coverStraw into Gold

Excerpted from Toby Johnson's Introduction to Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

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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


Unpublished manuscripts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

Advice to Future Gay Historians

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

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

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

The Episode of the Blank Slide

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

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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

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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

God and Sex

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

Spinning Straw into Gold

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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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

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

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

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.

 Storytelling as Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Excerpted from Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

Straw into Gold: Storytelling as Self-fulfilling Prophecy

“Let me tell you a story…” These are words as potent as the creative declaration in Genesis: “Let there be light.” For in just the same way that from the light (of the Big Bang) flowed all that now exists materially, so from the stories told through the ages, the world of human experience has been created.

Everything we know we learned from “stories” others told us: about experience, about life, about meaning, about love and sex, about God and the whole of the cosmos.
Some stories scared us—like those about “the boogeyman” or about “the Terrorists” or, too often, about “the sexual perverts.” Some of the stories literally produced our personalities—like the stories of The Little Engine That Could or The Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. If we’re tenacious, provident and temperate as adults, it’s in great part because we took to the heart the lessons of those stories. Telling stories can be powerful. Stories set up “self-fulfilling prophecies.”

Gay consciousness seems to naturally see life with a twist—sometimes ironic, or sardonic or campy, sometimes sweet and sensitive. The point of telling stories with a touch of the Twilight Zone is to move them into the realm of myth and metaphor. That is, after all, how the stories of religion have come down to us: adding mystical, magical, miraculous details to a story gives the insight or spiritual/moral wisdom eternal verity. Such stories are not literally “true,” but, and more importantly, they’re memorable and richly meaningful.

Such stories achieve mythic stature because they transcend ordinary reality to hint at something beyond. Dealing with death and afterlife is one of the most familiar ways stories achieve this mythic stature. Death signifies transcending ego, going beyond self into a greater—and mysterious—reality. In that sense, death is a metaphor for eternity.

The gay community has become sensitive to death in the last decades because of the mysterious happenstance of a new and virulent virus showing up among our numbers as the clue to a threat to planetary survival. So many deaths around us spurred gay spiritual awareness. Being in the presence of death tends to “focus the mind”—to cite the famous quotation from Samuel Johnson about the threat of being hanged—and to make one look at life from the larger perspective. Indeed, to cite another popular chestnut that’s come to be part of modern mythology, when you’re in the presence of somebody who is dying and the portal to the metaphorical “tunnel of light” opens for them, you yourself can sometimes see the radiance shining out, and it changes you.

That light is part of the story we tell ourselves about the larger universe referred to as supernatural. The supernatural is the realm of God, Jesus and the Saints of religion; it is also the world of vampires, ghosts and paranormal powers. The supernatural is what’s invisible to the eye.

“L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux,”according to the sexually ambiguous French aviator/storyteller/puer aeternis Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

And what’s invisible to all of us is other people’s consciousness—their thoughts and experience of being aware. So reference to the supernatural and the mysterious is reference to the larger consciousness of which we are somehow a part, but don’t immediately realize—all of us like neurons in the planetary mind of the sun as it has evolved on Planet Earth. The way we actually do experience other people’s consciousness is through being compassionate. That is why all stories about the supernatural realm are lessons about feeling others’ pain and others’ joys.

This is the work of religion—but in the modern culture religion has fallen behind. They’re not telling new stories. We need new stories: the old ones haven’t worked as they should. And gay people’s experience is a sign of that. We—of all people—are motivated to change the stories people tell about homosexuality, about deviance, about the meaning of incarnation in flesh.

Science and human discovery has been about dropping old stories and learning new and better ones. The story about the stork bringing babies is replaced by the story of sexuality, just as the story about God creating the animals in the Garden of Eden has been replaced by the story of the origin and evolution of species on earth. The whole universe is changing because we’re coming to understand just how arbitrary some of these stories are. What’s peculiar to modern human consciousness is that now we, unlike most human beings before us, can be aware of the nature and power of stories, yet can also stand outside them and see their metaphorical/mythical character. And we can contrive how to change them.

Changing stories is an act of transformation. And transformation is one of the great thoughts of the planet. We all resonate with it. This is the underlying meaning behind the great myths from Jesus and the Resurrection to Persephone and the seasons to Rumpelstiltskin and the secret for turning straw into gold. And indeed our current awareness of the nature of myth as metaphor, not history, is transforming how the content of the myths and stories is understood.

