Forging A New Both/And Approach To Our Lives

mark-thompsonBy Joe Perez

Mark Thompson in the “Introduction” to Gay Spirit (1986):

“In creating new myths for themselves, gay people need to return to the questions asked by the founding members of the Mattachine Society nearly forty years ago: Who are we? Where have we come from? What are we here for?

The self-definition sought by members of America’s first gay political organization is also to be found in the writings of such gay visionaries as Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Gerald Heard and others who are included here. In an attempt to answer these questions, gay studies today have been polarized, stymied by the absolutes implied in the nature versus nurture discourse currently employed. To simplify: An essentialist view holds that gay people have existed throughout recorded human history, an errant offspring of nature; a constructivist view says that our notion of gay people has been formulated by the values of contemporary society and that it would be impossible to draw an analogy between homosexuality as practiced in ancient Greece and, for an example, as it is define today in America’s excessive gay subculture. Both concepts are largely irreconcilable, one trying to link feelings and behavior across vast stretches of time and variant cultures, the other destructuring modern perceptions of homosexuality as medical and psychological conceits.

The quest for a gay identity cannot be contained within a dialogue of opposites, a rational either/or approach. Perhaps answers lie somewhere in between, waiting to be forged from a synthesis of biological and social factors — that is, a situation of both/and….”

Thompson’s words, written incredibly more than 25 years ago — have been prophetic. His vision of an understanding of gay identity which is a synthesis of the best insights from biological, psychological, cultural, and sociological studies is definitely in keeping with an Integral approach to gay spirituality. He recognized before virtually any other writer that I know of the importance of bringing together seemingly irreconcilable views into a greater synthesis, and he saw that the great frontier of gay liberation is not oppression studies nor narcissistic self-expression but spiritual exploration and development. In his words, the great subject of our interest is “that most personal possession of all, our dreams… a world of our making.”

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Daniel Helminiak: Gay Identity Is A Gateway

gate1Daniel Helminiak’s website summarizes the book Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth:
Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth shows how comfort with our sexual nature is essential to spiritual sensitivity. The “gay identity” in the subtitle does not limit the scope of this book. Rather, attention to homosexuality serves as a test case: show how gay sex can be profoundly spiritual and you highlight the spiritual dimension of all sex. Ordained a Catholic priest in Rome, and a theologian, psychotherapist, psychology professor at the University of West Georgia, and the author of the best-selling What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, Daniel applies to sexuality his lifelong pursuit: an understanding of the human basis of spiritual growth. He relies on an analysis of consciousness—effected by Bernard Lonergan, SJ, “the Thomas Aquinas of the twentieth century”—to highlight a spiritual dimension in the human mind that finds expression through religion and is oriented toward God. According to Daniel, the harmonization of this dimension with the rest of one’s humanity—including sexuality—is the essence of spiritual integration. Matters of religion, ethics, God, and salvation follow as “grace builds on nature.” This book addresses a wide audience. Religious leaders of all denominations, elected officials, educators, counselors, members of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community, non-religious spiritual questers, and anyone interested in spirituality will find this book enlightening and uplifting. Daniel inspires us all to cherish our bodies as gateways to spiritual experience. When specifically addressing the LGBT community, he treats themes relevant to us all—such as sexual diversity, sexual self-acceptance, bonding and coupling, sexual ethics, spiritual seeking, and organized religion.

Read an excerpt from the book’s Preface.

Andrew Sullivan Confesses: I Never Liked Gay Portrayals

looking-hboI have to admit to sharing many of the same aversions as Andrew Sullivan to early portrayals of gay culture. They didn’t seem to reflect my own experience, and they reinforced my sense of not really being part of the gay community but somehow an outside even there. Sullivan writes:

“A confession. I have long had an aversion to gay-themed plays, TV shows, movies, etc. I wasn’t born with it. I learned it. I learned it through what can only be called a series of cringes. I cringed at Philadelphia‘s well-intentioned hagiography of the “AIDS victim”; I cringed through Tony Kushner’s view of the plague as a post-script to the heroism of American communists; I winced at the eunuch, the sassy girlfriend, and the witty queen in Will And Grace; I had to look away as Ellen initially over-played her hand (understandably and totally forgivably, but still …). The US version of Queer as Folk was something I could not get out of my recoiling head for weeks – and I barely got through fifteen minutes of it. And please don’t ask me about Jeffrey. Please.Maybe I should have sucked it up and celebrated each and every portrayal of gay people in any form – after so many decades and centuries of invisibility or minstrelsy. But, like many members of any minority group seeing themselves portrayed for the first time on screen, I felt betrayed when my own life wasn’t depicted, my worldview was ignored, my politics wasn’t acknowledged. In many ways this was utterly irrational. But it was emotionally real. When there are so few cultural expressions of your core identity, the few become weighted with far more cultural baggage than they can hope to uphold. In a fraught time – between liberation and mass extinction, between criminality and civil equality – it was hard to forgive anything that might be conceived as counter-productive or inaccurate or ideologized.

