay, black man. He wrote over thirty plays, many of them musicals, in addition to some dramas and comedies. Typically, as in “Black and Blue,” one of his last productions, Houston used musical collage as a dramatic form in a jazz medium, with the drum as primary instrument. He combined familiar songs with liberation texts, news reportage, and historical anecdote—often in high black lingo. The bite of his wit was famous. His titles hint suggestively at his subjects and themes: “Isis in Nubia,” “Santo Negro,” “Cameoland,” “La Frontera,” “Cabaret de Caramelo,” “Womandingo,” “High Yello Rose,” “Black Lily, White Lily,” “Miranda Rites,” and “The Living Graves.” (Four of these plays have been published in the aptly titled anthology Myth, Magic, and Farce: Four Multicultural Plays by Sterling Houston, edited by Sandra M. Mayo.)

His first novel, Le Griffon, published in 2000, was a re-telling of Frankenstein, set in New Orleans with the mad doctor, portrayed as a white ancestor of the narrator, constructing his monster out of cadavers from a mix of races. At the time of his death, Houston was working on an autobiographical roman a clef, The Secret Oral Teachings of the Sacred Walking Blues. (It’s expected to be published posthumously through Gemini Ink, the San Antonio nonprofit literary center that sponsored his work in recent years.)

In the epic quest for the grail of a post-slavery black identity, Houston is heir to W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin, with the 60s twist of a prose-poet in command of the large issues. The characters onto which he projected himself could be anyone: brown, black, white, dispossessed and orphaned or rich and prosperous; he was chameleon. But his central focus was the reconstruction of the history of the African-American presence in the New World, and at the center of that lay African spiritual life. In Houston’s conceit, derived from the speculations that black slaves brought to America, the spiritual life means the dead can walk out of the realm of death to live among the living. The ghosts are allowed a tangible body. In the imagination of the playwright, like that of the griot, the storyteller/bard of West Africa, the dead—those known and anonymous of his ancestors—come back to life as characters of the drama to bring wisdom to guide his dispossessed tribes in their wanderings in the New World to improve their lot.

Of all that his people had possessed in Africa, Houston puts forth, only the drum survived slavery. One of his characters says: “We kept the drums and remembered how to use them and move with them and came to dominate all music in the western world.” A drum vibrates the air inside an enclosed space. Then surely the drum was the background, racial beat of what he called the sacred, walking blues, his metaphor for the spirit of the individual in the world and in the universe. History and myth were interchangeable in Houston’s attitude and the cyclic patterns of dominance, slavery, liberation, and love were the dramas of the great drumbeat.
In what turned out to be the last thing he’d see published, he described the sacred walking blues in characteristic voice. A short story, “Beyond the Blue Bardo,” excerpted from that roman a clef of his, appears in Toby Johnson’s anthology Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling that was released in December just weeks after Houston’s own entry into the realm of death.
Sterling Houston
The Walking Blues is the mother of all unified opposites. And our double-spirited sissy holds the key. The slings and arrows of this outrageous fortune in men’s eyes get knotted and tossed over the shoulder like a silk Hermes scarf; misery transformed by style. This strut of which I sing has naught to do with fatherlessness. Though in truth, the love of a good man is essential if a man is ever to be any good at loving.

The black sissy has earned the right to strut, no lie. I know I did, paid for it with years of denial and shame. The head tosses left as the knee shoots right and the buttcheek switches right under it in perfect tempo and then reverses in a sweet rhythm that is beyond nature. Reverses and transcends. Transcending ridicule while reveling in foolishness, this sissy is both king and queen, and knows her royal family by the singing of the song. Winds of disdain whip past her ears and get incorporated into the music, translate themselves into a sphincter thrust that has become the envy of the civilized world.

“Beyond the Blue Bardo” reveals the spiritual reconciliations Houston had made with history and with himself especially as he approached death. The sacred oral teachings of the Blue Bardo amount to using the metaphorical drum that had survived slavery to walk the earth to find oneself and to transform the negative into an advantage, bad fortune into opportunity.

As a fellow theater artist and also a wanderer, I resonate with Sterling’s metaphor. I was in New York and in San Francisco at roughly the same times as he. I walked along the ruined docks on the old West Side Highway and from Fisherman’s Wharf to Land’s End and across the bridge to those black sand beaches north of the Golden Gate. I can imagine him walking—as did so many of us in our generation of gay men discovering a different beat and a different drum—down Christopher Street to the Hudson and from 18th and Castro over to the Haight: walking the quest, walking the blues, walking to his own drumbeat.

In 1963, at seventeen, Houston appropriated a Greyhound bus-ticket from his mother’s travel agency stock and ran away to find the bigger world, first briefly to Los Angeles then to New York. There he performed with Charles Ludlum’s Theater of the Ridiculous, hung-out with other black intellectuals from the circles of the famous Judson Church poetry readings, and was ecstatically initiated into homosexuality and welcomed into a positive gay black identity.

But San Francisco, as the gay mecca of the era, held out erotic promise to wiry, muscular and horny Houston. He migrated back to California in the mid-70s, this time to the north. He founded a proto-punk-rock band, and landed a spot at the Magic Theater in the era of Michael McClure, just as Sam Shepard, playwright-in-residence, won a Pulitzer Prize. But that period, however glorious, however stylishly/counterculturally impoverished, lasted only a few years. As Houston said in a 2001 interview with performance artist Keith Hennessey, (Community Arts Network: Reading Room, February, 2001), “It was after Jonestown and the Milk assassination. I was over San Francisco.” By 1981, it was time to go home—“to make money,” he told Hennessey. At the age of 36, he decided that his career in the theater was over, too.

