All posts by Editors

WC #69 – Table of Contents


Generation Conversation

White Crane  Summer 2006 Issue
Number 69

This is the Table of Contents for this issue. Where online excerpts are available the title is linked.  Please note that we are a reader written, subscriber-dependent journal.  To read the magazine in its intirety, subscribe to White Crane.

Opening Words The Editors Dan Vera & Bo Young
Call for Submissions
In Memoriam: Eric Rofes
The Everyday Sacred "Witch Camp" by Donald Engstrom
PRAXIS “Elderlicious” by Andrew Ramer
Subscriber Information

A White Crane Interview with Ron Long by Toby Johnson

Gay Adults! Gay Adults! Where Are You?
by Donald Kilhefner
Hands Across Generations by Mark Thompson
The Elder, The Tiger, & The Youth by David Connelly
From Tribe To Tribe by Brian Gleason
Roots & Branches by David Schildkret
A New Moon & Stars for Mystery by Malcolm Boyd
Gay Leadership by Chris Bartlett
Pioneers: The Gay Men’s Health Project
Project Clinic  by Perry Brass
How To Never Grow Old by Andrew Hudson
Stories From A Gay Elder by Murray Edelman
Crossing the Gap by Ian Holloway
Elephants by Michael Wilford
Children and Gays by Jesse Monteagudo

Warm Feet by Matt Friday

Daniel Helminiak on Anti-Gay Equals Anti-God by Samuel D. Behrens
Kai North on Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
Steven LaVigne on Identities by Bazhe
Dan Vera on The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag: And Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era by Edward Field
Malcolm Boyd on Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out Of Ethics
by Richard Holloway
Steven LaVigne on Coming In by Urs Mattmann
Dan Vera on Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann
Bo Young on The New Gay Teenager by Ritch C. Savin-Williams

White Crane #69 – Editor’s Conversation


Opening Words:


for Fluency

Dan Vera & Bo Young

Bo: So what’s this issue about? We’ve done “Elders” before…why are we coming back to this? Or are we?

Dan: Well, we first thought the issue was about youth and elders. It still is in a way but it seems to have morphed from that. As I recall we wanted to explore the youth side of the issue.

Bo: I never saw it as an Elders thing, exactly…or youth, either….it was more about how we transmit ideas and learning from generation to generation.

Dan: We spoke about that transmission of culture. You gravitated to my idea of “coming out of erasure.” It’s one of the ever-present dynamics of gay experience in a dualistic, heterodox culture.

Bo: That’s three syllables too many for me. What do you mean by heterodox?

Dan: Well, hetero-orthodox. Heterosexuality as an orthodoxy.

Bo: And the dualism is the binary sex thing? Either or, male female,

Dan: Right. As opposed to that both-and, in-betweener reality that Harry [Hay] used to talk and write about. The concept dates back to Edward Carpenter and Magnus Hirshfeld and others.

Bo: Well…whatever it was we aimed for, it’s developed into a mentor, youth, generational connection idea in the writers’ views. So maybe the really interesting place is that place between the generations?

Dan: Yes, that place of gay adulthood, as Don Kilhefner calls it in the stunning essay he’s submitted.

Bo: That’s something I have always felt. That gay people get stuck in adolescence. That until we get to have a healthy adolescence, we’ll tend to return to that until we do. Not to mention the natural proclivity men have to being adolescent, anyway.

Dan: Yes. And since most of us come out later (although that’s changing somewhat) it’s adolescence not just delayed but elongated. It gets difficult because we wouldn’t really call for a normative life-line: “Here” is youth; “there” is adulthood. 

Bo: Right. Which I am wary of as an explanation because I loathe pathologizing things…. But some patterns are hard to deny, and there are clear psycho-social differences between “youth” and “adult,” behavioral and cognitive differences

Dan: I just heard an interesting story about friends we visited in Oregon. Her father recently came out in his 70s. He, like many gay people recently out of the closet, flew out of it and immediately changed his life in so many ways. He moved to Palm Springs and started dating guys and started sharing this with his daughters by email. Of course that took some adjustment on their part. I was able to give them the language for what he was going through. He was walking through that “pink cloud” of new gaiety. My friend was clear enough to recognize that her father, who had been sort of emotionally absent most of her life, was now really happy and emotional and open. So what’s adulthood to him? I mean in his case his coming out and embracing his true nature is perhaps the most adult thing even if it looks like a delayed adolescence to everyone else.

Bo: I think that’s the one real observable difference we can see in the new generation of “post-Stonewall” gay people. They may actually get to have a “normal” adolescence…of course, they have HIV to deal with, too. Reality bites.

Dan: I think one of the roles we hold with White Crane is the importance of retelling the story. It’s frustrating in a way because we’d like it to be over. We’d like to tell newbies, “Okay, read this book and you’ll discover everything there is to know.” But it doesn’t work like that. Perhaps a better analogue for our situation is pre-literate societies where culture and history are transmitted via storytelling. They retell the story again and again. Everyone learns how raven stole the sun or Spiderwoman fooled the trixter.

Bo: Yes. I agree with that image, too. And I’ve always seen White Crane as a talking circle, sharing stories. 

Dan: We have to tell the stories that are vital to remember. Of course each generation decides which stories still resonate. And stories are still being written (lived out) today. So we tell the story of Harvey who gathered the people together and got them to understand the importance of being known and heard. Harvey, who knew the importance of communities, speaking with each other and respecting each other in solidarity. Harvey, who was struck down by someone who was afraid of that and scared of the change of new people speaking in ways that seemed different to him. The story ends (or continues) with other people following Harvey’s lead and speaking their stories. That’s a modern story in that it’s Harvey Milk, but it’s a story that’s our story and a lot of young people have no idea that it ever occurred. That’s just one example.

Bo: It’s also about the collective wisdom of the circle creating something greater than the individual parts. It’s a conversation….and I think that’s what we hoped this issue would be, too….a conversation between generations. Maybe that should be the image for the cover…the image that’s on our business cards.

Dan: That sounds great. The image you’re talking about is John Steczenski’s beautiful painting of two men sitting across a table having a great conversation.  I think it is perfect in that the painting is, in fact, a self portrait. He was painting an image of himself having a conversation with himself. There’s an element of the cosmic twin in that. Also in a way that’s much like what we’re describing; the idea of subject-SUBJECT is about treating the “other” as the “beloved-who-is-myself.” How do we move from objectifying to subjectifying, treating the “other” as myself. His image is a conversation with himself and our “conversation” with following generations are in fact a conversation we are having with ourselves in the same way that those who came before us have spoken the world we live in into being.  I’m reminded of that lovely Maya Angelou line about our responsibility to one another. “Your way has been paid for. Now pay the way for another.” ‘

Bo: I have another Angelou

Dan: Yeah?

Bo: There is nothing as important as saying thank you to your elders. It’s what you say to God.

Dan: Perhaps the conversation we’re having about this issue can be posed as a question. When are people ready for White Crane? The truth is our readership tends to skew older (30 and above). We wanted to provide a place for youth voices to speak.

Bo: But if they’re not reading us, how will they know? One of the things I have always felt was important or unique about WC is that we don’t need to play to any particular group….and that we can be a repository of wisdom and experience.  We’re not particularly trying to capture any “demographic” other than the thoughtful or reflective demographic. Whenever they are ready, I hope we’re ready and still there for them. Do you ever just think….what are we so worked up about…it’s a magazine?

Dan: Sure. And then we get a letter from someone who’s been reminded of his self-worth from something he read in these pages. It is thrilling and humbling at the same time.

Bo: Sometimes I wonder…but then I remember it is journalism and how important that is in a free society. And as a reader-written journal, we really are practicing a very literal “journalism” too. Steven Silha talks about the “citizen journalist” and that’s precisely who we are.

Dan: We’re reporting on the deeper issues. What the philosopher Cornel West calls “existential deep sea diving.”

