White Crane #70 – EXCERPT Randy Conner’s All Our Lies Holy

Excerpt from White Crane Issue #40

70conner All Our Lies Holy

By Randy P. Conner

I do not believe
our wants
have made all our lies

Audre Lorde “Between Ourselves”

For Bo and David, who lift their brothers up, for Kathy Griffin, whose “Life on the D List” gave me the courage to write this, and for Ben, who made it past the Gates.

Note: The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

You want to talk about charlatans and snake oil sellers?

It’s a typical L.A. summer afternoon in 1986, blimps advertising cosmetic surgery, helicopters whirring, with onboard cops on loudspeakers yelling, “Come out of your house! We know where you are!” as we drive up to the West Hollywood ranch-style house to discuss the first magazine ever to be wholly dedicated to Gay Spirituality (at least insofar as L. A. goes, which, of course, is all that matters).
Two lesbians, sharply dressed and sporting short shag haircuts, greet us as we swerve into the driveway. The only reason I’ve come is because my friend Luke has invited me. He knows I’m into spirituality and a Faerie to boot.

Meg and Peg wait ‘til all four guests—all gay men—have arrived before they show us into their Better Homes & Gardens living room and seat us at a long table overflowing with pink boxes of donuts and #2 pencils. The aroma of Folger’s percolates throughout the house. I realize I need some—quick—as I’m experiencing caffeine withdrawal. When we’re all seated, they seat themselves at opposite ends of the table and introduce themselves; they are Meg and Peg, the most successful real estate agents in all of West Hollywood, and, more importantly, personal-friends-of-Lily-Tomlin-and-Jane Wagner. They’re pretty certain that the magazine will be called A Place for Us, since this title will let gay people know—I notice that they never utter the word “lesbian” or “dyke”—what the magazine is about without offending straight people.

They ask us to introduce ourselves and to give a reason why we think publishing a Gay Spiritual magazine is a good idea (later on I realize that “good” means “lucrative”). First, Matthew introduces himself; he hopes that A Place for Us will guide folks to Jesus. Second, Mark introduces himself; he hopes that A Place for Us will serve as a complement, supplement, or antidote to the New Age straight freebies (we’re talking covers of Tantric retreats that specialize in massage and hot tubs) that litter Melrose Avenue. Third, Luke introduces himself; he hopes that A Place for Us will serve to counterbalance all the gay magazines that feature shopping, muscles, and Hollywood-Legends-Who-Like-Us.

I try to think of something a little different, so I explain that I hope that the magazine will introduce the Gay Spiritual Community to Witchcraft and Vodou. I get the feeling they don’t approve. Suddenly, Matthew turns to me and asks, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Satan?” He pauses, and adds, “Maybe it’s the beard.” Meg nods in accord, then says, “Moving right along…we feel strongly that this first meeting needs to be about advertising. We all know that magazines can’t survive without advertising. So we’d like to have your input about how best to scout out potential advertisers. We’re thinking wine and beer.”
Matthew is a minister. Mark is a guru or something like that. But why, I’m wondering, have the rest of us been chosen? Maybe Luke knows.

I’m drifting when I begin to hear Mark murmuring something like “Blub, blub, blub.” At first I think he’s saying “blood,” but why would he be saying that? Then I think, maybe he’s really saying “Bubbie,” as he’s an awfully hot, hunky Jewish guy with gold hair and azure eyes who’s wearing a tight-fitting salmon shirt that reveals taut nipples and a silver star of David around his neck but then I think, why would he be saying “Bubbie” unless he’s missing his grandmother? Or maybe he knows that my Mom has always called me “Bubbie.” No, it’s definitely “Blub, blub, blub.” I decide to say something, anything, to distract the others from this Very-Merry-Unbirthday moment when I notice that all eyes are turned toward Mark, whose “Blub, blub, blub” is beginning to sound rather like a Tibetan Buddhist chant West Hollywood style. I blurt, “Well, it seems to me that when one considers the deep structure of Gay Spirituality…” Meg “shushes” me. This is one of the few things I simply do not tolerate. She explains gravely and ever so slowly, in the voice of my first grade teacher, who’s trying to explain to me that 1 + 1 + 1 is 3 and not 1 like they told my Catholic cousin at church, that Mark is channeling the voice of a dolphin from Atlantis. They obviously knew Mark before. I clearly need to be more respectful. Unfortunately, no one, not even Meg, seems to understand Dolphin, so we fail to grasp the oracular message Mark’s conveying.

