Category Archives: Andrew Ramer

WC81 – Andrew Ramer’s PRAXIS

Ramer The Big Two-Oh by Andrew Ramer

Recently, at a queer gathering I attended, we were asked, “What’s your favorite number?” As a retired bodyworker I’ve always been fond of the number twenty. Not that everyone comes this way, but of us most do – with ten fingers and ten toes. To me twenty is the number of wholeness, not ten, the number that usually carries that symbolic value. For me ten is Commandments and a continual reminder that somehow I and we have done it all wrong, or are about to. But twenty in my private lexicon of life is the number of embodiment and completion, from top to bottom, earth to heaven. It’s the number of fullness, of overflowing richness, toes pressing into the warm earth while curious fingers reach out toward the stars.

And here we are, celebrating White Crane and its twentieth birthday. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing quite like this magazine. Each issue is another gift come in the mail, another window onto the world. What I can always count on from White Crane is that I’ll get words and images to help me stay alive and aligned, encountered, engaged, and encouraged to go on. It may not be the New York Times – but I can’t help quoting Sappho:

let me tell you this:
someone in some future time
will think of us

We are all a part of that us, the family of White Crane and twenty is five times around the cosmic wheel of the four directions. That’s a lot of traveling and twenty is a time to pause and review. Franklin Abbott’s poem “Self-Help” contains useful directions for reviewing a long and honorable history: 

    review your notes
    the ones you took
on your life
    old photographs
    read letters
    written to you
    cycles ago
    recount your blessings
    one by one
    two by two

    of any doubt
    or shame
    that you are not worthy
    nothing short
    of a miracle

Others have reviewed and recounted far better than I. I wasn’t here at the beginning. I can only vaguely recall something folded in half as my first introduction to the miracle that is White Crane. What I do remember are the many many hours I’ve spent in private intimate time (in the tub and on the toilet) with the writers and artists whose work has filled the pages of this magazine. Timothy Liu, in his poem, “Leaving the Universe,” points me in the direction of what I want to say:

    Can’t go back
    to his body. That wilderness.
    At times he would let me
    rest there, no other place to go.
    A bedroom
    full of star charts, planets tearing
    free from orbit, a belt
    of asteroids flying apart.
    In that space
    between us, the gravity
    of my bed unable
    to keep his body from floating
    out the door.

Can’t go back to retell my top twenty favorite articles. The carton of back issues in my closet will remain there, for now. What I can say is that the star charts of our inner lives were recorded in this magazine when almost no one else was paying attention. And the deep gravity of our encounters with the world and with each other, all those toes and fingers of back issues, include every element of our queer lives, the good, the bad, and the frightening.

Twenty is also a number that’s useful for looking ahead. I can’t say where this gift of a quarterly is going, but the community found here, the wisdom, the culture, all add up to something that Assotto Saint understood:

    birds of a feather coo
    spread their wings
    at the edge of the world
    they soar
    stretching themselves
    to god

We are birds of a feather, we readers and writers and artists and editors of this communal treasure. The play-work of White Crane is a kind of offering to that which some of us might call God. And as the guardian of one corner of this yummy little world, called “Praxis,” I offer twenty spiritual practices to help you celebrate our many journeys around a star. Each practice is tied to one of the four cardinal directions and to the center. Pick one, or as many as call out to you.


Think back on your 20th birthday if you’ve already celebrated it
Think ahead to your 20th birthday, if you haven’t gotten there yet
Think about the 20th anniversaries of significant events in your life
Think about 20th anniversaries that are waiting for you in the future


Draw a picture of something that has 20 elements in it
Draw a picture that uses 20 colors
Draw the same picture 20 times and compare each version
Draw 20 different pictures and compare them to each other


Cook a meal with 20 ingredients in it 
Cook a meal for 20 friends 
Cook a meal for 20 people and give the meals away
Cook a meal that you dedicate to White Crane’s 20th anniversary


Meditate for 20 minutes on what White Crane has meant to you
Meditate in 20 different place on what White Crane means to you
Meditate for 20 days in a row on the future of White Crane
Meditate in 20 different positions on what you offer/can offer White Crane


Write something about White Crane and send it to the editors
Send a gratitude check to White Crane as a donation
Give the gift of White Crane to a person or institution, perhaps your local library
Thank whatever Force/energy/Being/beings/god/Goddess/God/gods you believe in for White Crane having reached its 20th birthday, and wish it 20 more.

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millennium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.  Ramer lives in San Francisco.   Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

For more White Crane, become a fan on Facebook and join us on Yahoogroups.

Subscribe today and keep the conversation going!  Consider giving a gift subscription to
your friends who could use some wisdom!  If there's an article listed
above that was not excerpted online, copies of this issue are available
for purchase.  Contact us at

WC80 – Andrew Ramer’s Praxis

Andrewramer_sep_3Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

By Andrew Ramer

Earth spins and wobbles. Landmasses drift, shudder, slam into each other. Waves hiss, thunder, and crash. Wind whips through trees, whispers through grass. Rain patters, thunder rumbles, ice cracks. Rivers rush, streams babble. Animals sing, chirp, bray, hiss, bellow, howl, buzz, croak, roar. Our bodies throb, gurgle, inhale, exhale, cough, sniffle, wheeze, belch, fart. And we chatter, laugh, sob, scream, moan, wail, chant, hum, sigh, cry out in ecstasy. All of which contribute to the music we’ve created on our lovely damaged traveling sphere. Many years ago a disembodied friend told me that one of the reasons he likes hanging out on this planet is that more different kinds of music are played here in an hour than are played on most other planets in ten thousand years.

In honor of music and its diversity I offer a variety of spiritual practices.

If you were to describe yourself as a musical instrument, which one would you be? (I envision myself as an old dusky pink cello.)

What musical instrument would best represent each of the people in your life?

Is music purely mental for you? Do you listen to music without moving, or are you a rocker, a swayer, a dancer? Finger snapper, head bobber, foot tapper?

Do you like to sing? Alone or with others? In the shower? In concert? What do you like to sing? Do you sing the same songs or add new ones to your repertoire? If you don’t sing, why not? Did you ever? What were you told about your voice? What keeps you from singing now? If you don’t sing, start. If you do sing, keep singing.

Plato said: When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.

What was the first piece of music that shook your walls? (Mine was Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.”) Do you still like it, or are you embarrassed by it now? Do you still listen to it, or do you no longer need to, because it’s encoded in your DNA from playing it so many times? What else has shaken you, sent shivers up and down your receptive undulating spine?

What music are you listening to these days? Do you listen to music at all? What are your favorite pieces of music from the past year? Several friends of mine make CDs of their annual favorites and give them out as holiday gifts. Do you? Might you? What would your choices say about you and your year? (My last year’s treasure was bluegrass, “From the Windows of a Train,” by Blue Highway. I listened to it over and over again for weeks, to the great distress of my easy-listening housemate.)

