Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What It Is

I continue to be a [spiritual] revolutionary who pursues ideals,
growing in the understanding and learning that what is desired is not always possible.
       Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua

This is just a blog of thoughts and, hopefully, some wisdom gathered through the course of my life, not just my life as an out Queerman since 1965, but my life since childhood.  It also consists of my life with hiv/AIDS, a close companion since the early 1980's, although not clinically discovered until 1991.  In 1995, I had my first opportunistic infection and was diagnosed with "full-blown" AIDS.  My entire brain , every millimeter, was covered with Herpes Simplex lesions, and I lay in a hard coma for ten days.  I woke up.  There were more infections during the ensuing years.  I know I have been infected with hiv since the early 1980's though, because of the profligate sexual life I led in Chicago in the 1970's and then in New York City in the early 80's and the safe sexual life I led after 1984 back in Chicago.  I am sure, actually, that I contracted it in New York where I had sex with seven to ten Men a day seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year for three years, a rather common way for Gaymen to have lived back then, and we were passing the virus around like the common cold, never knowing, never having any idea, that we were infecting each other with a deadly virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can kill and which did and which still does, only a lot more quietly now.

This blog consists of essays containing some politics, some spirituality, some music critique, some theology, some sexuality, some sex, some Queer culture and history from my own experience and perspective, some loss and pain and, since 1995, a great deal of illness, both psychiatric and physical, from AIDS and the horrifically toxic medications that purport to control the virus, and the relatively good state of my health for the past eight years.  I live in a world of archetypes, a Queer collective unconscious and my Queer myth, and it is from this world of wonder and delight that these essays take their form.  This is not like the usual blog wherein the posts are "300 words or less".  I suppose that I am not a blogger, but, rather, an essayist who writes with no constraints on length or content, and that I choose to publish these essays in blog format.  Be prepared.  These are not going to be sound-bytes in written form, no fast food on The Myth Of The Queerman in these writings.  Be prepared to take time, to be focused, to be interested, and, if you are not, then be interested in the fact that you are not interested.  Be prepared to be present when you are reading.  I require that of my readers.  I am certainly present when I am writing.  I require that of myself, so why should I not require that of you?  Read mindfully and write to me your comments at the end of each post.  I want to know your reactions to this Tribal Elder's thoughts.  We are all of one tribe, and I am an Elder of our Tribe.  I carry the story.  I am a keeper of the majick, of the pipe and the drum, and I speak our oral history and traditions, our culture and our Myth.  There are no written sound bytes in the way I tell or explore the great story.  There are only tales to be told, a Myth to be explored, a tradition to be honored, a culture to inculcate.  This takes words written with melody, rhythm, and harmony, and I offer this music so that we can all learn to sing the great Queer Song together, living in the lives of those Queers that have come before and from whom we are descended.     

I have lived an extraordinary life as a political revolutionary, street queen, Stonewall rioter, child prodigy, international concert harpsichordist, teacher, recording artist, midwife to the dying birthing them into death, pastor, spiritual director, counselor, and budding Episcopal priest.  The ordination never happened, though, because the final approval committee was terrified of my Queerness, of how I interpreted Scripture through my experience as an oppressed Queerman in a hostile society, particularly a hostile Church, and how I understood a loving and redemptive God through that oppression. They trembled at how I would talk about the intrinsic connection between spirituality and sexuality, the importance of the body as Body, and sex as a Way to union with God long before any Gayman was writing, talking, or even thinking about this from a Queer perspective.  I talked on Sunday mornings in full vestments about erotic spirituality, and made the powers tremble. Immediately after the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago slashed and bloodied my Queer soul and left it to die in the streets, the next openly Queer candidates were ordained with little question.  I was the first such to run that gauntlet.  I led my Brothers and Sisters to their promised land of ordination in the Chicago Diocese.  I, however, was not meant to cross the river, because my priestly vocation lay elsewhere, in other things, in the life of my Tribe. It is not so much that I, like Moses, was not permitted into the Promised Land, because I had done nothing against my fellow human beings to be denied such a joy.  It is that ultimately, the Episcopal priesthood was not my Promised Land, so there really was not anything from which I was being kept.  It just was not where I belonged, and, sadly, because of the workings of a rabidly homophobic and heterosexist church, I had to experience some awful pain in order to find that out, as well as many awe-filled moments of awakening around that pain.  Today I belong to no church and have no connection to organized religion at all.  It's better that way.

