George Michael came out of hospital last week after his bout of pneumonia stating “If I wasn’t spiritual enough before the last four or five weeks then I certainly am now.” Somebody please give him a forum in which to explain himself a bit further! Amongst gay people in general the conversation about, and understanding of, spirituality is at a very primitive stage. Although there are gatherings of spiritual queers – faerie gatherings, gay spirit events, queer pagan camps and recently the phenomenal LOVESPIRIT event in London, where 200 queers from a wide diversity of spiritual backgrounds came together for a day built on love and spirit – the general attitude in our public scene tends to be a blanket and uncompromising denial of all-things-godly, while those who have spiritual leanings get on with their stuff quietly, away from the glare of the magazine media camera flash.
No surprise to find on pinknews a comment about George’s statement saying “pap and nonsense,” calling spirituality “irrational bunk.” My reply: Dear bitter faggots, we all know we are called the lowest of the low, the dirtiest and darkest, the abominable buggers, by certain religions, and we can all appreciate why most of us choose to reject religion and embrace a secular worldview. But actually, questions of life and death, of suffering and transcendence, of ethics, of god and eternity do not just go away because we close our eyes and ears and shout loudly “NO, NO, NO.”
Coming out is the result of deep inner questioning, a search within ourselves to find and accept who we are, usually in the face of huge pressure to conform to the hetero standards around us. The potential is in us to continue that questioning all the way through to the spiritual. We live at a time now when all the world’s spiritual systems are available to us – spirituality is no longer controlled by a religious elite, it is in the hands of the masses. To reject god and all spirituality because of the ignorance and hatred of certain christian faiths is too simplistic. Spirituality is about exploring who we are, what it means to be alive, and how we interconnect with other people and all of creation. We are more than the body – we are beings of thought, of emotion and energy. Spirituality is about understanding how these parts of us affect each other, and learning to create the life that we wish to live.
In the western world ‘soul’ is a word that has been largely ignored for some time – but when I meet people from other cultures they usually accept fundamentally that we are souls first, the body and mind come after. Through the body and mind we experience this lifetime. The soul part of us exists in eternity, and perhaps immortally. We connect to this part of ourselves when we are deeply moved by something, when we are in love, and when we enter into ecstatic states of being. Gay people are very fond of ecstatic states, and devote much time and energy to finding the right sexual partners, and the right drugs to assist our, sometimes constant, search for transcendence (even though we probably don’t call it that). In our anti-spiritual, rationalist, culture, bliss states are viewed as relatively unimportant – even as illusions – but a little bit of searching beyond the uptight, pleasure-denying attitudes of the abrahamic religions reveals that ecstatic states have always been used as ways of being in contact with the soul, with god or gods, of receiving healings and blessings. Dig deeper into christianity, islam and judaism and it is easy to find mystics of those faiths who communed ecstatically with the divine too.
The aggressively negative attitudes of religions, and the often equally aggressive superiority displayed by many atheists, is enough to make a sensitive gay boy or girl keep pretty quiet about their spiritual experiences and feelings. The massive irony here is that perhaps we are amongst the most ‘spiritual’ people on the planet – gay people are largely driven by love: we create scenes where pleasure, joy and looking-for-love are the principle qualities, scenes in which people can feel safe and free to express themselves without fear of attack or abuse. We are more famous for being carers, artists, entertainers etc than for being in violent gangs. Many of us choose to engage in voluntary work. The outpouring of compassion and positive action during the dark years of the aids epidemic showed how caring we can be.
Gay people have done a huge amount over the last few decades to help bring out about more liberal, tolerant and free-thinking societies in the west. The area where these qualities are most needed is the area of religion and spirit. At the same time much of gay life is superficial, greedy and selfish. We consume sex, drugs, and each other, relentlessly – like children just let out to play, which is what we are. After hundreds of years where our kind lived in fear, we have been celebrating the new freedom, even if that celebration might kill us. Our pride in who we are does not necessarily bring us healthy, happy lives – we need to look a bit deeper to find our inner talents and deepest drives, to discover the core of who we are. Spirituality is about growing emotionally, and learning about the power of thought and desire to create well-being or destruction in our lives. And it is about our place in the wholeness of creation, coming to a point of healthy relationship with others, with the planet and with ourselves. It might also bring us into contact with non-physical layers of reality, bring us to god and goddess, to ancestor spirits and to elemental beings. Its all available and there are plenty of queer folk living these realities, within established religious and spiritual systems, or completely independently of them. We can pursue our lives with minds and hearts closed or open, and with inner senses closed or open. It’s up to us – but only by opening mind and heart to god are we ever gonna find out for ourselves if she or he is really there. Perhaps God is like a friend – if you ignore them and deny them you are unlikely to get much friendship and love from them, but if you open yourself to developing a genuine relationship the results will follow. But – for God’s sake – lets move beyond the judgemental, pleasure-denying, LIFE-denying stories of patriarchal religions and catch up with the phenomenal, awesome spiritual thinking and awareness that has been developing on this planet for some time (just not usually in your neighbourhood gay bar).
There is so much to say on this topic…… here some further reading…
LINK TO EXCELLENT PIECE BY TOBY JOHNSON:
Recommended gay writers on spirituality: Mark Thompson (Gay Soul, Gay Spirit), Toby Johnson (Gay Perspective, Gay Spirituality), David Nimmons (Soul Beneath the Skin), Judy Grahn (Another Mother Tongue), Christian de la Huerta (Coming Out Spiritually), Andrew Harvey, Daniel Helminiak, Randy Connor (Blossom of Bone), Urs Mattmann (Coming In)