Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Toby Johnson's books:

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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Unpublished manuscripts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

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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"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


Historicity as Myth


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


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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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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:

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.

Following his Bliss

An Interview with Toby Johnson

Alexander Renault

Alexander Renault interviewed Toby Johnson in early 2005 for an interview series he was developing on the Internet. He had just completed editing a book about his own and other men's mothers' deaths, Walking Higher: Gay Men Write about the Deaths of their Mother. He was also author of a couple of novels, Soul Kiss: The Confessions of a Homoerotic Vampire and Forbidden Tricks and Queerer than You Think: On Post-Millenial Bodies, Post-Millennial Sex, and Post-Millenial Porn. Sadly, not long after conducting this interview Renault was struck by a car while he was crossing a street in his hometown and was killed.

— — —

Introduction by Alexander Renault

“We are witnesses to the birth of a new religious consciousness. This new consciousness offers enlightenment and meaning to individuals, even as it poses tremendous challenges to institutions. The gay rights movement is part of this transformation—a reason the movement meets with such violent opposition from traditional religious institutions.” —Toby Johnson

    A friend of mine who is a member of a gay affirming American Baptist and Brethren church rolled his eyes when I first told him I was planning to interview Toby Johnson.  He told me that he found Johnson’s ideas a bit “radical” for his tastes.  “Vibes, psychic phenomena, and strange synchronicities” struck him as a bit too bizarre.  Then my curiosity really set in.

    I discovered Johnson’s work much later in his career after reading his 2003 book, Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us About the Nature of God and the Universe, which I found fascinating.  When I finished the book I contacted the author about setting up an interview.  I had a lot of questions.
    Johnson is the author of eight books.  His seventh, Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness, won a Lambda Literary Foundation Award in 2001, while his latest, Gay Perspective, has been nominated for the same prize in 2004.  He also penned In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld: A Mystical Journey, Secret Matter, and Plague: A Novel About Healing.  Johnson also edited The White Crane Journal for seven years. 
    Let us begin with a few opinions from professionals before delving into my own.  Author Lori L. Lake wrote that Johnson “weaves together a wonderful narrative about all the ways gay people can help society transcend ignorance and embrace true love and compassion.”

    Lake also added, “Early on, Johnson says that gay men may find [his books] to be more about them than lesbians will.  He indicates that since he is writing from the experience of a gay man, he doesn’t assume to speak for women; however, as a lesbian reading this book, I found that the author accorded respect toward all women and advocated for a holistic and feminist view of relationships for all.”

    Living Traditions Online had this to say: “Since we are sexual outsiders we bring a different view to questions of love, intimacy and society as well as to the big questions of religion and God. This is where Toby Johnson comes in.”

Spiritual Oneness
the Gay Orgasm

“God is not a being we can know personally but simply a term used to describe transcendent consciousness.”

    Three of Johnson’s books were greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell, particularly The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.  He uses the work of Campbell to show how a study of multiple religions forces the inquirer to explore the realm of mythology and psychology, leading us to the conclusion that there may not be as many “religious truths” as we may have believed at the onset of our search.  Johnson concludes that there are no religions that can encompass all of our humanity and its intersection with our spiritual natures.

    As far as narrowing down Johnson’s basic philosophy regarding the nature of spirituality, he embraces the myth of the Mahayana Buddhist World Savior of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who is portrayed as an androgynous (“gay”), bare-chested young man in meditation.  This Bodhisattva willingly takes on himself the incarnations of all sentient beings to free them from suffering.  All people are incarnations of this being. 

    Johnson believes that gay sex, orgasm in particular, is a reverberation, a memory, of our common mystical oneness with Avalokiteshvara.  These reverberations can be felt in erotic longing and images and love of homoerotic beauty.  Through gay sex, God and heaven can be felt in the here and now.

    As perpetual outsiders, queer people have always understood, often initially only on an unconscious level, to look at the Gemini nature, the duality of what we are taught is the truth about ourselves.  Always being taught that a equals b, when deep down we also know that a can equal q, we can become more discerning or more repressed.