What kinds of music do you avoid, hate, wish we’d never played on this planet? What are your associations with these forms of music? Too loud, too slow, too emotional, too cold? What aspects of your life might they represent?

Chart your coming out, love life, sex life, breaking up, marriage/s or ritual equivalents if you had any, through the music that you were listening to then. Are there common themes, issues, recording artists, musical styles in your choices? What does this tell you about yourself and your romantic/sexual/intimate life?

Write your autobiography by listing the music you listened to in each stage of your life, or the music that describes each chapter of your life. Record these pieces of music and share them with others, perhaps on your birthday. Many of us have photos that document our lives. Why not create a document in sound of your life?

Would you like music played at your funeral or memorial service? Record it and give copies to your dear ones. Weddings have rehearsals. Consider having a funeral rehearsal and playing these pieces of music for others. If you do this, how does it feel to hear your musical choices as if they were being played in your physical absence? Do they adequately express the ‘you’ that you want others to remember, or do you need to make other choices?

Do you play an instrument? What or which? Did you play any in the past? Why did you stop, if you did? Consider taking up an instrument again. It’s one thing to listen to music, but quite another to make it. Like making love. What music can you make?

Are there musical eras that you prefer? Are you a fan of music from particular cultures, regions, groups, composers? What does this tell you about yourself? Are these past life clues or evidence of expanded aspects of your personality?

Recently I visited the home of a newish friend who’s thirty years my junior, and was startled to discover that he

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

For more White Crane, become a fan on Facebook and join us on Yahoogroups.

Subscribe today and keep the conversation going!  Consider giving a gift subscription to
your friends who could use some wisdom!  If there's an article listed
above that was not excerpted online, copies of this issue are available
for purchase.  Contact us at

WC79 Praxis – Andrew Ramer on Gay Spirit Visions

Gay Spirit Visions: Into Loving Arms

By Andrew Ramer

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. Hermann Hesse

Most often we think of sanctuaries as sacred places, some in nature and others created by human hands. In the Jewish tradition time has become a sanctuary, as in the Sabbath, the day of rest. Curiously, my sanctuary isn’t Short Mountain, Easton Mountain, or any other Faerie or Gay community. It’s a place called simply The Mountain, a retreat center founded 30 years ago by a group of Unitarian Universalists, high in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and I’ve been going there each autumn for nineteen years. Perched on the top of Little Scaly Mountain, The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center has hosted the Gay Spirit Visions Conference (which I wrote about in our last issue, on Community) since its inception in the fall of 1990.

From the moment we turn off the main road, I know that I am home. Car windows open, the smells of earth, rich and fertile, caress and fill me. Echoing birdcalls, cry of cicadas, the welcoming voices of loving friends – greet me and ground me in what’s true – that I’ve come back for another reunion with the family of my soul. The values and mission of The Mountain are part of what’s made it my sanctuary. Each year The Mountain offers programming on the themes of peace, justice, and sustainability, through elderhostels and youth camp, in addition to providing a haven to groups like mine. After 30 other retreat centers in the South had turned away the founders of Gay Spirit Visions – they were welcomed by The Mountain staff. Not just welcomed but thanked for coming. The staff had been praying for a year for a way to do outreach to the Gay community, and the men from GSV were the answer to their prayers. Perhaps you have your own stories about sanctuary. I hope so.

Five things make The Mountain a sanctuary for me. First, the Eastern Continental Divide runs through Little Scaly Mountain. If you turn to the east and spit off the summit, your saliva will flow out to the Atlantic. Spit west and your saliva will wash its way down to the mighty Mississippi. Standing on this dividing line always reminds me of our role as men who love men. We stand on the border between male and female, matter and spirit, night and day, sacred and profane, linking, binding, uniting them through our bodies and our souls.

Second, at the bottom of The Mountain is a large beautiful labyrinth, its spiral pathways defined by stones and chunks of colored glass pressed into the earth. The labyrinth is a work of love and devotion, built by Mountain youth who painted words of inspiration on many of the stones. Walking the labyrinth is perfect for moving into your center, and I spend time there every year silently reconnecting with mine, so easily lost for most of the year, in hectic street-noisy bus-rattled San Francisco. I hope you have such a place to visit in your life.

Third, at the top of Little Scaly is a fire tower with a 360° view of Blue Valley and the surrounding mountains, hills rolling out like ocean waves toward the horizon, allowing us to gaze out at the world with more than our usual mono-focus. Each year I climb to the top of that tower five or more times a day, to watch sun and moon rise and set, watch changing weather, rolling clouds, all of which anchors me in the physical world again. On cloudless nights I plunge upward to the stars and at the same time drop deep into the dark night that’s encoded in our genes, a night of star-spray and abiding holiness that reminds me of my place, small place, in the vast eternal scheme of things.

Fourth, The Mountain is my sanctuary because of the people who gather there, both my GSV brothers and The Mountain staff. I have met some of my dearest friends on the top of that mountain, which makes my annual return more a New Year than Rosh Hashanah. And the committed, devoted Mountain staff have become family as well. Each year they remind us that we are as important to them as they are to us. In an often-hostile world, such reminders are another of The Mountain’s eye-moistening heart-soothing gifts.

Since childhood I have been a creature half recluse and half gadabout and being on Little Scaly nurtures both aspects of my ambivert nature. Surrounded by people I love, at any moment I can slip off and away into the trees again. Because it’s the trees, lastly and most importantly, who make The Mountain my sanctuary. In Two Flutes Playing I wrote about the sacred role of Gay men as the Guardians of the Trees. It’s my belief that in ancient times the elders of each tribe would come to men like us when they wanted to use wood from the planet’s once lush forests. And we, with an innate affinity for those trees, would guide them to those who could be cut and used. Many of us spent time in the arms of trees when we were boys. Did you? And to this day, no matter where we go on the planet, if we want to meet other Gay men, all that we have to do is find the nearest park. It’s in sacred groves that we have always gathered, and as we remember and embody all of our sacred roles, we are able to share again our wisdom with the world.

The trees on The Mountain are not just my family, but are also geologically and botanically unique. Tenaciously clinging to the thin soil on the summit of a granite peak, those trees always inspire and strengthen me. Many of them are over four hundred years old, and they flourish in a temperate rainforest that may get as much as 90 inches of rain a year. At an elevation of 4200 feet, Little Scaly Mountain has never been logged, unlike much of the surrounding land. Strong winds blow up over the top of the mountain, and the old growth trees may be the very last Dwarf White Oak Wind Forest in the world, a bonsai collection designed by Father Earth beneath the luminous vault of Mother Sky. What potent metaphors for a spiritual pilgrim those oaks are – old growth – wind forest – which welcome me every year, and offer their dark loving arms to me each time that I return.

