Review:  The Soul Beneath the Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men

by David Nimmons

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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Unpublished manuscripts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.

This is a Must-Read for Every Gay Man

The Soul Beneath the Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men

By David Nimmons

May 2002



Available from

The Soul Beneath the Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men

Also available for Kindle and ebooks.

5 stars

This review appeared in White Crane Journal #54, Fall 2002

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

  Speaking of gay community and the decades of gay liberationist thought, here’s a wonderful presentation of what all this effort has resulted in. Subtitled “The unseen hearts and habits of gay men,” Dave Nimmons’ book marshals evidence from hundreds of social science studies and anecdotal reports of actual people to tell the truth about gay life. I was so taken with this book—and with this truth—that I prevailed upon the author to excerpt and summarize the book as the anchor article for this current issue of White Crane. See below.
David Nimmons
He agreed with the same kind of enthusiasm with which I was inspired to ask—’cause obviously he’s enthusiastic about the truth of who and what gay men really are. Because the problem is that while it’s so clearly true that most of us are happy, productive, peaceful, non-violent, cooperative, friendly, sensitive, generous people (whose vision of life would, literally, save the world from self-destruction), most people—including most of us—still don’t get it. We are still suffering from negative stereotypes, imposed on us by homophobia both from without and from within, that being gay is a hardship and a failure. Too many of us, experiencing our own motivation as so good, tend to think of ourselves as exceptions. Indeed, we feel marginalized from the gay community because our political and social opponents (themselves suffering from unintentional—or at least unwitting—errors in perception) have succeeded in preventing everyone from recognizing the appropriately positive and contributing place gay identity currently has in the evolution of life and transformation of consciousness on Earth. It’s time that misperception change.

The recommendation for Soul Beneath the Skin is the optimistic feelings and excitement you experience reading the excerpts below. Read the rest of the book. I bet you’ll love it, as I did.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of
The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell, Gay Spirituality, Getting Life in Perspective and other novels and books

This article in based on material excerpted from David Nimmons’ remarkable book The Soul Beneath the Skin: The unseen hearts and habits of gay men published in 2002 by St. Martin’s. White Crane is proud to enthusiastically recommend this book to its readership.

Changing the World from the Margins

It may well be that gay liberation’s pioneering a new model of intimate relationship on the margins of society, which will eventually resolve the problems of larger society. “The love which has no name” may give new names for love, new love styles to all humanity.     —John Lee

For forty years, gay men have conceived and defined our primary cultural work to cleave out social space for our erotic selves. In that time,we built what is without question the richest sexual culture the planet has ever seen. Yet the possibility that such innovations may hold anything important, humane, or liberating goes largely unaddressed in majority culture and media. At best, our practices are viewed with studied silence; at worst,media view and dissect our customs with wide-eyed alarm and ferocious distrust.

We see that our culture is everywhere misrepresented, even to ourselves, always presented in the dimmest light. Consider: the alarming, sensationalized statistics that a third of gay men fail to practice safer sex, equally suggest that two thirds of gay men in those studies do consistently practice it. When, in that light, we look at the motives for such behavior, we discover it is often based in altruism, compassion and concern for other gay men as brothers, not outof fear or avoidance of sex and intimacy. Perhaps we practice safe sex not because we’re those promiscuous, uncaring sluts recklessly endangering our own and others’ lives but because we are caring and compassionate comrades who seek to bravely reach out to one another, with a new vision of sexual connection.

Consider: the early headlines about HIV being spread by gay men donating blood or about the prevalence of homosexuals joining the priesthood or wanting to be Scout Masters, soldiers or teachers.

All might be read to suggest that gay men have notable tendencies to volunteer, to be caretakers and social servants. Yet when do we hear about our uncontrollable urges…to volunteer?

Consider: scary headlines that domestic violence is a scourge in gay communities mask the reality that, in every other situation, we demonstrate a remarkable absence of public violence. To be sure, any domestic violence is too much, and for those involved, the human cost is as real and hard as a clenched fist. Yet two facts ring with absolute clarity. First, that it is hard to make the case that gay men’s domestic violence levels are any higher, and they may in fact be lower than in the dominant society.But second, and far more important, when one expands the analytic lens to include the full range of violent assault behaviors—not just domestic violence but public violence, bar brawling, street violence, mass gatherings, and bias violence—one conclusion emerges clearly. We have created one of the most peaceable populations of males on the planet.

