A reader comment on stretching sexual boundaries

Stretching
Photo Credit: ElvertBarnes

As much as I notice all the things that Facebook gets wrong, it’s worth pointing out something that it gets very much right. In terms of the user profile, it allows members to select a sexual preference without forcing them to select a particular label (gay, bi, queer, etc.), but simply by choosing to indicate whether they are interested in women, men, both, or unspecified. Simple and useful.

One thing it forces the average straight guy or gal to do is to consider stating publicly that they are ONLY interested in members of the opposite sex (or at least implying that much). Having to check the box next to “Interested in:” raises the possibility of sexual fluidity in a way that can be awkward especially for men.

Women indicate an interest in women many times more often on Facebook than men indicate an interest in men, even though some research suggests that homosexuality is more prevalent in men than in women. This is probably attributable to the higher degree of social stigma for men to indicate an interest in men. But increasingly today, men who are predominantly heterosexual are facing the choice of indicating a bisexual interest whenever they choose for as long as they choose. The social stigmas are fading, and indications are that in the U.S. at least there is increasing tolerance for men to experiment sexually.

I last addressed this topic with two posts in October on my own efforts to reflect on sexual fluidity in my experience. I suggested that “Fluid” might emerge as a new term to replace older terms for sexual orientation such as gay and straight:

Fluidity is not merely about the gender of one’s sexual partner. It’s about appreciating the nuances and complexities of attraction, a willingness to follow one’s attention into spontaneous enjoyment of whatever arises, without preconceptions. It’s about purity insofar as it insists on a moment-to-moment innocence and friendliness to discovery. It’s about worth insofar as it is grounded in the source of all worth, the sacred force of all life in the cosmos.

As a practical matter, the use of Fluid as a label for sexual identity may face obstacles. Unlike, say, “Bisexual” “Poly,” or even “Pansexual,” the term is a new use of an old word, a usage not recognized in the culture today; and if the term is used in connection with sexuality, as I have noted it is generally thought to refer to the ability of some women and men to be attracted to different genders at different times in their lives (an aspect of the Fluid identity which is not the most important thing).

However, the lack of general awareness of a Fluid identity could be beneficial. The label could be taken up as a moniker especially well suited for post-conventional sexual identities, a way of describing sexual identity not in gross terms (i.e., by the genitalia of one’s object of desire), not merely in subtle terms (i.e., the masculine essence or feminine essence of one’s partner), but in causal terms (i.e., identification with the ground of Being) and nondual terms (i.e., the indistinct force of Eros itself expressing itself through the uniqueness of one’s object of desire).

This post caught a readers attention. He writes:

I was interested to read your post on sexual fluidity in men. It strikes me as true for myself as a man engaged in opening his mind to the world.

I always considered myself straight, and spent a lot of time in life engaging with women as lovers. I was married, since-divorced, and afterwards began to give voice slowly to thoughts I had about being sexually attracted to men. After several years of this questioning, I began to speak it aloud recently, and I have opened a pandora’s box of intense feeling with regard to other men – alienation from them, attraction to and admiration of their bodies, fear, desire, and fundamentally the glimmerings of a closer intimacy with them – and my own father – than I had ever had in the past. In the process I myself feel more like a man in many ways, more intense, more sexual – and not only towards men but towards women.

Continue reading “A reader comment on stretching sexual boundaries”

Advice to Young Gays, Queers, and Homophiles

 

Source: samm4mrox on Flickr

Note: During this BETA period of the blog, I will occasionally be offering selections from my recent writings. This selection is reprinted from Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala). All Rights Reserved.

Today, a friend forwarded me a link to a blog by a young man in his early twenties who describes himself as a Christian and says he’s “turning away from homosexuality and toward God.” What can I say to a young Christian, when I myself have chosen a path outside the institutional religion?

The first thing that comes to mind for me to say to a young man in this situation is that I will not preach to you. I will not tell you that once you learn to accept your gayness you will be happier. I will not encourage you to join a gay Christian church or give any other sort of unsolicited advice. There are plenty of well-intentioned folks who are sure to try to fix the way you are. I don’t think you need to hear another voice encouraging you to just keep your chin up and be happy.

The second thing that comes to mind is to tell you that whatever choices you make about how to express or not express your sexuality, you are a wonderful, beautiful, precious gift to the world. Be the gift that you are. Nobody else can bring that gift to the world except you.

Don’t just think about homosexuality. Feel what comes up for you around your sexuality. Be with your feelings, whatever they are. You can do no good by denying them. You may not know what those feelings are, and some of your deepest feelings may be so deeply buried that they are a mystery to you. Get help to be with your feelings from a therapist you are comfortable with and from friends with different points of view.