Bo: Reporting and recording it. Although I don’t see us reporting as much as reflecting. But it is definitely journalism…journaling is a critical part of this.

Dan: I’m not reading what we do in any other publication, and I’m as hungry for it as the next gay. When we get a piece like Toby’s interview with Ron Long, which just lights my internal billboard I am proud to be about this.

Bo: True enough…I don’t see what we do anywhere else

Dan: Gay people have ideas. Gay magazines rarely report them.

Bo: No…because now we’re just a marketing niche. And it was part of the first victory of gay lib….to be acknowledged as a market. But it’s a perfect example of being careful what you wish for. It’s gone haywire. It was part of the original strategy, to show economic power…but now I think we’re just another niche market that leaves out a lot of people, to say nothing of ideas
So…here’s a thought…. You and I sort of represent an intergenerational thing here ourselves. I’m nearly 20 years older than you…18. You could be my son.

Dan: Hmm…yeah. I hadn’t grokked that. But you’re right.

Bo: So whose stranger in this strange land, you or me? 🙂

Dan: Well my first response would be me. Because young people aren’t supposed to be reflective. At least that’s the line.  But I think it doesn’t pan out really. I think part of the human condition is the search for meaning. I think gay people are searching for meaning—maybe more so than other people—because the dominant narrative about why we’re here doesn’t speak to them (not that it speaks to the mainstream either).

Bo: It’s hard to be reflective when it isn’t prized That something Robert (Cove) Croonquist, who has started Youth Arts New York to teach says about teaching in the public schools: that they’re trying to educate thinking out of people. They don’t want an educated, reflective population. “They” want automatons who will provide a service at a minimal expense. There’s a reason a “C” is 80% as my friend Michael says.

Dan: What we’re talking about is Socrates. Know thyself.

Bo: And I think we’re trying to retain some tribal knowledge, too. 

Dan: I think some of the best advice I ever got was from a professor of mine. She was one of the first people I came out to and after listening to me and through all my blubbering and shaky-voiced admissions to being gay she quietly told me to take my time. She made it very clear that I didn’t have to figure out what it meant to be gay immediately. More than that she articulated the importance of figuring out what being gay meant to me.

Bo: Amen to that

Dan: I think that saved me a lot of heartache initially. Because after a lifetime of not fitting in to the dominant paradigm one comes out and is sort of asked to choose sides: (leather, bears, disco, attitude queens etcetera). I felt like after having released the straight-jacket of hetero-conformity a lot of folks were putting on new uniforms. It didn’t make sense.

Bo: I try to resist it when anyone starts with “All Gay men….anything”…especially when they’re all to quick to ascribe negative attributes as though being gay causes these things.

Dan: I think that at a certain point we all start to ask questions. That point comes at different times in people’s lives. What a horrible life if we never stopped to ask questions.

Bo: I know…everyone is always looking for answers, and the trick is coming up with good questions

Dan: On the other hand life is the best answer to our questions so maybe we just need to be open to how our lives lead us in the right directions. I’m not sure why it’s burbling up right now but there’s that lovely line in Whitman’s introduction of his Leaves of Grass:

“re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

What we’re going for is that kind of fluency.

Bo: And a conversation between generations. A generation of conversation.

Bo Young is Publisher and Editorial Director of White Crane.  Dan Vera is White Crane‘s Managing Editor.

Toby Johnson Interviews Ron Long

An Excerpt from the Summer Issue of White Crane

69_toby_ronlongintrvu The Courageous Heart
Toby Johnson speaks with Ron Long
On the Mythic  Dimensions of Daily Life
and our Call to the Defense of Life.

Ron Long is a teacher of religion at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He was a long-time active member of the Steering Committee (and past Chair) of the Gay Men’s Issues in Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion.

His recent book, Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective, is a survey of variations in the way religion has treated homosexuality through the years. He deals with a rich (though, he acknowledges, intentionally not exhaustive) variety of traditions: primitive Papua New Guinean, ancient Taoist Chinese, Classical Greek, Islamic Sufi, Biblical era Hebrew, Early Christian, Native American, Buddhist, down to modern gay political and cultural movements, including antidiscrimination laws, gays in the military, and gay marriage.

He argues that “the revolutionary importance of the contemporary gay rights movement lies in its—by no means clearly articulated as yet—revolutionary idea of gender, that male sexual receptivity is part of the repertoire of a normal, adult, fully masculine male.”

At last fall’s Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Long was honored with a seminar on his book held as an appreciation of his contribution to the field. The seminar, titled Sacred Tops and Manly Bottoms, included presentations by fellow academic theologians and gay community voices Paul J. Gorrell, Robert E. Goss, Jay E. Johnson, and Kathleen M. Sands.

White Crane Contributing Editor, Toby Johnson reviewed Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods in White Crane last year (issue #64). Toby offered, “I liked the book and the boldness of Long’s defense and praise of homosexual male sexuality. I noted that I’d just missed meeting him last year when the AAR held its convention in San Antonio and I was invited by Mark Jordan to attend the final evening wine and cheese reception for the LGBT Caucus. Feeling a little beat up, Long had left before the closing reception. He’d taken part in a panel discussion on same sex marriage and Biblical perspective that was supposed to have been a dignified discussion of gay positive interpretations of Christian teaching, but turned into a rude and disrespectful attack on the gay members of the panel by Religious Right opponents of any legitimacy for gay perspectives. It was a courageous thing to try to talk to those right wing religious leaders, and a kind of emotional martyrdom to get attacked by them and have one’s most heartfelt religious convictions dismissed.

“In what I conceived of as a digital, ‘virtual wine and cheese’—with a toast, it turned out, to the Nordic god Baldr—I communicated with Ron Long a few weeks after this year’s AAR event in his honor. “How did it feel to be the guest of honor instead of the victim of homophobic attack?” I asked. When he told me it was great fun being honored, but that it had not been all fun and frolic, I knew there was more to talk about.”

Ron: It was nice—exhilarating—to have one’s ideas be discussed in a professional, academic setting like that. But it’s also really exhausting and emotionally draining. I had to address all these observations, comments, and criticisms about what I’d written in my book. And, you know, I had to work hard to take the high road! (laughing).

Toby: These things can be contentious.

Ron: There was a lesbian feminist presenter who offered some strong criticisms of my affirmative approach to gay male sexuality. She objected to my claiming fullness of masculinity for gay men, arguing that thereby I was simply trying to assure them a place in the patriarchal palace built on the backs of the oppression of women. Well, I confessed to being phallocentric in arguing that gay men represent a new understanding of masculinity. But I am also saying that, at their best, they likewise represent a new (non-patriarchal) way of understanding masculine power.

Toby: Right, homosexuality is about love and affection between equals. The phallic worship is about honoring the flesh and blood incarnation of the beloved, not about establishing dominance.

Ron: Funny, she said she found that my account of male on male sex missed the "push-pull" of “real sex” by focusing on phallos worship instead! I am not sure how seriously she meant her own description of sex. But an off-hand, knee-jerk characterization is all the more telling. I’d say, on the contrary, it’s insisting that sex is a matter of pushing into someone else’s body that reinscribes the very patriarchal understanding of sex that I’m seeking to supplant.

What I argued in the book is that homosexuality challenges the notion that sex is about penetrating other bodies, doing something to someone else who has been rendered passive, that is, that sex is a kind of war. By its insistence on the masculinity of the penetrated party, the bottom, the male homosexual movement is a movement for the spiritual liberation of all men. Getting over the fear of homosexuality and passivity would allow all men to discover they can be lovers as well as soldiers. Indeed, that they can stop seeing sex as war and war as sexy.

Toby: The dominance behavior of some straight men is really unattractive. It’s certainly not sexy to gay sensibilities.

