Coming out of the closet is a spiritual act of self-actualisation. It requires deep soul searching and the summoning of an immense amount of courage, even today in the second decade of the 21st century, when despite the spread of liberal attitudes and legal reforms there are still vehement homophobic voices spreading hatred of us. In Russia, India, Uganda, Nigeria (and elsewhere) legal persecution of us sets up an atmosphere where our kind live in constant fear of attack or death, and are totally unable to explore and express who we are.
Attitudes are shifting so fast in the west – a new tv advertisement for Coca Cola features a gay male wedding – that a polarity seems to have been created. Walls have fallen in part of the world, and in a short period of time. Not so long ago same-sex attraction was categorised as a mental illness. The idea that man’s love for man and woman’s love for woman can be a pure and sacred impulse from the soul is still finding its way into the consciousness, even amongst gay people. But it is this vision, of the purity of love, whoever is expressing it with whomever, that can change attitudes across the planet. Gay spirituality opens the door to queers realising the true source of love within ourselves, and the power that lies in that love. It enables us to heal from the effects that the label ‘homo-sexual’ has had on us as we find bigger, better ways to define ourselves. This will enable us to show the doubting, sex obsessed homophobes that love is our true nature, and is the core truth of all human beings.
In the west liberalisation has not yet led to our liberation, which is an internal, spiritual, goal and not simply a political or social one. We are children of a religious culture that has labelled our love an ‘abomination’, and so quite understandably many of us have rejected religion and spirituality all together. Our ‘scene’ is big on hedonism, looks and fitness, but lacking in understanding of the mind and the power of the heart. The prevalence of disease, physical and mental, of drug dependency and sexual neediness demonstrates how our internal worlds have not yet reached anything like emotional and spiritual maturity. Most gays do not know that the judaeo-christian-islamic condemnation of our love is a historical anomaly – and that in fact throughout human existence on earth there have been other cultures that honoured us for the energy we carry, which combines masculinity and femininity in different ways to the heterosexual norm and makes us prime candidates to be conduits of spirit, healing and wisdom. Prominent examples such as the berdache shamans of the native americans, the gatekeepers of the dagara tribe in western Africa or the takatapui of the Maori in New Zealand, reveal that our kind were honoured as spiritual healers and leaders since way before the hegemony of the patriarchal monotheistic faiths. Even in Christianity it is clear that the monastic tradition and the priesthood has always depended on ‘soft’ gentle, compassionate queer souls, and been a haven for us.
While we make great secularists and perfect consumers in the capitalist age, the spiritual impulses that would in previous times have sent us into a life of service in the church are still with us. For many these impulses get repressed, or distorted by drugs and sexual excess, but on the fringes of commercial gay life there exist groups of queers exploring the spiritual dimensions of life, whether within established religious routes or in ways of our own creation.
LoveSpirit Festival in London is an annual event that brings together dozens of lgbt+ spiritual pioneers offering workshops on a wide array of themes. Among the hundreds of queers who have been to the festival are people from every religion and from shamanic/pagan or non aligned spiritual paths. The differences in our approaches and beliefs don’t get a look in – instead we are united through a shared recognition of the crucial importance of LOVE in moving on the story of human evolution – and of SPIRIT as a reality: how we each interact with and the different ways we describe that reality are seen as something to be shared rather than fought over.
These events were preceded back in the late 90s by the Connections Conferences, which were similar gatherings that brought together hundreds of spiritually inclined queers – the millennial energies were very strong at the time, and as new medication turned around the aids story of suffering and death that our community had been deeply embroiled in for 15 years, there was a surge of interest in spirituality, lightwork, shamanism etc happening amongst many queers. Somehow this energy got swamped by the tide of hedonism (and maybe also the political advances under the Labour government) that hit gay life in the years following the millennium, as we let go of the dark plague years and our urge to party, or just live a simpler life after the intensities of aids, came on strong. There were no more such large gatherings of spiritual queers in the UK until Lovespirit in 2011. But in the intervening decade there had been a shift. Group explorations of queer spirit emerged – such as meditation classes, tantra workshops, five rhythms dancing, gay yoga groups, queer pagan camps and spiritual groups such as Loving Men. When many of us came together at LoveSpirit there was a huge buzz of excitement. At the 2011 festival guest speaker Christian de la Huerta told of our historical role as healers and shamans, as midwives to the dying and explorers on the cultural edge of society. The next year Andrew Harvey spoke with immense passion of the mystical vision and calling to service that our gay sensibility can lead us to, and invoked Rumi as our inspired, ecstatic ancestor.
