For many, the idea of “gay spirituality” seems like taking the “gay” thing one step too far. We have too much of gay this and gay that. After all, there doesn’t seem to be a “heterosexual spirituality.” The need for this designation arises out of the impact of various kinds of oppression. Thus, we do have bodies of work on “women’s spirituality” and “black spirituality.” They have allowed us, even with our language, to get away from the ideas that god is a white man with a beard and that the idea of a Black Jesus isn’t strange at all. And, because of our unique perspectives on the world we live in, the idea of inquiring into the topic of “gay spirituality” lends a strong voice to those tending, leading, and discovering new directions on the Spiritual Path.
More than twenty-five years ago, when I began to put attention on the struggles of gay men in finding ways of living a spiritual life, I asked a simple question, “What does spirituality mean to you?” More than not I received a simple and similar reply, “Being Gay.” That was it; nothing more, nothing less. Further inquiry brought forth topics such as: freedom, creativity, erotic connections, body involvement, the arts. These attitudes, advanced in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, reflected the soul-seeking of gay men who have always been severely dis-included from any form of organized religion. I began using the term “secular spirituality” to explain this seemingly new idea of a spirituality adrift of the moorings of religion. Gay men were looking for something and, at the same time, they didn’t know what they were looking for. Again, when asked, these men tended to describe gay spirituality as what it is not, rather than what it is. They say things like: it’s not religious; it’s not dogmatic, it’s not Catholic or Jewish, it’s not a sin-based idea. When asked, then, “What is it?”, they more often than not, do not have clear ideas. This essay is one way to inquire what, indeed, it may be.
In 1979, just before the Age of AIDS, Harry Hay co-founded the Radical Faeries with his partner John Burnside and Don Kilhefner, and Mitchell L. Walker, a movement with a basis in Native American Spirituality. Harry has, with justification, been titled “The Father of Gay Liberation,” and it would not be excessive to title him with the leadership of a new kind of spirituality which has grown and deepened into a new “Eco-Spirituality,” a nature-based form of following a spiritual path. Michel Foucault (October 15, 1926-June 25, 1984), explored the dynamic of power in our culture, especially about the penal and mental health institutions. One of his more controversial assertions is that gay culture and sexual practices have discovered that anal sex and pleasure significantly relieves men of the responsibilities of getting and maintaining erections and having ejaculations. For those exploring the inclusion of the body into the realm of spirituality, this has proved to be one more important spiritual tool or technology of encountering the Divine.
Toby Johnson (born, August 1946) has faithfully maintained an intellectual inquiry into Gay Spirituality, both as an author and as the long-time editor of The White Crane Journal. Many works on the topic can be found on the White Crane Spirituality Series: http://tobyjohnson.com/spiritualityseries.html. This series includes the works of Mark Thompson, Andrew Ramer, James Broughton, Malcolm Boyd, and Daniel M. Jaffe. Over the years he has placed the path of gay people in the context of the work of Joseph Campbell, one of his mentors. He was wisely seeking many years ago, the idea that a tribe needs a myth to think about itself. He found this particularly in the story of Avalokitesvara. And this gives us an inclusion into the god-story of queer people.
Voltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” The same could be said of the great soul-explorer and erotic educator, Joseph Kramer. He arrived just at the right time, when gay men were beginning to experience the ravages of the epidemic, seemingly without any tools with which to deal with it. Shunned by families, churches, and governments, we had to learn to dig deep into our own communities and to forge new directions in spirituality. Joseph Kramer brought to the world the idea and experience of the Erotic Massage and the connection to the Divine. His work enabled gay men to find an embodied truth: the gods are in us all. His work has extended to all people trying to learn this form of embodiment, or, as Christians might call it, Incarnation. Kramer has brought his unique perspectives to the field of queer spirituality and has expanded his energies to include all men and women in his work.