I have wandered alone in those woods and found solace and comfort there. The oaks know me. The rhododendrons are near kin to the ones I hid in in my childhood. Wind in those trees is the voice of blessing, whispering whispering our sacredness, sheltering and teaching me what I need to know. So I call San Francisco my home, yet my feet only skim its surface. But in the company of the standing people on The Mountain, those sacred trees, and the walking people who share its summit, staff and GSV brothers, all my true family, I feel how deeply my roots sink into that granite outcropping, making it my spiritual home, haven, and beloved sanctuary.

Do you have a sanctuary?

Does it have trees, and do you have tree stories to tell?

If you don’t have a sanctuary, can you conceive of having one?

If you can conceive of having a sanctuary in your life, are you ready to take steps to find it?

If you aren’t ready, what will it take for you to remember that sanctuary is vital to our wellbeing and vital to the renewal of the world?

Can you envision the world as one vast sanctuary?

Is your home a mini-sanctuary and if it isn’t, what would it take for you to sanctify it?

If you agree with me that we men who love men are the natural guardians of the trees, what are you doing and what can you do to fulfill our ancient role?

For more information on GSV and The Mountain, please visit their websites:

Gay Spirit Visions Conference: 
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Centers:

There are many wonderful organizations working to support the reforesting of Planet Earth. To find out more about one of my favorites, please visit their website:

Trees for the Future:


This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

WC78 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer

Andrewramer_sep_3Community Trust
Andrew Ramer

What does it mean to be held in community, held and nurtured and encouraged to grow? That was something I yearned for, as a misfit boy few of the other kids wanted to play with, who ended up most afternoons by himself in the rhododendron grove in our large backyard. When I was seven or eight I started having a dream that recurred for years. It’s night and I’m watching a group of men dancing together around a fire in a clearing in the woods, while I stand alone behind a tree, afraid to join them. While the waking me longed to be part of a community, every group I tried to join rejected me, offended me, or fell apart. Even my attempts to fit into the gay world failed. I don’t like opera, never saw a Bette Davis movie, flunked Cruising 101 and Bathhouse Etiquette. And then in the summer of 1990, I received a short letter in the mail that changed my life. The writer, Raven Wolfdancer, wrote from Atlanta to tell me that he’d read a copy of my book Two Flutes Playing and found it moving. That letter led to more letters, phone calls, and then Raven invited me to speak at the first Gay Spirit Visions Conference, of which he was one of the founders.

In those days I was living in Brooklyn, had never spent time in the South, and never spoken at a conference, let alone as a keynote. How could I ever be a presenter, especially with Harry Hay and Atlanta poet and therapist Franklin Abbott? I was terrified to go but a voice inside me said “Yes” to Raven’s invitation to spend three days in the mountains of North Carolina with 75 gay men. It never occurred to me that all these years later I would be the only person to have attended every subsequent annual gathering – because it’s my spiritual home, the community that has fed me, raised me, shaped, molded, held, challenged, and blessed me, for more than eighteen years.

Raven, Peter Kendrick, Ron Lambe and the other men who organized that first conference welcomed me into a Southern gay and faerie core community whose roots went back more than a decade. As a New York Jew I found something unexpectedly familiar about the South and its outsider tradition, a kind of American cultural queerness that I identify with and have grown to love. True, the deep and painful divisions in Southern culture trouble and grieve me, but they are part of my extended family’s history. And when people say that they are spiritual but not religious, I understand, although I consider myself both. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco is my religious home, but GSV is my spiritual home. I’ve met some of my dearest friends there, men I rely on to keep my tent pegged to the rocky soil of a wobbly planet and a windy existence.

After that first conference Raven and I began to collaborate on a book about the sacred role of gay men in the world, his art inspiring my words, which evoked further images from his rich imagination. After he was murdered I assembled what we’d done into a desktop version, knowing that Stories of Our People would remain both the unripened fruit of our friendship, and none the less a deep expression of my life in the loving family of GSV.

What I know about community I learned from our faerie/pagan/Native American- influenced rituals, our heart circles, and from small group discussions and long walks in the woods with friends. As a recluse by nature, with a dark teal gregarious streak, GSV taught me the truth of John Donne’s words: “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Oh, and there was the year when Hurricane Ivan struck and we were up all night baling water, building sandbag walls, watching cabin roofs fly off, all the while in mourning for the recent death of one of our beloved members. Then two days later we were called upon to support the community who run the conference center we meet at, as they mourned the death of the family of one of their staff members, who were killed in the storm.

What I know about eldering I learned at GSV, from rambling conversations with Harry Hay that began at the first conference, from our other presenters, and from nearly two decades of exchanges with the devoted men who sustain the gathering year after year. We’ve grown from 75 men to 140 each Fall, adding Winter and Spring gatherings – not without struggle, pain, despair, fear, rejection, conflict, and the constant presence of loss and grief. Men have come and gone, gone and sometimes returned. Why do I go back year after year? That’s easy. When I first arrived at Little Scaly Mountain and was wrapped up in the Southern warmth of GSV, I felt that I had finally come out from behind that tree and joined the circle of men my recurring dream had foretold, and I’ve felt that way ever since.

What I know about decision making I learned from being involved in a community run by consensus, a slow and marvelous process that unfailingly creates a perfect conference every year, even its warts hairy and witch-perfect. Into this non-hierarchical space we have welcomed keynote speakers including Harry Hay, James Broughton, Malcolm Boyd, Mark Thompson, Tom Spanbauer, Will Roscoe, Don Clark, Christian de la Huerta, and Toby Johnson, to name a few. Our speaker this fall will be Clyde Hall. Not bad for a gathering of queers in the mountains of North Carolina.

The mountain we meet on is also home to a lush communities of rhododendrons, to which I always retreat for some time of meditation, comforting me as they did when I was small. And we also share that mountain with a family of ancient dwarf oaks, the descendants of survivors from the last Ice Age, whose glaciers slowly advanced from the north but stopped just before they reached Little Scaly. I’ve learned so much from that community of trees, which seeded the East Coast woodlands after the last of the ice receded, and it’s those wise ancient oaks who are the inspiration for this issue’s praxis.

Take a blank 8 ½ by 11 sheet of what we used to call typing paper, that’s now called copy paper or printer paper. On this blank sheet draw the outline of a tree with a nice broad trunk and roots and branches spreading out above and below, mirroring each other.

This tree is a map of your communities, now, in the past, and stretching out toward the future. Start by going down to the roots of your tree and writing in along them the names of the communities, good and bad, nurturing and stifling, that you belonged to in the past: family, religious groups, schools, glee club, drama club, track team, summer camps, out crowd, etc. On the edge of the roots write in the names of the groups you didn’t belong to but longed to be a part of. And beyond those groups, near the bottom of the page, write in the names of the groups you didn’t belong to and didn’t want to belong to.

