Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thoughts on Ageism and the Death of the Myth

I am 62 years old.   I have seen and experienced a great deal of Queer history in my life, a lot of it undocumented.  I have researched and cultivated a finely tuned Queer spirituality based a great deal on our own mythology, as well as our history of spiritual violence at the hands of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic cultures.  Our spirituality goes all the way back to the Minoans, and even further, to the Bull Dancers in the temple of the Snake Goddess and the great white Bull God, those Queeryouth, male and female, chosen and glorified, who faced the fierce live bull in the arena as it charged, grabbing the gilt-tipped horns of the bull with inverted hands and, as a gymnast on a vault, then flipped over the horns and on the the bull's back, balancing (dancing) until s/he is thrown.  Often the youth were considered sacrifices to the Goddess if they got gored and killed by the bull.  The mythology of the Great White Bull from the sea is Queer mythology.

Our Queer mythology is in the creation stories that come out of ancient Egyptian texts, for instance, which speak of the One that was before the dualistic split between body and spirit, one story of which speaks of the Totality existing in single thought, single consciousness becoming the god Atum, who was called by different names at the different cult centers of pre-dynastic Egypt.  Atum was at Heliopolis.  The name "Atum" also translates as "totality", that is, both the male and female principles existing in one consciousness.  Atum copulated with himself, thus producing creation ex nihilo.  One of the "Pyramid Texts" has the following:

"I was the one who came into being as Atum.  It was at Heliopolis that
my phallus became erect.  I grasped hold of it, and came to orgasm.  
Thus it was that the siblings Shu (form) and Tefnut (matter) were born"

This is a particularly Queer mythology of creation, a mythology that is non-dualistic, that comes from before Eden and Adam and Eve, and one that has been denied to us as a People with a history, mythology, and spirituality that is uniquely ours.

In India there is the powerful story of the love relationship between the great gods Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.  According to Hindu tradition, when Lord Shiva is not meditating, he is having sex, and in the religious sculpture depicting this king of all Hindu gods, he is often seen with an erection.  The Shiva Lingam are in front of nearly every house in India.  The story, our story, is that Lord Vishnu was in love with Lord Shiva and wanted to have Lord Shiva's child.  Lord Vishnu, a shape-shifter, shape-shifted into a female body, made love with Lord Shiva as a female, conceived, carried the child to term, and delivered the child.  This child is Lord Ayyappa, the child god to whom millions of Hindus make pilgrimage each year.  After the birth, Lord Vishnu shape-shifted back to being a male.  The two male gods then raised the child themselves.  This is Queer mythology, Queer spirituality.  It expresses the sacredness of Queer family that is not tie heterosexual nuclear family of a male and female and 2.75 children, touted to be the "norm" by the fundamentalist, radical Christian right in this country.  It is a different kind of family, one that is not only sanctioned by the gods, but lived out by the gods themselves, in the spiritual tradition of an entire people.  Can so many millions of people be so wrong, when they say that there are different kinds of family possible?

In the Judeo-Christian tradition there is the magnificent story of the love between David the shepherd boy and Jonathan the son of King Saul.  David's lamentation over the dead body of his beloved is one of the most beautiful pieces of lyricism-in-death in the history of world literature. David weeps with a grief so heartfelt when he sings of a love that "surpasses the love of women", that it rips our own hearts and minds open when we read this most famous of Lamentations.  In the great Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the acknowledged great masterpieces of literature in the entire history of world literature, we are given the powerful and heartbreaking story of King Gilgamesh, a mighty hero and warrior, and his heart-companion Enkidu, created by the gods specifically to be the warrior/lover and co-adventurer with Gilgamesh, but, more importantly, to be the heart-love of Gilgamesh's soul.  It is, in fact, the death of Enkidu that drives Gilgamesh into the second great adventure that comprises a large part of the text.  Without the same-sex relationship between Gligamesh and Enkidu we would not really have the great "Epic".

I remember that in High School, when I read The Iliad by Homer, my hero, the Man who told me that my attraction to Men was not an aberration, was Achilles, because his relationship with Patrolus was so much more than friendship.  I knew in my gut and in my heart, and in my deepest intuition, that in this powerful Greek epic, there were Men attracted to and in love with other Men, and they were warrior/lovers, coming out of a great tradition of warrior/lovers, among whom were Alexander the Great and his lover of eighteen years, Hephaestion to whom Alexander was devoted throughout his life, even when married to women.  So, there are these marvelous and empowering stories of the warrior/lovers, The Sacred Band of Thebes that included Achilles and Patroclus, and of David and Jonathan, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Alexander the Great and Hephaestion and even the great gods themselves, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.  These are our stories, our mythologies.  These are stories that our Elders can tell our youth.