As Australian sociologist Gary Dowsett has written, the gay world  of Adelaide, Australia, can best be described as a “tartan rug,” a complex patchwork shaded with different colors and hues, intersecting stripes, as interwoven as they are distinct. It is not, as the media—mainstream and our own—present, all white, all pumped, all employed, and all in the same Castro zip code. As we gaze deeper into this rich male mandala, read the studies, sift the weight of factual evidence accumulating in sociology, criminology, anthropology, public health and epidemiology, hear men’s stories and dreams, hang out in the watering holes and the Lofts of the world, one cannot help but be struck by the variety of uncommon practices in the lives of these men.

If gay men were simply finding new ways to be with each other, it would hold some descriptive sociological interest, like a treatise on Mennonite or Hopi Indian customs. But upon examination it becomes clear that the breadth and scope of gay male social innovations have no clear parallel in contemporary culture. Males just do not relate to other males in the ways we do.Yet the virtues and strengths of our connections with one another are often dismissed as marginal and insignificant.

To put this into relief, imagine that another group of men, say a previously little-known order of devout monks, has been discovered living scattered among the populace in our major cities and countryside. Social scientists document that these brothers are characterized by a virtual absence of public violence, high levels of service and volunteerism, and novel forms of caretaking with strangers and each other. Researchers further note that they manifest an uncommon amity across gender lines, enjoy distinctive rituals of bliss, worship, spectacle, and public play. Their patterns of friendships are distinctly powerful, with wide-ranging networks of intimate and intertwined social relations,whose members often live in closely woven networks of intentional communities.

If such a hypothetical band were indeed found, its discovery would arouse keen excitement. The brotherhood and its members would be lauded, lionized, if not canonized. They would be hailed as role models. The President might cite them in his State of the Union address; the Pope would praise them as moral exemplars.
Before you know it, Time magazine would put them on its cover and they would be trooping onto Oprah for their fifteen minutes of media spotlight.

Yet although every one of those attributes has been well documented in the cultures created among gay men, no such attention has materialized. We’ve gotten no calls from Time, no invites to the White House, not a peep from the Vatican. Not even a message from our pal Oprah. The wider culture seems to have missed the story that these homosocial laboratories are brewing a set of values experiments without modern precedent.

Objectively,we are innovating in areas of male care and nurture, altruism and service, brotherhood and peacefulness.We are crafting powerful changes around bliss and ecstasy; gender roles and sexuality; intimacy, friendship, and communalism. Yet because it is gay men who are both the innovators and subjects in these experiments, their dimensions have gone largely unremarked, their meaning virtually unseen. We have paid little heed to the most interesting implications of it all.

The metaphor of the monks is closer to truth than it might first appear, for one would have to examine highly determined male cultures—religious orders, intentional spiritual brotherhoods, fraternal organizations, places where rules and codes are formalized and enforced—in order to observe such similar male patterns.These habits, customs, and practices in our communities, this gay culture of male care, pacifism, intimacy, and service, recall a range of spiritual teachings. Yet in gay neighborhoods from San Diego to San Antonio to Seattle, one sees these habits arising natively as everyday social practice, the indigenous manifestations of chosen social norms.

It would be easy, and wrong, to read this observations as a smug brief for gay men’s superiority. Instead, we can put forth a more nuanced set of claims. First, that the lives that many gay men have been building do indeed hold demonstrable, culture-changing implications both for ourselves and for the larger society. Second, that we have long overlooked them in part because the accustomed stories offered to, told among, and accepted by gay men dangerously obscure central truths about the values evolution we are engaged in. Third, that viewed together, these queer cultural experiments can best be understood as a new, evolving public ethic. They are complex and contested, they do not happen everywhere nor uniformly, and not all of us are included in them. But throughout, they have a rich ethical basis in thought and theory, in action and relation. At its core, we are witnessing the birth of a newset ofmale possibilities, outlined in lavender.

The fourth implication may be, to some, the most provocative of all. Far from describing some latter-day Sodom, a society of sluts and sybarites, many of the customs of gay enclave cultures echo traditions of Judeo-Christian brotherhoods and intentional communities. Stroll down Eighth Avenue, La Cienega Boulevard, or Halstead Street, and you can just hear echoes of utopian philosophic traditions of caritas and beloved community.Wipe your eyes in the sweaty and smiling crowd at 2:00 A.M. at NewYork’s Roxy or South Beach’s 1771 or Los Angeles’s Factory, and you may well feel you’ve stumbled into a postmodern rendering of Whitman’s “dear love of comrades.” One might almost imagine that we were a society of friends, if only we knew it.

