Whereas mainstream pundits and public intellectuals in the U.S. are focused on the next election, and many other folks are focused on the next Saturday night, there is a wider and deeper perspective. Looking as wide as this moment in over 2,000 years of socio-cultural evolution since the beginning of the Common Era, and looking as deep as this moment arising when the cutting edge of individual consciousness is a postmodern mindset, and even this edge has become dull and dismal.
It is an odd time to be gay or bisexual. For American men of my generation – past 40 – our lives have been crises of meaning and meaninglessness. We were born into a world in which the reigning moral, religious, and spiritual authorities condemned how we love and would have forced us into closets or so-called reparative therapy, We could read the mystics and enlightened sages of centuries past and with only a few exceptions could find no evidence that affirming the spiritual dignity of same-sex love was meriting even a moment’s thought.
And we did, and by unprecedented numbers gays, lesbians, and bisexuals rejected organized religion and set out upon paths of individual spiritual seeking. We found our way into Zen monasteries, radical faerie gatherings, drumming circles, hot yoga classes, and not a few very, very, very liberal churches and synagogues (places where they worried about marginalizing atheists and making sure language was neutered of any hint of white heterosexual patriarchy).
And yet for all this enthusiasm, a bona fide gay spiritual renaissance never happened. Not in the U.S., and nowhere else to my knowledge. I’ve had my boots on the ground in the LGBT spirituality movement for a decade (longer if I include the Dignity masses and addiction recovery circles and men’s work circles of my twenties and early thirties). I’ve seen the energy in the gay spirituality movement ebb and flow. I attended the first and only Gay Spirituality & Culture Summit, an unprecedented gathering of “gay spiritual teachers and leaders” from around the world in Garrison, New York, in 2004 (and I blogged it and wrote about it inSoulfully Gay, my first book). There have been some modest success stories, and I don’t want to diminish the hard work and real progress made by those few spiritual activists to enter the fray.
Often they have set goals and achieved them. What I am pointing to is that their goals have been too low. What has been absent from the U.S. LGBT movement – and elsewhere in the world so far as I know – has been the critical linkage between inner and outer liberation, individual and collective liberation, and transpersonal, worldcentric enlightenment. Read that sentence again. Did you say Whoa! or Whatever?!
What I’m saying is that nobody is talking about gay liberation as human enlightenment. And if almost nobody’s talking about enlightenment, you can bet there’s not much talk of gay liberation as a vital movement in the descent of World Spirit or the evolution of God. The leadership of the LGBT movement is focused on political ends and, for the past several years anyways, pays lip service to getting more inclusion of LGBT people in conventional religious structures. (At the same time, leaders of these organizations don’t hide their feeling of contempt or disdain for the very religious institutions they claim to want to get included into, which suggests a lack of sincerity.)
We could achieve every political aim of today’s mainstream LGBT rights organizations and still be living in a painful world of samsara, a world with a profoundly disturbing case of mistaken identity in which we have forgotten that we are not skin-encapsulated egos (to use a phrase of Allan Watts) but are each the personal face of essence, a face of the Unique Self (to use a phrase of Marc Gafni’s).
We may come out of the closet of our hidden sexual preferences only to languish in the closet of our egos, lost without our Ultimate Identity in All-That-Is. This is a strange moment in the evolution of gay liberation. In the U.S., we have made political gains beyond our wildest imagination for more than a decade, But we too often turn a blind eye to the enormous ignorance, fear, and hatred which causes suffering for sexual minorities around the world (especially women and the poor, whose suffering is magnified). That’s because we too often have not graduated from ethnocentric to worldcentric consciousness.
Our concerns are too narrow. We set our sights too small. We grow cynical and tune out to politics and religion. That’s a demonic recipe, one which buys into a nihilism of hopelessness and meaninglessness and calls it hip. We need to raise our consciousness through inner work and collective engagement in the world. Authentic liberation expands our circle of concern beyond selfishness into concerns wider and wider, to the ends of the Earth. We need to stop being seekers and start being finders. We need to situate our lives in what Ken Wilber has called a Theory of Everything (one which can make sense of postmodernity and move beyond it). We need to take the plunge into the Democratization of Enlightenment, to use a phrase from a Marc Gafni TEDx event.
We need to find our True Self, so we can get over our false selves. We need to find new ways of being spiritual beings together at the rising dawn of the 21st century, within older religious organizations perhaps or in an emergent Integral World Spirituality movement. If we do this, there is real cause for hope. It is sometimes said that unlike the Black civil rights movement which had a Martin Luther King, Jr., the U.S. gay rights movement never had a spiritual leader. We have such a spiritual leader, and that leader is YOU – a collective of awakened individuals who have survived the trials of homophobia and can bring healing to others.
We can revitalize the gay rights movement in a way once suggested in 2004 by Andrew Sullivan, by directing our energies into the alleviation of suffering wherever it appears, in our neighborhoods or across the world. We can revitalize spiritual work by shedding ego for True Self, and then discovering the individuated Unique Self beyond the unindividuated True Self, a way in which our gay, lesbian, or bisexual identities “come back online” in a new way, as the gorgeous face of Gay Eros or Lesbian Eros or Bisexual Eros.
Note: This article is reprinted from Gay Spirituality 101.
(October 12, 2012)