Category Archives: WC79 – Sanctuary

WC79 Steve Susoyev Interviews George Birimisa

A White Crane Conversation 

The Caffe Cino

Steve Susoyev Speaks with the Pioneering
Gay Playwright George Birimisa
about his Journey to Love. 

George Birimisa turned 84 in February of this year. A Caffe Cino pioneer, he is recognized as one of the first American playwrights to write plays featuring Gay characters who were full-bodied people, not merely victims or villains. Still writing, and working as a writing teacher, editor and activist, George took time out from work on his memoir, Wildflowers, to talk with Steve Susoyev.

STEVE SUSOYEV: I had the honor of being present in 2006 when you won the Harry Hay award in San Francisco, for your work in Gay theater and as an “inspiration across the generations.” Among your students you’re known as a role model of Gay pride, but I understand your history is a bit more complex than that.

GEORGE BIRIMISA: When I got involved in theater in the late nineteen-forties, I went around trying to act like Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, in a leather jacket, always with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. I was living a contradiction, out of the closet to only a few people. Some of my plays are full of homophobia. In the early sixties I wrote my first Gay play, Degrees, but it was very mild and didn’t reflect me or my life at all. Inching my way out of the closet. But then, in Georgie Porgie, in 1968, I put it all out there, so the world would know I was Gay.

SUSOYEV: Georgie Porgie was a breakthrough for Gay theater. Tennessee Williams wrote, “Bravo! A beautiful, courageous play. I loved it!”

BIRIMISA: Under the surface I was still ashamed and very guilty. I felt filthy, as if I should be exterminated. I didn’t know about Harry Hay, Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin. I think New York was very homophobic then, or maybe it was just me, looking at the world through the murk of my own self-hatred. And I had plenty of it.

SUSOYEV: You were in New York during the Stonewall riot, weren’t you?

BIRIMISA: I get a lot of mileage out of my image as a radical, a revolutionary. So it’s painful to admit this today, but I looked down on those brave queens at Stonewall. They were sissies and they embarrassed me. I think one of the pernicious things about homophobia is how it isolates us from the people we need most for support, and who most need our support.

I had been arrested and brutalized by cops. But when the queens were brutalized, I just wanted to distance myself from them. That was 1969. I was getting a reputation in the avant-garde Gay theater. But still in that leather jacket with the constant cigarette, still viewing the world through my self-hatred. I don’t know if I’m completely over it yet.

SUSOYEV: You’re describing a very complex process that we try to simplify. “Coming out” seems to have taken place in stages for you.

BIRIMISA: Baby steps.

SUSOYEV: Did you make an effort not to be Gay?

BIRIMISA: Oh, God, in 1951 I got married to a woman named Nancy, thinking that she would make me straight.

SUSOYEV: And how did that turn out?

BIRIMISA: Well, we had three-ways with straight guys, so in some ways our relationship deepened my homophobia — tough straight guys were my drug of choice. I remember many times, walking down the street with Nancy and feeling powerful and straight — at least hoping to fool people into thinking I was not a queer. Once a Gay man walked by and cruised me and Nancy said, “See, he figured out you were Gay.” “He did not,” I said angrily. “Anyway, most Gays are attracted to straight men. They don’t want another fuckin’ fag!”

But there were some hidden blessings. Nancy was the first “intellectual” I had ever known. My father had been a communist whose nickname was “Rough Rider.” When I was six, he gave a speech in the park in downtown Watsonville, California, where I was born. The fire department turned their hoses on him and threw him in jail. He gave his bunk to an old man, slept on the concrete, caught pneumonia and died. I had a love-hate relationship with him. He was nearly illiterate, and like so many things in my life, I was ashamed of him. But I have his fierce spirit inside me and I have been a rebel ever since. My mother ran off with a music teacher and I ended up in an orphanage at age seven. I was deeply ashamed of my poverty, and joined the Navy at 17 so I could have decent clothes to wear.

Nancy got me to read Das Kapital by Karl Marx and Anti-Dühring by Engels. Suddenly I had a language to explain how I felt in the world.

SUSOYEV: So your wife woke you up to politics?

BIRIMISA: Absolutely. She opened my eyes. I began to understand, slowly, that Gay people were oppressed just like blacks in the South and Jews during the Third Reich. And like poor people all over the world. And I wrote that anger at the unjust world into my plays.

SUSOYEV: So the political understanding moved you closer to self-acceptance?

BIRIMISA: Oh, God, it was a long, twisting road. It didn’t take me long to learn that the commies hated Gay people as much as the right-wingers hated us. For almost a year in New York I attended a group that was dedicated to turning guys like me into straight, God-fearing men. So painful to dredge this up today. When I quit the group I was disgusted. I told myself, “You're condemned to being a fucking fag for the rest of your life.”

SUSOYEV: You don’t look like a condemned man today. To anyone looking at you now, it’s obvious that at some moment light began to shine into your life. When was that?

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WC79 – Queer Spirit in Salt Lake City

White Crane Conversation

Queer Spirit in Salt Lake City

Gay Sanctuary Among  the Mormons

Corey Taylor talks with Jerry Buie about Building Gay Sanctuary

Corey Taylor: Why did you choose rural Utah as your setting for the Queer Spirit Retreat? Is there something about the landscape there that is in harmony with or increases the spiritual essence of your attendees?

Jerry Buie: There are several layers to responding to that question so I want to start with the practical. Wind Walker Ranch is located amongst an ancient cedar forest in Spring City, Utah. The caretaker, Loretta Johnson, is a friend of mine who shares many similar values in reference to spirituality. Loretta tends the land as a living entity and honors a path that is in harmony with nature. Loretta understands the mission, the goal and the aspiration of Queer Spirit and our relationship to Wind Walker Ranch. She has provided a very feasible financial plan to be able to do these retreats on her land. The market value of the retreat is approximately $600 – $700. We are able to host the retreat at a fraction of this cost. This makes the retreat accessible and until we get foundation funding or donations this facilitates our needs. So, that would be the practical answer. There are more spiritual logistics to consider as well. The ranch is unique as an epic center for ritual and ceremony with an ancient history of the Paiutes in this part of Utah.

What happens when we step into the unknown and all we identify, both physically and spiritually? To stay in the city or to a place that logistically keeps you connected to what you know frequently can circumvent going to new dimensions. Typically when an individual stays where they are most connected they will cling to those places that the ego knows and identifies. So, if we were to stay in the city and try to accomplish this task, I’m not sure that many of the transformations that we see at the Queer Spirit Retreats could truly take hold and take effect. We are too close to what the ego comes to identify. Queer Culture is multi-dimensional and we create identities based on what is accessible and familiar. We travel to a new city and we look up the same venues in different locations. Those venues, like bars, are places we attach ego and identity, so when we go to the clubs, we take on a persona. We play out an archetype. When we are around our families, we play out other archetypes. When we take people and basically seclude them from what is familiar, we remove layers of ego and we search for a more authentic place in our hearts. We start to find what is organic about who we are and how we relate to each other as Gay Men. That becomes critical in the process of these retreats.