The quotes at the beginning of each essay are wise words for me and may, or probably, have nothing whatever to do with what is in the essay.  The words are an important part of who I am, and so I in include them simply because I like them.  They are windows into the Myth.  The whole blog is a window through which you can look and see who I am and see who you are, see the intimacies and intricacies of my soul.  I have no secrets.  Incest survivors who have worked on themselves to recover that which was lost usually don't, the wounds created by the secrecy having closed.  My life in the Myth Of The Queerman is ultimately that which helped my wounds to close, and which, ultimately, allows me to live a life with no secrets.

I do not speak for any Queer person but myself.  I can speak for no other Man, and certainly no woman.  I have ideas about how we can be a Queer people in this world, because I know who I can be, who my friends have been and can be still and are yet to be even more, and I have a vision. That vision is, I well know, utopian.  I know that there is no one Queer community but, rather, many Queer communities.  I do believe, however, that there is Queer Spirit that binds all our communities, and there are certain Queer characteristics that we need to recognize in order to make the world a better place, in order to be the majicians who change society for the good, majicians who need to work very hard on ourselves so that we can work very hard on straight society, majicians who need to look deeply into what Carl Jung called our shadow, that part of psyche that we would rather not acknowledge but in which acknowledgement and understanding we can grow in our wholeness, our fullness as Queer human beings.  I am well aware that Gayness, in all its beauty, has its shadow, it dark side.

Also, using the language and work of Carl Jung, I speak of male and female archetypes, those symbols and images that are buried in our instincts and which belong to all peoples no matter what the culture.  They simply take different shapes, different forms depending upon that culture. We find them in myth and story.  For Gaymen, the archehypes of majician, warrior, king, and lover are paramount, but so are the archetypes of the mother, the maiden, the whore, and the crone. We possess them all. There are archetypes of light and archetypes of shadow.  As Mark Thompson in his book "Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1997) writes on page 13 about archetypes he says:

"Archetypes are structure-forming elements within the psyche, a treasury of crystalline seeds which give rise to the fantasies and mythological motifs informing our lives.  When activated, they release a great amount of creative energy.  However, archetypes are not the actual contents of the symbols or myths themselves;  they are the imprinted forms or parameters in which psychological material is organized and channeled.  Thus, any given  archetype can find numerous expressions.  The mother archetype, for example, includes not only our real mother but all mother figures ranging from positive to negative--from the Virgin Mary to Medusa."

It is partly through my own inner work with these archetypes that I know in the depths of my soul that we are here exactly because we are Queer, and it is from that deep understanding from which I write.

Spirituality is a tricky business at best.  As a word, the depth of meaning has been so terribly lost because it is so overused and overworked, and even used in such completely wrong ways and contexts, that it oftentimes can have little meaning at all.  So many people say, "Well, I'm not religious but I'm deeply spiritual."  What does that mean, I wonder?  Certainly what it means to those who say it is not what it might mean to me.  We might be poles apart.  Spirituality is colored by one's own experiences, sufferings, joys, epiphanies, sorrows, celebrations, and upbringings in religions of origin.  Spiritual paths are myriad.  True spiritual paths lead us to lives of justice, lives of politics, that is, the interaction between people, and my own spirituality has informed my political life also since 1965 when I had the courage to come out of my dark and terrifying closet when there was no real support system in place, when very few LGBT people anywhere in the country were publicly out.

It was my coming out in 1965 and my work in the Civil Rights Movement, a movement in which I knew my own civil rights were being denied, that led me perhaps in my karma to be at Sheridan Square, in front of the Stonewall Inn, on the night of June 27, 1969, perhaps one of the most spirit-filled and glorious moments of my life, that night of riot, as were the days and nights of passionate rage and solidarity of spirit that followed.  My radical political action of coming out at age 18 in the face of rampant opposition from my Queer friends and peers in 1965, and the political acting out of 23 years of Queer rage at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 were not political for the sake of politics, but for the sake of spirit, for the sake of divine justice, not just for others, but, finally, for myself.