The same dynamic operated the other way on me, as well. When I rather naively became a gay public figure by answering “yes” to the question, “Are you gay?” after I became the editor of The New Republic at the crazy age of 27, the shoe was on the other foot. Suddenly I was supposed to represent all “virtually normal” gay men, because I was one of very, very few out people in the mainstream media in 1991. And boy did I not represent them. I never claimed to, of course, and said so explicitly; but that really didn’t matter. I was out there and not representative of many others. So I had to be knocked off my perch in a period of great exhilaration but also great personal pain. Looking back, the necessary madness of that period, its extraordinary range of sheer emotion as we fought not just for our dignity but for our very lives, seems clearer and more understandable now. But no less painful.”

Read the full article, which includes a review of the new HBO series Looking.

Don’t Hate The Rainbow


Photo Credit: JD Hancock

By Joe Perez

Andrew Sullivan shares an e-mail from a 20-year-old college student that provides, he says, “proof” of the “end of gay culture.” Here’s a bit of it:

“I am writing you because I am living proof of what you are taking about. I have no idea what the Gay Culture of the 70s and 80s is about. I had no idea that AIDS had such a huge impact on gay life. I am completely ignorant of the pain and tragedy endured by the older generation. I respect what they did. I live my life the way I want. I am who I am. I have the freedom to be ‘out’ and not have to worry or hide who I really am. I guess I take it for granted. I guess I am guilty of that. I HATE the stereotypes and the labels put on gay people. I hate the idea of West Hollywood and the Rainbow. I am normal. I do not like the idea that I have to identify myself as gay . . . I am gay. I am different, but I am not weird. I am not inferior. I am normal; I am one of the guys.”

Where to begin? I’ll limit my comment to one line: “I hate the idea of West Hollywood and the Rainbow.” Ah, shucks. How can anyone hate the rainbow?! Seriously. Well, half-seriously. Yes, the rainbow flag is trite and overused, but it’s as close a symbol as the gay community has to a sacred object. It’s our cultural symbol par excellence.

Truth be told, I’m also not a huge fan of the flat rainbow flag symbol (as I said, it’s getting to be a little trite). My solution is to go back to the symbol’s origin in nature as a multi-spectrum rainbow of light, and then offer an alternative image for this important symbol. In my vision, the Rainbow becomes the Bridge of Light. We honor the rainbow because we honor our past, present, and future; we honor it because we honor the diversity (many colors) and unity (white light); we honor it because it’s our brightest aspiration for being truly who we are (gay identity) and being virtually as normal as we want to be (postgay identity). We honor both the visible (prerational and rational) and invisible (transrational) spectrum of existence. The Bridge of Light: not a new symbol for the gay movement but a renewal of the traditional rainbow.

But come on! This young man says he hates the rainbow. Hating the rainbow is hating yourself. Hating the rainbow is like hating Mom or hating Apple Pie or hating Thanksgiving or hating Old Glory. We shouldn’t accept that sort of cavalier, arrogant dismissal of our values from anyone without correction. And we certainly shouldn’t praise it! He wants to ignore and reject gay culture, our collective history, and the wisdom of our elders. We need a postgay culture that embraces and transcends the past, not an immature effort to bypass the formation of a healthy, strong homosexual identity.

We shouldn’t lose the positive values that the rainbow represents—embracing cultural diversity and celebrating differences—simply because some activists have taken those values to silly extremes. They don’t own the rainbow. We all do. Now more than ever we need to be sure that the younger generation knows there is an alternative to the old ways of looking at gay culture. Don’t hate the rainbow. Embrace the Bridge of Light.

(November 15, 2005)

Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from Rising Up.

Gay Culture’s Over . . . What’s Next?

cloudy-night2By Joe Perez

Andrew Sullivan didn’t miss an opportunity for hyperbole in titling his latest essay, “The End of Gay Culture.”  Hyperbole aside, gay culture is alive and well. It’s just morphing into something new that hasn’t received a lot of attention . . . until Sullivan’s timely, important, and incisive essay.

I’ve never been a fan of the postmodern fad of rhetorically killing off gayness. Don’t expect me to chime in with the “ding dong gay culture is dead” meme, even as I find myself in nodding agreement with much of Sullivan’s assessment. Gayness isn’t ending; only a phase in the ongoing development of gay identity is.

Despite the title, Sullivan’s essay isn’t so much an obituary for gay culture as it is a thoughtful probing of the meaning of assimilation in the lives of gay men, lesbians, and other queer folks. The piece moves beyond abstractions and obtuse generalizations common in political discourse, offering many keen insights drawn from concrete examples of our ever changing cultural landscape.

We are witnessing a gradual evolution of gay culture from egocentric, rationalistic, and pluralistic centers of gravity toward a more integral consciousness.  That’s the shift described and elucidated by Sullivan, though he doesn’t use the precise language of STEAM. As I see it, these are the essay’s four most interesting themes:
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