When we get back into nature, which is what Wind Walker is about, we begin to take lessons from nature. For instance; we don’t see wild life scrambling for existence or acceptance. Nature simply exists and in a very authentic way, the trees or rabbits don’t wonder if they’re good enough. Nature simply is. What I find at the retreats, by getting people back to nature, back to authentic living and exploring, that often very spontaneous things happen among participants. There’s a level of awareness, there’s a level of sharing and there’s a level of existing that becomes very loving, and nurturing. That’s why we go to Wind Walker Ranch, that’s why we go to rural Utah, that’s why we exist during this weekend in a somewhat primitive circumstance because then we can disengage things we know and we can flow more freely and accepting in the essence of who we are. What I also find is that what takes root and when people come home from the retreat, what we hear several days later is how they’re able to integrate those new awareness’s and that new sense of being in their walk and their existence with other people.

I have found, for instance, that my time with the Fairies, again a retreat, a community, and a sanctuary becomes a place to explore and a place to establish the freedom away from the familiar. Stepping into the unknown requires a certain amount of trust and a certain amount of willingness to explore. That’s why we go to Wind Walker Ranch.

CT: In addition to retreats you regularly offer other gatherings, Sweat Lodges and other things that allow for your members/attendees to maintain their spiritual connection. What advice would you offer to Queer People who do not have easy access to such programs?

JB: This is again another great question and the answer is incredibly simple. The illusion is that we don’t have easy access. The reality is about what you’re willing to create. Queer Spirit may look incredibly organized because I tend to be a very Anal Retentive Organizer. I’m looking into the community and I’m exploring what our options are. It appears to be a standard to look outside ourselves for solutions and we’re waiting for someone to step up and take leadership. That someone could be you! The Fairies have a very powerful ritual that they participate in and that ritual is the one of Heart Circle. Heart Circle is basically Gay Men, Queer Men getting together creating circle and with a Talisman or Talking Stick, simply going to a place of sharing, opening up and dialoging about the essence of who we are as Queer Men. This is not complicated. We simply have this discussion and the exploration. Heart Circle involves listening, witnessing and sharing, getting to a deep heart level. Often it takes several attempts to get to a level of sharing that makes the soul take growth and healing for the people. So, accessibility is conditioned upon the willingness to step into and create, then you invite others to join you, the magic begins.

Where Queer Spirit may be a bit unique is that I come to that circle with perhaps a little more exposure, a little more accessibility to some tools such as a sweat lodge or a practice of meditation. You will find that as you create or call in what you are looking for those with talents and like mind will find you! They always do. The spirit of Queer Spirit is less about the tools and more about the willingness to explore. The true magic of Queer Spirit is the willingness for men to come together to share and witness each other’s story. If we did nothing else but have those circles we would be a powerful movement for change. We (The GLBT Community) would be a powerful movement politically if we explored our sense of identity more deeply. We become a powerful, magical group of people when we step out of the shadows, when we step out of the marginalized places of existing and we step fully into our stories, and it is within the context of those stories that we find our true essence and that essence, consciousness and mindfulness takes us to a place of power, takes us to a place of peace and takes us to a place of balance. That in my mind is truly what Queer Spirit represents. Lodge, yoga, meditation are tools to find those gifts and to fully experience ourselves. Planning gatherings becomes an organic process of what are our gifts and talents? As we look around at our community, and as we’ve created these circles, we begin to recognize that so and so has a gift here, so and so has a gift there, let’s invite them to come to the circle in a place of active participation instead of a passive recipient. We encourage people to share what works for them and they in turn find their own gifts.

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WC79 Jay Michaelson on the Sanctuary of Spirit

Loneliness and the Sanctuary of Spirit

By Jay Michaelson

I’m an old man now,
and a lonesome man in Kansas,
but not afraid to speak my lonesomeness…
because it’s not only my lonesomeness,
It’s ours, all over America, O tender fellows,
and spoken lonesomeness is prophecy.
— Allen Ginsberg, “Wichita Vortex Sutra Part 3”

Does loneliness open us to spirituality, or is spirituality merely a consolation for those of us who are lonely?

I’ve wondered about this question ever since I started on the spiritual path in earnest. When I was younger, and stupider, it was framed judgmentally. I would look at the sad and lonely people on retreat with me and say “I’m not like them — I’m here for God, not because my life is so pathetic that I need to fill the hole.” The very notion of sanctuary was alien to me; sanctuary from what? I could take care of myself fine, thank you.

Very quickly, however, I was forced to admit that I was, indeed, looking for sanctuary: for an embrace, and a shelter from the storm. The more I chipped away at the false layers of ego surrounding my core, the more pain, loneliness, and suffering I discovered. What is it they say — religion is for people afraid to go to hell, spirituality is for people who’ve been there?

Really, I’ve had it pretty good: born a middle-class white male in the richest country in history, to parents who loved me as best they could, and with uncountable privileges of education, background, and community. But, like many Gay men of a certain age and above, I also spent two decades hating myself, wishing I were different, longing for a life I could never had, and not understanding who I was, how I loved, or how I was wounding myself by wishing it was otherwise. And like many spiritual people, I experienced other forms of exclusion: I was a high school outcast, with few friends. I’ve never been a “people person.” And I’ve experienced my share of loss over the years.

But most of all, I think it is love, and its lack, that has impelled my spiritual work.  We all carry some wounds from childhood — especially, I think, Gay men — and I am no exception. I still occasionally hear myself speaking in a depressed, defeatist voice I learned from my father, or a harsh, critical voice I learned from my mother. And I still occasionally act as the rebellious, rash child in response. Yet when I reflect on my tears, they flow more from later loves than earlier ones. I’ve loved ten people dearly enough to merit the word used in its most serious sense — not crushes or relationships or flings or even dear, dear friendships; that number would be much higher. I mean the ones I think I would have died for, and in some cases, almost did.

Five of the first six were straight boys, whom I lusted after, yearned to be friends with, and for whom I variously cursed and romanticized my unrequited love. These were young men whom, at the time, I didn’t even know that I loved; I didn’t know that that’s what it was. But I cherished them, pined for them. Who knows what that must have done to me, a tender fifteen-to-twenty-six-year-old?

The sixth was a wonderful Gay boy I knew in college. We had a short relationship, but I was too terrified to continue it. I didn’t trust my body — didn’t think it worked, actually — and trusted my heart even less. I thought I was bisexual, and I knew I wanted a family. So I betrayed his love, let my own grow icy and distant. Thank God for him, he came out blazing, and had all the fun in college that I should have had, but didn’t.

The seventh was a woman — wonderful, really, and, thank God for her too, now happily married. She dumped me after a year. I was puzzled, because I didn’t know what real human connection was, and thought that we had it when really we didn’t, since I was too insular and fearful to be truly vulnerable. And yet, I did love her, as best as a crippled heart can.

Is it coincidence that during all this time, I also yearned for the love of a somewhat distant and judgmental God, whom I feared as much as loved? I had many spiritual experiences during those years, during which I lived as a Conservative and Orthodox Jew, but they were almost always tinged with authority, repression, clinging, desire to please, and conformity. I was alone, and I rejoiced in the sacred spaces of religion, but there was always some holding back.

My story is not so unusual, right? Surely you can nod your head, maybe recall in your heart your own lost loves, and feel the sweet pull of sadness, inviting you into the core of who you are?

One of my teachers said I’m at my best when I’m at my most broken, because that is where I am truest to myself, and most open to others. Not in the sense of wallowing in grief or rushing to erase it with distraction — but in the way Leonard Cohen, following Rumi, meant: “There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.” Being lonely opens me to the reality of dukkha, of suffering, and the naturalness of compassion for others. For each of us is, ultimately, alone.