Now move up to the trunk of your tree and write in, right in the center: ME. Sometimes we think of ourselves as individuals, but as Whitman said, “I am a large, I contain multitudes,” so I invite you to include the community of yourself/yourselves, as part of your tree. Above and below yourself write in the names of the communities you are most intimately connected with, family, friends, spiritual/political/educational groups you belong to, your coworkers, all the communities you are involved with on a daily basis. These can be cyber communities, and please keep in mind that your communities may not just be people. Pets, flocks, herds, parks, gardens, nature spirits, disembodied friends and angels also belong on the list of your most intimate communities.

Next go up to your tree’s branches, and write in the names of communities you are less involved in, that you connect with from time to time. The people from the annual yoga retreat you see once a year. Your dentist, doctor and the people in their offices, the people in the salon where you get your hair done, and the workers in your favorite health food store, belong on this list. And don’t forget the family around the corner who you run into at the park three or four times a year, whose names you don’t even know but who you always enjoy seeing, watching their kids grow. And your never-married Aunt Minnie, who you visit every few years, the one who tells you the truth about your family that you parents never would.

At the very tips of your tree’s branches, on different limbs, write in: the names of communities and groups you want to belong to, groups you don’t know how to get into, and groups you suspect wouldn’t want you that you still feel drawn to. People with homes in three different locations, close friends of your favorite celebrity, enlightened beings who have burned away all of their karma. Out beyond the branches, near the edge of the page, write the names of communities you don’t belong to and don’t want to belong to. Born again Wiccans, Bio-diesel fundamentalists, unrepentant Republicans, people who eat steak, may all be on your list. 

When you are done, draw a line right inside the very edges of the entire page. This rectangular box represents All of Life on Earth. It includes the communities you belong to and the ones you don’t belong to. It includes all the groups you don’t ever want to belong to, that wouldn’t want you anyway, all of which we are still connected to, and must learn to live with, for we share the same small orbiting sphere and the same destiny – to live together, or die together.

This tree is a portrait of the communities of your life. It may take you several days or longer to create it. I spent over a week working on mine. I kept remembering communities I’d belonged to. That meditation group in the early 80s, those friends I used to go bird watching with, the food coop I went to with my first boyfriend in Berkeley, that class for post bar mitzvah nerds our rabbi taught in his study.

Tape your tree up over your night table, on your refrigerator door, on the wall across from your toilet. Put it somewhere where you can meditate upon it, feel your way into it, and see and sense how this tree of yours is connected to the trees of everyone else in the world, including everyone who’s done this bit of praxis – because hopefully somewhere on your tree, on a branch if not on the trunk, you have written: “The White Crane community.”

Fold your tree up and put it in your wallet. Slip it in your desk drawer at work and sneak looks at it during the day, when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Ask yourself how this tree appears to you. Is it bottom or top heavy? Is your trunk bare or filled with loved ones? How would you like this tree to look? What would you like to see upon it? If there isn’t a GSV in your life, consider joining us. And if GSV doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy – four days in the Southern woods with men in leather and tee shirts and skirts, sharing a moldy old cabin with a view of the mountains that will feed your living breathing soul – then ponder this question – “What is my cup of carrot-celery-beet juice?” And if you’re not drinking from it, not even sipping from it – do something every day to seek out a community or communities that will feed your thirst, so that in a year’s time you can draw a new tree, one that mirrors back to you your connection to others who hold you and nurture you and encourage you to grow.
Raven Wolfdancer was an artist, gardener, teacher, and spiritual visionary, featured in the Fall 2008 issue of RFD magazine, our cousin publication, grounded too in Southern faerie culture.

For more information about the Gay Spirit Visions Conference, please visit their website:, or write to GSV at PO Box 339, Decatur GA 30031-0339.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.


WC77 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer

Andrewramer_sep_3Racing to the Finish Line
(and probably/possibly being politically incorrect at the very same time)

Praxis by Andrew Ramer

When I was a little boy growing up in New York City I would hear older relatives using two different terms to talk about what I eventually realized were the same people: “Americans” and “White People.” As in, “White people eat white bread. We eat rye. Americans take their hats off in church. We keep ours on in synagogue.” Mind you, these aunts and uncles of mine were all American born. And while their English had a certain inflection that even without the Yiddish sprinkled through it would have given them away as New York Jews, English was the language of their education, the language they dreamed in, and the only language that they passed on to their children: “Yiddish not spoken here.”

A few years ago someone wrote a book titled something like, How the Jews Became White. While I’ve never read it I can only imagine that the author’s conclusion was similar to mine. Some time in the middle of the last century, when the dominant culture decided to consider the possibility that “Negroes” were human, the color bar slid over and suddenly people like my relatives, who spoke of Americans and White People, found that they were now also talking about themselves.

About a decade ago I wrote an essay that I only showed to one other person, the by me (a Yiddishy turn of phrase) Very White (i.e. British-descended) Lesbian member of a small writing group I belonged to. I called the essay: “Things we’re not supposed to talk about.” Her slightly horrified response to it was, “Andrew, you’re really not supposed to talk about that.” In it I discussed my opposition to legal marriage for same-sex and two-sex couples, my lack of sympathy for the late Princess Diana and Mother Theresa, and I decided to tackle the subject of Race and Smell. This is what I had to say:

Many years ago when I had a practice doing bodywork, a Japanese client very nervously told me after our second or third session that the only reason she could work with me in my little office was that I didn’t smell bad like most white people. She thought it was because I was a vegetarian, and didn’t “stink” from eating meat like most whites. She also told me that she and her Japanese friends called white people potatoes, this “Because you’re pale, lumpy, shapeless, and you all look the same.” (The “But I’m not white” part of me was offended. The newly white part of me was amused.)

Tobias Schneebaum, one of the great uncelebrated Gay American Jewish authors, (of Keep the River on Your Right and several other amazing books,) tells a similar story, of being accepted by natives in the jungles of New Guinea because he didn’t smell bad. I don’t know what white people smell like, or Jews. (Growing up in the 20’s my father didn’t think of himself as white but he may have smelled bad to some of his non-Jewish classmates, because my grandmother sent him off to school each day with garlic around his neck, to ward off a terrible disease called “Spana-mana Jesus” that’s spread by Christians.) But I have noticed that some black people smell different to me than anyone else. This smell somewhat reminds me of how my wool sweaters smelled when I was a boy and got rained on on the way home from school. Which makes me wonder if the smell I detect has something to do with differing oil gland secretions.

Some black people don’t have this smell and some have it very strongly. An African American friend told me he wears heavy scents to cover a smell he can’t detect himself, afraid that white people will otherwise react to it. I have found that this smell takes me some getting used to with some people, but not everyone. Sometimes, like fragrances, I like one person’s smell but not someone else’s. On a few occasions I’ve smelled it in the air on an empty street where someone has passed a moment before, smell lingering like perfume. (But I don’t think I’m supposed to say this, and I’ve never asked anyone black, “Do I smell?” Do I smell bad to you? Not my personal smell, but my white person smell. Even though I’m still not entirely convinced that I’m white, and I’m not a vegetarian anymore either.)