Our story, a story I can tell because I was there, and one which has become mythic in proportion even within relative recent history, is the story of the Stonewall Riots and the radical, nascent Queer politics of the Gay Liberation Front in the ensuing years of the early 1970's, years filled with class struggle, gender struggle, racial struggle, feminist struggle, all lived out by Queermen and Lesbians who had a consciousness of how different and how much better society could be when the sexual politics of the human struggle for liberation were seen as fundamental to that struggle.  Because of the genocide against Queermen, conducted by the Reagan-Bush administration during the 1980's, there are few of us Gaymen left alive and who lived those wonderful heady years, and that powerful history.  So many of us who fought that sometimes violent revolution of the early 1970's, died of AIDS-related complications during the Death Years. We were slaughtered by institutionalized and societally sanctioned  homophobia that was murderous, slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands.  It was our Holocaust.

There is a powerful story to tell regarding the genocide against our people.  Those of us who lived in the trenches of The AIDS War, who battled for our lives and who came to know the Death Crone intimately have a vital oral history to tell, and we are the Elders in the Tribe whose job it is to tell the story.  There are few eye witnesses left to tell this bitter and compassionate tale of death and life in the midst of death.  There are few eye witnesses left to recount our mythology to our youth over the contemporary campflres of latte, mocha, and croissants.

In the Queermale community, unlike in the Lesbian community, there is a terrible "ism" which plagues the psyche of all Gaymen, no matter what their age.  It is ageism, whose locus is in a youth and beauty culture, which cares nothing for history and sees no need in having one.  There is no hunger for the story.  It is often seen in the Adonis Complex of so many young Gaymen who spend uncountable hours at the gym and spa, who live only for the next conquest, the next party, the next dance, where those of us who are older than forty are seen as having nothing to offer because we are not perhaps sexually attractive enough anymore (although I have to say here that I find Men over forty to be far more sexually attractive than Men younger), and sexual attraction is, after all, the basis of so much of why and how we relate to each other, thus denying younger Gaymen living in ageism, their history, their mythology, and their spirituality.  Such stories as we can tell can only come from the Elders of the Tribe, who, like all tribal elders who came before, no matter what the tribe or culture, were the carriers of the tribal wisdom learned over the ages of time, a wisdom that was not written down because it was a wisdom of the spirit that came through lived history, and, necessarily had to be passed on orally, because spirit cannot be contained in the written word.

Unlike Gaymen, Lesbians tend to revere their older sisters.  Younger Lesbians form loving, lasting, sexual and emotional relationships with older Lesbians, listen to their stories, sit at the feet of their elder sisters absorbing the history and spirituality of those wise-women who have lived full and rich lives as out Lesbians, and even who, for a while could not be out, but who struggled valiantly with the truth of their sexual identities, to live with integrity even in the face of open hostility.  The elder-women are lifted up for their wisdom and their contribution to Lesbian culture, but in the Gaymale cultures, this is not so.  Older Gaymen are invisible, are really quite transparent on the street and in social settings because we are not "buff", we are not "ripped", our bodies are not shaved smooth as a baby's ass.  We have lines around our eyes and the corners of our mouths.  We have lived rich lives and our faces tell that story.  Our bodies, in their older beauty, are not seen as beautiful because they are not rock hard, and we are not glowing in beautiful Queermale youth.

And yet, we are the carriers of the history, of the culture as it was before these youngmen were born.  The lines around our eyes and mouth bespeak a wisdom and power that we need to share with our younger brothers and sisters.  The glow in our eyes that saw the struggle, our minds that tried so hard to grasp our strength-in-identity, glowing as the possessors of spirits that soared with passion as we lived out the newness of self-proclamation.  There is a magnificent beauty in this inner passion and strength, this depth of self-love and unfathomable conscious knowledge of being created intentionally as Queer by the Creator, as having a purpose on this Earth exactly because we are Queer, not in spite of it.

There is a beauty in Queermale age that younger Queermales do not see because far too often their eyes are looking for something else, and thus they miss the glow that comes from the inner work of finding self and finding Self.  There is something wonderful here that Queeryouth take for granted, something which only came with great struggle.  It is a light of passion, a halo of pride-in-identiry as Queer that is a different halo than that which surrounds younger Queer heads.  Our halo is much, much bigger and brighter, and shines with a certain blinding light of dignity, integrity, and power because we had to fight for it; it was not handed to us.  We had to struggle in a world of hatred without mass support, without a community behind us, and there are those of us who are still alive who fought that struggle and can tell that story, which is, by definition, so much more interesting in the telling, than in the reading of it in a textbook.

As for Queermale history, so many of our Elders passed during the Death Years, that those of us who survived and can tell not only the much older story of who we are, who have studied our history to a great extent, who have plunged ourselves into our innate spirituality that is our birthright, but can tell the more recent story of death and tragedy and grief and rage in this country that is less than twenty-five years old, but which is kept a dark secret because of fear, both that of the Queer community and that of the larger straight culture.  We, now I have a responsibility to do jut that, to tell the story.