A word about friends: you are likely to change your opinions about God, the Bible, Christianity, homosexuality, sex, George W. Bush, and a whole host of other things many, many times. Your true friends will stick with you whether you are conservative or liberal, Christian or ex-Christian, gay or ex-gay. It’s a cliché, but your true friends will accept you for you.

You are on a difficult path—bringing together your spirituality and sexuality—and you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s okay to be frightened, confused, and unsure where to turn. It’s okay to question those who seem totally confident in their beliefs about homosexuality or Christianity. It’s okay to doubt the dogmas of gay activists. It’s okay to question the dogmas of the people in your Bible study group.

It’s okay to flip-flop in your attitudes toward homosexuality—one moment thinking it’s awesome with a hot man’s body pressed against yours and the next praying to God to make you straight. It’s okay to wonder if your faith (whether in God or the dogmas of gay community) is genuine or if you’re just kidding yourself.

What’s not okay is to latch on to certainties that promise to make your life easier if you will only deny a little bit of reality. What’s not okay is to just keep repeating something over and over again to yourself, figuring that if you just keep with it, you will eventually start to believe it.

It’s okay to not know what to think about your homosexuality or God or the Universe. I heard Thomas Moore say recently that he doesn’t know if everything in life happens for a reason. He said, “What I don’t know, I don’t know.” I liked the sound of that. Enter deeply into the profound mysteries of life. Don’t deny them. It’s not always necessary to try to figure them out. Just try to accept the state of unknowing.

Letter from a reader of Soulfully Gay

If you’re reading Soulfully Gay, you’ll come to a passage in Chapter 3 on advice to a questioning youth. Got this email recently and it blew me away…

Starting out, I’d prefer if you keep my name to yourself, but I had to write to you. A week or two ago, I was in a bookstore and spotted a single copy of your book on the shelf. I pulled it out, opened up to a page—and was somewhat shocked—because in that particular entry, you were writing about me. I used to write a blog about being gay / bi-sexual (whatever I am) and Christian at the same time, focusing on what I thought at the time was my path to becoming exgay. (I said something like turning away from homosexuality and toward god)

I’d probably still be on that path, but a little more than a year ago, I met someone. The blog entries became fewer and fewer as our relationship grew more and more. I love him; I’ve never loved anyone before. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I feel somewhat hypocritical—I’ve become what I told others I’d never become: just happy with who I am. Mostly. I’m not out to a lot of people. Mostly close friends. My church found out about my boy friend being gay (let me explain, they seem to think we’re just roommates and that he’s gay and I’m not) and one of the pastors made a huge deal out of it. My boy friend won’t go back to the church (I don’t blame him) and they told me I had to move out, or that I couldn’t do any of the leadership type things they had me doing. I haven’t been back to the church since then either, as much as I loved it there. It surprised me a lot, their reaction, being that it’s a hugely progressive group of over 2,000.

Anyway, I don’t really know why I’m writing to you. I told myself I would when I saw the entry. I don’t write the blog anymore, but have thought about starting a new one. Being that most of my friends before I met my boy friend are Christians, I can’t turn to them to talk about this stuff. Being in a relationship is hard enough, dating a guy for the first time in my life when everyone in my life tells me that’s wrong is, well, interesting, to say the least. It was nice to see what you wrote—I’d vaguely recalled reading it online, I think a while back. I’m sure I promptly dismissed it back then.

A dialogue with David Morrison and retrospective

I’ve been perusing my old stomping grounds on the web and came across a blast from the past. More than three years ago, I had a blog-a-log with conservative Roman Catholic and same-sex attracted David Morrison. The conversation began here and continued here. If I recall correctly, I had the last word.

