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Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou'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
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
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
This article is extracted from a longer piece called "A Bifurcation in Gay Spirituality," which reviews the book Coming Out, Coming Home: Making Room for Gay Spirituality in Therapy by Kenneth A. Burr
The reason for believing in certain mythological/ archetypal stories is that they affect how you understand your life and reason for being. The project of spirituality is to transform your experience of life by taking responsibility for what you expect and bring about through intention. The goal of the spiritual life is to experience “oneness with God,” that is, to experience being in heaven now.
Gay people, in particular, suffer confusion about what intentions to hold for their lives because of their religious upbringing and beliefs. There’s a truly “hero’s journey” we have to go through, obstacles to overcome and interior monster we have to battle to cope with gay identity. The fact that the Churches deliberately choose to vilify homosexuality—in contradiction to evidence and the Church personnel’s own example—and interpret ancient texts to justify anti-gay prejudice damages their gay members self-image and life expectations. It spoils their spirituality; the guides along the hero path pone is supposed to be able to trust are lying. This undermines the Churches’ spiritual authority. If they are as wrong about homosexuality as they are, why would anybody think they are right about anything else? Getting over such religious beliefs is an important step in psychological maturity. And, of course, the education in what the Bible really says and doesn’t say that Burr recommends as part of therapy is important to help religious people transcend those damaging beliefs. But there’s more to it.
What I think “gay spirituality” is is not just getting over guilt and learning to “come home” to the Church and be as normal as possible, but discovering how to understand the specific traits and qualities that go with being “abnormal” as spiritual powers and vocations that give meaning and direction to one’s life.
The goal of gay spirituality, I think, is to find for ourselves—and to assist other gay people to see—how our homosexuality can be understood as a clue and an operative practice to experience “being in heaven.” Meditation and spiritual practice serve to reveal this transcendental reality; they transform experience so that the world DOES appear and BECOMES heaven now. For gay people spiritual vision sees how the styles of gay life can be perceived as—and thereby transformed into—clues to heaven.
Gay spirituality shouldn’t downplay homosexuality, it should sacralize it and find spiritual meaning in the patterns of gay life.
Gay consciousness has to be sex-positive. If one isn’t strongly sexually motivated, one just doesn’t come out and be gay. So gay people have a drive—and psychological need—to explain sex and sexuality to themselves and to enhance the experience by intentional practice. Hence, gay men’s culture facilitated the modernized interpretation of Taoist and Tantric sexual meditation practices that are taught in the Body Electric Trainings. Gay-positive, sex-positive people will naturally want to discover more layers to sex; we certainly see that in the way men broaden their sexual repertory as they age. The “Bear “ phenomenon demonstrates that. It is truly spiritual to include mystical transformation of sex in that broadened repertory.
Gay patterns of free and anonymous sex resonate with the mystical poetry of the Sufis and of, specifically, St John of the Cross whose poem "On a Dark Night" is about discovering that the man he has had anonymous “park sex” was Jesus. For all of us, according to mystical wisdom, are Jesus and Avalokiteshvara and God-incarnate to one another, and should behave so!
Gaydar can be an experience of recognizing divinity incarnated all around us, an experience of seeing God in other’s faces. Enjoying porn can provide an opportunity to see God-incarnate pleasuring him/herself and others in the physical world of human sexplay. A porn video is no less arousing, but is transformed mystically, by remembering the porn stars are generously sharing their sexual joys with you and showing gratitude by recognizing divinity in their beauty and attractiveness.
The styles of gay men’s sex acts automatically transform ideas about anality and patterns developed in toilet training; this can relieve a whole source of neurosis, while also, of course, requiring education in new, intentional habits of hygiene. Gay and lesbian sexual experience is so different from straight people’s because there is no thought—either as expectation or as fear—of pregnancy. Sex is about something entirely different for gay people. You have to have changed your mind about what sex is for in order to function as gay. Gay sex allows us to be both “male”/active and “female”/passive alternately, sequentially, even simultaneously— transcending, in the physical act of coitus, the distinction between the sexes; comprising, like “God,” both sides of human experience.
Believing sex is good and that God can be found in sexual ecstasy creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thinking “Here comes God” as you reach ejaculatory inevitably and “May all beings be happy, may all being be free” as you are coming moves the orgasm beyond just a biological strategy for spreading DNA or a glandular process for relieving pressure into a practice of the presence of God and an experience of higher consciousness. This is so-called “sex magick” and it’s a great contribution of the Radical Faeries, neo-pagans and new-age homosexuals to collective gay culture.
With sex and incarnation in impermanent flesh comes death. It’s been the reality of sickness and death that has helped awaken the gay community’s spiritual side, just as, in the story of Prince Gautama, seeing sickness and death was the motivation to flee his life of luxury and normalcy with wife and family to seek Enlightenment and become Buddha.
The gay encounter with AIDS in the last decades resonates with myths of asceticism, voluntary suffering, mystical substitution and self-sacrifice for the salvation of others—by both the "victims" and the caregivers.
Living without children, living without dealing with the differences between men and women, living with the ever-present question of who else is gay around us (gaydar) and wondering who else sees it in us and whether that makes them friends or foes and whether they’re attractive/ attracted to us or not (cruising), having to—or getting to—come out to new people all the time—these are experiences that make our lives different from those of most other people.
Living without children means living without a vested interest in the future, living in the now where spiritual wisdom says eternity is found. Living without reproducing—and still being a contributing, participating member of human society and being happy and fulfilled—witnesses to an overcrowded world that you don’t have to reproduce to be a full human being.