To realize that each of us is alone need not be a depressing or life-denying insight. Often, when I encounter a group of people, I see them as a group, imagining that they are not alone, but I am. But in fact, all of us are “lonely planets,” and all the more lovable for it; we are in this conundrum together, yet each of us is existentially alone and reaching outward or inward to fill the emptiness.

But the filling is never completed. Love, partnership, satisfying work, spiritual highs, ecstasy, sex, possessions, new experiences, pleasure, friendship — all of these are wonderful gifts of being alive (How many there are! How many more could be named!). But as space-fillers, they are of at most temporary use. Very temporary, in fact: perceptions are blinking in and out of mind every moment, and even the most durable of them are subject to unexpected change. How long can any pleasure last, before either it passes, or we become disenchanted with it? This is not to deny pleasure, but to appreciate it, and relinquish it, and not hold on too tightly.

Relationship too. Really, every relationship is reconstructed on a daily (hourly?) basis, because each partner is constantly changing. If nothing else, each is aging — but there is much more. Changes in personality, taste, interest; new desires and disenchantment with old ones; new perspectives and the shedding of the past. All of these are part of the human condition, and there is no core that remains constant throughout.

Thus a love that is forever is a love that is forever renewed. When one person says to another, “I will love you forever,” it would be naive to think that the present experience of love, whatever it is, will endure forever. It will not. Like all conditioned phenomena, it is subject to change. It will grow and shrink, become more passionate and less so, deepen or evaporate. What a person can say, however, is that he will commit to the other throughout these changes — or at least, be patient and understanding of change, not bolting because the love or passion that was once present is now absent. Perhaps a new form of love will arise. Perhaps new people will arise who change the balances of relationship — children, for example. Or perhaps, upon careful reflection, it will be time to part. In any case, a mature commitment “for better or for worse” is not “I will love you forever as I love you right now,” but rather “I will renew my love for you forever, in different forms, in different modes, as a constantly renewing act of devotion.”

I have not yet known such a love with another man. I have known deep love, spiritual love, and ecstasies beyond the imagination of most people. I am wildly grateful to the lovers and teachers who have made all of them possible. But as I learned from lovers eight and nine (I won’t talk about number ten, for I love him still), holding on too tightly, either to another person or to an image of what love should be, destroys the very thing that is sought to be held. Number eight left me because I was too clingy and needy; I was so astonished that someone so wonderful and sexy could love me that, instead of loving myself, I grabbed onto him, never wanting to let go. Wisely, he fled.

 

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WC79 – Easton Mountain

79Easton Holding Sanctuary

My Experiment at Easton Mountain and the Call to Community

By John Stasio

The seeds for Easton Mountain were planted in my psyche as far back as my college years when I lived in a student community committed to social justice. Haley House was the one place on campus where it was safe and welcoming for Gay students to meet. It was in fact a sanctuary.

Later in my life I was working as a massage therapist and body worker. My practice, housed in a Jesuit rectory, was largely for Gay men, many of whom were trying to stay healthy as they dealt with being either infected with or affected by HIV. The JUC, or Jesuit Urban Center, was one of a few Catholic Churches in Boston in the early years of the epidemic where Gay men and persons with HIV were welcomed and treated with dignity and respect. Many family members who sought to have the funeral of their loved ones at other locations told stories of being refused ministry from their suburban parishes and funeral homes. Again I found myself living and working in what could easily be described as an urban sanctuary.

As the plague of HIV continued to claim the lives of friends and loved ones, the desire for refuge grew as a need in my life. This need was echoed by the colleagues and friends whom I asked early in 1989 to plan and lead a men’s retreat with me. We planned and sponsored a retreat for “men who love men” and titled the experience AWWOB — “A Weekend With Our Brothers.” It was the first of scores of gatherings that would be sponsored by a community of men that would later incorporate as Brothers Together (“BT”). BT would offer weeklong and weekend programs that hundreds of men would experience as a safe and supportive place in their lives, and for a decade we were in fact creating a temporary bit of sanctuary.

These experiences along with many others would send a small group of men in search of real estate in the summer of 1999. We visited farms, cabins and tracks of land in New England and Upstate New York and finally end up at a dilapidated ski resort in the town of Easton, NY and began what has been a decade-long experiment in creating community and offering a place of sanctuary. What follows is a piece of that story.

After a long and difficult negotiation, and with the help of a business partner who would remain with the project for only a few months, I managed to acquire “Easton Mountain.” The 175 acres of mountain, fields, ponds, streams, orchards and buildings had been called the Phoenix resort, and had been sitting abandoned for the five years prior to our arrival. My vision was clear, at least to me, as I had been dreaming a quasi-utopian dream for nearly twenty years. With a group of committed men we would create a place apart from the world where we could grow and heal, play and pray, dream big dreams and wild schemes for making the world a better place. From this hilltop the light of our queer gifts could shine for all the world to see and we could spawn a revolution of love, or at least, as Peter Maurin would say; we “could build a world in which it is easier for men to be good.”

Next, with the help of some buddies, I assembled a plan and wrote to everyone who I thought might help with this endeavor. In my solicitation letter, I told them what I wanted to do. I put together some numbers, pictures, ideas and then described the vision this way:

“Easton Mountain will be the home to a spiritual community dedicated to transforming and healing the human soul. We commit to living lightly on the earth, promoting social justice, and celebrating together. We vow to spread beauty and encourage creativity. We value openness and a radical hospitality, which seeks to embrace all others as sisters and brothers. We respect the wisdom of the body, the interdependence of all life, and non-violence in the resolution of conflicts. We promote peace and freedom for all. We seek an ever-deepening connectedness to self, others, and all of creation.”

I tried to make a case that we could do something wonderful if we had help. I said a prayer and I mailed out a stack of plans. To my amazement only a few days later checks started arriving and the phone started to ring.

From the start, I wanted to bring the gifts I had received on my journey to bear on the creation at Easton Mountain.

John Stasio is the founder of Easton Mountain, a multi-faith retreat center and spiritual community of men who love men. John was a member of the Jesuit Urban Center's Urban Ministry team where he provided spiritual direction and bodywork to people living with HIV/ AIDS.  He is a former seminarian and member of the Catholic Worker Community. He splits his time between sharing a home with his partner and a golden retriever in Albany and retreating to a cabin in the woods of Easton Mountain.

Visit Easton Mountain at: www.eastonmountain.com

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WC79 – Harry Hay on the Need for Sanctuary

HarryThe Heartline
that Connects

Harry Hay on the Need for Sanctuary

When the first Faerie gathering had been held in Arizona in 1979, Harry, John and some of the other organizers had hoped that a group dedicated to the establishment of Faerie sanctuaries would result. Even though that did not happen, the Colorado Faerie gathering in 1981 offered an opportunity to put forth that idea once again. A large workshop on the subject was held in which Harry explained the urgent need for these sanctuaries.

Harry: when we are talking about sanctuaries, we are really talking about planting ourselves in places where within the sanctuary we are inviolable. We’re talking about places where…this we need…this we know we need if we are going to grow. This we know we need if we are going to get rid of the scar tissue which stands between most of us and our feelings. Because these are the damages we have suffered in this life. And if we’re going to find out who we really are. If we’re going to find out how much we can contribute we’re going to have to get rid of that stuff. And we’re going to have to find out who we are…and we’re going to have to relate. And we’re going to have to do that in places that are secure and safe.