As Mark continues to “blub,” Meg talks incessantly of advertising.  At some point, she remarks, “Peg and I just know this magazine’s going to be a great success. In fact, we’ve already decided to form the Peg and Meg’s — and, of course, you guys’ — Gay Spirit Fund from the profits we…”

I honestly don’t recall what happened after that. I just kept hearing “Advertise! Advertise! Or the eagles will come and tear out your eyes!” Or maybe it was more like “You can even dye your hair to match your gown!” It was like lost time in occult lingo. I don’t even remember Luke dropping me off. Had they spiked the Folgers? We never heard of A Place for Us or Meg and Peg again.

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

Randy P. Conner is the author of many wonderful books, all classics of gay spirituality and culture.  These include the landmark Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions, Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections Between Homoeroticism and the Sacred, and the editing of Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit.  He was interviewed by Toby Johnson in White Crane in 2005.

White Crane #70 – EXCERPT Malcolm Boyd’s Superchrist

Excerpt from White Crane Issue #40

In A Superstate

by Malcolm Boyd

Editors Note: In the waning days of the 1950s, in the heyday of Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day and Bishop Sheen, Malcolm Boyd was embarking on a 30-book writing career that would span the next four decades, beginning with two books Crisis in Communication (1957) and Christ and Celebrity Gods (1958).

In an earlier, lay career, Boyd had been at the very pinnacle of show business, producing films and working with no less than the legendary Mary Pickford, rubbing elbows with the glitterati of the day. We all know the prolific Boyd from his many books, not the least of which is Are You Running With Me Jesus…but were you aware that he was also the very first president of the Television Producers Association of Hollywood? Oh yes, boys and girls, Boyd knows intimately whereof he speaks — then and now  — and then he brought a unique insight into matters of celebrity and snake oil and “cheap grace.” It is no surprise that this is where his first spiritual commentary might start, his teacher at Union Theological Seminary, Reinhold Niebuhr, coined the phrase.

Both these books, and the later Christian: Its Meaning in an Age of Future Shock, in which he writes a chapter entitled “Superchrist of a Superstate: Political Manipulation of Christian” are nothing less than prescient, even prophetic, in their intuitions of the insidious culture of celebrity that was just then building steam, and the breakdown of the separation of church and state, a demagoguery whose fruition we are witnessing today. It is startling — maybe even a little bracing — to read passages of Crisis in Communication, and realize that, with the simple change of names from, say, “Marilyn” to “Madonna,” that Boyd could as easily have written the piece yesterday as he did 40 years ago.

White Crane asked our friend, the Reverend Canon Boyd, poet/writer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Episcopal Archdiocese, to revisit these writings and reflect on them here.

The whole problem began when I was a kid in school. My education got all screwed up. I was taught a pack of lies.

  • I was taught that patriotism meant “my country, right or wrong.” (But how, it was suggested, could it ever be wrong?)
  • I was taught war was justified if my country fought it.
  • I was taught that black people were a bit lesser than human and called “niggers.” (If they don’t like this country, why don’t they go back to where they came from?)
  • I was taught that Native Americans had killed kind and courageous (white) troops fighting for “our country,” and deserved to be punished and isolated.
  • I was taught Latinos were meant to do manual labor and be treated as children. (Are they too lazy to learn English?)
  • I was taught modern civilization was essentially good, incapable of committing horrors such as those of the past described in history books.
  • I was taught homosexuals (the word wasn’t really supposed to be spoken in polite society) were social lepers, degenerates, intrinsically evil, damned by God.

My actual education commenced long after I left school — and unlearned a lot of things. And, learned new ones.

I learned there is a brand of fundamentalistic Christianity which tells the rest of the world that it awaits the Second Coming of Christ to solve pressing “social problems” such as hunger, starvation, war, racism, sexism, colonialism, grinding poverty, environmental destruction. It basks in the ineffable sort of prestige bestowed upon docile religion by seasoned manipulators of caesaro-papism—which means to say, the state using religion for its own purposes.