Many queers explore spiritually within religious settings – eg at buddhist retreats, but our own particularly queer forms of spiritual retreat have been emerging too: Radical Faerie gatherings are queer zones of high vibrational energy where we get to explore the many aspects of our gay souls through play, dressing up, ritual, sharing our stories and living in heart-centred community. Gatherings usually take place away from cities, in beautiful spaces where we can be close to nature and co-create deep, ecstatic and loving journeys into magical states of consciousness. In these spaces we find healing and empowerment to help us find strength, balance and purpose in our lives. These events have no gurus, no dogma or rules and are a melting pot of queer spiritual energies. Since 1995 faerie gatherings, which began in the US in the late 1970s, have happened in Europe and an active faerie circle has emerged in the UK in the last decade, now holding a few gatherings each year (currently in Glastonbury and Northumberland) and frequent heart circles and drumming nights in London and Brighton. We gather to connect, open and heal – and so find the spirit of joy, love and ecstasy inside us – discovering that connection and bliss come from the heart and are not dependent on the drugs and alcohol that are causing a lot of health problems for so many queers. In spaces of queer spirit profound healings and awesome transformations happen, and this magic is so good it can only expand to reach more people who need it.
I believe those of us involved in these spiritual explorations are discovering things that the rest of the queer community might like to know about.
The first of these must be that there is a sacred dimension to life, accessible to us if we open ourselves to it, and that it does not judge or condemn us, as we have usually been indoctrinated to believe. In fact, as the shamanic history of same sex love, of genderbending healers across the world reveals, maybe we even have a special relationship with that sacredness.
The second might be that our thoughts matter. They are creative, we attract into our lives what we give our attention to. To be negative in our outlook produces disease and depression in our lives – those of us living with HIV in the 1990s, before there were drugs available which had any hope of helping us, found this out. Positive in body, being positive in our minds was our best chance of survival, that became very clear to us. Buddhism has proven very popular with some queer folk – it teaches a non-judgemental approach to life, removes the central male father god figure from the centre of spiritual awareness, and teaches us how to understand the mind and use it to create well being, plus how to cultivate compassion and a healthy emotional life.
Thirdly, emotions have to move. Through dance, ritual, heart circle we are able to release stuck energies, to cleanse and strengthen our emotional bodies, which grow, get damaged and need healing as we go through life, just as our physical bodies do. We are born with an immense capacity for love, but this gets squashed by life’s disappointments – choosing to heal, to grow and open emotionally produces well being in our lives.
Fourth, our spirits are born to shine. It is as simple as letting the real self that we each are express, expand and love. Spaces of queer spirit support us to be who we really are, to let the magical child heal its wounds and unite with the adult we are becoming, to let our natural joy bubble up and our ancient, inherited ability to walk between the worlds emerge. Our hedonistic urges may be seen as the drive of spirit within us to expand into its natural blissful states of being. Pleasure and ecstatic states can be understood as sacred acts, bringing us into communion with our higher selves. Spiritual paths that celebrate the goddess celebrate sexuality, pleasure, dance, play and even intoxication, as Her rituals, so allowing the energy of these life delights to uplift and nourish us.
Five, SEX is a spiritual force. It is utterly holy – if we let it be, which we can do by opening our hearts, opening our minds and letting the energy of sex take us into divine communion. Sex takes us to bliss – and that is the feeling and presence of the divine source within us. This was natural understanding in most ancient cultures, and is something the world desperately needs to remember now, both in order to halt the abuse of sexual power and to bring us to greater understanding of who we are as incarnations of conscious spirit, ending the historical division between the spirit and the flesh that monotheism has spread round the world.
As gay spirituality grows in confidence and exposure, it has the potential to
celebrate that there is more to being queer than sex, parties (and marriage), revealing that coming out is a powerful step on a path to spiritual as well as sexual liberation
bring out awareness around the world of our historical roles as healers and conduits of spirit, so counteracting the ignorance and fear of us that leads to our persecution and opening the way for us to find our role as healers in the emerging aquarian age
emphasise our nature as compassionate, tolerant, joy-seeking beings and reveal ECSTASY and BLISS as spiritual manifestations of divine human nature, which we are naturally ‘programmed’, by evolution,to pursue
reveal humanity’s ability to go beyond differences based on race and religion to a new story of unity, love, awareness and spiritual connection.
COMING UP IN 2014:
Albion Faerie gathering at FEATHERSTONE CASTLE March 17-27 www.albionfaeries.co.uk
LoveSpirit sponsored retreat led by Alistair Appleton ‘Didn’t Gay Used to Mean Happy?’
March 2014, details at http://www.lovespirit.org
LoveSpirit Festival www.lovespirit.org
EuroFaerie gatherings at FOLLETERRE sanctuary in France. Www.folleterre.org
Men’s Tantra Festival September 6 – 10 https://www.tantra4gaymen.co.uk/
Touch-Magic events http://touch-magic.com/Events.html
GayLoveSpirit workshops http://www.gaylovespirit.com/
Queer Conscious Sex http://queerhearted.com/
Men’s naked yoga in London http://yoganu.com/
Queer Pagan Camp http://www.queerpagancamp.org/index.html
Men’s buddhist meditation: http://www.meetup.com/Buddhist-Meditation-for-Gay-and-Bisexual-Men/events/152477022/
Quest gay men’s workshops http://www.thequestawaitsyou.com/
Loving Men retreats http://www.lovingmen.org/
and much much more, feel free to add to the list in comments