Ron: Males are visually keyed. We enjoy seeing the beauty of other bodies. Sex is a form of seeing through touch. Appearance matters. I think there’s a kind of manhood that’s grounded in a desire to “look good” and to avoid being seen by others as a brutta figura. This indeed anchors a sense of male honor—what I am coming to call ‘chivalric manhood.’

Toby: I’m interested in your idea of religion as creating “a mytho-poetic world to dwell in which encourages living boldly, lustily, and honorably?”

Ron: There are a number of themes that my thinking continues to circle round, although how I see them fitting together keeps changing over time. Male on male sex for me is all about delighting in, “worshipping,” one another’s maleness. And while sex may be an expression of love and a matter of pleasure, it is at the same time a repeated “initiation” into manhood, in which each is reassured of his manhood.

Toby: I think a lot of gay sexual connecting, especially when one’s young, is about developing your own sexual self-image and sense of self-worth as demonstrated by how other gay men respond to you. One of the potent images for the mystery of life is wondering what you look like to other people. You can never know that except indirectly. And so it’s also telling other men how you see them. I always thought “coming on” to another man was such a generous act. That’s different from how heterosexuals see it.

Ron: I am fascinated by male beauty and I know—and I think this may be generally true—I want to be as well as to have a beautiful male. Physical beauties do not necessarily embody moral beauty, but I think their physical beauty symbolizes the moral. I tend expect a good-looking guy to be a good person but, if I find he’s not, he begins to look less good. By the same token, moral goodness has a way of transfiguring the flesh.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from White Crane.
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White Crane #69 – Don Kilhefner “Gay Adults”

An Excerpt from the Summer 2006 Issue of White Crane


Gay Adults! Gay Adults! Where Are You?
Trusting the
River Of Life

By Don Kilhefner

"Given half a chance, the youth will take their steps and trust the river of life. The bigger question may be whether a village can be created that can truly accept and receive them. Those who wish to work as mentors and elders have to keep one eye on the youth—and another on conditions in the village."    Michael Meade, Elder & Storyteller

On a beautiful Saturday in October 2004 a major conference was held in Los Angeles entitled “Standing On The Bones of Our Ancestors: Exploring the Roles of Gay and Lesbian Tribal Elders.” It was sponsored by L.A.’s Gay Men’s Medicine Circle and the Gay and Lesbian Center. The Renburg Theater in Hollywood was packed. It was standing room only for a highly interactive day of dialogue across generations with ages ranging from 18 to 80. The gathering was built around the old understanding that if tribal elders are lost, adults will be lost; and if tribal adults are lost, youth will be lost.

The very next day I attended Malcolm Boyd’s 80th birthday celebration at the cathedral hosted by Bishop Bruno. At the event a bright, 30-something, gay man, who produces programs on environmental issues for National Public Radio, came up to me to talk about the conference which he had attended the previous day. Enthusiastically he shared that he had never heard of the concept of a “gay adult” which I had talked about at some length at the conference and he found it intriguing. He always heard people talking about “older gays” and “younger gays” but he had never heard of gay men having an adult stage of development. At first I though he was just putting me on, joking with me, a little gay guerrilla theater. And then, in shock and awe, I realized he was speaking to me seriously and truthfully. It has become one of the pivotal conversations shaping my recent work in the gay community.

Recently I was having dinner in West Hollywood with a valued, long-time friend who in 1972, right out of Yale, became involved in the radical Gay Liberation movement in Los Angeles and currently is a cultural editor at the New York Times. I shared with him the above conversation about gay adults and its profound impact on me. Much to my surprise he also replied that he always hears gay people in New York City talking about “older” and “younger” gays and also wondered why so many avoid the use of the word “gay adult.”


Carl Jung first coined the term “archetypal.” He used it to mean intrinsic images and patterns of behavior that are found everywhere in our species—hero, warrior, wise old man, healer, trickster. In other words, for something to be archetypal it must be found in all periods of history and in virtually every culture. Cultural anthropologists tell us that whenever and wherever humans are found there seems to be a patterning of life into four stages called youth, adult, elder, and ancestor. Moreover, each of these stages have significant social roles to play in the village. There is a profound and fundamental interdependence between these stages and societal roles upon which the health and vitality of the village or tribe are largely based. For the sake of simplicity, one might say ancestors look out for our welfare and protection in this lifetime both on an individual and tribal level. They carry a vast and rich storehouse of knowledge which shamans, dream-workers, and vision seekers in the tribe can access directly if necessity arises. 

Elders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the village (Jung called them spiritual fathers and mothers). They facilitate the transmission of a certain type of spiritual information, knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next. Elders think about themselves, about conditions in the village, and about seven generations yet to come. They carry external authority, internal authority and, due to close proximity, ancestor authority. You cannot have an alive and healthy community unless there are elders consciously doing eldering. Unfortunately in the gay community today men simply become “olders” not “elders.” Generally they retire, disappear, or are discarded just when they are most needed and most valuable to those coming after them.

Adults are responsible for the material well-being of the village. Largely they provide for the economic vitality and physical survival of the community. Adults raise the young, protect the community, make sure certain ceremonies are performed, initiate young men in manhood (adulthood), and pass onto youth practical information and lived knowledge. Adults care about themselves and about something larger than themselves—the state of the community or tribe. From a vantage point of 40 consecutive years of frontline work in the gay community, I suggest that it is the gay adult that is now largely missing from the community picture (along with conscious gay elders) and his absence is having serious, negative consequences to our communal and spiritual evolution as a people. In the late 19th century before the young Vivekananda and the other young men showed up at the Kali temple in Calcutta, Ramakrishna would go up on the temple roof and shout “Boys! Boys! Where are you?” in all directions. Eventually they showed up. Sometimes in anger and frustration, I want to climb up on the roof of the local White Party and shout into the four directions: “Gay adults! Gay adults! Where are you?”

Youth symbolizes the future of the tribe and any healthy community will treat the ripening of its young people with the utmost seriousness, and attention, in the process showing respect towards the future and, particularly, to those who went before (ancestors). In youth the central organizing principles are having fun, adventure and screwing up, learning about the opening of the heart and sex, and seeding creative imagination and exciting possibilities for the future. In our culture youth is self-absorbed, thinking largely only about himself. On a 21-year old this youthful narcissism seems age-appropriate and even charming if one does not need to be around it too much. On a 41 year old it looks grotesque. Without the presence of conscious, functioning adults in the community, a self-absorbed youth can easily become a “lost boy”—lost in paint ball, video games, and cyber/cell phones; lost in Madonna groupie-hood; lost in the phrase “whatever.” The gay community is filled with them of every age. Bereft of adult support and encouragement to grow up and detached from ordinary reality, these “lost boys” find it nearly impossible to activate and fulfill their promise in the world and their gifts are often wasted.


Adults fulfill many important roles in the gay village. Here I will discuss three of those vital roles—blessing the gifts of the youth, providing mentoring to young men, and tending to the general material welfare of the village or tribe.

The poet Robert Bly once remarked that any man who is not blessing young men is cursing them. There are serious consequences in the gay community when there are no elders and adults present blessing the young. The most important is that youth gets disoriented and lost. Parents rarely do the blessing these days because they are hardly ever around anymore due to the consumer economy and credit card slavery. Moreover parents are often clueless because they never had their own gifts acknowledged. For most youth today the babysitter is the television set, the playmate is the video game, and the mentor is the computer—none of which will bless his gifts or even give a hill of beans about them. Young people cannot see their own genius and generally think they are rather dumb no matter how arrogant they act in public. The phrase I hear most often from the young gay men with whom I work is variations of: “I’m really stupid, aren’t I.” Remember, youth has little inner authority; for them all authority is external—parents, teachers, priests. Possessing inner authority is usually a hallmark of becoming an adult. If adults are not present helping them develop that inner authority, it may never happen, and their lives may truly be divided into younger gay and older gay with nothing in between. Our community will be impoverished as a result.