Theocracy provides well-trained clergy who publicly mouth politically supportive caricatures of prayer at government ceremonies or public assemblies, plead with a partisan god to let “our” side win our wars, and distort the gospel of Christ in mealy-mouthed “sermons” to the mighty in palace chapels and White House East Rooms.

All this would not be so dangerous were it not for today’s sophisticated technology. But — with almost insuperable irony—technology brings the McLuhan prophecy full circle so that the medium is the message. Take, for example, a giant revivalist rally—the lonely crowd flaunting religious symbols, and in the distance a superstar-cum-evangelist performing under bright lights. But where did JEEE-sus go? The betrayal of Jesus is perpetrated in his own name even as his own words are read aloud.

Against the backdrop of yet another American success story, I’ve discovered — to my genuine surprise — that there’s a commonly accepted belief in some form of encroaching doom. It may take the form of the death of a city, the destruction of a nation, or the end of human life in a part of the world. It may come from insoluble problems or inexorable forces within one’s own environment rather than from any form of enemy attack. It may be linked indissolubly to mounting violence as a way of life.

Indeed, Stanley Kubrick’s archetypal film “A Clockwork Orange” went so far as to depict modern worship of a god of violence. As ancient Aztecs tore human hearts from living bodies for a holy sacrifice, so young men in the film ran with verve as they stomped a helpless old man, gang-raped a woman while kicking to a pulp the face of her watching husband, and crushed the skull of another woman. This worship of a god is passionate, self-immolating, taut with commitment. These extremely devout youths are absolutely caught up in the liturgies and rites of worshiping their deity. 

I must observe that such adherence to a creed represents far more profound communion with a god than the lukewarm, lifeless travesty of worship to be found in countless piously conventional churches. It seems to me that the god of violence is honored and loved more in American society than is the God of love and peace. Casual acceptance of such violence means that our humanity is seriously threatened. Writing in “The Day of the Locust,” Nathanael West warned that people consumed by the fury of an “awful, anarchic power…had it in them to destroy civilization.”

America’s soul is troubled. People feel betrayed, frustrated, restlessly anxious and scared to death. The gap between people’s unfilled spiritual needs and organized religion’s failure of nerve is soil for a demagogic, chauvinistic national religious movement linked to super patriotism and endless engagement in global warfare. This, I believe, is one of the most frightening prospects Americans will face if steps to prevent it are not taken now. I speak of religion with conformity built in and the most rigid doctrinal allegiance enforced.

At first subtly, then quite obviously, add patriotism to religion as a prime good of the nation. Then a mass-structured organization can more openly take on a quasi-military form. Leaders of state-sponsored religion can address masses of people in great arenas or on TV.  Church and state move closer and closer together. In the early ‘70s we saw this take place. Government surveillance of private citizens was unprecedented in scope up to that time. We saw the emergence of “enemy lists” of citizens. At White House “prayer breakfasts” invited guests bowed their heads in unison for photo ops even as they knew bombs were falling on heads of innocent people abroad and, at home, the poor were being betrayed. So the corporate sins of an aggressive, imperialistic America went unacknowledged. No one confessed them. Who is confessing them now?   

I do not want church and state to draw close together in a tragic misuse of religion. I want to be saved from Superchrist in a Superstate.

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

White Crane #70 – EXCERPT Bartlett on Secret Mentorships

Excerpt from White Crane Issue #40


Keep It Quiet
Secret Mentorship for new
Generations Of Queer Men And Women

By Chris Bartlett

Many spiritual traditions point to the value of a gift freely and anonymously given. Jewish tradition states that all charity and philanthropy (tzedaka) ought to be contributed anonymously, with the goal that the recipient not be aware of who gave the gift. The strength of such an anonymous gift is that it can have a positive impact on the recipient, neither bringing about shame nor reinforcing existing power dynamics. I argue here that a gift of mentorship can likewise be given secretly—fueled by a powerful intention, and strengthened, paradoxically, by the lack of formal or named structure. In short, please mentor someone—but don’t tell him or her that you are doing it!

