Mobius Strip as Geometrical Image of Gay Spirit
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
"Little Gidding" by T.S. Eliot
from Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us About the Nature of God and the Universe.
All human beings need to connect. It's how we join in the general dance. Connection is what supports consciousness and human intelligence. People who can't form interpersonal connections are generally considered insane (infantile autism is the epitome). And sex is one of the major ways humans connect. How we think about making connections influences our experiences of life and love.
Built into the dualistic vision of the world is the notion that virtually everything links by heterosexual connection--opposites attract. Electrical connections plug "male” plugs into "female" sockets. Pipes have male and female joints and connectors. According to this mechanical model, homosexuality doesn't work because the "plumbing" doesn't fit.
There used to be a "homosexuality cure" called Aesthetic Realism. It argued that it is aesthetically pleasing that male and female fit together. By contrast, male and male and female and female don't possess the proper connectors and so are "unaesthetic." Of course, this ignored the fact that homosexuals find members of their own sex attractive. To homosexuals, homosexuality is aesthetically pleasing. Like most cures, Aesthetic Realism assumed homosexuality doesn't really exist.
Still, we don't have a model to demonstrate how male and male and female and female do fit together. We need an example of how, at the mechanical level, like connects to like. A model of homosexuality also needs to incorporate the "twist" that captures our reversal of the expected pattern. It is, after all, the "twist"--the fact that you have to discover something new about yourself, "come out," and transform how you see the world--that dominates gay experience. Our homosexuality is a 180º shift from what we would have expected.
The Queer Twist in Nature
The wedding band is a familiar symbol for the link between two people in sexual, spiritual and karmic relationship. The band represents how two people become one, closing the circle, as it were. Though they are always separated by the body of the ring itself, the inside and the outside of the ring come together in the unity of the closed band. Beginning with the image of the circle or band, let's introduce a twist with interesting properties that parallel aspects of gay consciousness.
In the topographical figure called a Mobius Strip, we can find an icon for things connecting "homosexually." And it even does something "queer."
This figure is formed by taking a thin strip of paper (like adding machine tape) and gluing the ends together to form a circular band, but with a twist: left and right, inside and outside are switched. This creates a most peculiar construction. Forming the circular band transforms it from a rectangle to a cylinder, from two dimensions to three. But turning it back on itself with the twist moves that simple object into another kind of dimensionality altogether; it has a kind of queer infinity. It even looks like the infinity symbol. The surface area of the strip now contains both sides on the same side. The opposite poles have become each other. A Mobius Strip is an unbounded surface with only one side and one edge: no inside, no outside, no duality.
This is just a model, of course, an affectation. It doesn't prove anything. But like all mythological metaphors, it offers a way of thinking about and giving meaning to experience. It's a metaphor for the queer twist our gay identity gives to the world. It provides a rich, multi-layered focus for meditation. Interestingly, this twisted figure eight pattern is the figure your folded legs form in the half-lotus meditation posture. When you sit in meditation, you're sitting in a Mobius twist--with your sexual center at the place of the twist.
We discover in the metaphor that this twist is part of reality just as much as the male-female connections of plumbing, but--in typically gay fashion--more subtle. Homosexual personality blends masculine and feminine, bringing the polarities together and transcending them, putting both sides of human consciousness on the same side. The Mobius flip is connection by reflection, like the flip in a mirror image. Our beloved reflects our own gender, not a complementary opposite. Gay consciousness, like the Mobius twist, connects by reflection.
One of the most famous "twists" in the discoveries of modern science is the DNA molecule. The double-helix of DNA replicates by untwisting and separating its two strands, then each strand links with free available amino acids to form an exact duplicate of itself, creating a new double helix. While the linking between the bases along the helical strands, adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine (A,T,C,G), is key-in-lock, forming AT, CG, TA or GC pairs, the overall resulting strands are exact duplicates of the original--mirror images. DNA strands are not complementary opposites; there isn't a male strand and a female strand or even a right strand and a left strand. The DNA molecule reproduces by reflection, by forming a mirror image of itself. DNA replicates "homosexually."
According to the theory of General Economy and the principle of Biological Exuberance, nature "twists" the logic of the male dominance imperatives. There is no scarcity, no need for competition or hierarchy. Instead of utility, efficiency and parsimony, evolution favors extragavance, prodigality, and diversity. Homosexuality contributes to the biological evolution of Earth precisely by not contributing biologically and, thereby, expanding the margins for possibility and diversity. It is these that enhance life's fecundity.
Procreation occurs through key-in-lock connections--connections of opposites. Connection of likes--by reflection--generates consciousness. As we saw earlier, in the brain, the neurons generate a mirror reflection of what the senses apprehend outside the body. This inner world is what we are conscious of as outside. Consciousness itself is our looking back at our own awareness as in a mirror, seeing what's inside as though it were outside. Our minds generate a world that's inside us--and twisted 180º, like a mirror image. In a curiously coincidental way, this twist is actually manifested in our bodies in the flip in the connections between the spinal cord and the brain: the left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain and vice versa. Our bodies are mirror images of our brains. For every person, this inversion of inside and outside, left and right generates the "queer" dimension that is consciousness.