The way it works is that some adult whom the youth respects and trusts must acknowledge, name, and bless his gift (s) repeatedly. The major turning point of my life happened when I was in the 8th grade and it involved a blessing of my genius (from the Arabic word geni meaning “spirit”). I had planned to drop out of school in the end of the 8th grade to become a carpenter since to my 13 year old, pubescent-fevered brain the sexiest men seemed to be carpenters. One day in Social Studies class we were working on an assignment in class and my teacher, Mrs. Eula Mae Kline, was walking around helping the students. When she got to me she put her arm around me in a very loving way and whispered in my ear: “You know Donnie you are a very smart boy, very smart, and if you did your homework you would get nothing but A’s on your report card.” At the time I was getting C’s, D’s and F’s. No one ever said that to me before. I thought I was stupid. It turned out she saw something in me. Her blessing of one of my gifts changed the course of my life I was right though about the carpenters.

I contend that the gifts of gay youth, the future of our community, are going largely unblessed, unsupported, and unmonitored today by community adults. Our youth are not developing inner authority. Indeed, often it is difficult to distinguish the consciousness and behavior of a 20something from that of a 40something.

Without adults present in the village very little mentoring goes on. Adults do mentoring of youth, elders do eldering of adults, and ancestors do the ancestoring of elders. Age apartheid gets us nowhere. Traditionally it was the youth who selected the mentor; he had some sense of what he needed, who could provide it, and just started hanging out around him. Many times there were elaborate protocols involved in the adult agreeing to be the mentor, primarily the presentation of a gift to the mentor. Almost always it was the genius of the youth meshing with the genius of the mentor.

The word mentor comes out of Homer’s Odyssey. As Odysseus was readying to go off to fight the Trojan War, a 20-year absence as it turned out, he put his newborn son Telemachus under the supervision of a boatswain, a man named Mentor, until he returned. In other words, a mentor is a person, in the absence of a father, who assists a young man to activate his imagination and to grow up until the archetypal father within the youth appears, i.e., he becomes an adult. 

Mentors work largely with youth; elders work largely with adults. In 1979 when Harry Hay and I were living together in Los Angeles and organizing the first Radical Faerie gathering in the Sonora Desert of Arizona, Harry Hay said to me: “Don, you [adult] work with the young ones [youth] at the gathering. You speak their language and can talk with them easier than I can [I was 37]. I [elder] will work with the more mature ones [adults]. They can hear me [Harry was 73].” At the time I could not quite understand what Harry was trying to tell me. I do now. Mentoring involves helping youth in developing their gifts and securing a livelihood hopefully based on those gifts. A mentor transmits pragmatic information and lived knowledge which allows a youth, in our society, to mature and become financially self-supporting and generationally interdependent. He models the role of the mentor so when a youth reaches the adult stage he knows what to do because it was done for him. Mentoring often involves help with specific livelihood skills.

I mentor young gay men in shamanic practice, dream work, plant spirit medicine, gay community organizing, becoming a gay Jungian psychologist, how to secure a GED for high school dropouts, how to pass the psychologist licensing exam, and so forth. Mentoring might involve helping the youth grow up—using anger constructively, setting boundaries, containing impulsive instinct, dealing with sex-drugs-loud dance music issues, courting and relationship assistance and learning stealth. The bottom line is that a mentor must love young gay men, take a genuine interest in their growth, listen much, much more than talk and advise, and do large amounts of suggesting, supporting and encouraging. The relationship is never sexual—there is too much of a power differential. We must move away from giving gay youth the message that their only value is their body. In fact they are the future of our community. And given the insanely fast pace, dislocation, and unraveling of our urban society, perhaps in the future all we will have is what Michael Meade calls “mentoring moments.”

I know well a gay man in Los Angeles who is a Catholic priest in his 40’s but whose consciousness and behavior is that of someone in his late 20’s. In his parish was a Catholic school at which he taught Catholic ethics. He went to class in casual clothing out of an Abercrombie catalogue and made it clear to his students he was their friend with whom they could play video games and to whom they could talk like a peer. Midway in the school year his 9th grade class sent a student delegation to talk with him. They had three requests. He should wear his priest garb and collar to class, he should not play video games with them, and he should act more like a grown-up around them.

One of the boys in the delegation plaintively said to him: “We need a priest [adult] more than we need another friend.” I bow deeply in the direction of those 9th graders.

A third important role that adults play is tending to the general material welfare of the community or tribe. Adults generally are interested in themselves and something larger than themselves. They are not totally self-absorbed as I find many adults in the gay community. Where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania 35-50 year olds were running for the school board or town councils, serving as advisors to the 4-H clubs, joining the volunteer fire company, organizing a community library, concerned about the lack of a recreation center for the youth—interested in something larger than themselves that would benefit everyone in the community. My generation called it “civic responsibility.”

This sense of responsibility for the welfare of the gay community is largely missing today. Gay youth have few models around them of gay adults functioning as adults in a creative and constructive manner in our community. 

This current absence of gay adults tending to the community is due, in part, to historical forces that during the past 40 years have shaped the emergence of a gay community for the first time in American history. Our national community has been shaped by two revolutions—the Gay Liberation revolution and the Reagan revolution.

The Gay Liberation revolution provided a sense of gay identity, fought back against gay oppression, emphasized community building and unity, and developed an ethos based on assuming responsibility for each other. The Reagan revolution, on the other hand, told us that there was a money pie out there and your life’s mission was to get your slice at all costs. Their right wing revolution scoffed at community and instead emphasized family. Looking out for #1 was the name of the game and it was made up of winners and losers judged by the size of one’s portfolio. The Reagan revolution has provided the gay community with soulless, visionless, and clueless technocratic leaders to whom all money is good money and for whom working for the highest bidder is paramount regardless of political or social implications or its impact on the lives of gay people. Mary Cheney is a good example. Several years ago I debated her twice in Los Angeles regarding the Coors Boycott before the ACLU and the Stonewall Democratic Club who immediately voted to re-endorse the Coors Boycott. Cheney at the time was on the Coors payroll and went around the country handing out chump change to gay organizations in order to create the illusion that the Coors Boycott—the most successful in gay history—was over. She just lied to gay people. At one point in the debates Mary would say: ”The Coors family is no longer associated with the Coors Brewing Co.” Then I would reply: “That’s a lie Mary and you know it is. Peter Coors is the CEO of the Coors Brewing Co. and of the nine people on its Executive Committee eight have the last name of Coors and the ninth is the Coors’ family minister.” And so it went. [This is a very important issue that cannot be gone into here. Money from the Coors Brewing Co. has funded, in large part, through the Castle Rock Foundation, the anti-gay political agenda in this country.] It is important to remember that most gay adults and youth have been influenced more by the values of the Reagan revolution than the social change ferment of late 60’s and 70’s from which their freedom, communities, and institutions were a direct result. The Reagan revolution has diminished our community and its leadership.

The Reagan revolution today is losing steam and is headed for self-destruct due to its failures and internal contradictions.  The time is ripe for a new model of gay community to emerge that builds on the past but is not a slave to it. And if you have socially, politically and spiritually conscious gay adults assuming responsibility for that community, gay youth will have necessary modeling and direction to allow them to see a role for themselves in the future of our community.


When I discuss the crisis of missing adults in the gay community with gay men between 30 and 55 there are three justifications (I call them excuses) that I usually hear as to why there are few gay adults or why they have ignored that archetypal stage of development. 