How would it feel if you knew that a number of men and women had been secretly watching your back; both gently guiding your path with an invisible hand, and offering words of support in moments of both success and failure. They had actually been doing this for you for over ten years, without formalizing the relationship or pointing out the many gifts of coaching and leadership development that they had offered. You had often noticed their involvement in your life: the shared lively debates about politics, tips on how to manage a difficult situation or person, or advice on the best disco music for inspiring a crowd. It was they who (without telling you) had advocated that you receive the scholarship or the position of leadership. It was they who (without your knowledge) sent friends your way: new, inspiring friends who came along at just the right moment.  They (unbeknownst to you) observed your growth and watched your development. It was they who told you that you were more than up to the many challenges that confronted you in living a good life.

I was lucky to have such an intentional and powerful gay adult in my life in Eric Rofes, who had been my friend and colleague for fifteen years when he died in June, 2006. Eric played an influential and unobtrusive role in my development as a leader. What I didn’t know until quite late in our relationship is that he had an intention to have this role towards me (and to quite a few others).

I had been thrilled and honored when Eric sent me the draft of one of his books to review, or invited me to sit on a panel with him, or introduced me to another gay writer or activist whom he admired. He gave me gentle feedback about my own efforts: “Your talk grabbed the audience;” “You could have given a few more examples;” “You need to include more ideas from women and people of color.” When I went through some very challenging months in 2000, Eric wrote me an encouraging note but didn’t offer any intrusive or unsolicited advice. If I had attempted (as some did) to formalize my relationship with Eric in some way, he would have said, “I don’t like the concept of the mentor. Too hierarchical. I learn as much from you as you do from me.”  ======

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

Chris Bartlett is an HIV educator living in Philadelphia. He is continuing the Gay Men’s Leadership Academy, a project he and Eric Rofes began with White Crane Institute this year. For more information about the Academies, visit www.whitecranejournal.com/academy.html  He is also the lead consultant for Philadelphia’s LGBT Community Assessment. His last article was in White Crane #69. He can be reached at academy@gaywisdom.org

White Crane #70 – Eric Riley – re:Sources

Charlatans & Chicanery

by Eric Riley

This was an extremely hard list for me to compile, because it seemed to overlap so tightly with the skepticism issue not too long ago.  So, I had to go for a bunch of titles that are brand new, many of which I’ve just stumbled across, and about which I have no firm opinion.  All that said, the first thing that immediately came to mind when thinking about “charlatans and chicanery” was televangelism.  How could anyone forget the amazing amount of scandals and breakdowns that plagued American television preachers in the 80’s and 90’s?  I remember vividly watching the very public breakdowns and crying for forgiveness for various sins; Jimmy Swaggart for sleeping with prostitutes or Jim Bakker for embezzling millions from unwitting PTL followers.  This all came as a shock to my grandmother, who is a very devout Southern Baptist, and who watched these programs for the longest time.  My aunt even bought the playboy magazine where they interviewed Jessica Hahn (there’s a name you probably thought you wouldn’t hear in White Crane), just to show my grandmother the whole dirty truth of the story.  Where am I going with this list?  To the land of believe in me and you shall find the way, only to be dragged through the mud. 


The Pharisees Amongst Us  Rod Brannum {BOOKSURGE}
I just found this book two weeks ago.  Though I’m a little put off by the excessive use of the word “Pharisees” as a catch-all term for hypocrites I get where the author is going.

The Profits of Religion  Upton Sinclair {PROMETHEUS}
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Jungle (1906) and The Goose-Step (1923) goes after “The Church of Good Society” “The Church of the Conquerors” “The Church of the Servant Girls” “The Church of the Quacks” and all the others, all but naming names, taking no prisoners and leaving a scorched Earth in his path.  A visionary Socialist, Sinclair was ahead of his time.  Sinclair’s critical analysis is an “Emperor has no clothes” must-read.

EX-Gay Research:
Analyzing the Spitzer Study And Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics & Culture

Jack Drescher, M.D., Kenneth J. Zucker, Ph.D {HARRINGTON PARK PRESS}
Another librarian friend pointed out this series from the Harrington Park Press.  These books are reprints of peer-reviewed journal articles from various Haworth Press publications.  Quality is impeccable, but reads like a journal article.

Faith Beyond Faith Healing: 
Finding Hope After Shattered Dreams

Kimberly Winston  {PARACLETE}

This book focuses on those people who still retain their faith in God after having a failed experience with Faith Healing (from many different traditions). Written by a newspaper journalist, kind of meanders in the reading and doesn’t draw any hard and fast conclusions. 

