Pride starts on the Inside

London Pride: an essential beacon to the populace, queer, straight, closeted and curious that GAY IS OK, that we are proud to be who we are, to love who we love and shag who we shag.  Pride is also a powerful statement that SEX is ok, worth celebrating and enjoying, free of shame and guilt that hung around it for so long.  The original Gay Liberation Front vision in the 1970s sought sexual liberation for all.

Pride has been through a roller coaster journey in its 43 years.  At first it had a strong political agenda, seeking to change deep seated prejudices in society.  Numbers swelled in the 1980s as our young gay culture came under attack from the Tories and from HIV.  We took to the streets and our after parties grew in size.  I first got to Pride in 1986 when the festivities took place on the South Bank, in Jubilee Gardens.  It soon moved to Kennington Park, Clapham Common, Brockwell Park, out east to Victoria and up north to Finsbury Park by which time the commercial drive behind Pride seemed to be ravenously taking over from the community feeling.  I remember Pride in Finsbury Park was a flat affair, swamped by advertising, leaflets and sponsors.  Outside the walls of the Pride encampment, an unofficial queer free party, attracted many who were just sickened by the whole thing and made the point that we don’t need corporations and security to have a good time.

Gradually the lesson was learnt, big park parties stopped and the call for a community spirit grew, with Trafalgar Square becoming the new focus of post parade activity, plus stages and street parties throughout Soho.  2012 saw the World Pride fiasco, where the limited thinking and ambition of the long serving organising committee was revealed.  The community rallied however, and turned out in huge numbers, fired up and feeling some passion.  It felt like we were doing more than showing off how hot and happy we are, there were deep emotions going on.  We showed we cared about Pride!  The floats were cancelled because the funds were not there to pay for barriers and police – hooray!  The result was the parade was not contained within barricades, there was freeflow between marchers and spectators, and a great atmosphere.  There have been attempts to inject politics and spirituality into the Trafalgar Square proceedings, but pop music and entertainment dominate, and Pride indeed must be a celebration as well as a powerful statement.  The rainbow spirit fills the west end, smiling people of all races, faiths and ages share a day of positive vibrations ……Soho itself gets seized by masses of inebriated queers… intense and messy, not necessarily the best poster to the world of our happy gay liberty, it can feel a bit like entering a war zone….

Nor are the numbers of drug casualties and mental health crises  doing much for our image. But at Pride we present our shiny, happy face to the world – the only thing is – that face seems now to be have been taken over by the acne of corporate capitalism once again.  The sponsorship may not be so blatant any more, but now the corps are marching with us.  I can not get why people would choose to spend their Gay Christmas marching under a Barclays Bank banner … unless they want to be sure to be seen by everyone, for .. guess what.. Barclays are marching at the front of the parade, right behind the flagbearers and the London Gay Symphonic Winds.  Peter Tatchell has to follow on a few paces back, and behind him come Switchboard, Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, THT…. surely these important community organisations deserve to walk in front of any banks that wish to be there.   Tax avoidlng Starbucks get to lead the next section of the parade, then further back in the lineup there will be a section where banks and businesses aplenty will be represented. Presumably Barclays and Starbucks are paying sponsorship money to get such positions in the lineup, and yes we know Pride needs money.  But frankly, this situation is dark and rather creepy.  These corporations have no relevance to gay life, to our struggle and our liberty. 

Meanwhile, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, celebrating their 30th anniversary and the success of the recent movie telling their story, had been billed as leading the parade, but are now placed much further back with other political groups.  Money to the fore, social causes and caring for people – take the rear.

For a moment it seemed that UKIP were going to take a place on the parade (they have now been turned away by the committee), leading Dan Glass and the London ACT-UP crew to announce the death of Pride: “We will remember Pride as a beautiful, cheeky and daring soul who stood up for firmly held principles and beliefs. Pride was never scared to be fabulously rebellious and because of this inspired millions of people across the world to act up for justice. Like many truthful spirits in the modern age, Pride was attacked by the epidemic of soulless commercialisation and suffered deep amnesia and rapidly deteriorating social and emotional awareness. Signs of ill-health were first detected in approximately 1990 with signs of a nasty rash creeping over the entire body – covering it with glossy stamps and advertisements which destroyed Pride’s beautifully diverse features.”