We cannot live in this world without being touched somewhere by teachings of at least a few of the world's great spiritual paths, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism and, I must admit reluctantly, the fast food, quick fix spirituality of New Ageism, and even some of the more mystical esoteric ones the come out of those such as the spirituality of the Sufi or Wicca.  Even the alleged atheism of the Queer communities is a valid spiritual path.  It is spiritual because it is alive and lived by those who breathe, and, I believe, if we breathe, we are by definition spiritual.  One's spirituality can also be informed by the inner work of individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, spiritual direction, 12-step programs, and support groups of all kinds,  For myself, I have spent decades studying the great religions of the world, reading their holy books, talking to devotees who have practiced their spiritual inner work throughout their lives and were kind and gracious enough to share their wisdom with me.  I have sat, albeit at time in physical discomfort, at the feet of great teachers, listening and trying to take in their wisdom and lived experience.  I have been through the ritual process of initiation into Queermanhood, living in some eternal moments of timeless Time with some of my beloved Brothers, feeling enrobed and molecularly filled with the divine love and blessing of the Mother and the Father, surrounded by and filled with a thoroughly Queermale love and sexuality in tribal nakedness, a classic tribal process which I as a Western man never thought I possibly could experience but did by divine grace, and in which I forgave my father his sin, sitting for a while in a sweat lodge with my naked Brothers during my full forty-eight hours in liminal space wherein there was for me no sexual charge or trigger of my addiction in any way.  This was ecstasy.

Since my childhood in a nominally Jewish household, searching for a truth which was present neither there nor in the religious teaching I received at the synagogue once each week, I began reading about religions of the East in high school and found great wisdom and understanding of a Way in the "Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu, and buy using the "I Ching" to put some order into my emotionally and psychologically chaotic and painful life as an adolescent Queerboy, suffering the inner torment of internalized homophobia, of that fear and self-loathing, trembling in a world filled to the brim with hostility. Had it not been for my brother's inquiring mind, these books would not have been available to me as the gift they were.  I would sit on the floor very quietly in my bedroom , after hours of tedious practice at the piano, initially using coins for the work, but then using sticks, gathering them in one hand, counting them off with the other, dividing them, counting them off, dividing them, and counting again until I cast the Kua for the day.  I would read the associated text, and feel all the blame laid on me just for being alive lifted off my shoulders by the words "no blame".  Looking back on it now, I know that I understood very little about this ancient text, but between the two, the "Tao Te Ching" and the "I Ching" and living the life of seeming insanity in a house of monsters, I understood paradox very clearly as an adolescent, and that has served me well during the course of my spiritual journey into and through my Queer adulthood.  

As a consequence of this understanding of paradox, I have a firm faith in God/dess and if God/dess is anything, God/dess is the simplicity of the complexity of paradox.  Light in darkness, darkness in light, separate but indistinguishable, yet transcending both.  Masculine in feminine, feminine in masculine, separate but indistinguishable, yet transcending both.  Heat in cold, cold in heat, separate yet indistinguishable, yet transcending both.  Not one, not two, but One that is two that is neither.  This is the spirituality of the Mother, the One who is both Mother and Father, and yet thoroughly non-dualistic, non-polarized.  This is Queer consciousness which comes from before polarity began in the creation myths of so many cultures.  For me, not the either/or spirituality  and psyche of the incest victim, but the both/and spirituality and psyche of the incest survivor, and yet neither because both are One.  I speak of this when I write of mystical sex and erotic spirituality, and the complete and utter union that is possible, even attainable, between our Queer Body/Spirits and God/dess, not just a place centered in body, of peace and prayer, but of ecstatic, blissful bodily/spiritual oneness with the One wherein we become that which we seek and there is no boundary, no identifiable distinction between human and divine, sacred and profane, because there is nothing between which to distinguish. This kind of ineffable love can only come from the Mother, can only come from being in the Mother, can only come from becoming the Mother, and I would suggest that the purpose of Queer people here on Earth is to bring back to this dangerous, dark, war-torn, environmentally raped world of the shadow of the masculine, the light of the divine feminine, the light of the Mother, for it is only in being in harmony with Her who is all harmony with all things and contains all things that this world can be saved from destruction and annihilation.  I continue this observation and unpack this powerful conviction later in the body of the blog.