Times change, though if we were to judge growth by the appearances of our blogs, it seems that perhaps I’ve changed a bit more than David. David’s still got the same Sed Contra blog, a traditionalist Roman Catholic spirituality blog with frequent incursions into moralizing against “the gay lifestyle,” and various other (mostly sexual) sins in US culture and the world at large. He does it in a way that’s somewhat less snarky and cruel than the ordinary way it’s done in the RC blogosphere, so he should be appreciated for that. Sed Contra is cultural critique, 1950s style, wrapped in 00’s accessories. I hope I don’t sound too negative–actually if Sed Contra weren’t any good I wouldn’t include it on my color-coded blogroll (see sidebar). In a blogosphere in constant motion, Sed Contra never seems to change.
Meanwhile, my blogs have gone through several reinventions (or “refreshes” as I prefer to say). My first blog, The Soulful Blogger, had a seeker and astrology student’s and angry ex-Catholic thing going for it. All the good stuff made it into my book Soulfully Gay, along with enough of the bad stuff to keep me honest and paint a realistic portrait of who I was at the time. Some of my 2003 and 2004 writing, like a brief excerpt from the blog-a-log with David, made it into the book.
Then, following a year of blogging The Soulful Blogger and finishing the book Soulfully Gay, came serious breakdowns (requiring two periods of institutionalization) and a remarkably brief six months or so of blogging hiatus. My follow-up blog, Rising Up, helped me to stretch my writer’s wings at a time when I was just learning to fly again. You can read the good stuff in a cheap ebook or POD book.
It was during this time of my life that it became clear to me that I didn’t share most of the animosity that many fellow gays feel towards “ex-gays” and religiously conservative gays. David’s one of the good guys. He’s just doing his best work in an area that I don’t happen to spend much time in–the conservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Gays who are offended by David’s writings are best advised to simply ignore him. I penned my thoughts on the positive role of religiously conservative gays for Rising Up. Here’s an example: “The role of conservative religionists…”
My third personal blogging incarnation (THIS blog), Until, gives me the flexibility to have a writer’s platform in an informal and experimental mode that I don’t have anywhere else. Lots of the posts are hit or miss, but I learn as much from every miss as from the hits. I don’t write much on homosexuality in this blog and tend to avoid writing about religious conservatives here. Done that; been there; moved on. And I’m busy enough as it is that my posts on Until are often only one or two per week, so I have to choose my topics carefully.
My current passion is in honing my writer’s voice and style in continuing to talk about spirituality, life in general, and exploring what it means to have an “integral” outlook. It’s an open secret that many of my posts are practice writes for my future work, Kronology, in which I use the Kronos mandala (a 12-pointed figure within a 30-tiered model of Spirit) to collect, organize, synthesize, explain, symbolize, and pay respect to Spirit.

To write well about Spirit, one must BE Spirit. One must incarnate the mystical Body of Christ, Light from Light. That takes work to express in a way that won’t get you thrown in jail or the psychiatric ward. And my blogs allow me to practice the role of teacher as well as student of Spirit. In 2007 and 2008, I also plan to write much more on my spiritual journey with Christianity … and my health struggles with HIV/AIDS.
I’ve continually refreshed the outer appearance of my blogs and gone through “phases” as I do in life itself. I try different things, see how they work, take what I like, and move on. David’s blog Sed Contra has probably done some of that, too, but more subtly. I’ve barely noticed the changes. He’s still writing regularly about his harmful shadow projections onto the gay community … and still surprising with beautiful attempts to make sense of the world.

Sometimes as an occasional visitor to Sed Contra, I stop by and hear a lecture from David. Here’s my impersonation: just LOOK at those filthy sexual sinners, Glory be, add them to your prayers and be glad like I am that celibacy is available to all of us as a wonderful gift from God. My oh my, too bad not everyone gets how wonderful celibacy can be, especially those 19 friends of mine I lost to AIDS. I love them so and remember them fondly, but I sure do wish they hadn’t had so much anal sex.Uh, not taking anything away from the beautiful poetry and sensitive imagination that often crops up from the pen of David Morrison, his blog is not my cup of tea. I rate it mythic-membership with synthetic essentialism undertones (translation). Moving on.

Why homosexuality is the hot button issue, right HERE, right NOW

See my response to Chris on GS&C here. My conclusion:

My own intuition says that homosexuality is the BIG issue today not out of coincidence or meaningless chance, but because homosexuality is Christianity’s biggest shadow. Christianity is a religion dominated by homophilic symbolism and a homophilic story about the Love of a Father and a Son and how one day it became creative and produced the Holy Spirit. Homophilia is the heart of the Christian message, more so than any other major religion on the planet. Christianity’s failure to look at that issue square in the eye is the real reason why this issue has reached a boiling point in our time.

As I’ve said before, Christianity is the most homophilic of religions. Thus, the length of its homophobic shadow is among the longest of all religions.

Against extreme outing

Let’s make it clear that Mike Rogers–of BlogActive noteriety–has taken outing too far. It’s a rather embarrassing spectacle with the appearance of having been manufactured by a blogger in love with attention and his own power. He seems to want to speak for all gays, but he certainly doesn’t speak me… or really for many of us at all, in my view.

Rogers has published a threatening and possibly illegal letter he wrote for a senator who he claims is an anti-gay hypocrite. What’s enough to count as an anti-gay hypocrite? In a footnote to the letter (yes, this letter has a footnote), Rogers says that voting to confirm Alito for the Supreme Court is enough to qualify a senator as anti-gay. For this terrible crime, Rogers appoints himself judge and jury to execute the “nuclear option” of post-modern gay activism: outing.

But this is patently ridiculous. Hypocrisy cannot be reduced to any disagreement with Mike Rogers’ personal political agenda for who should sit on the Supreme Court. (Note that I happen to agree with Rogers on Alito, but only arrived at this decision after careful deliberation. My decision ultimately turned on Alito’s views on the unitary executive, and not at all on his supposed positions on gay issues. When I was evaluating Alito’s record with an open mind, was I somehow a hypocrite, a sexual orientation traitor? Should I have been outed as a hypocrite? The very notion is insulting.)

