(A post written initially for my former column at Good Men Project in 2015.)
The notion that the soul of gay people is somehow different, or special, perpetuates a focus on our differences rather than how we are really the same.
“You never write about being gay,” an activist once leveled his charge at me. “Don’t you think you have something very important to offer in your work, as a role model to your readers, by sharing your sexuality?”
Frankly, no, I don’t.
Let me be clear. I have been “out” since I was a 20-year old preppy twink in West Hollywood (that was at least three lifetimes ago). Even in my early twenties, as I wrestled with what it meant to be a man, a gay one no less, it seemed to me that my sexuality was not the defining factor of masculinity or manhood. It felt much more important to be recognized as an artist, a healer, a writer—or simply a good, caring person—than it did to be gay.
For two decades, I have worked with men in therapeutic and transformational contexts: initially as an Integrative massage therapist, as a body-centered therapist (somatic psychology and trauma work), and as a facilitator of mens’ groups and wilderness-based soul work (i.e. “rites of passage” and modern interpretations of the pan-cultural “vision quest”). In all this, I have been out. And while it has enabled me to share a common bond with the gay men I’ve worked with, it has not been essential to my work.
My partner of twenty-five years is equally out and visible. As the executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, he was recently featured in Lei (a nationally distributed, award-winning travel magazine focusing on gay travel to Hawaii & local LGBT culture), and the article contained photos of us at home in Kailua, our English Whippets, etcetera. Neither my mate nor I are “off the radar” as a gay couple, but what I choose to omit from my broader-scale writing is because I’m guided by a deeper belief as to what I feel is more important.
Most of the work I do in the world—a recent book, my various other writings, workshops and coaching—has centered on soul and what it means to be fully human, as in activating our deepest potential. I define “soul” as the unique blueprint of our being, the authentically creative essence of who we are (or are meant to become). And I differentiate that from spirit, which I perceive as the transcendent energy that connects us to everything in the Cosmos. While it’s true that we are all just stardust of electrons and protons, each one of us is something much more—something essential yet indescribable.
There is a notion among “spiritual” gay men that our very soul is different. Mostly unspoken in this belief is the attitude that we are special, and a bit (or a lot) more evolved than our straight brothers—a slight smugness that somehow we’re further ahead on the journey. It’s an idea that I find self-congratulatory and off-putting. Slightly dangerous, even.
While I do think that gay men carry a unique gift in that we are often able to integrate the more “feminine” aspects of self—typically those receptive, nurturing qualities and an appreciation of beauty—such balance isn’t always the case. Countless gay men pathologically reject their feminine aspect and adopt a one-dimensional, hyper-masculine persona (a phenomenon that deserves a separate article in its own right). However, it is not a “gay soul” that makes us different.
Soul itself is beyond gender and sexual orientation, neither masculine nor feminine. Non-dual, non binary, soul simply is. We come into the world with it as our animating spark, and I personally don’t believe it is what imprints us as gay or straight (or something in between).
Gender identification is an early developmental task, discussed at some length in my book. As infants and children, our soul is expansive and wide open, but then slowly we learn our roles as little boys and girls; the essential, creative blueprint is overlaid with a thick mesh of familial, societal and cultural programming. As we grow into adolescence and our sexual orientation, a provisional identity and ego become our guiding strategies rather than the soul, and remain so until much later in life—unless we are the ones, like artists, who hear the soul’s summons and follow it early on.
Thirty some years ago, Don Clark, Ph.D., wrote the pioneering book, Loving Someone Gay. As I struggled to “come out,” my mother, a psychotherapist in California, handed it to me after reading it herself. Thanks, mom. What struck me most about the work, the morsel that I have since carried in a pocket for decades, was Clark’s description that coming out is not a simple act of courage, but rather a complex, multistage process.
Honestly, I don’t recall all the steps, but I think there were seven. What most of us consider coming out is actually only Step 3, which is followed by an embrace of militant activism and community pride in Stage 4. For most people, that essentially marks the end of the journey—we’re out and proud!—though there are still important steps remaining, and most don’t get to them. Clark placed the ultimate stage of coming out as the realization that our sexuality doesn’t really matter; in the heart, we’re all the same.
Now before I am blasted for paraphrasing Dr. Clark’s model and my words being taken out of context, this is NOT to say that the essential work of activists in the middle coming out stages isn’t important. It is essential. The pioneering footsteps of our gay forebears, the Stonewall generation, and the current activism for equal rights, gay marriage, and parenthood is nothing short of vital and inspiring.
Yet really what we’re fighting for is the embodiment of that final stage: the realization that sexuality doesn’t matter, that we’re all equal, and underneath the surface—sexuality, gender, color—essentially the same.
And while much has been made of celebrating diversity, I find myself musing these days ever more on what it would be like to celebrate unity instead, especially because it seems so desperately lacking in our world. What if we could focus on how we are the same, rather than how we are different … ?
Back to the soul. In my weekly post, the Soul Artist Journal, I don’t focus on anything gay or even evolving the masculine; I’m casting my net a bit wider than that. Regardless of our sexuality, the essence of becoming a conscious, aware person and appreciating that transformational journey is similar for all of us. The prejudices and discrimination we face may be different, but in the heart and soul, we are all struggling to embody what it means to be fully human.
In writing The Bones and Breath: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine, and the Wild Soul (White Cloud Press, 2014), I wanted to craft a book that was inclusive, rather than exclusive. The heteronormativity of most spiritual/soulful books—to say nothing of “men’s books”—has long left me feeling disenfranchised. In terms of the soul and evolved masculinity, as I sit and marvel at the fiery glow of sunset, whether the hand I hold is that of another man is mostly irrelevant. Like the soul and awareness, love simply is.
Certainly, embracing and celebrating our sexuality—however we express it—is an essential part of living an authentic life (as in one of my recent posts, “Sex and Soul: A Man’s Journey“). Yet as an archetype, the Sacred Masculine has nothing to do with who we love, only how we love; meaning, in the most open-hearted way possible. And I offer that life, irrespective of our sexual orientation, is an ongoing celebration of deliciously human moments—from being hotly tangled up naked in the sheets to feeding the little birds along the porch’s wooden railing on an autumn morning.
Like nature, the soul is interconnected; nothing is separate. The soulful journey is about rediscovering passion and connection with the larger story. Finding/creating authentic work that delivers a sense of meaning. Making a difference in the world and savoring the simple human moments of the day. These have everything to do with the preciousness of life, of feeling deeply with a compassionate heart, and trusting the strange currents of mystery—and they are far beyond gender or sexuality.
You may be straight. Or gay. Or dancing somewhere in between in a zone that defies convenient, flimsy labels. Whoever you are, and whomever you love, may you realize that in matters of heart and soul, we are far more alike than we are different. I say that your one mission as a man is to become the most authentic, bravest version of yourself possible—the Sacred Masculine—and to offer something of beauty and value to the world.
I wonder, brother, what will you bring?