    Johnson takes this a step further by voicing his opinion that the GLBT communities are so often under attack because they undermine institutions, those rigid dogmatic systems of political, financial, and thus social control.  He explains that male versus female systems become transformed into good versus evil, whereas in “pre-Edenic” time GLBT people, i.e., not differentiated into male vs. female,  were examples of harmony, a trait we still offer society to this day.

Not Going Gently

“An important part of the gay contribution may be precisely the revelation of the hidden dimension to life.”

    In 2000, Johnson published his essay “Dark Night of the Soul” in Genre Magazine.  Here he detailed the connectedness between secretness and sacredness.  Through the coming out process, “We have gone through the dark night, through the way of purgation, and discovered a whole new world and new self-concept.”

    The origin of the piece comes from a poem written by the sixteenth-century  Spanish Carmelite mystic San Juan de la Cruz who penned “On a Dark Night.” St. John was an unusual character who was held prisoner in a monastery for his extreme views about monastic observance which included preaching mortification and other austerities.  His poem is seemingly about a man’s encounter with God, then the rapture of their joining which leaves the man waking up in a field of lilies. 

    Johnson’s interpretation of the poem is that the saint runs off and meets a gay lover whom he recognizes as an apparition of God, but then explains the images as allegories for spiritual development.  Johnson claims if you if you read it with “gay awareness” you can clearly understand the poem as a piece of gay spiritual awakening.  While many theologians refer to “The Dark Night of the Soul” as a state of depression experienced before spiritual transformation, Johnson reads the piece as an awakening of spiritual sexuality. 

    The depression felt in young gay adulthood is the realization of the need to redefine our lives after childhood ends. The depression in mid-life, i.e., the “noonday devil,” comes when we consciously realize that by doing the same thing everyday, and seeing no change in the world, we find ourselves in the midst of boredom that expands to a painful existential crisis (not clinical depression). 

    Johnson writes, “In the dark night, life seems flat because higher consciousness seeks deeper meaning. This is a stage in learning perspective and getting priorities in order.  This is a plunging into the depths in order to reform one’s personality and self-concept.”  He believes this characterizes the coming out process and that this highly personal crisis is not a dark hole but rather a tunnel.  Once through, we can be led to relief and joy.  Johnson remarks, “[U]ncertainty and not-knowing . . . [is] a relatively enlightened stage of religiousness.”  Only then can we eventually “open our eyes and see in the darkness.” 

    One of Johnson’s most profound ideas comes from his writings on gay sex.  He explains that we can experience a blurring of identity during sexplay.  In the fire of gay passion, we can sometimes confuse our own bodies and our partners’.  This has the potential to produce a unique oneness with another sentient being, bringing about a transcendent experience. 

    Here we see sex as experiencing God.  St. John of the Cross may have used the analogy of a field of lilies but I would like to mention Johnson’s moment beneath a mirrored disco ball.  He stood and stared at this rotating, sparkling object and felt a oneness, experienced a connection to God, or “universal consciousness” as he often refers to it.  I was anxious to have him further explain this experience.    

The Crisis of Self-Worth

“If we were lucky, we later learned that not fitting in equipped us with self-fulfilling prophecies of specialness and with useful skills and talents, especially sensitivity to other people’s feelings—if only in the interest of self-protection and secrecy.”

    This prolific author wrote the essay “Spiritual Questions in Gay Counseling” in 1988, included in the Sourcebook on Lesbian and Gay Healthcare, edited by Michael Shernoff and William Scott.  He writes,

    “The misrepresentation of gay consciousness as mere sexual libertinism is reinforced by the peculiar antisexual     obsession of American Christianity and by the political strategy of conservatives, who know the sexual behavior of “other people” is a hot-button issue with their constituents and contributors. Ironically, this misrepresentation is also perpetuated by the protests of gay activists and the pro-sex celebrations of gay culture that inadvertently stir up the wrong voters by pressing that same hot button.”

    I was looking forward to asking Johnson about some of our latest notorious issues.  While the gay marriage debate rages ever onward, and some religious power structures face the crisis of a plethora of molestation charges brought against priests, I was curious about where these issues may take us, the GLBT communities, socially, politically, philosophically, and spiritually.

