We come out, we chase bliss, we fall in love, we create families and communities of choice, we give freedom to others to do the same in the ways they choose – these are spiritual actions – being gay is a spiritual calling.
Spirituality is about the search for the Self (while religion tends to put the emphasis on relationship with a God figure). Science gives us tools to explore and examine the outer universe, and spirituality offers tools to discover the riches and mysteries of the inner planes.
Coming Out is a profoundly spiritual statement. Going against the grain of society’s expectations is an extremely courageous thing to do. It may be getting easier to come out in certain parts of the world, but even in western societies coming out – becoming identifiable as one of the queer minority – is still fraught with stress and even danger. Coming out is a spiritual act because it is a statement of ‘I AM THIS’ – we look inside ourselves and eventually decide the feelings and desires we find there must be allowed freedom to be expressed.
This is just the start of our spiritual journey. Modern gays rarely know that our queer ancestors were often spiritual functionaries for tribal peoples around the world. But this knowledge is becoming more available – eg there are active Two-Spirit groups in the United States, and at queer retreats and radical faerie gatherings around the world gay men (and these days increasingly also women, bisexuals and trans people) explore conscious community, connection to nature and the power of living a heart centred life. Modern gay life can seem very anti-spirit, anti-god, secular and hedonistic – but to sum it up this way is to miss the point of the exploration we are on. Through pleasure, through sexual connection, through transcendent trips into ecstasy, we are finding out who we are. The force of desire and need for pleasure are abundant evolutionary impulses. Within the framework of loving community and an open mind they can lead to awareness of mystical truths, revelations of divine grace and experience of tantric bliss.
Of course although the gay scene is a place of safety (from threat of attack) and exploration developed over the last few decades, we do not exactly have a compassionate, loving community in place yet, and many gay minds are not open to spiritual perspectives. We have been battered and abused by religion for so long that many of us refuse to embrace the spiritual questions of life at all. Our gay scenes can become shallow and selfish: sex can be reduced to a purely functional act as we use each other as pieces of meat, the search for higher and higher states of being can lead to appalling addictions – and it is not unusual for men, high on drugs, to drop dead in our clubs and saunas. Yet wander into a Gay Pride celebration and the atmosphere is one of heightened JOY. Pride these days attracts our supporters to the cause and is a festival of good natured connection between people from all sexualities, ages, walks of life – and faiths. While it is easy to point out the limits and challenges of our liberated gay universe, the positive side of how we change society – by revealing to them who we really are – showing them that we are people who love and bring good energies to life – should be highlighted.
Coming Out is an act of self-realisation. By coming out – internally to ourselves, accepting who we are and making peace with our fears and feelings around that, and externally to the world – we give ourselves permission to explore deeper into who we are. This will probably lead us into romantic explorations as well as sexual, into community spaces and into ecstatic revelry if we are drawn to party life. I often ask gay men about the spiritual revelations they have had while high on stimulants – they always have stories to tell.
Harry Hay, father of the Radical Faeries, said that gay men have a special window on the world which he called ‘subject-subject’ consciousness. He believed we are capable of knowing another person as a subject rather than an object – ie through our natural empathy we appreciate that they are just the same as we are, with hopes, dreams and fears, desires and feelings that deserve respect. This means we will try to relate to them through the heart. This attitude reflects the ancient mystical wisdom that ‘I am another you, you are another me’, and is a practical manifestation of the compassionate understanding that might arise if we humans accept that we are not separate individuals as it appears on the surface, but are in fact the miraculous expression of the one consciousness. My Self is your Self is the Self. The idea of the totality of the Self, all of us together as One Being points to a vast intelligent creative power that has been called God. Mystics throughout time have been telling us about this unity, and prescribing LOVE as the way to interact with other aspects of the Self we happen to meet in life – and those mystics often had to go against society’s prejudices and the dictates of religious authorities to bring this message. As we break through the fear and blindness that still exists around us we are modern mystics, seeking the sense of freedom in our souls, and layers of love and transcendence that the soul can experience.
Gay people bring tolerance, joy, laughter, dance, creativity and love to the world. In the secular age of the late twentieth century it was enough to come out (benefiting from the new liberal attitudes the secular age brought along) and celebrate. In the more spiritual age of C21 some deeper thinking is required. We are gaining the right to have our relationships acknowledged and respected by society – a shift is occurring from emphasis on us as sexual beings towards embrace of who we are as loving souls. From the time when we were largely regarded as unnatural and diseased, nowadays the gifts and treasures we each incarnate are being more widely honoured. We have to embrace those gifts for ourselves, we have to fight off the demons of homophobia for ourselves – we have to create a healthy, holistic queer future FOR OURSELVES and for the generations of queers to come. We have marched, we have partied, we have survived a plague – the next step is the inner quest of discovering the true nature of the soul, the consciousness, that we are. Many of us spend much time expanding our feelings and revelling in heightened states of awareness through drug use or sexual communion. What we need to realise is that this impulse to bliss within us is a spiritual urge, calling us to know the totality of what we are.
When queers gather away from the world in faerie communities or spiritual/tantric retreats we open the gates to the real and profound powers of love. Our queer hearts long to expand, radiate and heal – ourselves and others. Away from the incessant demands of city scene life, usually in the stillness and beauty of nature, our wings open, our hearts relax and our minds receive the light they need to understand more about the path of self discovery we are on. Coming out is the starting point of the search for who we are – we like what we find so much we celebrate it with PRIDE. But the search goes further. Being gay is not just about how we have sex – it is about how we relate to other people and the planet, it is about the window on existence we bring to life, it is about how we love and the types of relationships and queer families of choice we call into being, and it is about the discovery and realisation of the true Self. If we do not find this Self our gay lives can sink into a never-ending cycle of pleasure that becomes disease and debauchery, bliss-seeking experiments that are a form of russian roulette, and selfish relationships that do not satisfy. We are part of something bigger, born with the ability and power to change the world. The world needs us to wake up to this.
Even within religions some of us are active, chipping away at the hostility and fear that often exists there towards us. Current religious controversies around gay love and sex tend to overlook the fact that churches and monasteries have always attracted queer people who seek to help others or wish to create a gentler, more loving world. And whether within a religious framework or independently, more and more of us are pursuing the quest of self-knowledge and realisation. Some of us have discovered that pleasure, sex and same sex love do not cut us off from the sacred – in fact if we infuse our pleasures and relationships with a sense of the sacred we get more out of them. The sense of being at one with the universe, at home in life, at peace with interconnectedness, can not be found outside ourselves. Like coming out, these profound states that make life so much more enjoyable, start from the inside. But when we have found the peace and love we can share those feelings with others, and the spiritual nature of our loving gay souls will emerge and continue to change the world.
A GROUP OF SPIRITUAL QUEERS FROM A WIDE DIVERSITY OF FATIHS AND PATHS WILL BE HOSTING THE FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY TENT AT LONDON PRIDE ON 29 JUNE, SITUATED IN THE NORTH EASTERN CORNER OF TRAFALGAR SQUARE
“For things are changing. The voices of the gods have fallen silent. They no longer speak from heaven above – that turned out to be only sky. The gods now speak in our human voices. It is in human consciousness that the divine now manifests itself to itself. And our gay consciousness, we can discover, potentially speaks to us now – and through us, to the whole human race – that secret message that lies at the core of religions.” Toby Johnson, Gay Perspective 2003