There is the delayed adolescence argument. You have probably used it yourself. I have. It goes something like this. Since I was in the closet during my teenage adolescence, when I came out in my 20’s I went through a delayed gay adolescence at a time my heterosexual age mates were moving into adulthood. I think, in part, it’s a valid argument. How long, however, does gay adolescence last? At the most, adolescence usually last 8 years at which time young adulthood sets in. Why am I seeing large numbers of gay men in their late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s still thinking and acting like 20-somethings? Sadly they may never develop into adults; not everyone grows up and matures. Their lives may be divided into “younger gays” and “older gays.” I do believe, however, there is a way out. Jung once wrote six words that are immensely relevant to us as gay men—“The mother accepts, the father expects.”  We have been busy mothering each other and our young—accepting behaviors that are clearly self-destructive to us individually and collectively—at a time when we need to be fathering ourselves and our young—developing a community-wide ethos and means that expects young gay men to become adults. And becoming the exemplars of that process.

A second explanation for the missing adults is the AIDS argument. It goes something like this:  AIDS has killed off that generation who rightfully should be assuming adult roles in our community at the present time. My heart, like yours, breaks when we think of the toll AIDS has taken. It is true that the hardest hit has been the 30-50 age group. Yet there is something facile and bogus about this argument. While statistics regarding gay people are notoriously inaccurate, CDC estimates that AIDS has resulted in the deaths of somewhere between 8% and 12% of our community nationwide. Where are the remaining 90% of gay men who are not missing in action? It would seem to me that in a community hit so hard by AIDS, the living would pull together and redouble their effort at tending to the welfare of the tribe. The AIDS explanation is an easy way for gay men to distance themselves from and justify their failure to grow up in a way that recognizes their responsibility to the community from which they come.

A third reason often given for the absence of gay adults in the community is the absence-of-children argument. Heterosexual men mature due to the necessity of child rearing. Due to the pressures of supporting a family they are reluctantly forced to grow up and assume adult responsibilities. Gay men, so the argument goes, do not have that child rearing task and therefore there is no necessity to become adults. There is some merit to this argument—from a socio-biological point of view heterosexuals are  responsible for the reproductive survival of our species. But this argument ignores the question: What are gay people for? I contend that we as gay people are responsible for the “spiritual survival” (in the broadest possible context of those words) of our species. This implies that there is something for which we as gay men need to be assuming responsibility and transmitting to our progeny—gay youth—that is just as important as the bio-centric responsibility of heterosexuals.  It calls for—even demands—the presence of gay adults and elders in the village and requires adult maturation that is just as vital to our society as the biological childrearing demands play in the adult formation of heterosexuals. The best discussion of the spiritual roles gay people play in society that I have come across is found in the first chapter of Christian de la Huerta’s Coming Out Spiritually. If you have not read it, run, don’t walk, to your nearest gay bookstore.


During the past 8 years in Los Angeles, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle has made intergenerational dialogue and cooperation an integral part of its primary purpose—through shamanic practice assuming responsibility for the well-being of gay men and the welfare of the gay community. Much of our work involves creating conscious and active gay tribal elders and adults. Since 1999 we (Donald Ham, Mack Gilliland and myself) have been offering a 3 day, weekend workshop for gay men over 55 entitled “Gay Tribal Elder: Archetype of the Spiritual Father” from which 36 men have been formally initiated as tribal elders. Also in 2004 a major, one-day, cross-generational conference was convened in Los Angeles with the name “Standing On The Bones Of Our Ancestors: Exploring the Roles of Gay and Lesbian Elders.” which further seeded tribal elder awareness in the community. We are seeking nothing less than the re-imagining of gay culture, facilitating a “trialogue” that invites youth, depends on adults, and requires elders.

In dealing with the problem of the missing gay adults, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle has developed two workshops during the past eight years. The first we (Greg Davis, Deni Ponti, Terry Rosson, Stan Gauntt, Donald Ham, Matt Cody, and myself) called “Father Hunger: The Union of the Son of Promise With the Father of Achievement.” It is eight weeks in length and is aimed at young gay men in their 20’s and 30’s. In twelve separate workshops so far we have focused on helping young gay men understand the light and dark aspects of the puer aeternas (eternal youth) archetype in the gay psyche and to assist in the challenging transition from youth to the first stage of gay adulthood. A young graduate of the Father Hunger workshop, the conductor Matt Cody, is facilitating a similar workshop in New York City ( The second workshop is entitled “Midlife Awakening: Rites of Passage Into the Second Half of Life.” We (Roberto Blain and myself) focus on the transition from young adulthood to mature adulthood—contributing one’s gifts to the community through a spirit-directed life of purpose and meaning. These Midlife Awakening workshops help gay men to locate themselves in life and to develop concrete plans for moving to the next stage of their development with awareness, passion and a sense of adventure.

This year (2006-2007) the Medicine Circle is focusing on gay youth. On September 9, 2006, we will be presenting a pioneering event called “RISE UP AND SHOUT! Voices of the Next Gay Generation,” in which we are searching for the next generation of gay and lesbian creativity and imagination: musicians, writers, actors, rappers, poets, filmmakers, dancers, DJs, and performance artists. On September 9, 2006, a community blessing of our youth will be held at Barnsdall Gallery Theater in the Los Angeles Municipal Arts Complex on the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Hollyhock House in Hollywood. It will be an evening spotlighting, literally, the diversity of gifts of young gay men and women. RISE UP AND SHOUT! is also designed as a benefit honoring the 16 years of excellence and service of White Crane Journal, the international gay spirituality magazine. The event will be the prelude to a major, intergenerational conference sponsored by the Medicine Circle in late 2007 in Los Angeles entitled “The Genius of Gay and Lesbian Youth.”


I know that what I have written about is just the tip of the iceberg. I know there are exceptions to everything I have talked about. I know there are hard-working gay men out there who are assuming courageous and constructive adult roles in the gay community and other communities. I know many of the same problems of maturation and contributing to the village also apply to non-gay men and women as well. I know we live in difficult times where there is a danger of cynicism, withdrawing, indifference and numbing. I know we have lost gay men whom we have loved deeply and fiercely to AIDS and the other plagues of our community and we can’t stop crying. I know our community has lost its collective vision and its guiding mythos. I know our community is in danger of becoming a marketing niche. I know mindless consumer culture and popular entertainment culture with its empty calories is dumbing down gay generation after generation.  I know our community is largely led by soulless and visionless technocrats who haven’t got a clue most of the time. I know the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Discrimination’s (GLAAD) recent banquet was sponsored by the Coors Brewing Co. I know you work longer hours for less pay and are in debt up to your eyeballs.

I know.

I know.

I know.

And yet I say to you that the renewing, rebirthing, and re-visioning of our community is not only necessary but possible. But it cannot be done without awake and alive gay ancestors, elders, adults and youth working cooperatively together. In the 1970’s a movement made up largely of gay adults birthed a social revolution of major proportions which is still echoing around the world and in our hearts. Similar possibilities for moving gay community and consciousness forward are now within our grasp but it cannot be done without the conscious engagement of gay elders and adults. The only way we will get the kind of gay community we want to live in is to create it.  The key to that possibility is the awakening and emergence of gay adults.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from White Crane.
We are a reader-supported publication. To read more from
this wonderful issue we invite you to SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., played a pioneering role in the Gay Liberation movement and is a founder of Los Angeles’ Gay and Lesbian Center, the Van Ness Recovery House, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle and numerous other seminal gay community organizations including (with Harry Hay) the Radical Faeries, an international gay spirituality and consciousness movement. He is a Jungian psychologist and shamanic practitioner in Los Angeles. Don can be reached at

Poetry – Warm Feet by Matt Friday


Warm Feet

by Matt Friday

The soft roundness
under your toes
their prints, ribbed and textural:
the secret screed of unscored millenniums,
long and branching paths
-one more step
pushing off porous gravity.

Witness our aching humanity:
to fly, grip-
pulled and pulling
becoming, now and then
quick and luminous,
real, by choice or accident
weighted and shadowless.

But tonight there is just this:
love, I think,
and sleep at the end of day,
if tired and forgiving:
the moment slipping between now and then
reflected, hushed-alive
in liminal possibility. 

Matt Friday is a poet living in Eugene, Oregon.   
This is his first publication in White Crane.