Thus the sanctuary in the country. Thus the sanctuary in the city walls. These are what they must be: they must be places to which you can go and feel safe. Where you feel safe, where you are loved, where you are trusted and where you can relax and simply be yourself. This has to happen.

Voice: Like this?

John: Yes…like this.

Harry: It’s important for us to be doing work together. One of the things we learned from the last gathering, last year…We hadn’t been…we personally, hadn’t been home for 24 hours when our telephone was ringing off the hook. People were calling “We have to get back together again!” But the problem was, in getting back together again, all we were doing was remembering what we had brought back with us from Arizona.

Now, you can only remember for so long and then the memory gets dimmer and dimmer and dimmer. And then pretty soon, you’re strangers to each other. You either grow together or you grow away from each other. There is no living on the razor’s edge. So either you undertake projects together, and in so doing you come to know one another even better, and then the intimacy, and the easy relaxation you all had together go on being a part of your experience. And you go on applying them and growing. And this is what must happen. And this is what must happen in Faerie families. You do grow together. You do come to really love each other and trust each other and you move from level to level to level and new dimensions.

The subject-Subject world is a whole brand new world, and there’s no leadership in it yet, and you are going to be its body of experience, if we’re going to have any at all. And so there are wonderful experiences ahead and fine experiments to be tried, but they have to be done in safe places. And we have to feel that we are within groups in which we are totally safe and loved and trusted. We can’t pretend this. If we pretend this, it won’t work. It has to be true. It has to be real.

Voice: This idea is very inspiring, and this gathering for me has been a first experience where I realized the possibility of a truly different way to live, and to share with each other. I would like to hear from Harry, and other people, more about the specifics, which I realize will evolve. But there probably has been more thinking than has been expressed so far, about empowerment of each other, in this community, and accessibility and what modes in subject-Subject community we will be able to establish that will be different than the subject-object ones. I know there have been precedents throughout most of our history, people have lived without owning land and they have lived in a much better way of empowering each other and relating to the Earth. But I would like to hear more of your thoughts about the structure. Because even anarchism is a very important structure. We need structure.

John Burnside: I think there’s something around “structure” that would be interesting to say here. As I see…and dream…the feelings that we recognize in ourselves is a great gift that we have, relating to one another, subject-Subject, in Faerie ways, could become, back home, the means for establishing Faerie families. See whether or not you live together or live separately…but if you have this sense of being, of connected, of connecting with one another, in the sense of the best meaning of the word “family” means here. We have done that in Los Angeles and there are four in our family…because we could not find a larger house in that city. We are connected, you see, by that Faerie feeling which extends to each and every one of us a maximum of freedom of movement, of choice. I have not once felt oppressed by the collective. I’ve felt very free within it. And the Faerie feeling makes the collective possible. I don’t want to use the word “commune” yet…let us say “living together” possible. What it required of me was that I lay aside something that no longer has the meaning or value it once had to me, and that was the wonderful Gay dream of your own place, in the city, your castle, full of beautiful things, [laughter from the circle]…oh I’m not laughing…it’s possible to laugh at it, but that’s a beautiful conception, and many of us must carry that out for ourselves before we can actually think of a collective life. Because collective life may not allow this to the same extent. However there is an element of Faerie individuality, which in our collective is very important and is maintained…each of us has his own room, which is his space, in which is his altar and little things that he has, and the beautiful things and the important things. Things that have magic for him. And in which he can be completely to himself. And we give very deep Faerie respect to these spaces.  And I don’t see why in a collective, such as we’re thinking of in the country, that each one of us could not have his own Faerie space.

Voice: It’s really hard for me to get over that American, you know, whatever I grew up with, of having a private space. And for me that doesn’t necessarily include a kitchen, but it does include a living room a bedroom and a studio. [laughter from the circle.] And it’s real important to have a workspace…a studio. I’m a weaver so I have to have a workspace. But when I do my art, I have to be alone. So that’s why I include a studio.

Harry: The people who will be coming to these sanctuaries, as we see it, are the people who have been through these experiences that you are talking about now. And are willing “to slip the ego”…willing to slip…voluntarily giving up a number of things, in order to move to a new dimension, a new way of seeing. A way that will require a new way of living. If we’re going to explore new ways of being together, if we’re going to explore new ways of relating to each other, if we’re going to discover the new world of subject-Subject, this has to be a commitment and this has to be a way of moving and seeing. And in the process of doing this, we want to be, we want ourselves to be self supporting. And, for instance, in our own sanctuary now, we have what we would call a life of voluntary simplicity. And we have given up quite a number of things which in our lives before have been quite important. But what we are doing now is far more important to us than what those things were, and the commitment was very easy to make. And these are the things we have to do; this is how we’re going to have to move. And the Call that we are sending is not a call for everyone. We send out the call. Those who hear will answer. Those who do not here: the message is not for you. We are simply saying this is a way of moving and a way of seeing. It is a way of reaching out to new dimensions and a way for the Faerie people to be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. When I am gone that community land trust that I have put all of myself into, is there for you to go on in perpetuity. It isn’t just a way of living together comfortably as Faeries, this is not the point at all! Not at all. I am calling for a new way to move. I am calling, among other things, to say to you: fascism is coming. And we are going to be the pink triangles again. And unless we are prepared…I’m quite serious about this. And I’m simply saying that we have to begin thinking in those terms, and for those of us who are ready to make the move and make the change and make the leap…let’s leap together!

Covelo: I don’t know…I feel like I have a lot to say, but I don’t exactly know what. Because from my experiences I have a lot to teach. But maybe what I want to say is that the process of this circle, the process of living on the land, with love and respect for the land, with voluntary simplicity really solves a lot of problems. Like we had a lot of really macho people. They would walk around in leather with guns and kill deer and stuff like that. And they all left. None of them could handle the process of the circle. The circle was stronger than any of that. And another thing that I want to say is, I understand the need for Faerie sanctuary. I don’t want to question that. That’s what we’re talking about. But I feel a little bit disturbed by the “mean and them”…I’m a human being…more than anything else, I’m a human being. And I have found that some of the people in the leather chaps are really, sincerely my friends more than some of the other people. And I just wanted to bring that up. And I give all of my blessings to this project. I don’t know…I just wanted to say that it was the most vital and creative and exciting experience of my life. And that it works. And I give you all my blessings…and let’s do it!

Harry: One of the things that I don’t think we think about quite so often as we might…and we Gay people certainly should be thinking about it all the time, is that the world that’s coming will be a plural society. The Korean people who are coming here…the Thais in southern California, the Asians who are coming into Florida, have no intention of joining our “melting pot.” They’re going to be Haitians living here. They’re going to be Koreans living here. California is going to be a place of multiple minorities and in a very short time – multiple minorities who will far outnumber the original “natives” who were part of the melting pot, in the 1920s. That particular image of America is going…in fact it is already gone. And we must take our place. We Faeries must take our place as an equal minority among many minorities. And this is what we’re heading for. But we cannot become a minority until we know who we are!

The Korean people and the Haitian people know very well who they are. But we don’t know who we are. Because we have been so busy…as an act of survival…we have been so busy pretending we’re exactly the same as everyone else [laughter from the circle]. And now I am saying to anyone who will hear, that now we must begin to maximize our differences between us and them. And there are multitudes. There are even far more differences between us and them than even we know about. What we must begin to do is …what I mean is…we have not allowed ourselves to see all the differences there are.