There’s only one other group of people I’ve met who have to my nose a distinct smell. I’ve met a few Indians, and briefly dated one, East Indian not Native American, who have an odor somewhat like a subtle blend of muted spices, similar to the smell of certain cooking spices, but not exactly, perhaps what happens to them when they’ve run through a human body: a mixture of pungent, tangy, and a bit sweet too, that registers differently to my (possibly class and race inflected) nose than the smell of some black people.

I can’t believe I said all of that. But I did. Again. In public. Which makes me remember an afternoon about fifty years ago, when I was passing through the kitchen of one of my best childhood friends (Jewish but not yet white.) His mother and Matty the “colored girl” who cleaned for her five days a week were sitting over coffee and cake, chatting, gossiping, and laughing like two best friends. But when the “girl,” who was a decade or so her senior had gone, my friend’s mother took the cup and plate Matty used to the sink, poured a tiny amount of bleach on them and scrubbed them as if they had been contaminated by someone with a rare and fatal contagious disease. I was shocked, stunned, having never seen anyone do anything like that before in my own home or family. And yet, some part of me understood what she was doing, picked up I’m sure by things I saw and heard out in the world.

I get very dark in the summer, perhaps from my lingering Sephardic genes. And I remember a time when I was six or seven and trailing behind my Aunt Rachel and Uncle Bob as they walked through the turnstile into the crowded Long Island beach club they belonged to, which had only very recently allowed newly white Jewish people to become members. But the very white and blond young man behind the turnstile stopped and said, “Little boy, you can’t go in here.” I panicked as my aunt and uncle continued on ahead of me. Finally I called out and my aunt came back. To this day I can remember the look on the face of that (cute) young man when my aunt said, “This is my nephew.” He sneered then shrugged and let me through. But even at that age I could read his look, which said, “Lady, I know this is your cleaning girl’s kid. It’s nice of you to bring him here, and there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but don’t do it again.” Maybe I understood because of all the times I’d heard my parents play and talk to my brother and me about these lines from a song in South Pacific: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

WC76 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer

76_praxis18_2 ANCESTORS ’R US
PRAXIS from Andrew Ramer

This fall I made my way to the ruddy mountains of North Carolina to hobnob with my fellow wizards at the Gay Spirit Visions Conference, as I’ve done for 18 years. This gathering is my spiritual home. I’ve met some of my closest friends there, and it’s been a testing and refining ground for my work as a writer and teacher. This year three of us were invited to share our personal stories of turning 18 with the gathering, as entryways into the conference itself turning 18. Eighteen is the age of majority in the US and most other countries in the world. Eighteen is also a significant number in the Jewish tradition. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet also represents a number, and the word for life – chai – has the numerical value of 18. It may not be an accident that the central prayer of Jewish liturgy, written more than 2,000 years ago, is called “Shemonah Esreh,” or The Eighteen Benedictions. I used this prayer as a stepping stone into my conference talk, focusing on the first benediction, which begins:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God, and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.

The rabbis of old tell us that The Eighteen Benedictions, a collective prayer, address not “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,” to remind us that although God is One, It connects with each of us in a unique way.

I tend to use the pronoun IT when referring to God. You may prefer She or He. You may not relate to the word or concept of God at all. Goddess, Tao, Brahman, Great Mystery, or The Universe may be more comfortable for you. Many years ago, in a conversation with my Communist Great Aunt Mina, I discovered that what she called The Life Force was exactly what I called God. If you were to write a blessing for yourself, what would you call It? Whatever words you use, however you experience It, the lack of It, or the occasional whisper of something you think might be a hint of Its presence, I believe it’s useful to have a unifying metaphor, and for the sake of simplicity I shall continue to call It by that particular three-letter word.

The Eighteen Benedictions ground our understanding of God in Its relationship to our ancestors. Can we relate to this as men who love men, who rarely come of age with a clear knowledge of our Gay forbears? As I was preparing for my talk at the conference I thought about my own Queer ancestors, none of them biological. In high school I had an art teacher, Bill, who went out of his way to support me, without doing anything that anyone would have found inappropriate. Years after I came out, I ran into him and his partner at a play and had the chance to thank him. As a teen I knew that there were men who had sex with other men, but I was quite certain that I was the only Jew in the world with those unnatural desires. Discovering that Allen Ginsberg was Gay came as such a gift, so I’m adding him to my list of ancestors. Watching the film Women in Love (screenplay by Gay Jewish Larry Kramer, as I discovered years later) was what empowered me to come out. I also remember a book about Gay liberation, with a rainbow on the cover, that was so scary that I couldn’t even touch it till it moved from the New Books rack in Moe’s Book Store in Berkeley to a corner shelf upstairs, which is also on my list. Who and what are on your list of Gay ancestors? Your Lesbian great aunt, the first boy who flirted with you, a love song you listened to over and over again, a sexy character on your favorite TV show? Please jot them down.

Thinking of my Gay ancestors, I played with the Eighteen Benedictions and crafted a queerish blessing for myself that begins:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God and God of our ancestors, God of Bill, God of Allen, God of Women in Love, and God of the Gay lib book.

Using whatever word or words you’ve comfortable with to describe the Absolute, please craft for yourself the beginning of a blessing that incorporates your own list of ancestors.

In this magazine we’ve talked about elders and mentors and how important they are for Gay men. Few of us had Gay ancestors, and in spite of all that has changed, there are still Gay men all over the planet who are coming of age in pain, shame, guilt, hiding and frightened, in need of guidance and support. One way to heal this rift in our tribe is to see ourselves as the ancestors of the Gay men of the future. It’s in this light that I continued to work on my blessing. These are the words I came up with:

Blessed are you, Eternal our God and God of our ancestors, God of Bill, God of Allen, God of Women in Love, and God of the Gay lib book.
Bless me, body, soul, mind, and spirit, and support me in passing on this legacy to other Gay men, as part of my work in helping to heal the world.

This isn’t a very elegant blessing, but it does express what I wanted to say, to myself, to that which I call God, and to those who will come after us. Please continue to work on your own blessing, until it says what you want to say. When you’ve finished it, please write out or print out a copy and keep it in your wallet – because there’s a second part to this exercise of praxis. One day, perhaps weeks or years from now, you are going to cross paths with a young man, sitting on a bus, at the next table in a café, at the office holiday party, in a class that you’re taking or teaching, and there will be something in him of the young man you were at eighteen. You will recognize that he could use a blessing and needs a Gay ancestor. Then you will pull out your wallet, take out your blessing, tell him about its history, and pass it on to him, because this is a part of our sacred work, to be Gay elders and ancestors for the men who follow us. Become as present for him in his life as he is comfortable with. Invite him to take your blessing, live with it, and incorporate it into one he writes for himself, so that one day he too can pass it on, like an Olympic torch, from hand to hand, from heart to heart.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

WC75 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer

Andrewramer_sep_2Bear Essentials
PRAXIS from Andrew Ramer

Bears were on my mind for the Winter 2005 issue, when our theme was Totem Animals. Oscar Wilde must surely have said something about the pleasure of quoting yourself, so I shall, from that issue, which seems a perfect introduction to what I have to say two winters later:

My spiritual life began two weeks after my mother’s mother died, when I was in fifth grade. I’d just gotten into bed and was about to turn off the light on the bookcase beside me – when my beloved grandmother appeared at the foot of my bed. Nothing like a movie ghost, she was solid and looked younger than I’d ever seen her, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a dress more elegant than anything she’d worn in life. Smiling, she said one sentence to me, then vanished: “Always remember that we belong to the bear clan.”