In Memoriam: Eric Rofes

69_rofesinmem_1 Remembering Eric Rofes

It is impossibly ironic to write of the passing of Eric Rofes in this issue devoted to the conversation between generations, as there is no one who had more to say to this generation and the next, more to offer, than Eric. There is something equally bittersweet about his passing so close on the celebration of Gay Pride in its 37th year. To say I am stunned or sad isn’t enough. I’m pissed off; the loss is immeasurable. It’s not fair.

Eric was a staunch supporter of this journal and a member of our Advisory Board. In the last year, he and Chris Bartlett from Philadelphia had partnered with us to offer The Leadership Academy to continue the discussion of how we can share the lessons we’ve learned and how the next generation of leaders could creatively and positively stand up to the challenges to the LGBT community in the 21st century. In characteristic Rofes thinking the Academy was asset-focused, optimistic and uplifting. In classic Rofes fashion, it was an iconoclastic, challenging process, offered in a warm and relaxed setting, stepping outside the bounds of “how we do things” to challenge people to create new ways, new paths, new, higher thinking. “Queer leaders must lead,” he insisted. He was a master at taking the abstract ideal and making it flesh and blood real.

Eric Rofes was sui generis, a pillar in our community. From his early days as a sixth grade teacher in Boston, he went on to a long career as an organizer, activist, author and professor. Eric Rofes started his activism in the 1970s on Gay Community News. Teacher is how I will always think of him; Teaching, with a capital T is his lasting legacy, in the truest sense of what it means: learning to learn, embracing the excitement of connecting with other minds, creating community.

Audacious. Innovative. Challenging. Intelligent. These are words that get tossed around a good deal, but they are, essential when talking about Eric Rofes. It’s almost impossible to underestimate the accomplishments of this natural born leader and teacher. He published twelve books on topics ranging from children and divorce to gay men’s responses to HIV/AIDS to charter schools. His prolific writings from The Kids Book of Divorce, I Thought People Like That Killed Themselves, to Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men’s Sexuality and Culture in an Ongoing Epidemic and Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures, and his latest, A Radical Rethinking of Sexuality and Schooling: Status Quo or Status Queer took on the problems and challenges of the LGBT community, posing difficult questions and challenging readers to rise to the occasion. More meaningfully, he never had less than absolute conviction that the gay community had everything it needed to rise to any occasion and was a special gift in the world. His books are vital components of the queer canon.

To say that Eric was a long-time progressive activist who worked on issues related to gay and lesbian liberation, HIV/AIDS prevention and gay men’s health, racial and economic justice, and poor people’s access to education is an exercise in the power of understatement. It’s hard to think of another individual who has been more effective—and virtually omnipresent—in the formation of institutions in the gay community. He served as the founder of the Boston Lesbian & Gay Political Alliance, was director of Shanti Project, San Francisco’s pioneering AIDS organization, and executive director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. He was a member of the Working Group and active in the movement to democratize marriage in the United States. He coordinated for the annual North Coast Education Summit, which brings together educators, activists, and parents for three days of workshops focused on education, democracy, and social justice.

He served as a member of the Los Angeles AIDS Commission and the San Francisco Ryan White Council, and was a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Lesbian & Gay Health Association and the Funding Exchange’s OutFund for Gay Liberation. In recent years, Eric established the biannual Gay Men’s Health Summits and we were honored and excited when he approached us about offering The Leadership Academies in California and New York under the auspices of White Crane Institute. Eric was the first member of our advisory board with whom White Crane had worked to expand our mission.

Eric Rofes was Associate Professor of Education at Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, California. Prior to HSU, Eric taught at U.C. Berkeley and Bowdoin College in Maine. A graduate of Harvard College, he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Studies from the University of California’s Graduate School of Education. He taught courses in community organizing, social foundations of education, leadership studies, teaching in higher education, and gay & lesbian issues in K-12 schools.

He lived in San Francisco and Arcata, California and is survived by his husband, Crispin Hollings, and a generation of teachers, healthcare workers, and social activists across this country and around the world.

White Crane #69 – Donald Engstrom – Everyday Sacred

An Excerpt from the Summer 2006 Issue of White Crane  Col_everydaysacred_2

A Report from Witch Camp

We stood once again in Freya’s Hall. We had come to deepen our relationships with the Mysterious Ones of Place; Wind, Water, Fire and Earth, with Red Bloods and Green Bloods, with Rooted, Branched and Blossomed, with Furred, Finned and Winged. The Hearth Fires were relit, the Folk regathered. Our joyful obligations to each other held us in the strong arms of compassion. It was time for us to continue the on going work of Winter Camp.

We began our time together by dedicating Winter Camp’s new prayer bead set. The bead committee stood encircled by the beads facing outward towards the community. Mary held up the prayer book for each of the six members to read two pages at a time. The prayers beads truly awoke and found a place in the hearth and hearts of the Folk.

That first afternoon we also moved into our cabins, made announcements, formed affinity groups, met the teaching/facilitation team, met the three kitchen Witches that prepared our daily meals, listen to path invitations and renewed our delight in each other’s company. We welcomed old timers and new comers alike. From the beginning of camp till it’s last closing song, the graciousness of Hostess Law permeated the very air we breathed.

That first evening we set our camp’s intention.

In love, we open our hearts and minds to the spirits of the lands around us, listening deeply and respectfully to their stories. We seek to move ever closer to a co-creative relationship with all beings in our landscapes. We choose connection and courageously step forward into the new stories we create together.

Each evening’s ritual was a coming together of the whole community. The teaching team so skillfully held the work that each piece flowed invisibly into the next. There was a sweet blending of styles and of tools. There was always a spaciousness that left plenty of room for the community to actively participate in improvisational co-created magic and spell work. The teams commitment to beauty, love and joy was tangible. This team obviously held the growth and development of the community as paramount. They were courageous enough to truly be servants to the clan house.

The first morning we chose our path work:

1. Living the Moment
2. The Dance of Desire Lives Here! Mapping our Inner & Outer Worlds
3. Aligning, Attuning and Earth Healing With the Intelligences of Nature

Our resource teacher, Christine, moved confidently from path to path while feeding each evening’s work.

I have heard life changing reports from people participating in all three of the groups. I have heard stories of the work feeding and nourishing both the individual and the community. From my perspective, it was obvious that yet more components of the sustainable cultures of beauty, balance and delight were fully formed by the work done in each of the three paths.

I chose to join the "Aligning, Attuning and Earth Healing With the Intelligences of Nature" path. It was a brilliant choice for me.

We tranced with our Allies. I listened and heard:

Wind and Water
Bone and  Branch,
It’s all life
That we enhance.

Wind and Water
Stone and Dream,
It’s  all life
That we esteem.

Wind and Water
Womb and Web,
It’s all life
That must be fed.

We each wrote a poem with a shared common title; “When Water Becomes Frost.”  Strong work flowed from each of our pens. It led me to write:

When water becomes frost,
Human lovers spread flannel sheets
  On their beds of pleasure
  Knowing that desiccated lusts shall be restored
  By the frozen breath of icy lips on a hot belly.

We practiced trance postures. We worked with among others, the Corn Mother, the hawk and the bear poses. We gathered information, visions and instructions.

For instance, this came to me while in the bear pose:

My body flushes with pale green lightnings and storms.
    Dreaming a memory?
    Remembering a dream?

I listen to my bowel’s healing rumble with bear ears.

Singing Bear calls for his song to be sung.
I sing;
With just his voice
He heals throughout my body.
With just his voice
He shatters the virus.
With just his voice
He builds crimson blood,
He makes red blood healthy and vital.
And the ancient queer
Were bears,
Bear shirkers,
Bear healers,
Shake and tumble,
Dancing to bag pipe and drum.
The hurdy gurdy’s strings

Take us to a dream restored in bone and blood,
Stone and wood,
Tears and cum.
We breath deeply together;
In through the nose,
Out through the mouth.
Honey cakes are our healing desserts.
Dreaming a memory?
Remembering a dream?