Queer-inspired practices, from Radical Faerie gatherings to AIDS volunteer buddy teams, shimmer with notions of communal caretaking and altruism. At their best, they recall nothing so much as New Testament teachings of agape and caritas, male embodiments of service and nurture, nonviolence and gender peace, brotherhood and friendship, all spiced with equal dollops of sexuality and spectacle. Only in this case, the apostles are wearing Calvins or Abercrombie and Fitch . . . and sometimes not even that. Yet look at the soul beneath the skin, and you see we are rewriting the defaults of what a culture of men can be with and for each other.

The time has come to note the experiments of heart and habit now arising in gay worlds, to discern what they mean for gay men ourselves and for the shared world culture. Because our cultural practices don’t just differ from those of the dominant society, they shape them. America is a synthetic culture, with a long history of cultural borrowing. In that light, this people—public, self-identified gay men, gathered in communities—are just a few short decades off the boat. But ours is an odd niche, for we are emigrants and immigrants both, all without ever having left our own shores.
Perhaps we are more accurately understood not as immigrants at all, but as a recently emerging indigenous American culture. We are still in the process of becoming, the ink still wet on our ways and practices.But we have already proven ourselves a prolific source of societal change.

Obviously, the conventional wisdom that gay men are narcissistic sex addicts and sinners living in a marginalized demimonde of drugs and disease, creating nothing but problems for police and public health authorities (a set of opinions diameterically opposed to the facts)makes sense only if one believes that our larger culture gained nothing of value whatever from explorations of sex and gender in the 1960s. Or that, even if it did back then, that America has nothing further to learn about sexuality.
But if either of those isn’t true—if we’re not in sexual Jerusalem yet—then small wonder gay men’s sexuality frightens the culture’s horses in such a big way. For we embody a far more subtle and unsettling truth.

Perhaps sexual explorations bring not just costs, but unsuspected collective and individual benefits. At this historical moment, gay men are so troubling precisely as living, breathing proof that a subculture can play by different rules. We bring erotic tidings that many would prefer stay unheard: that humans are blessed with open hearts and willing bodies, the better to enjoy a robust erotic communion with each other. In a larger society that has resolutely held its erotic fantasies and desires at bay, we are a reminder that one could instead invite them in to sup—and have them stay the night. Even more disquieting, that maybe, just maybe, we could all awake in the morning to find our humanity not only intact, but vastly enriched. What then?

Our queer sex narrative is less a mere morality play of wanton hedonism than a stunning cultural accomplishment. It presents a systematic cultural elevation and recognition of the power of the erotic, a celebration of collective carnality.At its best, it is bounded by ethics and informed by care, and nurturant of relationships. It can open doors, personal, dyadic, and collective—although we have work to do to fully realize those promises.

Millions of gay men have built the planet’s most unabashedly sex-affirming culture. We have done it in a few short years, in a nation moving away from erotic pleasure, conflicted about sex, ashamed of bodies, and increasingly vocal about our suppression.

Yay for our side. But what if it turns out that sex is just a proxy? We built such unparalleled sexual cultures when we imagined that sex was what made us unique. Our sex and bodies were how the larger society saw to name us as different, and for years, they were how we ourselves grasped our prime difference. So we manifested that into being, big time.But our sex may be just the most visible marker of our cultural invention. The sex is the part the world has most easily seen. But what if it blinded us to something else all these years?

Maybe our key difference doesn’t lie in our erotic after all. What if it’s just our opening act, a way of learning what we can do together? What if all that sex—that lovely, magnificent, sticky, daring, tender, piggy, bold, sweated sex—is just a dry run for the glorious trouble we can make when we put our will to it? At this millennial moment, our deepest cultural impulses may be less about male bodies than about male hearts. Given our unnamed habits of nonviolence, service, caretaking and altruism, intimacy, the hundred ways that we rewrite the rules on men, sex may turn out to be the least radical of our differences.