Living differently from other people results in thoughts and feelings of difference. Because there are so many negative messages in society—or simply the absence of messages—about homosexuals and homosexuality, most of us grow up confused and conflicted about our sexuality. This results in what, in gay-oriented psychotherapy, is called “internalized homophobia,” the tendency for gay people themselves to hold negative ideas and judgments of what gayness is and of people who are gay, including, at a deep and subconscious level, oneself.
In the way that spiritual practice then is supposed to help people live happier, fuller lives, gay spirituality necessarily addresses patterns of internalized homophobia. So patterns, like thinking people are judging/laughing at you behind your back (called, psychiatrically, “delusions of reference”) or being especially sensitive to rejection (and such self-defeating coping mechanisms as rejecting others first before they reject you), feeling unwanted and unattractive (replicating throughout life feelings of hurt from such events as being last chosen in childhood sports team selection), sabotaging sexual and romantic opportunities by acting neurotically or sabotaging your life with alcohol and the wrong drugs—all these patterns need to be recontextualized and understood. This is spiritual practice as psychotherapeutic. Self-loathing is transformed into self-effacing humility and virtue. Loneliness and bad fortune can become solidarity with the oppressed of the Earth. Acceptance of your fate can be meritful resignation to divine will and embrace of vocation.
With spiritual insight, we can see that we resonate with the “karmic patterns” of a long heritage of homosexuals and sexual deviants before us. We resonate with the vibes of two-spirits shamans through the ages of ages of prehuman hunter-gatherer culture; of ganga-smoking yogis and herb-, mushroom- and cactus-eating ecstatics; of taboo-violating Tantrikas and heretics, world-renouncing ascetics and incarnation-embracing bodhisattvas; of wandering monks, warlocks, hermits and pilgrims; of witches, wizards and magicians, Mattachines, mimes and messengers, scouts and wanderers; of bon vivants, counterculturalists and vagabonds; of surrogate parents for nieces and nephews throughout tribal millennia who improved the children’s minds by enriching family life with extra adults; of artists and poets and culture guides through the ages of evolution of civilization. All these human vocations resonate in our lives still. And we can mythically understand our lives in the context of the karmic resonances generated by them—by all the homosexual men and women who’ve come before us. We are an integral part of the evolution of consciousness and we can understand this as spiritual vocation.
Talents of gay personality, like style, design and artistry and, perhaps even more important, sensitivity, compassion and drive to service, show us the virtues we can and should cultivate for our spiritual growth. Our gayness gives us a perspective on life and cultural convention; we understand the world, other people’s lifestyles AND religious tradition from over and above; we should strive to be visionaries and world-transformers. Our attraction to same rather than opposite potentially makes us less distracted and obsessed with duality; we are blessed, if we want to be so, with clues to nondual vision, the goal of most of the world’s mystical traditions.
Gay spirituality sees that a frivolous whimsy of gay life, like drag (from Radical Faerie-style genderfuck to stage drag and serious female impersonation, from Halloween costume to personal effeminacy) resonate with age-old myths of androgynous, bisexual gods and cross-dressing shamans.
With spiritual sight, we see our lovers as reflections of ourselves just as God sees the universe as a perfect reflection of Godself—perfect reflections, not competing, complementary but ever-clashing, opposites. This is a very different way to experience the world from the way most straight people do. And the fact that some straight people ARE resonating with our gay perspective is evidence of the positive influence we are having in the transformation of human consciousness. This is a very different way to experience the world than the traditional religions advocate: there’s no battle between good and evil, no absolute distinction between God and man, nature and God, nature and man, man and woman. This is a new kind of religion.
Of course, to get to this stage of creating your own gay religion, you have to have gone through the “hero’s journey” of coming out. There is a necessary maturation process-—learning the skills of self-introspection and self-awareness—that goes with realizing you’re gay. Coming out is a conversion experience. The effort shouldn’t be squandered by then just going back into a closet of normalcy. That’s OK, of course, for people who want to do it; we’re all free to be gay in whatever way we want (that’s the point of this freedom!). But these skills of introspection and awareness can potentially move you higher in consciousness to that experience of being in heaven now.
Gay spirituality means to see beyond church, religion and myth in an enlightened vision that arises from your homosexuality so that you understand the clue your sexuality is to who you really are and why you’re here. This enlightened vision isn’t necessarily anti-religious; in fact, it can rejoice in liturgy, music and art as the high culture forms of religious tradition, but it does, necessarily, understand the nature of religious doctrine and moral authority in a new, transcendent way.
There is an age-old notion in “gay” subculture that being gay reveals to you a whole ’nother reality that straight people just never see. There is a “secret society,” from the shamans on the savannas to the Knights Templar and Mattachine troubadours to modern gay-identified men and women, who share a “secret,” a “unique perspective” on reality. This is partly just hype, of course, homosexuals DO live in the real world with other people. But there is also a level of self-fulfilling prophecy to the idea. This is the esoteric aspect of gay spirituality. And the esoteric secret in all spiritual traditions ultimately is that you are one with your God, that Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Avalokiteshvara, etc. are really symbols of your innermost self, that “Thou Art That” (“Tat Tvam Asi”/”Brahman-Atman”), that there is no God because it is all God. Because we “believe” in the secret, we are indeed revealed it and our lives are better, more productive and contributing and richer for it.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
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