The last morning of class found us standing in the midst of the Whitewater River declaring how we had changed the world as if we were years into the future. We dared this work knowing that it is by our conscious choices that we give Skuld the materials that will build the worlds that we shall all live in. Here is a sampling of our declarations.

Larry declared:

I chose to honor and nurture the healing powers of water and dirt.
I pulled the old bandages off my heart and stretched those scars.
I determined to become an athlete of love.
Most importantly I learned to see success.

Madelon declared:

I healed the world by opening my heart and healing myself.

Diane declared:

Opened heart, shed tears, touching, loving;
Daily discipline and Divine connection.
Blessings, blessings, blessings!
Compassion and hospitality, humility and healing, fairness;
Intention manifest in all that I did.
Spells, spells, spells!

Ashland declared:

I gave the world my full attention.

I declared:

I am an Engstrom.
I planted sunflowers, tomatoes and corn.
I made my bed every morning.
I planted wild weeds in every crack in the pavement.
I drew spirals at cross roads, on churches, on boulders, on hearts that risked to actively heal, knowing that each spiral transformed all the others.
I danced in bars,
  At weddings and picnics,
  In parks and in palaces,
  In hovels and caves.
I danced in the arms of my lovers and boyfriends,
  Tasting their tastes,
  Celebrating their glory
  As we dared to dwell in beauty, balance and delight.
I planted sunflowers, tomatoes and corn.
I made my bed every morning.

I must also say, that Freya’s Bower was consecrated daily with an offering of sighs, sweat, and cum from many in the community. The  Bower brought us both earthly delights and the healing of hearts. Praise be the powers of sex and it’s mysteries!

This Winter Camp has been for me a high light among high lights. It is one of the most powerful, nurturing, sustaining Reclaiming events that I have ever been a part of. I am deeply grateful.

We left with the words of the Norns still singing in the winds and the waters:

Listen to the stories.
You choose your own lives!
You provide us the weft with the choices you make.
We all co-create these worlds together!
May abundance and joy flow through our lives
like a wild untamed river.

Blessed Be.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from White Crane.
We are a reader-supported publication. To read more from
this wonderful issue we invite you to SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Donald Engstrom/Reece is a hero of ours.  A longtime activist in gay spirituality, Donald’s work dates back to the mid-1970s when he took part in early consciousness raising communities in the Midwest — communities that foreshadowed later Radical Faerie developments in the early 1980s.  In the 1980s he began doing work with the Reclaiming Community and hosted the first Faggot Witch Camps.  He lives in Minneapolis with his partner and travels around the country doing work in the Reclaiming Tradition.
A frequent contributor to our pages, we are now delighted to have his wise insights as a regular feature in White Crane under the title “The Everyday Sacred.”

White Crane #69 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer “Elderlicious”

An Excerpt from the Summer 2006 Issue of White Crane



You’re not happy about your appearance, and are considering plastic surgery. Some of your friends are for it, others against. Finally you decide that you don’t believe in reincarnation, you only have one life to live, and you want your outside to match your inside. Anxious, eager, you go under the knife during the long Labor Day weekend, and take a week off on the other side. “Oh my God!” your coworkers say when you get back. “You look fantastic. At least ten years older.” You’ve been coloring your hair gray for a while, but the new wrinkles around your eyes, the added creases in your cheeks, and the enhanced wattle beneath your chin are so sexy that you get cruised on the street like you’ve never been cruised before. “It was worth it,” you tell your smiling best friends over dinner. “I wish I’d done this a long time ago.”

Whatever age you are right now, take off all your clothes, and look into a mirror – in a world where Age = Beauty. Frankly, a hard stomach is only half-formed. Your pecs won’t be ripe for anyone to sink their teeth into until they’ve drooped. And if the flesh on the bottom of your arms doesn’t sway when you swing them, your beautiful elderhood will have to be grown into. Get used to being ignored when you enter rooms filled with handsome older men, bald and gray and magnificent. Accept the fact that you’ll be walking down the street feeling invisible for a while longer. You’re going to age like fine wine, slowly, but doing the following things may augment your inner fermentation and prepare you for your own luscious future. 

An elder is like a mighty tree, with a ring for every year of his life contained within his gorgeous aging body. As you move through the world, pay increasing attention to older men, and allow yourself to feel and know that you are part of a tribal chain, going back through history, linking elders and youngers, a chain which helps to hold the world together.

Whatever your age is, find a mentor, a man at least ten years older than you are. Spend time with your mentor on a regular basis. Take him out to lunch in lovely places, buy him small things that will enhance his physicality, and treat him the way that you would like to be treated when you’re his age. Bask in his beauty and wisdom, and be open to his guidance.

If your mentor has no heirs, no children, show him by your integrity and devotion that you are a worthy recipient of anything that documents his life as a man who loves men, such as photo albums and old love letters. These you will cherish, learn from, and one day pass on to your own spiritual son or sons, along with material from your own life, so that the tribe of men who love men doesn’t have to reinvent itself, over and over again, in each generation.

If you laughed your way through this piece, because you don’t believe a word of it, look at yourself in the mirror again. Stare into your eyes and know that if you’re lucky and live long enough, your butt will droop, your belly will hang, hair will vanish from some places and appear in others – all of which will herald your mature perfection in physical form. And if you think or know that you will not live to have an older body, remember that anyone who stands near the doorway out of this world ages and ripens into wisdom and grace no matter what his age is, and becomes an elder for all the world to honor.

And if you still don’t believe that when you are older you will be beautiful, cherished, admired, and turned to for guidance, ask yourself why not, and ask yourself what it will mean to you to cultivate these ideas, and invite your own inner elderhood to blossom within you, day by day.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this
excerpt from White Crane.
We are a reader-supported publication. To read more from
this wonderful issue we invite you to SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer lives in San Francisco.
He is the author of the gay classic Two Flutes Playing (now available from  Praxis is a regular feature in each issue of White Crane.

White Crane #69 – Reviews

Books Reviewed in Issue #69 of White Crane

  • Samuel D. Behrens’ Anti-Gay Equals Anti-God
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers
  • Kenji Yoshino’s Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights
  • Bazhe’s Identities: Poetry
  • Edward Field’s The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag:And Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era
  • Richard Holloway’s Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out Of Ethics
  • Urs Mattmann’s Coming In
  • Richard McCann’s Mother of Sorrows
  • Ritch C. Savin-Williams’ The New Gay Teenager

White Crane #69 – Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism and Kenji Yoshino’s Covering


Ethics in a World of Strangers
By Kwame Anthony Appiah
Norton Publishing, 256 pages $23.95
ISBN: 0393061558

Covering: The Hidden
Assault on Our Civil Rights
By Kenji Yoshino

Random House, 304 p. $24.95
ISBN: 0375508201

Reviewed by Kai  North

I grew up in a really small town in the American South. In my town, there were only blacks and whites. Integration came along after I had started school. Given the times and the place, my town, my parents, and I took it all very well. It even so happened that by the time I finished junior high school, my best friend was black. It wasn’t something I deliberately chose; I just liked him best of all my friends. We left that town, and moved to a larger one, and then a couple of years later to an even larger one. I got to know Latinos, Asians and Jews.  In college, I counted among my mix of friends a man from Zambia, and another from Japan. Neither of them was as weird as the guy from Idaho. My life has been one of increasing exposure to the wonderful and fascinating variety of cultures in our world. I have yet to travel outside the US, but I did choose to move to Washington, DC, and here I have met people from all over our planet, and some I have gotten to know very well. 