There are many gay men who have set out on the path to explore the nature of spirituality in our uniquely American culture. One such explorer is Brad Gooch (born, January, 1952), who traveled the world in search of God, and because of his findings, wrote the book, “Godtalk.” It’s a survey kind of book, with many interesting encounters from India to California; along the way he listened to Gurumayi and Deepak Chopra; he spent quiet time with the Trappist’s in Kentucky and joined in the prayer at the gay Cathedral in Dallas. Oddly enough, for one so travelled, there was no mention in his index of the work of Joseph Kramer or of the larger Somatic Path which has opened in the last thirty years. In a way, it’s further evidence of the misdirection of spiritual study to dis-include, avoid, or ignore the presence of the body in a plan for spirituality. Gooch’s survey has, however, given clear evidence of a different set of perspectives on our age of spirituality which can be called “the post-denominational age.”
Other leaders in the development of this new spirituality, who have spent the years of their work investigating the nature of spirituality from a theoretical perspective while avoiding the physical-body aspects include the teacher/scholar Matthew Fox, (December, 1940). Without doubt, he is a most distinguished scholar and teacher and has had a courageous career as a Catholic, an Episcopalian, and founder of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, CA. He has pioneered teachings in eco-spirituality as well as learning in Native American teachings. He has said, “To connect with the great river we all need a path, but when you get down there, there’s only one river.” He is thought by many to follow in the footsteps of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (died 1955), the Catholic theologian who, despite great resistance and controversy, brought science together with theology to posit a universalism of belief. Each of these men has contributed to our understanding of the dogmatic stuck-ness of organized religion, to our desires to rise above and sink deeper at the same time. For a lot of reasons, they have not been able to include the whole picture of creation which includes a vagina and a penis.
Three contemporary teachers/writers are working to inform our path with new perspectives. They are Starhawk, Gilles Harada, and Jay Michaelson. The ideas that all and each of them offer are really part of our Easton Mountain experiment, which can be expressed in three challenges: how can we follow a spiritual path in a community whose mission is to welcome every spiritual path; how can we encourage each member’s commitment to their paths; and how can we demonstrate, by our actions, the efficacy of this mission.
Starhawk (born June, 1951) is a well-revered teacher, writer, and activist, founder of the organization, The Covenant of the Goddess. She is a theorist of feminism, paganism, and eco-spirituality and has said, “Beware of organizations that proclaim their devotion to the light without embracing, bowing to the dark; for when they idealize half the world, they must devalue the rest.” Her focus and emphasis on the Goddess has allowed all of us to be free to have a devotion to the Mother or the Divine Feminine and to understand how this devotion can be in harmony with the Divine Masculine, and thus we must always consider the Vagina and the Penis as part of our theologies.
Gilles Herrada has written “The Missing Myth: A New Vision of Same-Sex Love,” a new light house of understanding the history of our queer tribe and a new direction in forging myths that will empower our communities. He embraces the challenges of uncovering our worlds of sexuality and offers not only spiritual encouragement but also scientific platforms for experimentation. He has written, “Without a positive representation in the mythos to consolidate its sociocultural existence, homosexuality remains completely vulnerable to a resurgence of homophobia and scapegoating.”
Jay Michaelson (May, 1971) is one of Easton’s beloved community members who has shared his teachings with us for many years. He is many things, including a writer, teacher, activist, as well as a lawyer and a rabbi, and, let me add, a radical faerie and a happily married man. Who better then, to stand up and consider the Faces of God and offer the challenge: Who are you and what do you mean? Among his many books, in “God Vs Gay, The Religious Case For Equality” he takes us all down the path of inquiry into the idea that Equality is for All, because of religion and not despite it.
Michaelson has written about our struggle to include our bodies and our sexualities in our spiritual paths. In 2006 he published “God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice,” He is channeling (if you believe in that sort of thing) old prophets as well as offering himself as a wise old man, standing there along the paths we are walking. He’s telling us to have heart, to keep going, and that, maybe, we are already there.
Foucault wrote, “The lyricism of marginality may find inspiration in the image of the ‘outlaw,’ the great social nomad, who prowls on the confines of a docile, frightened order.” This gives hope to the community of Easton Mountain, for our residential community as well as our larger communities, living all over the country and, indeed, the world. We have a lot more work to do.