Even though I had no idea what she was talking about at the time, my grandmother seeded in me a love of bears that continues to this day. A small black iron bear that I bought on Castro Street sits among pictures of her and other ancestors. Not too long ago, stroking my facial hair, a friend said, “You’re too thin to be a bear. What are you?” Taking into consideration the habitually dark circles under my eyes, (a genetic trait according to my doctor; a sign of chronic stress by my acupuncturist), the friend decided I’m a raccoon.

Not much chance I’ll be at the forefront of a new movement. Bears have a certain clout that raccoons lack. Bear skulls have been found on stone altars in some of the earliest archaeological sites. Several years ago one of my guides told me that when Earth was deciding to generate sentient land life it chose primates as its first choice and bears as the backup, should the primate experiment fail. To this day, I was told, bears stand at the doorway to possibility for all of us, not to mention that they do stand, rendering them humanish in form, unlike most other animals.

Researching bears I discovered a few things I didn’t know. There are seven species of bears which evolved from dog-like ancestors. Imagine that! Male and female bears look alike. They are omnivores. In cold weather bears retreat to their caves or dens, but they don’t actually hibernate like some species. Instead, bears enter a period of torpor, which has inspired cultures all around the planet to connect them with dreaming and dreamtime.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

WC74 – Praxis – Andrew Ramer

Love is a gateway
We are gatekeepers

PRAXIS from Andrew Ramer

74_praxisRecently a friend invited to a theme party: bring the songs you were listening to when you came out. In a flash, music raced through my body with pain. My entire first relationship with a man arcs its way through three Aretha Franklin songs: “(Gotta Find Me an) Angel,” “Brand New Me,” and, “Until You Come Back to Me.”

1972. Berkeley. I’d just moved into a student coop. Shy, always eating alone, I looked up one day and saw a dark handsome man carrying his lunch tray across the crowded dining room. Felt as if a comet had streaked through my chest. Spent the next month spiraling around him till he noticed me and (amazingly) began to fall in love with me. Richard was my first embodied angel. Renovated me and made me new. Connected me to something I never knew existed, something I wanted to posses, which made him feel trapped and caused him to push me away. We spent more than a year in a dance of passionate love and soul-staggering closeness followed by his having sex with other men and me raging at him, sobbing, slamming doors, till he allowed me to ravish him again. Broken, aching, I moved to Seattle, where he sent me six and ten and twelve page love letters, begging me to come back. But when I did, to surprise him, he stared at me in the doorway as if I were an IRS agent come to audit him. Finally he invited me in. Of course we ended up in bed. After six more torturous months I fled to New York, in spite of his repeated protestations that he loved and wanted me.

A few years later he moved to New York. We talked once or twice a year, ran into each other on the street. Sometime in the middle of the 1980s, both of us single, we met for dinner and went back to his apartment, where we sat facing each other on opposite ends of his couch, talking, eating ice cream, our legs intertwined. I felt a mix of joy and terror, as if we’d never been apart. “Until you come back to me” was playing in my mind, but no clothes came off and we exchanged a long cautious hug when I left. He called me first thing in the morning to say he felt the same way I had. Promised to call in a day or two to set up another time to meet for dinner. Called three months later. Never returned my calls in between. Said, when we finally spoke, that he loved me but was afraid I’d go crazy on him again. It was like that till he died, another decade later. Affirmations of how much he wanted me in his life followed by another disappearance. In spite of our history, if he resurrected and I saw him walking down the street, I know the same joy I always felt with him would rush through me from toe to head, from heart to cock. And I’d want to be with him for some kind of forever, just as I had the first moment I looked up and saw his curly dark head and heard his funny nasal voice bouncing across the dining room.

In 1980 Christopher Isherwood gave me the secret to understanding love that I wish I’d had when Richard and I were together. Not that I ever meet Isherwood. I was working in a bookstore in Greenwich Village and opened a carton to find his new book, My Guru and His Disciple, which I devoured. In 1939 Isherwood met Swami Prabhavananda. Knowing at a certain point that the swami’s answer would determine whether or not he could continue to study with him, Isherwood posed this question: “Can I lead a spiritual life as long as I’m having a sexual relationship with a young man?” The swami’s answer to Isherwood surged through me and told me everything I needed to know: “You must try to see him as the young Lord Krishna.”

Hindus may have an easier time with this than others. For them God incarnates frequently. It’s probably a stretch for Christians, but not impossible to view the beloved as Christ. It’s a leap for many Muslims, but in Rumi and other Sufi poets we find acknowledgement of the union of beloved and Divine Beloved. Surprisingly, even Jews sometimes tiptoe toward this concept. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a major theologian of the 20th century wrote: “To meet a human being is an opportunity to sense the image of God, the presence of God. According to a rabbinical interpretation, the Lord said to Moses: “Whenever you see the trace of man, there I stand before you.” 

74_praxis2 Each time we cry out in the heat of passion, “O God,” we are affirming the truth of this delicious mystery. Too bad I didn’t understand it with Richard. Instead, I grabbed onto him, trying to possess the Divine flowing through him, which for some miraculous reason I was able to see, which filled me with passion in a way I’d never felt before. Given my inability to understand what was happening, and my sad attempts to possess what cannot be possessed – God shining through him – Richard was right to be wary of me.

Some of us are moths diving into flame. Others feel the heat and fly away. Both approaches are natural. Neither approach is wise. Both evade the real power of love, its capacity to bridge spirit and matter, mortal and immortal, human and divine. It’s not easy to comprehend and live by the swami’s message. But thirty years later, and a few more heartbreaks, I can listen to those same Aretha Franklin songs and hear God being sung to and singing through them. “Just because of you” is now, “Just because of You,” a psalm in gospel voice to the One who peers through the one I love. How about you?