If we would meet together in groups…if we begin a Faerie sanctuary by meeting every week, and maximizing the differences between ourselves and them, telling how we have been invaded and intruded upon every day, telling about how our face has been walked on every place we’ve gone, little by little we sensitize ourselves, to finally realizing that we are vandalized far more than we know we are. And, the point is this, that as we maximize these differences between ourselves and them, we will find at the bottom of the Grand Canyon between there, the heart-line that connects us. The one we’ve always known was there, but didn’t know what it was. As we begin to find out who we are, we’ll find out who they are. Now…they don’t know who they are…they’re “it.” [laughter from the circle.] They assume that’s all there is! [laughter] You know better. So that we will be doing everyone an enormous service. I say we are maximizing the enormous differences between us and them as an act of love. A love for ourselves and love for the society in which we belong. Because I am not suggesting in any way that we separate out and forget it entirely. We need them; they need us. We love them and they love us…if they knew who we were! But they don’t.

And this is our job now. We must begin to define ourselves to them as we wish to be defined. And refusing any longer to living up to their definition of us, which is what we’ve been living with all along. We must define ourselves as we wish to be defined. We must begin to show ourselves as we wish to be seen. And we must speak as we wish to be heard. And when we make our contributions back to the parent society, we will do it on our terms. But we cannot do this until we are a confident and self-assured people that speaks a language which communicates to all of us. This we must do.

Voice: Talking about differences, I came from a very un-different family…white, middle class, small town. Everyone was “normal.” And then, I found out I was Gay. Then I found out I was a pagan. And then I found myself in a wheelchair. And now I’m a Faerie. [laughter from the circle.] What’s next?! I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I’m pretty “fringy”…pretty far out. And I don’t think it’s anything like you set yourself apart. You can be called an elitist, I suppose, but I see it as an artistry in my own life, having done all these things. And I think we all have something that we can be proud of because it takes a lot of effort and a lot of shit to go through to get here.

Harry: I don’t want to sound like a kill-joy…and I don’t want to sound negative…and I don’t want to sound prejudiced or “iron-bound” but I’ve had the experience of talking to many people at this gathering who talk about the holocaust as being something in their past. You forget that it was my life. I have lived a long time. I have seen many things happen. And I do know this: that when a time of reaction comes, and I have seen times of reaction. And I have fought anti-Semitism in the streets of Los Angeles. And I have chained myself to lampposts and been beaten down, with my chains broken by the police and my arms broken, too. And I want to say this: that do we at any time join ourselves with the straights, no matter how tolerant they may be, no matter loving they may be now…when the time for reaction comes and all of a sudden it becomes necessary maybe to “haul in” and maybe don’t show yourselves quite so much and maybe don’t be quite so blatant, because we don’t know what they neighbors are going to do, and all of a sudden there’s a reactionary politician in the area and we’ve got to be concerned about our tax credits and so on…We are in trouble. We have to have a Gay sanctuary. With straights next door. Friendly people over the street is fine. But a place that is inviolable and OURS. So that when the shit comes down we have a place to come home to and we don’t have to hide within our own particular households and within our own particular lands, if we don’t choose.

Voice: I get excited every time you talk about that and I also get a little twinge of fear. It seems to me one of the key ingredients of what you’re saying is visibility. Being out there. And if and when the fascists come, our visibility…we make such delightful scapegoats, you know? We’re different. And we’re not macho. What is going to make our sanctuary inviolable?

Harry: Two words: Faerie invention. What I am really saying is this: whether we are macho or whether we are not, when fascism comes we are the scapegoats, make no mistake. The thing that we have to be concerned with is how we react, and how we relate, and we’re going to relate far better if we are all together thinking. We will finds ways and means to survive. Our visibility and our growth and the new dimensions of consciousness which we raise, will carry forth. And maybe the ones in this room will not survive. But Faerie brothers elsewhere will see what we have done. We will not die. You Jewish people know this. We will not die. This is what we’re involved with. This is the commitment I am asking a number of you to make: to carry that dimension forward. To carry that consciousness forward. Not for those in this room, but the ones who may meet here fifteen years from now. These are the ones I am talking about. And I probably won’t be here at that time.

These are the things I’m concerned with.
And so consequently, we will come together and we will find our ways.
And we will invent.
We always have.
And we do it very well.

 

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WC79 – Editor’s Note

Editor's Note
A Place for Us
By Dan Vera & Bo Young

Bo: For myself, I'd say because I think the idea of "sanctuary" is important to Gay men…Harry Hay's discourse on this, that we include here, is probably the core of the issue. The idea that to be able to self-define who we are, it's necessary to withdraw from the larger community so we can have a literal safe zone in which to SEE who we really are…this isn't particular to Gay people, either…the long tradition of retreat from community to self-reflect…

Dan: The idea seems so radical. I recall the first time I visited a sanctuary I was stunned by the idea that everything around me was built by Gay hands. I was in "Gay land" if you will. I remember that I was affected physically by it.

Bo: The first time I went, it was nothing less than magical…not what I expected at all…and I think I hear that from a lot of people, whose first idea is that it's going to be some kind of "free love" on-going orgy… which, I think reflects more on the general cultures definition of who we are.

Dan: I was familiar with experiencing urban enclaves of Gay living, where we've carved out a little place or rebuilt it from what was there before, but this was land that was barren and built by people like me. It was edifying to see and experience what was possible — because I think I was still under sway with the belief that we couldn't create or we were ancillary to what straight culture builds.

Bo: Yes…the physical places were incredible…are incredible…the hobbit-ness of it all..we're in "the shire"…it really gives form to the whole idea that we HAVE a culture!
Dan: Yes, with that bit of whimsy and usually an amazing eye to detail.

Bo: To say nothing of the ability to make magic…make something…out of nothing…discards, scrap lumber, pieces of glass

Dan: This was actually Zuni Sanctuary in New Mexico, which of all the places we've mentioned was created from the land up…

Bo: I think the concept of "the Circle" was really cemented in Radical Faerie culture here…the "heart circle" was practiced…and elevated to a pillar of that community in these places…and the Gathering

Dan: The other thing that's powerful about sanctuaries is that it is meant to be a free-zone from the constant translation we have to do in our lives.

Bo: Yes…and in the most subtle of ways, I think this is one of the most freeing parts about them.

Dan: It wasn't until I visited a sanctuary that I realized how much time I spend translating myself, or repelling the wave upon wave of messages and images I get of otherness. There were no ADs or television constantly showing hetero-normativity again and again

Bo: What I also find interesting is that initially, it was believed that the sanctuaries had to be rural compounds…but in fact, Harry even talks about this, and John, they believed that they were living in a sanctuary in Los Angeles…all the while dreaming of a rural sanctuary…

Dan: Again. This might sound a bit extreme but until you've experienced a free zone where you're not buffeted by it you don't know how it is SO pervasive.

Bo: Right

Dan: Yeah. I loved that part of Harry and John's talk. Especially when John starts describing their little group house as a sanctuary.

Bo: I remember how quiet the place was (my first sanctuary was SMS)…I spent about three weeks there (just after Dancing my first Naraya, and after breaking up from an eight year relationship) in the middle of December, into January…I wanted to move there.