Sadly, it seems that as the years pass, and as Queers are more and more assimilated into the larger straight society, blending in and losing our unique, extraordinary identity, our voice, trying to be just like everybody else, becoming more and more an undefined part of straight, consumerist, materialistic, corporate America, our story becomes unimportant and the Elders are not seen as vital.  The story that the Elders can tell is seen as irrelevant, and the terrible invisibility of ageism takes over the minds and spirits of those who are younger.  In Queer ageism, there is a loss of continuity that is history and culture.  In Queer ageism, there is a patent disrespect for a wisdom that can only come from living an outrageously out Queer life with a passion for identity and a passion for justice.  In Queer ageism, particularly by those who were not even born during the Death Years or who were just infants, there is an unspeakable disrespect for those who fought so valiantly in a War that produced the medications that keep those infected with HIV alive today, those same Queer youngmen who have no desire to know their history.

Had we, both the sick and dying and the healthy and well, not "raged against the dying of the light" (Dylan Thomas) during the terrible genocide years against Queermen, the anti-retroviral medications that hold opportunistic infections at bay now may not be where they are today, and in this country, hundreds of thousands might still be dying.  The story of the Death Years, the politics of AIDS, is an important part of the larger story of Queer history, not only in this country, but in all the world, and, it is not just Queermale history but also Lesbian history.  The face of Gaymale/Lesbian relationships changed during those years of terror, grief, rage, and death. It is this story, and the larger story, that I and my elders in the Tribe carry, the story that must necessarily be told, an oral tradition that is uniquely ours, that we cannot lose or, surely, we will lose our very identity as Queers in the world, because it is the continuing story of victory and triumph in the face of unspeakable oppression.  It is the story of Heroes and Martyrs in a War that slew hundreds of thousands of Queermemn in our own holocaust.  It is the story of life in the face of death.

Ageism will produce a death of the culture, a death of the Tribe, because it will produce a death of the story being told again and again and again to generations of younger Queer people who need to hear it in order to know from where they come, who they are, what their spiritual, mythological, and historical legacies are.  The history of a tribe can be told in a history book, but the life of the Tribe, in it's lived history, in its spirit, can only be told by the Elders of the Tribe, can only be spoken to those who come after, and, in so doing, the Tribe flourishes not only in body, but in spirit as well.  The only way to keep Queer Body and Queer Spirit alive is to tell the story.

This is my work now as a Queermale body/spirit in the world, who was brought back from death in 1996, 1997, and 1998 for a purpose.  My work is to tell the story, to speak our unique spirituality that is thoroughly non-dualistic, a spirituality radically different from the traditional Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic spirituality and theology, and to tell our mythology.  My work is to proclaim the story of victory and triumph in the face of horrible adversity from the Church and society over the ages.  To go to College and University campuses and corporate places of business where Queer organizations exist, to go to Queer social service agencies in cities across the country, to speak as a Veteran of The Stonewall Riots and The Gay Liberation Front.To teach classes in social justice theory and gender studies, to facilitate workshops on Gaymale spirituality, ritual and symbol, to speak on Queer mythology,  to be a Spiritual Director for Queermen in intimate one-on-one relationship, helping them to walk their often circuitous but most often grace-filled paths...this is my work now.  And, of course, there is also the writing of my blog, which comes along slowly but inexhaustibly, and which will speak of so many of these things as it unfolds.  

My life is full and rich, filled with wonder and delight,  and I am a proud and life-filled 62-tear-old Queerman, one who wants his younger brothers and sisters to listen to him, but to listen with awe and wonder at the grandeur and the majick of the Queer Epic, an epic that compares with those of ancient Greece and the great civilizations that have come before, because we were there in those very epics, a living, breathing part of them, a vital presence, sometimes hidden and covert, but sometimes more openly as with Achilles and Patroclus, Alexander and Hephaestion, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as we were in Queer Egyptian pharaonic stories, as we are in the epic of our own relative time   which includes such great figures as Michelangelo, DaVinci, Frederick The Great, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Lord Byron, Percy Byshe Shelley, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Lord Byron, Osdcar Wilde, Willa Cather, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell, Bessie Smith, Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Woolf, T. E. Lawrence, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Benjamin Britten, Robert Mapplethorpe, Christopher Isherwood, Peter Ilyetch Tchaikovsky , Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, John Coregliano, Rita Mae Brown, Paul Monette, Michael Cunningham, Paul Russell and the rest of the countless thousands who have peopled the epic of our own time with their color and brilliance, filling the world with truth and beauty, but perhaps none more so than those of us who have lived our quiet, courageous lives inexorably, who do not have recognizable names, and who continue to do so in this very difficult world, a world that has always demanded from us a resilience and love of life in order to survive, a resilience and life affirmation the history of which is held powerfully in the hearts and minds of the Queer Elders who have a wisdom about who are as a people on this Earth, this glorious planet which could not survive without our own particular Queer gifts to Creation, the Elders who can speak of an unquenchable Queer Spirit in the face of terrible adversity, an unquenchable Queer Spirit which can still dance and can still Dance.  We only ask that you listen.

First completed on January 21, 2005, revised and re-worked on January 7, 2008, final revision on March 21, 2009.

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