    Our world is changing rapidly but we are also being swallowed by dogma.  Johnson adds, “In fact, mythological traditions that are supposed to give meaning and direction to life don’t, because they don’t make sense anymore.  Religion is the problem.  It hasn’t kept up with the changes in human nature, wrought by science and civilization.”

    Of course his writings are typically forward on such subjects:

“The churches have lost a lot in the last few centuries. They’ve been proved wrong about the structure of the solar system, the shape of the planet, the course of evolution of life on Earth, the origins of disease and mental illness, the existence of witches, and the causes of “supernatural” phenomena. Admitting that the Old Testament condemnations of homosexual activity are just primitive cultural taboos would rather erode the churchs’ power     and authority. Acknowledging that the anti-homosexual stance that has been a mainstay of morality is inconsistent with the principles of love of neighbor and respect for other human beings would just show how out of step with modern thinking they’ve become.”

    Yet so few involved in the preaching of antigay propaganda go directly to the source.  Johnson clearly recognizes this by commenting, “Is the truth about homosexuality to be found in the Bible or the declarations of Vatican officials, or in the personal experience of actual homosexual persons?”

    As a gay man in the midst of his own dark period of transition, publishing an impossibly difficult anthology on death while in the midst of his own marital discord, I wanted to hear Johnson’s views on adults going into crisis—what does all of this mean?  He writes, “In the same way that reaching middle age naturally results in a re-evaluation of the meaning of one’s life, so experiencing tragedy demands a similar re-evaluation. The practical issues of competence, sexuality and career pale in the face of death.  Is that all there is?”

    After working for many years in the mental health field I was struck by his warning against hiding from reality and transformational pain:  “Psychiatrists may prescribe medication to make disturbing questions go away.” Toby Johnson believes that much of this comes down to the problem of meaning and how we perceive our self-worth.  This struggle so often manifests as anxiety and depression, but is potentially source of new direction and meaning for life.

- - -

“I think the effort that needs to be made to save the good part of religion—there’s beauty in religion and there are these wonderful stories that have great meaning and in the past have had such an impact on human lives—those are all putting out these karmic vibes. If you can get into the good side of them, when they teach peace and love and that we’re all in this together.”   —Toby Johnson

Alexander Renault:  How’s your day going, Toby?

Toby Johnson:  Oh, it’s going fine.  I was just working on my website this afternoon so it’s been pleasant.

AR:  I’m still working on Walking Higher.  It’s making me bug-eyed.  Quite an education from the viewpoint of both writer and editor.  Getting ready for your interview I kept thinking, “I hope I don’t babble my gay ass off.”

TJ: (laughs) Yes, but you get to edit all the bad parts out.

AR: No, actually I leave a lot of the babbling in.  I’m not a purist when it comes to interviews.  I think that in our mistakes, the things we say that come out off-kilter, can be more insightful than the typically well prepared question and answer.

TJ: I checked out your other interviews and I like what you do.

AR: I love interviews— what could be better?  There’s so much you don’t know and you get to ask people about anything.  I’ve learned more from interviewing people than anything else I’ve ever done.

My first question is about the great gay marriage controversy.  I think it’s wonderful that so many people are talking about it, that it’s become such a political hot potato.

TJ: My take on almost everything that happens around gay news is that the important consequence is not the focus of the news, gay marriage for example.  The important thing about gay political activity is always the message that it sends to young homosexuals just trying to figure themselves out.   

AR: The knowledge.

TJ: And those are the people we always need to be reaching because if we can give them a good experience then we set them up to have good lives, which is what all of us want.  I think many of us have managed to achieve this through becoming liberated.

AR: It’s an ironic twist, this bizarre focus on gay people and “recruiting.”  It’s like, yes, we are reaching out to the young because we don’t want them to have to live the experiences many of us older fellows suffered through.  GLBT people have to be careful…

TJ: Well, you have to believe that homosexuality exists.

AR: Sure.

TJ: If you believe that homosexuality exists as a form of human consciousness then it makes sense to reach out to people who have this category of human consciousness in their lives and explain it to them in a system and understanding it positively instead of negatively.  If you don’t think it exists—

AR:  (laughs)

TJ: —then of course none of this stuff makes any sense—

AR: I can’t comprehend that there are people who deny that GLBT people exist.  That level of ignorance, right there, stops me in my tracks.