Dan: I was also impressed by John's defense of the need for Gay men to have their own homes and honoring the importance of that. John was always like that, very both/and. It's important to build sanctuary communities but it's also important and vital for us to have homes with beauty and comfort.

Bo: For this issue, though…we wanted to present not only Faerie sanctuaries, but also alternative places like Easton Mountain…Gay-centric, but organized differently…and the piece about different Queer-friendly place in Europe.

Dan: It's hard not to visit a sanctuary and not want to stay. The quiet and the community. Enrique Andrade's piece about working with urban Gay teens in Portland is an example of one building refuge "Safe spaces" as a form of sanctuary. I want to go out on a limb here and say that after coming out as an individual, visiting a sanctuary was like fully coming out to ourselves. I mean there was a sense of our uniqueness as a people in community.

Bo: When Cove and Rosie and I were leading Harry and John's SexMagic workshops at Destiny, we were always talking about how we might be able to do them in an urban environment…and it was difficult…the rural sanctuaries offer so many rich possibilities…the possibility of being naked all the time, among them, of course…

So I want to talk about the idea behind this issue…Primarily, I was interested in sort of a "polling" of the faerie sanctuaries, and including the other sanctuaries, such as Gay Spirit Vision, Easton Mountain and the Hermitage in Pennsylvania…

Dan: They all have different histories but come out of a similar impulse to carve out a space, a refuge for doing work together removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Bo: And I wanted to get a report on the status of these places…some of which have been around, now, for decades…and I think we got a very interesting set of reports and pieces. Some of these places are thriving, and some are having various kinds of difficulties. Some seem to be achieving something that resembles Harry's "dream" of a safe harbor for Gay men…and some that seem to be falling prey to the usual pitfalls of utopian communities.

Dan: like?

Bo: …like internecine squabbling…who is "allowed" and who isn't…almost like the Jews deciding “Who is a Jew and who isn’t, there’s a lot of “who is a Faerie and who isn’t?”…women being allowed, trans people being allowed…all very touchy, and creating no small amount of controversy. I remember Wolfie, AKA Silverfang, who I know as a female, a Bisexual, if not a Lesbian, on her knees in front of Harry, in the middle of a Naraya, asserting her “faerie-ness”…much to Harry’s consternation, I might add…and her right, therefore, to be “on the land.”

Dan: It makes sense that as things age, they evolve. They change and adapt to new challenges. What is the state of the sanctuary for Gay men today?

Bo: Well, for example, one of the hallmarks of Wolf Creek…one of the things that really grabbed me when I first went there, was the idea that anyone, at any time could request "fag only space"…and anyone who wasn't a "gay male identified" male would be asked to leave the land…

I must admit the first time I heard that I was gobsmacked by the idea and at the same time, it immediately communicated the core principle of safety to me as a Gay man…I was in a safe place that would protect me if I needed it…And I was always impressed, as well, that there were other sanctuaries that didn't do this, that became more broadly defined sanctuaries for "queer people" of whatever gender… or, in the case of Short Mountain, that became recognized in the community as a wildlife sanctuary in the wider, general community…

I mean…I'll never forget going to a work week before a Gathering once, and taking a truck down to a local gravel pit to get stones for pathways…and I was told just to say I was "from the sanctuary"…and here I am in deepest darkest Tennessee…and I'm thinking this is just about like wrapping myself in lavender and parading down Main Street….I had all the urban preconceived ideas of what rural life was like…

So I pulled up in this truck, and announced that I was "from the sanctuary"…and this redneck good ol' boy in the shack greeted me, and asked "Oh we love the sanctuary…how're all the boys doin' up there?" It was the first time I ever had the experience of that kind of acceptance and tolerance, if you will, outside of an urban environment.

Dan: I had the same experience in New Mexico with the folks at Zuni. This isolated sanctuary — perhaps the most remote of the ones we're covering — in the middle of Mormon Indian country and yet they've managed to carve out community with the single women, the non-traditional religious, the artsy people who are SO very thankful to have access to this group of creative men living in their midst. Who helped create an artist community and gallery in this very rural area. Just powerful and daring and "right."

Bo: …which speaks to Harry's idea of a need to withdraw to be able to discover who we are in peace, to self-define…and through that, the larger, dominant community would come to understand us on our own terms…or at least there was the possibility of that happening.

So…the purpose of this issue, then, is to let readers see the wide selection of sanctuaries that are available to them…I know some people are wary of faeries in general…and I hope this shows that there are other options…and, at the same time, I hope this makes some of the faerie sanctuaries more appealing…

Bo: And makes the variation among faerie sanctuaries more apparent, too…each one seems to have it's own personality and its own way of functioning.

Dan: Well, there are so many options for folks. I hope that this issue would help remind our readers that the need for space outside the city, outside the conventional world — beyond the translation is not only necessary but very possible.

Bo: From Radical Faerie land to Rational Faerie retreats…

Dan: ssssssssssssssssss

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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: www.Gayspiritvisions.org 
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Centers: www.mountaincenters.org

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: www.treesftf.org

 

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.

WC79 – Updrafts

UPDRAFTS

I love to walk because it releases all the stuff pent up inside. There is something for me about the Brooklyn Bridge. I must walk it at least once a week. I walk from the friary downtown and then across the beach and maybe keep going out to Brighton Beach. I get an ice cream cone there and then I come home.  I get ideas on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Even when I’m not looking for one. The stone on the buttresses of the bridge is from West Milford, New Jersey, the place where I was last pastor. I love to look at the Statue of Liberty, the lights of the city, the Verazzano Bridge, the Manhattan bridge carrying the subway cars. The city is just the most extraordinary place.    Mychal Judge

To seek approval is to have no resting place, no sanctuary. Like all judgment, approval encourages a constant striving. It makes us uncertain of who we are and of our true value. Approval cannot be trusted. It can be withdrawn at any time no matter what our track record has been. It is as nourishing of real growth as cotton candy. Yet many of us spend our lives pursuing it.    Rachel Naomi Remen

It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway… to step inside the garden gate and close it behind. . . One is now inside… Out of one world, and in the mysterious heart of another… and after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia… Here is that mystic loveliness… Here is home… An old thread, long tangled comes straight again.    Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek

Thousands of nerve-shaken over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is necessary and that mountain peaks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.    John Muir

Do not keep anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. William Morris

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place.  Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lands they have known from childhood remains but a place of passage.  They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known.  Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves . . . Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs.  Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.  Here at last he finds rest.
W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

I would not think that philosophy and reason themselves will be man's guide in the foreseeable future; however, they will remain the most beautiful sanctuary they have always been for the select few.  Albert Einstein


 

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WC79 – Review of Condor 1

Rvu_condor1 Condor One  By John Simpson

Dreamspinner Press, 212 pages, $11.99
ISBN-13: 978-0981737287

Reviewed by Steve Lavigne

Following twelve years of dangerous Republican rule, in the 2012 elections, the nation elects recently outed Democratic candidate David J. Windsor to the Presidency. In a short time following his oath of office, Windsor is under both physical and verbal attacks, so he finds himself under the protection of his Secret Service Agent, Shane Thompson. Attracted to this striking specimen of manhood, Windsor’s in danger of putting his life into even more jeopardy. But there’s a lot more in store than either man has bargained for in Condor One, John Simpson’s sharp, enthralling and sexy political thriller! (The title refers to the Secret Service’ code name for its leading character.)