  • Do you remember the songs that were playing when you came out? Are you one of those people who have songs that conjure up all of your lovers? And do those songs continue to inform your love life, oracular reflections of your fate?
  • What music have you been listening to lately? Whether or not you’re partnered, dating, having sex, not having sex – have you learned that our lovers aren’t a destination. They’re a gateway through which the Divine peers out at us. Are you able to see your beloved, beloveds, past, present, future, as the young Lord Krishna?
  • If your answer to that question is No, what kind of practices might help you open your eyes to the Essence flowing through another man? Will reading poetry or listening to music help? Will dancing, meditating, praying before an image of something or someone that moves your soul provide the assistance you need? What else might work for you? Cooking, gardening, masturbating in a self-created sacred space?
  • And perhaps more challenging – can you see yourself as the young Lord Krishna? Can you embody the Divine as well as be Its lover? What will it take for you to be so open, so transparent, that God can shine through you, whatever you call It, Her, Him? Breathwork and bodywork can open the blocked portals of perception and sensation. Devotion to your craft, whatever it is, can become your channel for the sacred to flow through you. What will work for you? Can you see your life as a journey toward Incarnation, making yourself an open gateway toward God for another man to witness and adore?

I wish that I had read Isherwood before I met Richard, and had friends old and wise enough to explain to me what the swami meant. (I met him once, and he did change my life. But that’s another story.) I wish that Richard had lived long enough for me to have this conversation with him. For me to be able to apologize to him for confusing kinds of love, not trusting love, and wanting from him what blessedly came through him. Instead, several weeks ago, I contacted his best friend Dan, a man I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years, who was kind enough to indulge my questions about Richard. All of which have led me to a place of gratitude and love abiding. Gone from the world, I can say of my love for that curly dark haired man – once God shined at me through him. And it now occurs to me that if God is beyond time and bodies, It must still be shining through the mortal angel I fell in love with, plastic lunch tray in his lovely hands, all those many years ago.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

WC73 – Praxis – Andrew Ramer


Andrewramer_sepI spent the first years of my life in a large vertical village called an apartment house. The summer I turned five we moved to the suburbs, where I encountered a whole new kid culture, with songs and games that were very different from what I learned in the city. Friendless, shy, I watched the kid clan around me, which inhabited an area two blocks long and up and down two perpendicular streets. You could recognize anyone in that clan because they called the last large undeveloped parcel of land “the back woods,” and the smaller lot around the corner “the side woods.” The kids who lived as far up the street or around the corners as I was allowed to go called the side woods “the front woods,” and lived too far from the back woods to be allowed to play there.

Those kids spent lots of time in shifting groups, wandering from house to house, yard to yard, woods to woods. They dared each other to break into the abandoned farmhouse on the far side of the back woods, which everyone but grownups knew was haunted. And played street games in the firefly evenings, like Ring-O-Levio, (a word I’ve never seen written, so I’m not even sure how to spell it.) They all had friends, and best friends. If two boys really liked each other, even more than even being best friends, they went out in the back woods with a pin, pricked the tip of their index fingers and mixed their blood together, which made them blood brothers — for life.

Being new to the area, and coming from a kid culture where such things did not exist, it took a while before I found out about blood brothers, and then I wanted one. I was slowly getting friendly with two boys on my block, but they were already each other’s blood brother. I spent more time with the twins, who by virtue of birth were already bonded. I tried to befriend some other boys in the neighborhood, but even at five they knew that I was “different.” The only one who wanted to do it with me was my new friend, Janie. She had never heard of two girls doing it, or a boy and a girl, but one of us stole a pin from our mother’s sewing basket, and we went out to the back woods. “You go first.” “No, you.” “I’ll do it if you do it.” In the end we spit on our fingers, mashed our saliva together, and decided that counted.

That’s the only friendship ritual I know. Sadly, blood is now dangerous to share, and even if it wasn’t, we live in a culture that has a wide range of rituals for dating, lovers, domestic partners, married couples, and everything in between, but views friendship as a second class affair. Occasionally I read an obituary that says, “Raul is survived by his French bulldogs and a loving circle of friends that include Tashi, Walid, Pat, and Marisa.” But most often we read, “Bob is survived by his husband Marco and their Jack Russell terriers.” If you go to the cemetery fifty years from now you will find Bob and Marco buried side by side. But what about Raul and his circle of friends? Will there be any monument to the way they supported each other during Walid’s long journey with HIV, Pat going back to college at age fifty, Marisa’s house burning down, or all the years they co-parented Tashi’s three children?

It amazed me when I lived in Jerusalem to see men walking in the street arm in arm, hand in hand, both Arab and Israeli. They had a different idea of friendship than we do. This is the case in many other cultures, and I’m sure that there are places where friendships are celebrated ritually. But here, weddings cost tens of thousands of dollars, and we gay people are working hard to secure the right to legally marry for ourselves. Sadly, this emphasis on marriage perpetuates the lie that we are not whole unless we are partnered, and that if we can’t be partnered we ought to at least be sexual. Times, in my singlehood, I have to stop and remind myself that I still have friends from high school, am close to two professors from college, and that two of my most beloved friends, Steve and Michael, are men I roomed with in college more than thirty years ago.

On and off for three decades I had a friend who was sometimes a lover. At a shifting point in our relationship one of us turned to the other and asked, “How do you consummate a friendship?” We can’t remember who said it, but it remains a great question, impossibly koan-ish in its implications. Why do so many of us take our friendships for granted, stop calling our friends the moment we’re in love, and only remember them when our relationship is in trouble or ended? Photo albums and videos from weddings, commitment ceremonies, and anniversary parties abound. How do we remember our friends? Sometimes it’s only on the refrigerator. With a post card Molly sent, faded, that’s been up there for years? Or the picture of you and Harold standing side by side on the beach in Maui, the time you went there with your soon-to-be ex-boyfriends, two years before he died? Do you remember your friends on Valentine’s Day? Do you fill each other’s houses on Passover, Pride Weekend, and Christmas? Do you tell stories about how you met your friends, the way we tell coming out stories and stories of how we met our lovers?

I mourn the lack of friendship rituals. In kindergarten I married Anne in her parents living room. Her mother played the piano. Her little sister was the flower girl. When I was in high school boys gave girls their ID bracelets when they were going steady. I never gave mine to anyone. It was way too soon to invite another boy to the prom. But in seventh grade a girl who liked me borrowed a bracelet from a boy named Andy who lived in the next town, and told people it was mine. I don’t know what teens do now, but I’m sure they do something.  Tattoo their lover’s name on their perineum. Get a new piercing in their honor. There are engagement rings and wedding rings. “How about necklaces for friends?” I once thought. Then I realized it could become a competition. “I have more necklaces than you!” “Yeah, but yours are plastic and look like Mardi Gras leftovers, while mine are rose quartz, turquoise, and amethyst.” No, it’s probably a good thing we don’t have friendship tokens. Many of us will not have, by this society’s standards, “successful long-term relationships.” Yet we will have decades-long rich and enduring friendships that may or may not ever be celebrated. So I invite you to examine your life, to look deep into your heart for a few moments, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the place of friendship in my life?
  • How do I consummate a friendship?
  • Do I recognize and celebrate my friends, or do I take them for granted?
  • What rituals or ceremonies might I create to consecrate my friendships?