In traditional mythology, knowing the name of something—a god, a beast of prey or predation, a monster, a Beloved—was believed to give power over that thing. It bestowed the talent of summoning it. Hence the Biblical God had an unpronounceable name (just four consonants without vowels so it couldn’t be spoken, except once a year by the High Priest to whom had been revealed the vowels as a secret initiation).

One of the powers that came with name-giving was transformation. Naming something transforms it.

Transformation is a power of gay people. In the most mundane way, “coming out” itself is an experience of transformation. The meaning and significance and feeling tone of homosexuality changes dramatically in this experience that people necessarily go through to be gay. You have to realize that almost everything everybody (including YHWH) says about sex, gender and love is wrong—at least for you. You have to look within to find your own truth instead of listening to parents and authorities. You have to transform your world.

And the traits that are associated with homosexuality—in particular, with gay men—are those of transformation. Rearranging the furniture, remodeling a house, making up a floral arrangement, doing another person’s hair, or soothing a patient’s pain, teaching a child, writing a book, composing a symphony—all are forms of transformation. And these require “talent.” Talents are what are spoken about in the myths as “powers.” And the people in the myths with powers—fairies, witch-crones, warlocks, blind seers, berdache two-spirits—are frequently gender variant.

The secret of turning straw into gold in the fairy tale was tied to knowing the name of the elf/demon/daimon who performed the transformation. Knowing the name gave power. Remember the story was that a boastful merchant exaggerated the skills of his seamstress daughter and proclaimed she could virtually spin gold out of straw. When this exaggeration got reported to the King, it was taken seriously and a royal order went out that, under threat of beheading if she failed, the girl should transform a barnful of straw into gold for the kingdom’s treasury.

There was no way, of course, for the merchant’s daughter to accomplish this task. But then out of nowhere appeared an elf who said he could and agreed to perform the transformation on condition the girl give him a gift of her necklace. She did so and he spun the whole barnful into gold. The King was so pleased he ordered her to work another night at her spinning wheel. Again the elf appeared and agreed to perform, this time asking for her ring. And again the King wanted more gold and sent her back to work. On the third night the gift the elf asked for was the girl’s first son when the baby would be born. In fear of losing her head, the girl agreed.

The greedy King was so impressed he married the merchant’s daughter himself, and a year later she gave birth to a prince.

Soon the elf returned to claim his final payment. The young mother begged and begged, offering all the wealth in the kingdom, but he was adamant. They had an agreement; he wanted the infant. But he agreed to drop his claim if in three days she could guess his name (i.e., identify the power by which transformation occurs).

The now-Queen sent messengers out to investigate the background of this magical creature. One of them happened to discover the elf out in the woods being elf-like, celebrating his power, dancing around a fire, singing: “Nobody can guess my name is Rumpelstiltskin.” On the third night, then, the Queen was able to confront the elf with his secret name and void the agreement and keep her son.

The secret of turning straw/dross into gold—the secret sought by the alchemists, in a complex metaphor for transforming human consciousness into divine consciousness—is linked to knowing the potent name. The name is a key to power. (Rumpelstiltskin, by the way, is a German name of a kind of poltergeist that shakes [”rumples”] the stilts of raised houses—not so terribly secret.)

In a surprisingly similar way, one of the healing powers of psychotherapy and medicine is giving a name to troubling symptoms. We’ve all likely had an experience of the power of medical diagnosis. Just having a doctor look at some condition and giving it a name can result in the symptoms disappearing. This is an aspect of what’s called the placebo effect, and it is especially so in mental health services.

A major way that psychotherapy works is by giving the patient a name—a handle—for their problem and/or assuring them the problem is “normal.” Of course, knowing the diagnosis Broken Arm isn’t going to make bone knit back together automatically, but seeing the doctor and getting X-rays can make the pain diminish immediately, if only because uncertainty and anxiety are assuaged. And being told you’re just having a predictable mid-life crisis does make your craziness seem more manageable—and the shaking of the stilts of your life less threatening.