TJ: Because they don’t experience it.  For example, anal eroticism around homosexuality in general, because they don’t experience it, they assume that no one else could.

AR: I see—

TJ: Remember when you were a child?  Well, I should speak for myself.  When I was a child I had this funny kind of expectation that everyone spoke English inside their head and French people had to convert—

AR: —That’s a great way to put it—

TJ: —to English in order to speak French.  I think that’s how sex works.  That’s why we gay men all believe that everybody’s really deep-down gay.

AR: Because we’re still filtering in our own way?

TJ: We don’t understand why anybody would be heterosexual.

AR: (laughs) Isn’t that a funny twist?  Some say the acceptance of queer sodomy means that the civilization will soon collapse.

TJ: Maybe what is true is that as strict rigid societies begin to open up … let me say it another way.  As societies begin to collapse, the homosexuals come forward to save the day.

AR: Ha!  That’s great!  I always think of lesbians as saving— 

TJ: Somebody needs to.

AR: Well, of course.

TJ: But I wonder, do we save the day?  I sort of think we do.

AR: Someone in Robert’s church came up to him one day and mentioned that she was offended by the argument that God’s sole purpose for all of us is procreation.  She and her husband decided when they got married that they didn’t want children.  She didn’t like the idea of someone from the outside deciding her worth as a human being according to whether or not she reproduced.  She once told me that the argument she hears over and over again is that nature, and thereby God, seeks the masculine and feminine union.  I said, “Why can’t that balance exist in a single individual?”

TJ: That’s in almost everything I’ve written, the specialness of this kind of consciousness that we call “gay.”  I think this precedes sexual orientation. Because we are gay, we see the world not as polarized, but as a harmony. And as we become sexually mature that causes us to orient our sexuality toward other people who are like us, rather than people who are opposite us and thus getting into the whole battle of the sexes that seems so unappealing from our perspective.

AR: That’s a bit radical but interesting. 

AR: I’m curious— what’s the connection between gay spirituality and sexual acting out?  I mean this is a huge, global question, but briefly, what did you mean by gay sexuality necessarily being sex positive? 

TJ: I don’t think that one becomes gay— one doesn’t identify as gay— if one isn’t sex-positive.  The people who think that sex is a bad thing don’t come out of the closet.

AR: Sure.

TJ: There are many people who are sort of half-in, half-out, and keep getting pulled back and forth, and the door slams on their hand.  They’re really having a serious problem so my saying that being gay is automatically being positive is awfully facile.  But those problems would go away with thinking positively about sex, while thinking negatively about sex will only worsen them. 

AR: Is it part of the male brain?

TJ: If you weren’t pretty devoted to sex you wouldn’t come out. If it doesn’t mean much, why do this?

AR: Okay.

TJ: Why even investigate it? Why think that you need to come up with a new religion if you weren’t strongly motivated?

AR: Speaking of religion, I wrote down this wonderful passage you wrote and I’ve been quoting to everyone I know. I just love it—“You would probably be surprised to know how many gay men have raised their eyes to a disco ball glowing overhead and seen God.”

TJ: My editor wanted me to cut that sentence.

AR: Are you serious?

TJ: He said, “Oh, no, no—”

AR: Your intuition was right. I printed the line out and taped it to my computer monitor.

TJ: (Laughs) One of the very high mystical experiences of my life was at The Saint one night and experiencing the disco ball as God. This is to say that at the moment that disco ball, that focus of attention, was so wonderful, it was what the metaphor for what God is supposed to do in your life.

AR: Like the Buddhists who try to bring themselves completely into the present moment.

TJ: Yes

AR: Or like the Zen masters who smack their students with rulers to bring their attention to the present, like when you were looking at the glitter ball.

Next question: what is “leather spirituality”?

TJ: I have a great respect for the leather spirituality but it’s not my own particular path. I have an interesting opinion about leather spirituality that I’ve written in several places and I can share my ideas with you. I want to preface this by saying that I don’t exactly believe in reincarnation but I think that the myth of reincarnation is really about the phenomenon that people give off karmic resonance, psychological vibes which go out into the universe and get picked up by other people.

