Spirituality is about the search for the Self (while religion tends to put the emphasis on relationship with a God figure, spirituality honours the divine within us and all beings). 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 THAT’ – 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. 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.
COULD BEING GAY OPEN THE WAY TO A DIRECT AND INTIMATE EXPERIENCE OF SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS?
Many ancient cultures certainly thought so – the queer beings who stood somewhere between the gender polarities were often considered to have a sacred function – they were viewed as also standing between the worlds of spirit and matter, there to communicate the healing and wisdom of the spirit to the people. The ‘berdache’ two-spirits of the Native American tribes, the ‘galli’ priests of Cybele in ancient Europe, and the shaman gatekeepers of the Dagara tribe in Africa are examples.
Outcasts of religion, gay people have the choice to find our own answers to questions of life, spirit and mystery. Many – most – of us refuse the questions, and a large number of gay men prefer instead to indulge deeply the sensual passions of life, even until they kill us, or seriously fuck us up. The Christian inheritance of the separation of the sexual from the spiritual, plus the growth of a spirit-denying atheistic culture, makes this possible. But the drive in us for passionate, expansive, ecstatic experience could be understood as the spirit in us reaching, pushing, demanding to be known and felt. Sexual exploration and drug taking are routes to connect and discover energy connection with others and within ourselves – whether approached as spiritual acts or indulgent pleasure, they are likely to teach us things.
The modern gay movement has grown with few of us aware that our queer ancestors were often spiritual functionaries for tribal peoples around the world. Gradually this knowledge is becoming more available – eg there are active Two-Spirit groups in the United States, and at gay retreats and radical faerie gatherings around the world queers 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. Religion was used to separate pleasure from God, but in ancient pagan, and all earth-based faiths, sexual pleasure was a holy rite in itself, it was through joy and bliss that people got to know the divine. The priests in those days who led these rites were queer, leading ceremonies in which the revellers would unite their souls with the deity – often Dionysus, or the Mother Goddess. Through pleasure, through sexual connection, through transcendent trips into ecstasy, we can find 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.
We are a people born to love, born to create beauty and harmony, born to celebrate life itself. The limitations of religions are clear to us – although we may not realise it, we are here creating a new world that appreciates how love, joy and light can be its guiding lights. We are, if we free our minds and let our spirits soar, natural mystics – attuned to the dance of life itself, loving that dance, being that dance.
Walt Whitman’s love of men inspired him to mystical poetic heights, which spoke loudly to some gay men at the end of the 19th century. Richard Bucke praises the nature mysticism of Whitman in his study of Cosmic Consciousness, published 1905, and describes his own awakening moment of spiritual merging with nature around him, inspired by an evening of reading poetry with male friends. The classic work on mysticism from that period, William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, regards Whitman as equal to Hindu sages in his visionary wisdom.
If a gay person is sensing the call of the spiritual I would encourage them to explore it through any means that appeals to them, follow the heart on this as anything else. I would advise to remember we come to earth to follow our spirit, not a spiritual path, and tell the story of how uptight men used religion to turn the sexual urge from a holy rite to a filthy, functional act, and that it is only us queers can bring it back to what it really is, a truly sinless celebration of being alive! In general, I would say don’t bother with religion, they care little for us – even if they accept us they are unlikely to encourage us to release the full power of our queer spirit, which for most of us includes an embrace of the body and sexuality, not its rejection. I would direct a queer seeker to pagan principles and shamanism.
Shamanism offers ways to connect the body, open the heart, clear the mind and raise the spirit. It offers healing and discovery – through the very things gay boys love to do so much: dancing, dressing up, undressing, taking substances, sex. All our chasing after bliss, after extremes of experience, or just the next fuck, then becomes part of bringing joyful, light vibrations to the planet (to replace the centuries of darkness and fear around sex) if we let in some understanding of the Source consciousness, perhaps even coming to see ourselves as the priests of the Goddess and the Horned God, banished for centuries in a world where straight men rule by force. Gay liberation has achieved masses on the social and political levels in a few decades, but spiritually we are a very confused people. Shamanism could provide the tools and understanding for a rapid spiritual awakening, happening like a wave of light illuminating the increasingly dark shadows lurking in parts of our queer utopia, sending out the message to gay people and to all people everywhere that SEX and LOVE and AWARENESS are three sexy, BEAUTIFUL things that all belong together.