It’s time to ponder the F-word at the center of gay lives. No, not that one. I’m talking about friendship, silly. But you went there, didn’t you? Of course you did; our sexual exploits usually steal the headlines. Yet when we cast an eye beyond the bedrooms, backrooms, and baths, a far more profound set of gay affectional innovations comes into view. For we are rewriting the rules and habits of intimacy.The very practice of friendship is being reinvented in gay worlds.

In a remarkable essay, “Friendship as a Way of Life,” French philosopher Michel Foucault defined friendship as the core philosophical issue at play in queer men’s lives: “Affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship.
Things which our rather sanitized society can’t allow a place for. . . That’s what makes homosexuality so ‘disturbing’: The homosexual mode of life much more than the sexual act itself. To imagine a sexual act . . . is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another—there’s the problem.”

Foucault argued that openly gay worlds offered “unique historic opportunities for an elaboration of personal and ethical creativity analogous to that practiced by certain moral athletes in classical antiquity.Only now such creativity need not be restricted to a social elite or a single, privileged gender, but could become the common property of an entire subculture.”

Understanding how we do that, to more fully recognize the values we demonstrate in our actions, has to be the goal of our collective effort. The first step is to name those special parts of being gay that we don’t usually talk about. This does not imply an uncritical or simplistic queer rah-rah boosterism. Nothing in this discussion is intended to “build esteem” or “create” pride or “show our best face to the world.” The goal is simply to tell the whole truth we know in our lives, and what we may feel in our gut. That is, to widen the analytic lens to view more of ourselves and our practices. We need to recount our wisdoms as well as we do our warts, or we’re telling only half a truth. Yet all that truth-telling is just preparation forwork in the real world. Because it turns out that if we seek to feel love manifest with those in your life, you need to manifest love.

I really do believe that we as gay people have an involved role in the world. I see gays as a kind of perpetual Peace Corps. We are meant for something far beyond ourselves and our own selfish concerns. This is a part of the meaning of being gay.

       —Reverend Malcolm Boyd

If we could some wise contrive to have a city or an army composed of lovers and those they loved. . . when fighting side by side, one might almost consider them able to make even a little band victorious over all the world.

        —Plato, Symposium

In an interview with a French gay magazine, Foucault once made this observation:

"[Homosexuality] would make us work on ourselves and invent, I do not say discover, a manner of being that is still improbable."

It is to the invention of improbability we are now called. Its exact shapes and forms depend on us. But basically, it comes down to this: If we want to rewrite the code of conduct in this Queer Kingdom, everybody has to grab a pen. The only way to get a more trusting and affectionate queer men’s world is to make it. Because, it turns out,when we’re all being that way with each other, the next thing you know . . that’s what we are to each other.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. —Mahatma Gandhi
We cannot yet know what will happen when this confederacy of beloved men unabashedly claims our values before the world. If we better understood and celebrated our best practices, gay lives would never look the same.

Then, of course, all hell might break lose. In a world beset by violence, with male nurturance and caretaking in short supply, for a society confused and guilty in its sexuality, where practices of intimacy and the pursuit of pleasure are viewed with suspicion, where relations between the sexes are fraught with risk and confusion—in such a straining world, might not the lessons of such men help us all? As our distinct habits diffuse, how might that change the life of our larger culture?

Who knows what it could look like if our gender were less prone to violent solutions; if new varieties of communalism and caretaking now seen in many of our lives were a broader norm; if celebratory sexual exploration were a more accepted feature of our culture, enjoyed and explored, not hidden and lied about; if we structured our intimate communities in more inclusive ways; if our national life included more freely loving, publicly altruistic men; if we could find new understandings across gender lines. In a dozen demonstrable ways, our habits have the potential to shift the most deeply held values of the majority culture. How might that transform the experiences and fears of women, of children, and of men? What promise does it hold to sweeten the shared life of our planet? If, as facts suggest, society harbors a hidden army of lovers in its midst, the challenge is to celebrate and nurture these gifts, this genius. It is a cultural patrimony we can offer to our shared life as a nation. Equally important, it is a gift to ourselves that will transform our own experience with and for each other. For now we know only this. A resolute community of fiercely loving males can only heal the world.

We, whom Plato called the best of boys, the bravest of men, can compose his army of lovers.When we more fully manifest love in word and deed and we live out the values of our hidden hearts, the larger culture can only follow. It always has.

David Nimmons was formerly President of New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. This text was excerpted by the author from his St. Martin’s Press book The Soul Beneath the Skin.

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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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