AR: Okay

TJ: This is one of the ways that the past communicates with the present. The lives of people who lived in the past are still vibrating and we’re resonating to them like radio signals. That’s what’s thought of as reincarnation. Let’s use that model of reincarnation, that people you vibrate with in the past you might think of as your “past lives.”

AR: I see.

TJ: I think that there have been an enormous number of people—many, many of them homosexuals—who have been tortured to death in the Inquisition, in gay oppression of all sorts, and in that experience of dying under torture they have had a mystical experience. I think what reverberates into the ethers out there, and gets picked up by people now, is the link between—

AR: The ecstasy?

TJ: The ecstasy and the torture.

AR: But S&M scares a lot of people because they don’t understand it?

TJ: It’s a “past life memory.” Well, because if you don’t resonate with it, and the torture doesn’t look like ecstasy to you, because it looks literally… Oh, it’s one of those things where if you don’t have the experience yourself it’s hard to understand that someone else would want to. You can’t help but think, “Well, pain hurts me.  How could pain not hurt?” When that guy’s groaning—

AR: And they don’t understand the psychology of the power balances effects.

TJ: Power balance is a whole other thing.

AR: Issues with authority, etcetera.

TJ: I must say that I was a hippie flower child, who came out of the peace movement and the counter-culture and all that, and I have a serious discomfort with all the power stuff.

AR: Okay. But a guy in a police uniform still makes me weak in the knees.

TJ: (laughs)

AR: I don’t believe I’ve ever said that out loud before but yeah. I just finished this vampire novella, The Temple of My Father’s Pleasure. The publisher thought it sounded too incestuous and artsy so it’s being released as Soul Kiss: The Intimate Journal of a Gay Vampire. From a marketing point of view I understand it, though. I tried to take the incest taboo as far as it would go. But in the end I don’t think it was so much an interpretation of worshipping the father figure as much as an interpretation of the God figure—taking that horrific Byzantine Catholic God I was brought up believing in and then turning the tables, changing the power balance. I think it was a way of taking control of something that horrified me as a child.

TJ: The vampire myth is very interesting. I was reading one of your essays on vampires in literature so I know this is one of your interests. Obviously, part of this is the transformation that takes place. Before you become a vampire it seems like the worst thing that could happen to you and then there is this phenomenal experience. Anne Rice seems to be the one who really championed this, writing about this experience of transformation—and you come out the other side and you realize, oh my God, this is the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

AR: (laugh)

TJ: And that is what coming out gay is like. Now I think what the vampire mythology sort of adds to this is that there’s a compulsion that gets attached to it. The vampire has to continue—

AR: To feed.

TJ: – or somehow get this life force.

AR: Gay vampire books are popping up all over the place now. The connection between HIV and vampirism, I mean it’s so obvious.

You once wrote, “Religion is the problem and hasn’t kept up with changes in human nature wrought by science and civilization.” Someone I work with is very “born again” and I’ve learned a lot from her—my sister’s also “born again”—and she told me that her pastor teaches that it’s a mistake to take even tiny steps away from scripture and dangerous to the future of religion. I think your quote is an excellent rebuttal to this.

The religious purists aren’t keeping up with changes with our understanding of ourselves as human beings. So what exactly do we do to get religion caught up with science and our understanding of civilization and human evolution?

TJ: We wait.

AR: (laughs) So it’ll eventually happen?

TJ: You know, I think eventually truth wins. I think an effort needs to be made to save the good part of religion. There’s beauty in religion and there are wonderful stories that have great meaning and in the past have had such an impact on human lives. Those lives are all putting out these karmic vibes. If you can get into the good side of them, when they teach peace and love—

AR: —and compassion—

TJ: —and that we’re all in this together. Look at the teachings of Jesus. Except for the stuff that doesn’t make any sense, there’s nothing in the teachings of Jesus to object to. On the other hand that’s very unlike Christianity because that doesn’t seem to have much to do with the teachings of Jesus.

AR: They would argue that.

TJ: Well, I know, but Jesus certainly didn’t think he was writing scripture. Jesus had no idea that out of his railing against the scribes and Pharisees, i.e., the church officials and conservative religious leaders of his day, anyone was going to write something to add to the Old Testament.

AR: So we’re trapped in dogma.