This consciousness is the consciousness of the Earth. Joseph Campbell said the most potent mythological image for our day is that of Earthrise from the surface of the moon. Human beings' going to the moon demonstrated, practically, the conquest of science and technology and, symbolically, the stance of consciousness able to be aware of itself. With the landing on the moon, for the first time, Earth was able to look back on itself from outside. This is how we now have to understand consciousness, not just from within, but from without--by stepping outside, turning back, and looking at ourselves with an outsider's perspective. For Campbell, this symbolized the new myth: the "myth" of myth, spiritual consciousness understanding the nature of myth from over and above any particular mythological system--from outside.
All people are called to this perspective. Gay people are seasoned by our lives to assume it naturally. For to be gay is to have achieved such consciousness about oneself. A person can behave homosexually without being conscious of himself as homosexual, but to be conscious and to identify as gay is necessarily to have stepped outside and observed oneself and, therefore, to have understood one's life in a larger context.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus offered a remarkably Mobius-like observation about the Kingdom of Heaven: "When you make the male as the female, and the female as the male, and the up as the down and the inner as the outer, then shall you see the Kingdom of Heaven."
Jesus was talking about twisting perceptions. This paradoxical thinking even appears in the canonical gospels: "The first shall be last and the last shall be first" and "To gain your life you must lose it." To see the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to change your perceptions, you have to look at the world a different way. Overcoming the polarities, seeing beyond male and female, is realizing such a transformation.
Around the same time that Jesus was preaching in Israel, a Buddhist tradition was developing in India that expresses a similar idea. Buddhist teachers, who wanted to dramatize the importance of compassion (seeing your self in others) as a religious experience, told the story of Avalokiteshvara, the attractive, lovable, and androgynous young seeker. Like Jesus, Avalokiteshvara saved the world.
This mythological character--called a Bodhisattva, one whose very being is enlightenment--is usually shown as a handsome young man sitting bare chested in a relaxed meditation pose with one leg cocked or hanging casually over a wall. The story goes that he was just about to enter nirvana and escape altogether the cycles of rebirth that Buddhism understands as the true cause of suffering. But in that final moment he became so filled with compassion for the suffering beings he was about to leave behind that he volunteered to forgo nirvana for himself. In an act of world-saving generosity, he vowed to remain in the cycles of rebirth until all other beings had entered nirvana, and to take on himself the karmic debts of all those suffering sentient beings. At that instant, all sentient beings were saved and ushered into nirvana in distant mythic sacred time, leaving Avalokiteshvara alone behind to live out all their lifetimes and all their karma for them.
Avalokiteshvara is therefore the only Being that exists. He saves the world by becoming the world and all sentient beings--that is, all possible perspectives on the world. He saves the world by loving the world unconditionally, twisting the perception that the world is separate from him and that nirvana is somewhere other than here and now. He saves all beings--and himself--by shattering the distinction between nirvana and the world. The Bodhisattva lives in the "Kingdom of Heaven" because he inhabits the infinite Now.
Even as we experience the suffering of life in the world, we are all incarnations of the Bodhisattva. We are all that One Being. We have only to awaken to our true nature. And we do this by joyfully participating in the world out of unconditional compassion, by saying yes to life because that is what we have already done in sacred time as the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
This Buddhist myth reminds us of the links between our androgynous gayness, our delight in incarnation, and our search for spiritual insight. For there are Three Wonders of the Bodhisattva: The first wonder is that he transcends sexual duality, being simultaneously male and female. The second that he transcends the difference between time and eternity, seeing no difference between earth and heaven. And the third wonder is that the first two wonders are the same!
The Bodhisattva's third wonder is like the twist in the Mobius strip, doubling back on itself and giving a whole new "dimension" of meaning to what went before. Androgyny is nirvana.
The metaphor of the "queer twist" in nature, though just a metaphor, captures the role gay people have played in society of promoting culture and consciousness: We are the artists, poets, storytellers, designers, and creators of beauty who contribute, not at the level of biology, but at the level of mind. In meditation, you can feel the twisted figure eight of your legs; you can visualize the DNA in your cells twisting and untwisting; you can realize how your life and destiny demonstrate and manifest nature's exuberance; you can imagine your nervous system creating your internal world and sense your body as the mirror image of your brain; you can imagine yourself as planet Earth and look back at yourself from outside. You can remember being Avalokiteshvara. You can find a place for your own kind of consciousness, with your special kind of twist, in the basic nature of things. (This lovely image of two men forming a mobius abd/infinity sign together appeared in the ADVOCATE in an ad for KY "Intrigue" brand lubricant.)
You can even go one step further, you can perform the twist in judgment that repudiates all those male domination imperatives. Imagine yourself judging the world--like Jesus in Michaelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Observe all the sin and injustice in the world, all "man's inhumanity to man," all the failure, cruelty, and stupidity. And then twist the judgment and forgive it all. Will that all beings be welcomed into Heaven and that none be cast into Hell. Then you too are participating in saving the world.