The proud horse is not totally dead yet though: the mix up of different groups on the Parade is actually pretty awesome.  Alien Sex Club and Anal Angels will be walking in the same section as Fujtsu, MIcrosoft, Virgin Media and Houses of Parliament.  With all kinds of care professions, faith groups, gay clubs and of course the armed forces, Gay Pride parade is incredibly ground breaking in its rainbow diversity, showing the whole of society united in a positive cause.  Unfortunately it is also a bit fixated with the idea of pre-registered groups being the only ones allowed to march in the parade.  The Pride website bizarrely says that “Individuals and spectators cannot join the Parade. Only registered groups are allowed to join the Parade, and registrations closed on Friday 15 May.”  Is an individual who wishes to join the march going to be turned away if they don’t have a group to join?  The site says that ‘spectators’ may join at the end of the organised sections, but those ‘individuals’ don’t get another mention.

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL, says the old adage.  AIDS was one such fall – teaching us the hard way that unbridled libido has unwanted consequences.  Reading the lengthy list of diverse groups registered to march (the Faeries are not on the list, this structured bureaucratic approach to a love parade doesn’t really work for us) it feels like Pride may be getting bloated.  All this bright and cheery bravado stands in stark contrast to the reality that thousands of gay men young and old in this city are hooked on chemicals, chasing sex, taking health risks, perhaps because they do not feel part of any COMMUNITY, they do not want or are not able to fit into any GROUP.   There is such a wild brew of drug cocktails and sexual promiscuity going on in our city that who knows if a crisis bigger even than AIDS isn’t building.

Being gay is absolutely NOT about fitting into the heteronormative model of life – look what a mess they have made of the world!  Coming Out is a step on the path of self-discovery.  That is a spiritual search.  It has nothing to do with banks, coffee shops, computer companies, oil companies.  It MAY have something to do with the military (in ancient Thebes the soldiers were lovers, in India the effeminate, peacock god Lord Murugan is also the god of war, and throughout history from Alexander the Great onwards many great military men have been queer).  As we approach the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of gay sex in the UK in two years time there is sure to be plenty of questioning and heart searching about gay life.  Yes we are proud to be gay… but we need a healthy debate about the kind of gay culture we wish to create in the 21st century.  Do we want a culture that plays along with the patriarchal, military-industrial complex, which has given us marriage and adoption rights to encourage us to stay in the game, and keeps us medicated on dangerous libido enhancing chemicals and separated in our lonely bedsit drug dens (it makes sure that responsible, conscious and spiritual use of drugs can not be promoted by keeping harsh, archaic laws in place).  Or might we aim towards a CONSCIOUS QUEER CULTURE THAT CELEBRATES THE MYSTERY OF BEING ALIVE AND THE MANY WAYS WE CAN EXPLORE THAT MYSTERY, FIND OUT WHO WE ARE, WHAT OUR GIFTS AND TALENTS ARE AND HOW WE CAN BRING THEM TO THE WORLD IN ORDER TO CREATE A WORLD BUILT ON LOVE AND COMPASSION, ON PEACE AND DIVERSITY. 

Or are we just like the macho patriarchs after all?  We got our freedom, are we now just going to party til it kills us, are we going to become good model citizens with kids and debts… or are we going to critique and change this world and its corrupt and unfair ways… and so bring the light of the rainbow that is our symbol divine to a world desperate for peace.  As anyone who has entered the spiritual journey learns, to change the world you have to change yourself.  I think we should thrust a gay agenda on the world – and that it should be self-knowledge, self-discovery and self-expression for all.  Gay culture celebrates good times, but misses the point that those good times come when we find out, claim and express who we are – and this operates on every level of our being, from the sexual to the social to the spiritual.  Pride in who we are starts on the inside, but gay culture is fixated on the external, the material and the superficial.  I cannot march at Pride this year.
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BEING GAY IS A SPIRITUAL CALLING: PRIDE 2013

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

 

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