TJ: Had he known how literal his words would be perceived he’d be horrified. If Jesus ever came back today—

AR: “He’d never stop throwing up,” is what Woody Allen wrote. What role has HIV played in gay spiritual consciousness? I’ve read some of your work on that and I’m having a terrible time wrapping my head around it. I’m missing a piece and not understanding you.  Is it that gay spiritual consciousness teaches humanity how to be more compassionate and understanding by having to deal with people with HIV?

TJ: Probably at its simplest. HIV in our culture—not so much anymore but in that great crisis when the whole thing exploded in the 80s and 90s—was such a call for compassion and understanding. There was recognition of gay people oddly through—

AR: —the sudden and mysterious appearance of queers all over the place—

TJ: —Rock Hudson. So I think that HIV has ironically played an important role in acceptance of gay people.

AR: I agree with that.

TJ: But I think though that as a spiritual issue it comes about partly because having any illness calls out for healing.

AR: Mental or physical.

TJ: And spirituality has this healing component to it. Some of that is a little bit magical and pie-in-the-sky and some of it is real. I don’t mean so much that you get physically healed but that you get psychologically healed. And people who are psychologically healed probably have better health. I think to make sense of any evil in a moral term is to understand it as not being compassionate. Not caring about someone else’s pain. I think that human beings should automatically feel each others’ pain in a way that we could not cause it.

AR: I think gay people make the best therapists and are more empathic. And the best artists. They often make good writers because they allow themselves to feel it all… when they’re not drunk or on drugs. (laughs) What is gay intuition?

TJ: One of the things in my book Gay Perspective I wanted to describe is how we know things. The subtitle of the book is “What Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe.” So, how does homosexuality tell us things? I’ve got three practical ways—thinking about it intellectually, what does it mean—then the experience we have being homosexuals, what is the existence of gay culture, what we see as “gay.” Then there’s also a consciousness that doesn’t really fit into a rational model and that’s just the sense of things we know because we’re gay. Because we’re gay we resonate with the homosexuals of the past.

AR: I like that.

TJ: Why do we have good taste? Not that we all do—

AR: Most of us do, yes. (laughs)

TJ: Most of us know how to assemble an outfit—insignificant, trivial things, but how did we come to have that talent? That’s what I mean by gay intuition. The resonance with other people in this kind of mind-space which we experience as modern homosexuality.  And a lot of it is unconscious and there’s the big difference.  We don’t even know we’re responding to things. The big point of gay intuition is this half-whimsical thing we call “gaydar.” We recognize one another. We’re not always right and a lot of it is wishful thinking and sexual whimsy—

AR: But at the same time—

TJ: We’re almost always right.

AR: We can usually tell if someone’s got a little Jane in them.

TJ: We recognize that. And that perception is what the psychics and New Age people call “seeing auras.” We don’t experience them as colors but we’re picking up—

AR: We can read them.

TJ: We know how to read them. The gay intuition is reading the vibes of the homosexual collective consciousness. 

AR: I’ve been waiting to ask you this. Is Barney the purple dinosaur the antichrist, and if so, is he getting any help from Tinky-Winky?

TJ: (laughs)

AR: What is it with this current bizarre cultural hysteria, this obsession, over … hell, I don’t even know what to call it. It’s so stupid I can’t put it into words. What the fuck is it all about?

TJ: That started as a gay joke in Australia when people recognized his red purse and the purple color. They said, “Oh, look!! He’s one of us!” The Christian fundamentalists then heard about it—they didn’t even discover it themselves!

AR: I didn’t know that. I’m glad I asked.

TJ: Yeah, Tinky-Winky was picked as the mascot for Gay Days in Sydney, the year or two before it scandalized the U.S. I have this little doll, it’s the red one—

AR: —I think that’s Po—

TJ: —and when you squeeze it, it says about six different things and one of its lines is “Faggot, faggot—”

AR: Really? (laughs)

TJ: “Faggot, faggot, eat my pie”

AR: (laughs) Eat my pie?!

TJ: It’s very strange.

AR: Where did you get that and how can I buy one?

TJ: They came out a few years ago and somebody discovered them and gave me one as a birthday present. They were quickly withdrawn so they’re not being sold anymore.