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer, author of the classic Two Flutes Playing (available from White Crane Books).  Praxis is a regular feature in each issue of White Crane.

WC72- Praxis


The publisher of this journal, wrote to me about the spiritual guidance every little Gay boy gets from films, that “They’re practically inspired texts for us.” I believe that the hushed time we spend in vast dark chambers, or sitting in darkened rooms, taps into the deepest shamanic roots of our history, into the sacred rites of the Eleusinian and other Mysteries, where up from the silent blackness rise the collective stories of our tribe, our people, our lineage.

My evolving Gay psyche was informed by two different kinds of films, which I began to watch around the time that I reached puberty — Steve Reeves muscle flicks, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. In the argument about whether Gay identity is innate or constructed I always cite this as an example: I’ve never met a single straight man who stayed home to watch Steve or Fred and Ginger. But I’ve met a good many Gay men who did, often long before we came out, because we recognized something about ourselves in those films, something campy, defiant, heroic, and gender-reconstructing that speaks to one aspect of who we are. And for me in my closet, they were sexy — and safe. Steve always got his clothes ripped off by equally hunky adversaries, perhaps an ancestor of porn films. And Fred and Ginger always went from dislike or disconnection to romance, with music and dance, an ancestor perhaps of discos. But none of them kissed.

The first homosexual movie I ever saw was The Boys in the Band, which came out in 1970. I went to see it with my father and stepmother the summer after my freshman year in college, in a theatre a few blocks away from the Stonewall Inn. We’d walked over there the morning after the riot, when a friend of my stepmother’s called to tell her that “the fags” had rioted the night before. I viewed The Boys in the Band as if it were a documentary. Terrified of my fate, not wanting to be that torturously unhappy, I dived even deeper into my closet for a few years. It was yet another film, Women in Love, with screenplay by Larry Kramer, which gave me the courage to finally come out to myself, in my junior year of college, in 1972, sitting by myself in a dark theatre on the outskirts of Jerusalem during a matinee. Even though it had a tragic ending, seeing two men attempting to connect in a physical/spiritual way gave me a sense that something was possible I had only thus far dreamed of.

A year later, and two or three months into our relationship, my first boyfriend planned a surprise dinner for me. Leading me up the stairs to the top of our building in Berkeley, we scrambled up the sloped shed above the stairs – to the flat roof above it where Richard had spread out a yellow tablecloth, place settings, and covered bowls of food. At the far end of that small space he’d set up his little television, having borrowed extension cords from half our neighbors so that he could plug it in up there. The city stretched out below us, rolling down to the bay, with the hills of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance creating a perfect back-frame for the television. As the sun was setting, gloriously, and twinkling lights were coming on all around us, Richard leaned over to turn on the TV, just as Fred and Ginger in The Gay Divorcee began. He too had stayed home from school as a teenager to watch it.

Fred and Ginger and other movies taught me several things about love and romance, which have led me astray for forty years. I’ve made too many life decisions based on fantasies from films I watched as a boy, and continue to hope for movie love scenes in my real life. Granted, some of what I learned from films came from my hunger to understand a way of living that wasn’t being explained to me. From what I gleaned I assembled a perception of life based on footage rather than on walked experience, because films were the only resource I had. I was in my early twenties before I saw a photograph of two men kissing, and I was in my mid- twenties before I saw a Gay film, the documentary Word is Out, which opened in 1977. It was my introduction to Harry Hay and a world of spirit that I needed to discover. And then in 1982, in the same theatre, I watched Making Love, the big first Hollywood movie to deal with Gay love. I remember the thrill of seeing two men together, larger than life, on a huge screen in a dark packed room. I felt that we had finally arrived, been granted authenticity by the myth-making apparatus of our time. And the film hauntingly paralleled the end of my relationship with Richard. Ginger and Fred began with conflict. Richard and I ended with it, as did the couple in Making Love. And while the newly out and then abandoned lover ended up living happily ever after in a tidy coda to the film, I have yet to find the perfect husband.

Even as a boy I was appalled by the amount of money paid to performers, the amount of money it costs to produce a movie, and I still am. My father, a film lover, tried to convince me that the money went toward paying the salaries of all the people who worked on the film, but I was never convinced. What else could that money do, what else could it be spent on, I still ask myself? Why have we made idols, stars, out of performers, following the minute details of their lives instead of living our own? And do we even respect the collective art that goes into making a movie? Do we sit till the very last credit rolls by, honoring all who are named, or do we walk out, because for us the event ends when the performances stop? Do we clap at the end of movies? Did we ever? Is a movie a play in translation, from stage to screen, or is it a derivative of photographs? After all we still call them motion pictures. Do we get dressed up to go to the movies? We used to when I was a boy. Or is your movie life shaped by Netflix, a very private affair, even if shared with a few others?

Tom Spanbauer, in his magnificent new book, Now Is The Hour, wrote of our time in movie theatres, “Magic when the lights went dark. The dimmer the lights, the more the something inside so covered up and careful in you came up and out.” Sometimes what comes up and out is good inspiration. But sometimes what comes up isn’t such a good thing. It’s what I call un-spiration. Negative guidance that misleads rather than informs.

    1. Write down the names of the three movies that have inspired you the most.
    2. What did you learn from them and how has it enhanced your life?
    3. Write down the three movies that have most led you astray.
    4. What faulty information did you gleam from them, and what can you to do reprogram it in your psyche?

For many of us films are “inspired texts.” But not for all of us. In eight years together my ex and I only went to the movies twice. He found the sound and large screen too stressful and overwhelming, too intense and too artificial, although I did drag him off to see It’s A Wonderful Life and The Gay Divorcee. And when I go to the movies I always take earplugs with me. These days, I don’t go very often. My primary texts were and remain, not paradoxically – books. Hence my place in a magazine and not at a film festival. But what comes up and out for you these illuminated texts?

  • If you are a regular moviegoer, don’t watch any films for at least a month, and ask yourself – “What am I using movies for? Is it a good thing?” Notice how much time you spend talking about movies, as if what was going on in those fictional dimensions was reality. Are you fed by films, do they inspire you to make the world a better place, or are they an escape from reality? If so, what can you do to change your life?
  • If you are someone who doesn’t watch movies at all, or very often, please try and see at least two movies and preferably three in the next month. Ask yourself – “Why am I not going to the movies? Is that a good thing?” Are you avoiding films because you are avoiding life, or because ________ (Fill in the blank.) Perhaps it’s time to review your relationship to movies. Perhaps it’s time to explore a new genre.

Movies may be the mass shamanic experience of our time. Or maybe they aren’t. We don’t even have good language for talking about the movies. We say, “I saw…. last night. Have you seen it yet?” as if the seeing were all there is. We have no way to merge the seeing and hearing of a film into one word. And therein the paradox remains. Film cannot capture or duplicate experience. But, perhaps, it can explain it.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

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