As I was moving toward increasingly urban environments, the world was growing closer together. This shows up not only in our commodities, but also our literature, art, and music increasingly come from far corners of the world, and sometimes sounds from many places will be blended together on one song. Far from being cacophonous, it merges well. And yet this rush to a smaller and smaller planet has been disorienting, too. Five years ago the United States suddenly woke up to realize it wasn’t universally loved, but many of its citizens didn’t know why—and unfortunately many still do not. More and more English is challenged not only online, but in the streets and marketplaces. A few years ago I went to a Salvadoran eatery wearing a DC United jersey. The waitress assumed since I liked soccer, I had to be able to speak Spanish. Fortunately, I knew enough to order food. 

How do we meet this world rushing at us—and past us—without losing dignity or our orientation? Fortunately, Kwame Anthony Appiah has supplied us with an ethical framework for the challenge. Dr. Appiah teaches philosophy at Princeton, and digging deep into the past as well as looking forward, he has arrived at what he calls “cosmopolitanism.” In classical Greek thought, a cosmopolitan was a citizen of the cosmos. To be cosmopolitan is to transcend narrow parochial interests—geographically and metaphorically—and reach out to the world. Culling from the history of cosmopolitan thought, Appiah notes that:

… there are two strands that intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism. One is the idea that we have obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship. The other is that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance. People are different, the cosmopolitan knows, and there is much to learn from our differences.

Isn’t this multiculturalism? No, says Appiah. Too much that goes on in the name of multiculturalism defeats freedom—forbidding us to critique human rights abuses in other cultures, for instance—and the cosmopolitan is for freedom, for the individual, particular human life, and his or her longings and needs. That is why Appiah opposes facile “cultural preservationism,” the mistaken belief in cultural purity that must be preserved. Many a Western intellectual has decried the appearance of t-shirts and ball caps in the remotest village of the Amazon. They say that U.S. lead capitalism is destroying the world. But Appiah believes that if the inhabitants of these far villages really want to wear the t-shirts and ball caps, they should be free to do so. To deny them is to be against their rights and dignity as individuals.

Besides, there are no pure cultures. From time immemorial, cultures have been interacting, trading goods and ideas. And often the result has been more positive than those of cultural isolationism. The Romans borrowed from the pantheon of Greek deities, and then later from a monotheism out of a provincial backwater, itself a fusion of ideas from all over the ancient world. You favorite Italian dish probably wouldn’t exist without tomatoes originating in the Western Hemisphere or the idea of pasta from China. These are things everyone knows; few understand. Appiah argues that it is the very nature of culture to grow and change, by interacting with other cultures, incorporating elements of the others or reacting to them. To preserve a culture in its purity condemns it to stagnation and its individual members to a prison. 

Rather than facile multiculturalism and cultural conservation, Appiah calls people to a “conversation.” There are certain values a cosmopolitan will hold, about human dignity and freedom for instance, but how these values are to be carried out in individual lives and in various cultural settings require a frank and open discussion about our individual aspirations and worldviews. Appiah rightly argues that while the discussion can involve the rational, the appeals to change and acceptance will come not from rational argument, but from accustomization. The changes in the perception of women’s roles in society and the acceptability of gays and lesbians has come not through persuasively rational arguments, as much as through increased visibility of women in the workplace and gays and lesbians in public and in the media. People have simply gotten used to the ideas, and as a result their resistance has diminished.

So it will be with our intercultural conversation. We, as cosmopolitans, will seek to understand each other better, and though we will never completely agree, we will learn to accept each other, and greet each other as sovereign individuals with imperatives and values we often share even if we carry them out differently. And while toleration of difference is a hallmark of cosmopolitanism, that toleration is counterbalanced by valuing individual human lives. For instance, a cosmopolitan would not simply accept that curtailing the rights of women or the execution of gays in Muslim societies, but rather would promote the elevation of the status of those two marginalized groups within a Muslim context. Given that cultures evolve, in other words, our duty as persons who value the dignity of every particular human being is to promote the evolution of cultures in a way that they promote the value of every human being within those cultures. 

Rvu69_yoshino If Cosmopolitanism is about how the individual greets the world, then Covering is about how the individual presents herself to the world. Kenji Yoshino teaches law at Yale, and he believes he has discovered the final frontier of our struggle for civil rights. He interestingly starts with the civil rights of gays and lesbians, but extrapolates from that struggle to the struggles for rights for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and beyond. Until very recently, gay people were forced to convert—to try to become straight, sometimes by means of horrifying physical and psychological torture (some of which even today can be found in the “ex-gay” movement). Progressing from “conversion,” gays and lesbians were required to “pass” for decades, to present themselves as straight, regardless of how they see themselves or behave in private. Finally, as gays and lesbians have come to be more accepted; the latest requirement is that they “cover”—–be gay but don’t be too vocal or too flamboyant. Covering means: not overly expressing who you are.

In a work context, a gay man will often be expected not to behave or dress flamboyantly. He may be expected to “butch it up,” and while his co-workers may know he is gay, he may be discouraged from keeping a picture of his partner at his cubicle, or at least from bringing him to the annual holiday party. An African-American may be expected to dress more conservatively—leave the mud cloth at home, for instance—to be able to advance in his job, or perhaps to keep it. Women, particularly, are asked to walk a fine line, being held back for being too feminine—for instance being too “touchy-feely” in managing employees—or too masculine—behaving too aggressively, too “man-like,” when trying to win a client or argue a case. Women have been held back at their jobs, not only for getting pregnant, but for being in some predetermined age-range for optimal child-bearing.

Yoshino cites Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a coverer. Everyone on his cabinet knew he was confined to a wheelchair, yet he always arrived at cabinet meetings first and had himself in place at the table before anyone else, to minimize the impact of his disability.

Yoshino says that whenever he starts expounding on how various groups of people are asked to cover, he inevitably gets a question from some straight white male in the audience, protesting that not only do women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT folk have to mute their individual differences—he battles depression, for instance, or has been required to cover his religious life in order to advance in the office. And Yoshino recognizes that this, too, is a form of covering, and just as bad as what is required for the traditionally protected rights groups. He says that the law in the US has traditionally favored immutable traits—skin color, gender, and increasingly, sexual orientation—but it has not protected behaviors. For instance, a black woman cannot be fired for being black, but she can be fired for wearing cornrows, rather than straightening her hair.

Yoshino’s solution seems strange for a professor of the law, and yet it rings true: we do not need more civil rights laws to free people from covering—we need a cultural shift in our attitudes toward individual expression. We continue to be asked to assimilate—to meet certain rather narrowly defined norms in appearance, conversation and behavior. He suggests instead that we should look to see how individuals can express their true natures, without crossing a line to offensive behavior. I shouldn’t mind the gay man at work doing some gender blending or swishing, if it doesn’t hurt his job performance intrinsically, but I have a right to be offended were I to see a leather queen in buttless chaps on the subway.

In working out the particulars in society of where to draw the line between what is an acceptable expression of individuality and what is offensive, Yoshino recommends a process similar to that of Appiah—a conversation. We need to get our thoughts and ideas out there and under discussion. We need to celebrate the dignity and the freedom of the individual to express herself, in her preferred cultural, ethnic, gender and spiritual expressions, and acclimate ourselves to an ever-widening variety in human life. Only as we push ourselves to acquaint ourselves with the Other—to make ourselves a little uncomfortable in order to stretch our boundaries—can we win for ourselves the right to reveal our own true natures. The discussion, according to Yoshino and Appiah may not be easy, but it will be interesting, and that will make our human lives more fulfilling and enjoyable.

Both of these slim volumes pack a tremendous amount of profundity and elegance, and yet they are highly readable, and filled with personal anecdotes and reflections; this short review cannot do them justice. Cosmopolitanism and Covering ought to influence our national and international conversations on the freedoms of people to express themselves while fulfilling their obligations within society.

We need to talk to one another.

Kai North is a writer living in Washington, DC.  He last reviewed Bilal’s Bread and The Taqwacores in the Winter 2006 issue of White Crane.