AR: Quelle damage. They must’ve been made for gay men like the Billy doll.

TJ: No, it’s British for sausage…

AR: “Pork faggots.” The doll’s marketer was a moron.  Or a genius.

TJ: But when people are fearful they see disturbing images of all kinds—

AR: —the projection—

TJ: —of things out there as a conspiracy to attack them.

AR: In the 1970s people thought the salt in a Ritz cracker spelled S-E-X. I did some research in college for a paper on subliminal perception and still have several of the old books. The people who wrote them were obviously projecting their repressed sexuality onto objects in their environment.

TJ: The salt spelled “sex”?

AR: Morons. Here’s a question for you as a psychotherapist. You wrote, “How one relates to straight men determines one’s experience of the world.” It made me think about gay men and their relationships with their fathers. I firmly believe that gay men should work with male therapists. I’ve had, believe it or not, about a billion hours of therapy under my belt and I think as gay men we need to work through the shyness, the unconscious neuroses about paternal rejection, some, or perhaps much of it, self-created.

Then there’s the other extreme like the character Michael in Queer as Folk who finds out his father wasn’t a Vietnam Veteran killed in the war but a drag queen his mother briefly dated in high school. Everyone thought it was so embarrassing. I think gay men do lack healthy male role models and in psychotherapy to come to terms with that … I know a lot of gay men who will only work with a female therapist because they can talk to a woman more freely.

TJ: Sure

AR: I worked the floor in psychiatric hospitals for seven years, direct patient care as a psychiatric technician, and one thing I learned is that we tend to attract what we try to avoid. Maybe it’s the unconscious mind’s way of trying to force the conscious mind to heal itself. Gay men need to work through their father figure issues. The therapist could be gay or straight but I think it’s imperative to have at least one male shrink at some point in time. Would you agree?

TJ: I agree with you about working with a man. The sentence you started with quoting me is really a much more general observation. Straight men run the world and we’re always dealing with the way straight men want to do things.  They run the world.

Let me say that one of the neatest things that’s ever happened to me in my life, and one of the way in which I think I had the greatest influence but without it being particularly attached to me—I mean this is one of those little karmic vibes happened after me but that I was at the beginning of—was when I was working in San Francisco in the mental health clinic. We were officially a community mental health clinic but we were a private agency. The agency contracted with the city to provide the services and part of the gimmick of this agency was that we were going to be very avant-garde and progressive so they were going to fund gay services out of our clinic.

AR: Did it work?

TJ: Then it turned out, in fact, that their budget was so tight that there wasn’t enough money to allow gay therapists to see gay clients because we had all these straight clients and chronic out-patient mental cases that we had to see.  So the program funding wasn’t there and we didn’t have the capital to expand.  We formed a mental health employee group called the Dafodil Alliance. DAFODIL stood for Dykes and Faggots Organized to Defeat Institutionalized Liberalism.

AR: I like that. Did you come up with it?

TJ: No, I didn’t come up with that. There was a lesbian social worker, Carol Hastie, who was the powerhouse behind this from the beginning. It was her idea. She was really into the politics of being a dyke. We organized a demonstration to raise attention to the fact that we didn’t have enough money to see gay clients in our gay clinic— supposedly gay clinic.

AR: That could work.

TJ: One of the women had a friend who was in a lesbian brass marching band.

AR: You have to love that.

TJ: She got them to come down and be part of our demonstration.

AR: Isn’t that funny!

TJ: And we marched from the clinic to City Hall and marched around the block and then went up the street to the mental health office that was up on Larkin. A huge crowd gathered. By the time the 15 of us reached the offices there were a thousand people.

AR: Television cameras and reporters?

TJ: Oh, sure, they were there. Well, the head of the mental health agency came out onto his little balcony outside his window—

AR: —just like in Evita!

TJ: —and he was just amazed at what happened. He immediately agreed to give us $60,000.

AR: That was a shitload of money back then.

TJ: We created a task force to study gay mental health provisions in San Francisco.

AR: That’s wonderful.

TJ: I was male co-spokesperson of this. What this task force came out with, besides funding recommendations, was a Gay Client’s Bill of Rights.

AR: Good idea.