Windsor, cousin to England’s King William (under the advice of his mother, the Queen, Charles has wisely stepped aside and allowed his charming son the rightful place upon the throne), within the first few months of his administration, many of the policies and laws signed into law by Bush are overturned. Windsor organizes a Peace Summit in the Middle East and the most significant act of treason since the American Revolution is thwarted. There are members of Windsor’s staff who are both faithful to the man and his ideals and against the very things he stands for, and Simpson blends them well in this smoothly written, thought-provoking novel.  That Simpson was himself an award-winning Federal Agent gives Condor One much of its credibility.

Simpson has become something of a wonder in the world of Gay writers, publishing several books already this past year, including the previously reviewed Murder Most Gay as well as its sequel, Task Force. His storytelling style is spellbinding, and while he’s toned down the sexual passages in this book, they still add humanity to both David and Shane, whose romance is both exciting and dangerous.

With the outcome of the 2008 Presidential Race promising unprecedented change, it will be fascinating to see how the next administration comes making things as different as Simpson hints in this wise and enjoyable tome!

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

WC79 – Hadrian at the British Museum

Hadrian Hadrian at the British Museum

Reviewed by Paul Harmon

When most Americans think of Roman emperors, they think of the first five emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. These emperors, all related to Julius Caesar, are usually referred to as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Collectively, they reigned from 31 BC until 68 CE – some 99 years. In fact, of course, the Roman Empire in the West lasted from the inauguration of Augustus in 31 BCE to the abdication of the emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 CE some 507 years later and was ruled by about 80 emperors from several different dynasties.

The dynasty that has long attracted the interest of historians and Gay readers is the third dynasty, often referred to as the Dynasty of the Adoptive Emperors. Gibbon famously referred to this period as the apex of the Roman Empire and suggested that during this period humankind was as happy and prosperous as it had ever been before or since. The period began in AD 96 when, following the murder of Domitian, a particularly nasty tyrant, the imperium was given to Nerva, an elderly senator with a reputation for fairness and intelligence. Having no sons, and knowing he needed to keep control of the army, Nerva adopted Trajan, the general in charge of the Roman armies of the Rhine. Trajan was officially married, like all Roman aristocrats, but he preferred the company of young men. Thus, Trajan, in turn, had no children, and decided to adopt his nephew, Hadrian, as his successor. Hadrian, in turn, adopted his successor. In fact, Hadrian adopted two generations of successors, first adopting an elderly Antoninus Pius as his son, and then arranging for Antoninus Pius to adopt Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius broke this series of adoptions, preferring the pleasures of married life and having children; he allowed his son, Commodus, to become emperor. Commodus was a nasty piece of work who got himself killed in 192 AD, ending the Adoptive Dynasty. 

Those who have seen the movie Gladiator will recall that the author of the movie script suggested that Marcus Aurelius may have been ready to adopt a military general, Maximus, as his successor, but was killed by Commodus to prevent that. There is no historical data to support that notion. However that may be, for a little over 100 years, Rome was ruled by a succession of intelligent, diligent men who chose their successors rather than simply passing on the imperium to their children. The fact that some were old and without sons and that others were homosexual contributed to the success of this period by avoiding unfit offspring, and giving the imperium, instead, to mature men who had already proved their ability to manage armies and administer a complex civil government. 

Under Trajan the empire grew to include the most territory it ever encompassed. It stretched from Gibraltar to England and the Netherlands, down along the Rhine, and across the Danube to the Black Sea and Turkey. It included every land touching the Mediterranean, all of the Middle East, and all of North Africa. Trajan, just before his death, completed the dream that so many Roman generals had failed to achieve, and conquered Mesopotamia, extending the boundary of the Empire, in the East, to include Babylon and the Persian Gulf. Then Trajan, his health having been damaged by his Mesopotamia campaign, died of a stroke. Hadrian, who had been a general in his own right for many years, was proclaimed Emperor on August 11, 117 CE. Hadrian proceeded to rule for 21 years, dying in July of 138 CE. During those 21 years, he established himself as one of the very great Roman emperors. As a result of his extended love affair with a Greek youth, Antinous, he also established himself as Rome’s most famous “Gay” emperor.

The first challenge Hadrian faced, following his accession, was the problem of managing the recently expanded empire that he inherited from Trajan. Hadrian decided that the Roman Empire was overextended, and he proceeded to withdraw from territories that would be hard to defend. He gave up, for example, all of Mesopotamia and reestablished the Eastern border of the empire in Syria. Within the area he chose to keep – which was most of the empire – he established forts and walls to make defense easier. Thus, Hadrian’s famous wall across northern England came to define the boundary between England and the wilds of Scotland. In a similar way he built walls and forts along the Rhine and the Danube in an effort to exclude the Germanic tribes from the Roman Empire. 

To accomplish this refinement of Rome’s borders, Hadrian personally traveled throughout most of his reign. In essence, his court traveled with him, setting up camp with the army, wherever Hadrian spent time. This is not to suggest that Hadrian moved quickly. His life was a slow progression from one Roman province to another. At each stop he would analyze the strategic position of the province and adjust and fortify the borders as needed. At the same time Hadrian loved architecture and built roads and commissioned civic and religious buildings throughout the empire.  

This same pattern was followed by his successor, Marcus Aurelius, who apparently built a large Roman bathhouse in a town in Southern Turkey that was subsequently destroyed by an earthquake around 580 CE. Recently, Belgium archaeologists have been excavating the site, and have unearthed the bathhouse in which they have found several large statues of the various emperors and empresses of the Adoptive Dynasty. Along with a statue of Marcus Aurelius and his wife, they have also discovered statues of Hadrian and his wife. This discovery stimulated the British Museum to mount a major exhibit on Hadrian. The exhibit ran from July 24 to October 26 of this year and provided what was probably the most complete display of Hadrian artifacts ever shown in one location. 

For those who know the British Museum, the Hadrian exhibit was in the library at the center of the Great Court. The original museum had been a square building with a large hollow courtyard in the center. When the museum was updated a few years ago, a round library a great dome that was build in the center of the building’s courtyard. A glass roof was then erected to cover all of the space from the top of the library dome to the walls of the original building, creating a large covered courtyard. The Hadrian exhibit was housed in the library. As one entered the Great Court, right in front of the library, on a raised platform, was the larger than life statue of Antinous, in the guise of the Egyptian god Osiris. This statue, which normally resides in the Vatican Museum, is probably the most exciting piece of soft-core porn created in the ancient world. The standing youth is wearing an Egyptian headdress and an Egyptian linen kilt. His strong masculine chest and legs are nude. Unlike other Egyptian figures, however, it is nearly impossible not to focus on how the tip of Antinous penis pushes forward his kilt, creating an unmistakable bulge. His head is upright, but his upper body is thrust backward, emphasizing not only his back muscles, but a powerful and very shapely ass. This wonderfully erotic statue, made for the grieving Hadrian after the youth’s death, was clearly designed to remind Hadrian of just how exciting the young man had been. So much for setting the tone for the exhibit.

The exhibit was organized to move viewers around the inside of the circular library. Curved canvas panels had been erected on the inside of the library to cover the book-lined walls. The exhibit took advantage of these panels to project color slides. Thus, the exhibit combined objects, narrative in the form of either textual posters or recordings one could listen to with headphones, and projected images. The three were combined about as effectively as I have ever seen it done.