So he returned to Texas. Houston’s family was invested in real estate on San Antonio’s black east side. He lived in one of their houses and worked odd jobs in the gay community. He was on staff with the community paper and he famously sold chocolate chip cookies in a gay-owned concession across the street from the Alamo!

They say theater dies hard in the soul and Houston had kept writing. He showed his work to another San Antonio artist, Steve Bailey, and together in 1987 they founded Jump-Start Theater in the Blue Star Arts Complex which survives and thrives today, a center for Texas avant-garde Performance Art. This theater has presented hundreds of latino, black, and gay artists to San Antonio. Jump-Start has educated a whole generation of technicians, directors and performers. And, in the process, Sterling Houston gained a national reputation. He traveled all over America for productions, workshops, colloquies and awards. He collaborated with renowned poet Maya Angelou. (A message of condolence and personal affection from Angelou was read at his funeral). He received multiple grants for many years, even from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. He had wandered away from his hometown and returned to it to a successful career.

To comprehend the scope of Houston and Bailey’s accomplishment, it helps to understand a little about San Antonio. This city, founded by Spanish Conquistadors, is entering its fourth century. The civil administration has remained coherent and intact, one long survival, throughout the governance of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Union, the Confederacy, then Reconstruction and the return to the Union. Beautifully ornamented and built over native springs and ancient aqueducts, San Antonio is one of the great “mood” cities of the country along with New Orleans, Boston and San Francisco, full of nostalgia, mystery and noir.
Times have changed, but a memorial statue to the Confederate war-dead still stands in a park at the heart of the old city even today. In Texas history, whites have dispossessed the indigenous Mexicans of their lands and livelihoods (that’s the real story of the Alamo). And for decades they dominated their former black slaves and freedmen. San Antonio is a major outpost of the American military establishment and one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the country. It is conservative by long history.

In such a bastion of the dominant social order, gay people hardly exist. In the late 80s, there was little public gay life in San Antonio, however impassioned the city’s homosexual undertow. There was no visible bohemian scene, no downwardly mobile chic and few life actors. In that vacuum Bailey and Houston created a stage—literally and figuratively—where such people could exist, where such things could happen and where alternative points of view could be expressed.

The portrait of his life as he walked his blues through the richly ornamented public spaces of his native city is so tender we understand immediately that Houston saw the substance of life itself as love. At nine years old, he tells, he saw Doris Day as Calamity Jane sing “Secret Love” at the old Jim-Crow-era movie house a few blocks from his home, The Cameo Theater—now a live theater venue in a stylishly renovated area of downtown. He wanted to be Doris, he said, not only for her golden hair, but because she was so masculine! And he held that desire to be a secret jewel somehow connected to sexual feelings to come.

He gave these feelings primary place in his life. He believed that sex, and gay sex in particular, was an aspect of the divine fiat. Houston held sexual experience to be sacred. If we know the heart of the universe to be emptiness, what death means and therefore what life means to us depends upon how we fill the emptiness. Houston believed it could be filled with ecstasy, beauty and love. And in that spirit, he had a partner and lifemate for the last sixteen years, Arnie Aprill, director of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education.

Toby Johnson and I had lunch with Sterling Houston last spring. On that occasion Sterling  delivered the edited version of his contribution for Charmed Lives. He appeared emaciated and weak. He’d been using a wheelchair occasionally, he explained. It was hard to walk long distances now. In 1996 he’d suffered a ruptured appendix; it was misdiagnosed and peritonitis set in. His vigor had been compromised, though he’d remained stubbornly committed to his work and pushed himself through his illness—that committed drive was notoriously part of his personality. He regaled us with stories, partly humorous, of his medical misadventures as well as of his frustrations, failures and successes as an artist. It was astonishing that someone in his sepulchral condition could be so vital. It was clear that he had filled his cup of emptiness with emptiness itself, and that he had no need to suffer any further.

We had picked the poet up at his diminutive wood-frame house. The gay-hippie-chic styled house was flawlessly appointed with mementos of his life, his bedroom filled with votive images of many gods and saints from many places. These included the brown-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, but particularly St. Martin de Porres, the paradigmatically dispossessed South American mulatto saint with whom Sterling understandably identified. He even looked like him. Over lunch, the conversation turned to the spiritual matters of the walking blues. In the manuscript he carried, he’d written words that summarized his gained wisdom in typically Sterling Houston dramatic voice. In honor of his theatrical style, imagine a drumbeat under the words—first Tibetan temple drums and procession gongs, changing to the rat-tat of a jazz snare drum, then ending with a snap crash on the high-hat cymbals:

[Those Buddhist lamas] were hung up on transformation, you hear. The lean bitter ecology of their glacial existence inspired no fantasies of wondrous bountiful harvests. No milk and honey, no grapes and grains piled as high as the pyramids. Instead those girls worked another alchemy. Taking the wind and the snow with the lamb and the yak, they made straw into delicious spiritual gold.
The Walking Blues, I say, is a way to keep the real blues at bay. Rather than say “Good morning, heartache, sit down,” say, “This black sissy has earned the right to strut.”

Is the Walking Blues preventative medicine?
Yes, of course it is.

There was an aspect of the prima donna in Houston’s self-presentation at that spring lunch, a strut. That part of his personality resonated with the great gay voices of our culture. In his use of the gay patois, he was free to assume the role of one of the great, black, queen, artist intellectuals of his time. In doing so, he had changed the world through which he walked.

Sterling Houston, a significant American dramatic poet, died of AIDS, in San Antonio, November 8, 2006 at age sixty. Throngs of people attended his funeral.



Dennis Paddie


Dennis Paddie is an artist and art historian in central Texas. Two of his dramas were listed by the Austin Chronicle in its select bibliography of Texas plays of the last fifty years
.

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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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