TJ: There were five principles and the first one was “Gay clients have a right to a gay therapist.” They have a right to know what their therapist thinks about homosexuality, if they’re sensitive to the issue—

AR: Shrinks love to keep you guessing. You know there was so much homophobia in psychiatrics in the 1980s. It was dreadful.

TJ: This became incorporated into San Francisco’s health department rules. Then six, eight, ten years later when AIDS came down the line, already San Francisco had this commitment to gay professionals for gay clients.

AR: They had it in place.

TJ: Gay doctors for gay patients. I think part of the reason the whole AIDS industry, and openly gay doctors and all that, developed was because of the seeds that were planted that day the lesbian marching band showed up.

AR: Dykes to the rescue, as usual.

TJ: It’s wonderful to see how something that at the time seemed so insignificant could have such—

AR: —the impact—

TJ: —an impact down the line.

AR: Kind of a Rosa Parks moment?

TJ: I’m agreeing with the point that you initially made. I think gay clients should have the right to see a gay therapist, somebody with whom they can identify. Well, you know that the therapist is in charge and if you’re gay and your therapist is straight—you get the message that people who are right and solid and in charge and sane are the straight ones.

AR: You wrote, “People who live entirely in their minds and who deliberately ignore their bodies and their sexual feelings are far more likely to consider ideology more important that experience.” My question is—well, Virginia Mollenkott gave a presentation at a Catholic college and somebody was really going at her. Of course she got the feeling that the guy who was verbally attacking her was probably trying to run away from something of his own. So what’s the correlation between getting trapped in ideology and ignoring your sexual feelings rather than dealing with experience? My question is do people hide behind ideology?

TJ: I think people who are afraid of their bodies move into their minds as a way to not deal with what’s going on in the body. They’re out of shape or they don’t feel attractive or they’re afraid of their sexuality or they’ve been traumatized around thinking about their bodies. You know how our society does so much of this to people.

People who are very comfortable with themselves radiate a strong sexual vibe. I don’t think they do it on purpose, but you can tell when people are comfortable and confident. So it strikes me that people trapped in ideology are less confident and comfortable.

AR: More rigid.

TJ To quote you from a minute ago, maybe the causality goes both ways. It’s their discomfort with feelings that make them move out of their body and into their mind. To discount the importance of feelings. Certainly, part of the anti-sex Christian movement—well, religious, not just Christian—sort of says that you shouldn’t pay attention to feelings because you feel like you’d like to have sex.

AR: Right.

TJ: That’s not a reason to do it. You have to have a logical, God-revealed or socially ordained reason. Not just, “It feels good.” What really upset them about the hippie counter-culture was, “If it feels good, do it.” But that’s what everything else on earth does.

AR: That’s a good way to put it.

TJ: The pleasure principle is just part of nature.

AR: Here’s my favorite all-time question: What might your readers or admirers find surprising or even shocking about you?

TJ: Oh.

AR: It’s a bitch of a question, isn’t it?

TJ: Yes, it is. I’m not sure if I can answer that or if I want to.

AR: That’s why it’s such a good one. Remember, we can edit later.

TJ: Well, something I hope my readers would actually like, and not be shocked by, is that I’m just a regular old hippie homosexual guy. I think that part of the model of religious people and religious scholars is that you’d think they would be “religious” and “special.”

AR: Sure

TJ: There’s that idea of the meditator. Well, I sit in meditation 40 minutes a day—that’s a lot for some people. But I live a normal life.

AR: You’re more accessible than people might think.

TJ: I eat meat.

AR: You’re down to earth.

TJ: Down to earth, yes. I think that part of my message is that religion is not about purification and self-denial. It’s about love and compassion.

AR: The Buddhist nun in my Thich Nhat Hanh video said the most surprising thing she learned by studying under the monk was that she didn’t have to change. She found that who she was was okay, and on a fundamental level.

TJ: Oh, yes.

AR: And that made the difference. And I thought, There is the knife between East and West. That’s why so many people in the West look at eastern religions and cannot comprehend them. How could anybody believe that? It’s illogical!!! It’s such a completely different mindset.

TJ: In fact, it’s so simple. Early Buddhism is so simple.
AR: Compassion.

TJ: Be here now.

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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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