How Harvard, Sex, Drugs, and Integral Philosophy
Drove Me Crazy and Brought Me Back to God
By Joe Perez, Shambala Publications, ISBN 978-1-59030-418-1, 328 pages, paperback original, $16.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
As founder and manager, for some four years, of the Gay Spirituality & Culture Weblog that originated around the 2004 Gay Spirit Summit, Joe Perez has made himself a significant place in the Gay spirituality movement. His blog has offered an ongoing series of comments and reactions to news and media events about our issues. Now in this personal memoir and philosophical autobiography he shares the events that brought him to an intellectually rigorous and psychologically satisfying understanding of homosexuality as a spiritual/philosophical experience.
An important part of Perez’s story is his discovery of the elaborate philosophical system of synthesizer extraordinaire Ken Wilbur. Perez has become an exponent for Wilbur’s ideas in the Gay context. And Wilbur, in turn, has provided a Foreword to Soulfully Gay. One might quibble with why Wilbur begins by emphatically declaring that he himself is not Gay, but he ends the Foreword with a wonderful statement about Perez’s process and accomplishment. Wilbur says that because Joe has learned through his life experience to feel “deeply, deeply okay about himself,” he is able to say yes to life and that has made Joe’s life into a work of art.
What a wonderful thing to be able to say about yourself—and, even better, to have one of your heroes and teachers say about you!
Soulfully Gay is itself a work of art. It is a sort of diary, organized by date, through which Perez recounts to himself—and his readers, of course—the events that have led him from being a devout Catholic youth from a working class background to a Harvard student studying comparative religion to sexual rebel and crystal meth user to AIDS survivor and then AIDS patient himself to mental patient to mystic to philosopher. It comes as no surprise, then that one of the crucial events in his life was a nervous breakdown during which he imagined his life was being made into a movie called The Seeker. The most skillful, soulful story-telling gimmick of the book is the gradual unreeling of this narrative, building up to a final climax that is part Buddhist mystic vision and part Thelma & Louise.
Tucked within the autobiography are several very interesting discussions of Gay spirituality. Perez’s primary insight, he says—and I’d agree—is what he calls “The Importance of Being Gay.” In a series of six short essays he argues that there are four universal, archetypal patterns that necessarily play out in human consciousness. These are masculine, feminine, other-directed and same-directed. Love, he says, is not just an emotion or a sexual dynamic, but rather a manifestation of the soul’s desire to be reunited with God—and this is how God loves: in love of others (heterophilia) and in love of self (homophilia). It is these archetypal patterns that result in humans being male, female, heterosexual and homosexual. The model very nicely places homosexuality as simply part of the way things are. And that insight eases homophobia and fear. Another layer of his model includes how fear is also other-directed and same-directed. Either way it is assuaged with truth.
Developing a systematic approach to determining truth is the main thrust of Ken Wilbur’s philosophy (which he boldly calls in one of his book titles A Theory of Everything). And Perez is following in his path. Unfortunately, this reviewer thinks, he follows Wilbur in the pattern of making up acronyms for wide-ranging concepts. Wilbur calls his integral theory of everything AQAL (meaning “all quadrants, all levels”—and including all lines, all states, and all types). Perez calls his vision of how Gayness fits into the universal patterns T.I.O.B.G. (“the importance of being Gay”). This reader doesn’t care for the acronyms; but thoroughly agrees with Wilbur’s and Joe Perez’s process of seeking a higher and higher perspective, of being “all” inclusive.
In this reviewer’s point of view, Perez rightly argues all through the book that homosexuality has to be understood from the higher perspective (called God) not just from within human prejudice.
The Gay Spirit Summit occurred during the period of this diary, and Joe “blogged” the Summit. Though it doesn’t provide specific details, Soulfully Gay does document that event.
One of the missions Joe Perez adopted for himself while he was managing the Gay Spiritual & Culture blog was the very practical task of starting up a recognizably Gay celebration of the winter solstice and New Year. He explains that in 1966 the African-American cultural holiday Kwanzaa was initiated by one man, Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga; now it is celebrated by millions. Couldn’t one person, similarly, create a Gay equivalent in that same spirit? Perez reports on his dialogues with other Gay spiritual leaders about establishing such a parallel Gay holiday (this reviewer was honored to have been included in that dialogue). He gives an account of a Yuletide/Rainbow New Year/Bridge of Light ritual he designed and conducted. Perhaps his vision will still come about—in part because it’s now immortalized in this book.
The weblog/diary style creates a sort of disjointed organization. Instead of by topic, ideas are presented by chronology. Thus comments about books he’s read or web-articles he’s written or insights he’s had tend to sound reactive and sometimes argumentative, rather than logical and sequential. But, of course, the reality of all our lives is that we live chronologically and everything’s happening to us disjointedly and reactively. So the very characteristic of the book’s fault could also be its strength.
By using the diary style, Perez is able to insert his life into his thought and share the events that surround the ideas and gives them reality. His struggle to be a good person and to live life the right way, to cope with his HIV status, to find love comes across vividly. The philosophical stuff is part of his process. It really does matter what you think.
And that’s the message he brings about Gayness, about AIDS and health, about the various issues of Gay culture and community: the philosophical, spiritual ideas really matter. That’s what being “soulfully Gay” is about—finding your Gayness in your soul and your soul in its rightful place in the universe AQAL.
And that’s T.I.O.B.G. to you!
This is a good read. Even when Perez goes off on a tangent, his ideas and insights are interesting, insightful, and appealing.
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One thought on “WC74 Review of Soulfully Gay”
A somewhat belated but heartfelt and warm thanks, Toby, for sharing your thoughts on my book. Your insights and perspective is welcome and helps me to see myself more clearly. Best wishes to you always.