People tell themselves stories in their mind. They repeat over and over comments made by parents or teachers or ex-boyfriends or girlfriends; in serious schizophrenia these are experienced as hearing voices. Such self-talk becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. How we experience our lives is mediated by the stories we were told and the stories we are still telling ourselves. Some of these stories have contributed greatly to our lives; some have resulted in torment and guilt. Psychological maturity—the aim of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis— includes being aware of the stories and taking responsibility for continuing to honor or believe them or deciding not to. Sometimes maturity and mental health comes from not listening to the stories anymore or beginning to tell oneself new stories.

People become what they think they are. They become the labels they use for themselves. If you think of yourself as a “miserable sinner” and continually berate yourself for failing to succeed at anything you try because, after all, you’re a miserable sinner, you’ll make yourself unhappy and feckless.

Cognitive styles of psychotherapy seek to change people’s behavior and self-experience by getting them to recognize the terms of their self-talk and then to change them. Thinking of yourself as a vital, loving person instead of a miserable sinner is sure more likely to enliven your life and attract other loving persons to you.

New Age Religious Science and Western esoteric tradition calls this phenomenon The Law of Attraction. We become what we think we are and we attract into our lives what we think about. The stories we tell ourselves become true, sometimes through what seem like coincidences or, even, miracles. This is the dynamic of self-fulfilling prophecy and it operates even at the level of karma and luck: what we expect to happen comes true because we—consciously or unconsciously and maybe mystically—set it up to happen.

Homosexual liberation comes from being able to name the experience of inexplicable and taboo feelings of sexual attraction for members of one’s own sex. The first step of coming out is being able to say to oneself “I’m not like everybody else. I’m a homosexual.” And because the word homosexual has been given such negative connotations, the gay population over the years has given more felicitous, self-chosen names for this experience of sexuality.

Naming our aberrant sexual orientation has been an ongoing theme. Each generation and wave of political and cultural organizing has sought to rename itself to give a new and different tenor to homosexual consciousness and set up different self-fulfilling prophecies in order to transform and improve gay people’s lives.

“Gay” is, indeed, the word that’s been in use for at least the last century, though organized groups of homosexuals and individuals have called for other self-identifiers to suggest other connotations: uranian, intermediate type, urning, third sex, homophile, gay, lesbian, bisexual, faggot and dyke, queer, same-sex, men who love men and women who love women, LGBTQ+, even “I-don’t-want-to-be-labeled.” Each of these names suggests certain qualities of sexual orientation—either of innocuousness or of threat, depending on context and political or personal vicissitudes for which the identification is proclaimed.

If you think about your homosexuality as creating a psychiatric condition, a cause of sin and a perverse abnormality (the way the anti-gay forces teach), something to keep secret, you’re likely to become a miserable sinner. If you think of your homosexuality as revealing Rumpelstiltskin’s secret for producing gold, you’re much more likely to find happiness, love and fulfillment. The transformation comes from relaxing resistance to the way things are. So listen to your heart, and be what and who you really are.

Twisting the straw metaphor, you might say life is like the game of drawing straws: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, most of the time it’s all a matter of chance. If you think you have won the game, you’re ahead. The way to change your fortune is to conceive of your life as having pulled the long straw in this lifetime. And being gay is one of the long straws in the game of karmic straw pull—indeed, a gold one.

There’s a charm in gay life, a bit of magic, of specialness, a secret the others don’t know, a talent in how to live well—joie d’vivre—and how to see and tell the truth. There’s an allure to gay life, a golden glimmer—at least for those of us who see it—that our gay consciousness, born of seeing from a different perspective and through different filters, gives us insight into eternal, spiritual truth. The charm makes us lovable people, makes our lives interesting and helps make the world around us richer and neater for everybody. We perform an act of transformation when we claim and live our charm.

That has been the long-term goal of all the various manifestations of the homosexual rights/gay liberation movements. When homosexually-oriented people think positively and felicitously about homosexuality and tell themselves and others positive stories about their sexual experiences and affections, they—and everyone around them—are going to be happier, more fulfilled, more productive, and more contributing to society.

That’s why positive and charming stories about homosexual experience—and positively charged names for these experiences—are an important part of improving gay people’s lives.

New stories change how we see the world.
And, lo and behold, the world will change to fit the better stories. This is how we change the world. This is how we save the world. Metaphorically, this is how we create gold out of straw.


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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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