The first pie shaped section of the exhibit focused on Roman society during the age of Trajan and Hadrian. The second focused on the size and scope of the empire, the military forces used to create and enforce the Roman peace, and the role of Trajan in creating, and Hadrian in bounding the empire together, at its height. There was also a collection of statues of the various emperors and their wives. Hadrian was variously portrayed via busts and statues as an adolescent, a young man, and as emperor. There, among the other statues, was the five-foot high marble head of the statue of Hadrian that had recently been excavated from the Roman bathhouse in southern Turkey.

The next stage of the exhibit focused on Hadrian’s various building projects. It being England, there were many pictures and artifacts of Hadrian’s wall that divided England from Scotland, but there were also models and wonderful photos of the Pantheon, the Forum of Trajan that Hadrian built in Rome, and Hadrian’s mausoleum. The Pantheon is, perhaps, the most famous and powerful example of monumental Roman architecture still in existence. The building was designed as a drum covered by a dome – much like the library in which the exhibit was located. The interior space is defined to encase a complete sphere. Thus, the dome is a hemisphere, and the drum is the same height, so that the dome could be reversed and sit within the drum. This created a very large space, and the concrete dome of the Pantheon emphasizes the skill of the Roman engineers who could assemble such a huge, open space. The building was created as a temple where all the gods of the empire could be worshipped equally – each having his or her niche in the circular wall. Hadrian’s mausoleum and the bridge approaching it, the Pons Aelius, were later desecrated by the popes who converted it into a fortress, the Castel Sant’Angelo.

The exhibit also provided good examples of buildings Hadrian built elsewhere. Hadrian was especially fond of Greek culture and adorned Athens with a library and a monumental temple to Zeus. The most extensive work of architecture undertaken by Hadrian, however, was his villa in Tivoli. He began working on the country villa, which was located about 20 miles outside Rome, soon after he became emperor, and continued to expand it all throughout his life. The scale was staggering, and it was said to ultimately contain some 900 rooms. More to the point, it contained whole areas in which Hadrian recreated scenes from countries he visited and enjoyed. Thus, there were Greek areas and Egyptian areas, canals and pools, baths, lakes, and vast Greek and Latin libraries. A wonderful scale model of the extensive grounds of the villa grounds covered the 8 x 10 surface of a table. Examples of wall carvings and pillars illustrated the quality of workmanship that a Roman emperor could command. These was complemented by pictures of the ruins of the villa, as it is today, projected on the round wall behind the architectural model.

Proceeding from the display of Hadrian’s architectural efforts, one finally arrived at a room that focused on the emperor’s famous love affair with Antinous. Love affairs between men were not unusual in Rome, but the intensity of the relationship between the emperor and Antinous was without precedent. Hadrian apparently met Antinous when he toured Turkey in 123 BCE. Thereafter, Antinous traveled with the Imperial court until the boy died in 130 CE in his early Twenties. 

Antinous drowned in Egypt under circumstances which will never be known. It may have been an accident or a suicide, or it may have involved participation in some ritual. Both Hadrian and Antinous were fascinated by occult mysteries and participated in various rituals throughout their travels. Whatever the cause, the emperor was stricken. He arranged to have Antinous declared a god in Egypt, renamed a town after him, and erected a major temple to the divine Antinous. He later created a copy of that temple at his villa at Tivoli, which is where the standing statue of Antinous as Osiris was discovered. But it didn’t stop there; to please Hadrian, statues of Antinous were erected throughout the ancient world. It’s still unclear whether there are more existent sculptures of the emperor Augustus or of Antinous. My personal favorite is a standing sculpture of the youth in the museum at Delphi – that wasn’t included in this exhibit – but there are many others, and the Hadrian exhibit had a number of the best. Most stress that Antinous was a strong, masculine young man, with a classically beautiful Greek face, who could easily have been taken to be a young Roman legionnaire or a Greek athlete. Other statues, like the one at Delphi, however, show him as a youth with a more wistful or melancholy look. As you might imagine, the Egyptian Christians found the whole thing quite offensive, and did what they could, when they eventually came to power, to suppress knowledge of the existence of the love affair between the youth and the great emperor. Luckily for us, the beauty of the Antinous sculptures were such that Roman cardinals competed to preserve each bust and statue of Antinous as they were uncovered during the Renaissance. 

The last area of the exhibit focused on Hadrian’s last years and his arrangements for his successors. The age of Augustus is usually referred to as Rome’s Golden Age. It was the age of Seneca, Ovid, Virgil, Juvenal, Horace, and Plutarch. The age of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius is often referred to as Rome’s Silver Age. The writers of this period included Juvenal, Tacitus, and Apuleius. In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius defined the stoicism of the age. Hadrian wrote an autobiography that was praised in the ancient world, but did not survive. He also wrote Greek and Latin poetry that is also mostly lost.  His famous death poem, Animula Vagula, Blandula… survives, and was, fittingly, written in large letters on the final wall of the exhibit so that it was the last thing one saw, just as one left the exhibit area and returned to the Great Court.

The catalog of the exhibit, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, is very well done and available from the British Museum or Amazon.com. Its 256 lavishly illustrated pages provide an excellent introduction to Hadrian’s life and times.    

The most important ancient source of information on Hadrian is the Historiae Augustae, a book written in the reign of the emperor Diocletian, who ruled from 284 to 305 CE. The Historiae Augustae is modeled on Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, which described the Julio-Claudian emperors. The Histroiae Augustae is said to be written by Aelius Spartianus and others, although everything about this book is disputed. The author or authors probably had access to Hadrian’s autobiography, but they also allowed themselves to include rumors and fantasies, bringing everything into question and providing an occupation for several generations of scholars. 

There are several modern biographies of Hadrian, none completely satisfactory. My current preferred history is Anthony R. Birley’s Hadrian: The Restless Emperor. Similarly, there are many specialized books on Hadrian. There are books on Hadrian’s architectural accomplishments, his wall in England, and on the places he visited while emperor.

The most famous modern novel on Hadrian is the monumental recreation of his memoirs by Marguerite Yourcenar. Mme Yourcenar, a French Lesbian, started her project in 1924 and published the French version of the Memoirs of Hadrian in 1951. She began by acquiring and studying all the books that Hadrian might have had in his library. Then she visited the places he had enjoyed, and proceed to try to imagine his life. As she explained it: “I fell to making, and re-making, this portrait of a man who was almost wise.” In 1981 Mme Yourcenar became the first women to be elected to the French Academy, a reflection of both the quality of her writing and the special place that the Memoirs of Hadrian occupies in modern literature.

If you would like to read a more recent novel, you might enjoy Ben Pastor’s The Water Thief. This amusing novel purports to be written by Aelius Spartianus, a young army officer who has been assigned by the emperor Diocletian to compile the Historiae Augustae. In essence, it is a murder mystery that describes Spartianus’s efforts to unravel just what happened to Antinous during his fateful visit to the Nile.  To remind you of the duration of the Roman Empire, Pastor has Spartianus complain, on several occasions, that it is nearly impossible for him to figure out what happen to Antinous, given that it all happened some 160 years before he got his commission. 

Paul Harmon is a writer living in San Francisco and working, on and off, on a novel about the famous Thebian general, Epaminondas.

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