Though born a Jew, I was baptized a Christian on the third Sunday in Advent, September 12, 1976, by the Rev. James Edward Avery of the United Church of Christ, a holy Queerman of whom I speak later in this work.  The world lost a glorious light, a brilliant Queer light, when James died an untimely death from an asthma attack at a very young age ten years ago in Chicago.  A dear friend, confident, mentor, and teacher of Queerness and spirituality, a teacher of the esoteric words of the Great Lover, Jesus, I found, through Jim, the rich words of Jesus regarding justice and my own humanity, regarding right relationship and mutuality, regarding healing and peace, and finally regarding redemption through divine Love, which is, after all, Justice.  Certainly, these things are not uncommon in other spiritual teachings, but Jesus' words spoke to me in a very organic way that required little translation into my Western experience and consciousness.

My spirituality is also informed by both the processes of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, having been engaged in the latter with one spiritual director as his directee from 1983 to 2005 and the former on and off since 1964 with a number of brilliant, wise and loving psychotherapists, and then in my own private practice as a spiritual director with my own directess since 1989.  My nine years of focused recovery work from incest in the 1980's shaped me spiritually in profound ways, as did my grace-filled work with my dying Brothers in the AIDS community during the Death Years of the 1980's and 1990's, and ultimately my own experiences with the Death Crone in AIDS-related illnesses during the last five years of the 20th century and into the first two years of the 21st.  AIDS is both the worst thing that ever happened to me and the best. Through it I have come to know the truth of my own mortality, a truth only those who face terminal illness can come to, and we are, relatively, rare.  The lived knowledge of my mortality has changed me profoundly in ways that bring me into a place of greater compassion and understanding of my fellow human beings.  I bring that profound change into my work as a spiritual director and counselor. 

Like the expatriated Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh whose writings have taught me so much, I find that the connections between the teaching of Jesus and the teachings of the Buddha are not dissimilar on many levels.  Both the Gospels and the Buddhist Sutras speak of justice, understanding, compassion, loving-kindness, humility, awakening, and right relationship. It is thought by many scholars that the years of Jesus' disappearance , in fact, were spent in India and Tibet where he studied Buddhism.  If I have to label myself anything, which I don't like doing but do when I have to, when the world needs me to for its own need to clarify my belief system in their own minds, I would say the I am a Buddhist Christian Jew who takes great comfort in the Tao and who moves all of those teachings through my understanding of and life in Queer Spirit, which is to say in the Mother, which I hope is the justice-filled, humble, compassionate and now simpler life of a teacher, although I am told by those I trust that in my feelings and in my psyche, I am anything but simple.  But then being Queer in a world where the larger majority is not, is not a simple thing, so, I suppose, that hose I trust are correct in the assessment.

One weekend I was on a retreat called "Gay Spirit".  When it came time of me to tell my story, the room silenced and the Men, both younger and older, were, again I am told, "enraptured and adoring", and after I spoke, one of the older Queermen in the group said, "You are a tribal elder, Roger, carrying with you an oral tradition and history, a spirit which you feel and live, which cannot be found in any textbook, and you love who you are with a great love.  You teach us to love ourselves.  You teach us about life as Queermen as you live yours in Queer Spirit.  You need to be heard".  My friend Kerry had been telling me to write for a number of years now, because, he said, I have some very important things to say.  Perhaps I have.  Perhaps i have not. I think I have, but to know I have would be a spiritual arrogance that comes close to hubris, and the gods never like hubris.  Often, in my knowledge of my knowledge which is that I have none at all really, I ask God to keep me from hubris, from being arrogant.  Regarding these written thoughts, as is said in 12-step programs, "Take what you like and leave the rest".  After 62 years of Queer life, I am finally able to write.

The opinions and beliefs expressed here are perhaps often quirky and radical and even somewhat siliy or outlandish, but I hold them dear, and I am passionate about them.  I hold who we are as a people dear, and I am passionate about us.  I know in the depths of my soul that we are here exactly because we are Queer, that we are utterly loved by the divine exactly because we are Queer, not in spite of it, and it is from the deep understanding of and passionate conviction in Queerlife from which I write.  I am, hopefully, expressing much of who I truly am through these ideas and the experiences that informed them.  My job on this Earth has always been to gather community and create change, to teach inner awareness of feelings and the fullness of self, either through my musical performance since the age of twelve, or through my speech as a music teacher, public speaker, and former preacher.  In this way, I have always been a teacher/priest.  I hope that my writing now carries on that vocation of teaching through compassionate self-revelation, a vocation that was given to me by my Great Lover, and by her holiness the Mother, and one for which I am eternally grateful.


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