Rogers’ post gives outing, indeed progressive gay politics itself, a bad name. That’s quite unfortunate in my opinion, because there are plenty of circumstances involving hypocrisy that justify outing. Not hypocrisy as Rogers would define it (merely being a gay Republican or a gay conservative). But true hypocrisy that actually causes manifest harm in the world. For example, the hypocrisy of a bishop in a church firing his subordinates for homosexuality while secretly engaging in gay sex. Or the hypocrisy of a politician who opposes gay civil rights legislation repeatedly for decades and often demonizes gays and lesbians in his speeches to secure the votes of those who hate gays.

Such extreme examples are rare, but they are real. When the lack of integrity of such public figures is discovered, nobody has an affirmative moral obligation to keep their immorality secret. Doing so makes one a party to the immorality. Outing can certainly be an acceptable moral choice, an option that may cause some pain to the subject of the scandal, but overall reduces suffering for the greatest number.

While some left-leaning gays want to out every politician who has sex with men and once voted against a national holiday for Lenin, some conservative gays would ban outing altogether, as if we are all morally obligated to be every dirty politician’s nanny, shielding him from reaping what he has sown. Their bizarre complaints against “nutso” leftists are as shrill as they are unconvincing. Sanity on the outing issue means ignoring politics as usual and looking beyond left and right.

 

About the book, Soulfully Gay

This week I’ve gotta get the paperwork back to the publisher to finalize the book deal. They asked me to write a 200 word description of Soulfully Gay as if it were going to be used on the back cover. Here’s my first draft:

Sex, Culture, Spirit. Sex and spirituality, faith and skepticism, morality and freedom, mysticism and madness. Joe Perez, a former student of comparative religion and philosophy at Harvard, writes at the intersection of these conflicts. A man struggling to understand the meaning of human sexuality, Perez uses his own homosexuality as the terrain for exploring … and ultimately resolving … these troubling conflicts in his life. The outcome of his search for understanding is a theory that places the ground of homosexuality (called gayness) at the root of human nature and the heart of religious revelation, and he traces the development of cultural attitudes towards gayness through levels or stages of increasing adequacy. From there he takes a fresh look at debates over morality, gay culture, political strategy, AIDS, and religion. And as he works out the implications of his theory in his own contemplative life, he discovers that he must tunnel into buried memories for a forgotten secret that could either help him reach wholeness or destroy his sanity.

 

Perez’s journey is shared in the form of journal entries and other short writings arranged chronologically. This book depicts the universal quest to be soulfully, gaily human.

Not sure that I’ll send this in to the publisher or not. If I do, I don’t know that they’ll use it. But it’s a start.

Will Anne Rice be excommunicated or denied communion by Roman Catholic officials?

Bestselling novelist Anne Rice’s high profile conversion to Roman Catholicism raises fascinating questions about the prognosis for progressives in a traditionalist church. It’s my understanding that Rice has converted to Roman Catholicism and she has taken public stands rejecting the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, gay marriage, birth control, and other hot button issues. She is also speaking publicly about her dissent, something that many traditionalists frown upon. Is there talk about excommunicating her or, at the very least, denying her communion? If so, does anyone have any Internet links? If not, why not, given the Church’s increasingly intolerant actions against Catholic public figures and others who dissent from the party line. I have no answers, just questions.

On homosexuality and politics, as short and simple as I can say it

Note that I begin by paraphrasing words used by Ken Wilber in another context.

How do liberals and conservatives differ on homosexuality? Ethics and politics are connected to the alleviation of suffering. If you ask a simple question–Why do homosexuals suffer?–you get two very different answers. The conservatives will say, homosexuals suffer because their homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, sinful, and sick; liberals will say, homosexuals suffer because of society’s homophobia, prejudice, and ignorance. Do you see the difference? Conservatives point to inner causes of suffering, blaming the self for moral failures; liberals say gays suffer because of other people.

An integral position on homosexuality begins by including the truth of the liberals and the conservatives, that we must find the causes of suffering for homosexuals in both self and society. When you ask, what’s the truth about the suffering of homosexuals in the inner dimensions, the most obvious truth is that people hold a wide range of different views, from the view that suffering comes from denying homosexual appetites, the notion that suffering comes from rejecting the moral law, the notion that suffering comes from internalized homophobia and lack of full self-acceptance, to the notion that suffering ultimately comes from a false identification of personal identity (including an identity as gay or lesbian) with the Self or Absolute Reality. In short, there is a spectrum of views that tend to correlate with a person’s level of personal, moral, and spiritual development. An integral approach does not deny the relative validity or truth of any of these partial views of suffering, but it does insist that they are partial. A STEAM-based ethics of homosexuality is neither liberal nor conservative, but profoundly concerned with alleviating suffering at all levels and all dimensions of the spiral of development.