Prophetic Charisma:  The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities
Len Oakes  {SYRACUSE}

What is chicanery if not a cult of personality?  This book looks at the psychological aspects of some of the biggest charismatic religious leaders, and how quickly we can go from revolutionary and inspiring to flat-out crazy and dangerous.

Red State, Blue State: Defending the Liberal Jesus and Blue State Morality from Red State Religion and Hypocrisy
John Grevstad   {IUNIVERSE}

The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right 
Michael Lerner  {HARPER}

These two titles go to my favorite pet peeve, and the main reason why I left Christianity in the first place.  Jesus in my mind was the most liberal, love everyone, feed everyone, social justice personality of all time, but every time I went to church (the Southern Baptist church of my family) all I got was hate and damnation for all these weird political issues.  Hopefully with these books and the burgeoning move for a “religious left” we can all start to at least talk about the things that don’t make sense.

Hitting Hard:  Michelangelo Signorile on George W. Bush, Mary Cheney, Gay Marriage, Tom Cruise, the Christian Right and Sexual Hypocrisy in America
Michelangelo Signorile {CARROLL & GRAF}

I think I’m the only queer person left who hasn’t read anything by Michelangelo Signorile.  But given that I’m on a political hiatus for my sanity I’ll chalk this one up to a future read.  This is a compilation of his previous articles on all sorts of topics.  If you’ve already read his regular work this may not be of interest to you.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye {UNIVERSAL}
I couldn’t resist putting in this bizarre documentary about the life of Tammy Faye Mesner (formerly Bakker).  I saw this in the theater when it came out in, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  If only for the sock puppet transitions you should see this movie. 

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

Eric “Fritter” Riley lives in Washington, DC.  A professional librarian by trade and spirit, he is a contributing editor to White Crane.  re:Sources is a regular feature of White Crane.  You can reach him at eric@gaywisdom.org 

White Crane #70 – Andrew Ramer’s PRAXIS

Airfreshener PRAXIS
Air Freshener for the Soul

by Andrew Ramer

I believe it was Jesus who said, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”

This is very good advice.

Too many of us walk around with genius inside, which we hide from the world as if it were something to be ashamed of, or keep from the world because we don’t even know it’s there, forgetting that our gifts aren’t ours alone but belong to everyone.

Only sometimes we go too far with this advice. We shine our light in every corner, broadcasting our supposed enlightenment to the world. When we do that or see other’s doing it, it may be useful to recall these words, which I found in a book of sayings by  Hasidic masters: “The greater the light, the greater the shadow.” This explains to me what happens to spiritual teachers whose actions turn out to be the opposite of what they’ve been preaching. I’m not talking about those gurus who were charlatans, frauds, con artists, all along, but the genuine spiritual guides who were overwhelmed by internal issues they hadn’t dealt with or healed, who plunged into denial, deceit, megalomania, and abuse.

Maybe it was different in Jesus’ time, when a large percentage of the world was still enslaved, but our culture pushes us toward accomplishment and achievement. We all want our fifteen minutes of fame, and then some more. Talk shows and reality shows turn ordinary people in celebrities, so no wonder gurus of all kinds get into trouble.

Recently my co-workers and I had to attend a two-day training called, “Excellence in Programming.” We thought we were doing a good job, but lots of flip charts, power-point displays, and indoctrination on the importance of using words like “output” and “outcome”, came at us with a very unsubtle subtext — “You could do better. You should do better. You will, in fact you must do better!” But it seems to me that the rewards for good work and living a good life should be found in the work itself and the way it makes the world a better place, not in the adulation our culture tells us we deserve and should strive for. And if we don’t achieve, if we don’t live up to our potential, we can plunge into despair and question our very existence, especially we queer folk, who are vilified by the dominant culture simply for existing.

So the question is: how do we live meaningful lives? Lives in which we don’t hide our light under a bushel, nor fan the flames of our egos so strongly that we commit the opposite mistake, increasing our light and thereby our shadows?

How do we know when we have enough light? How do we look in the mirror each day and know that we are created in the image of God, at the same time remember that we are made from clay that we will crumble back into? How do become transformative global citizens, who are grounded and humble as well?

Gay American writer and editor Donald Windham was a friend of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and pen pal to E. M. Forster and Alice Toklas, among others. He wrote these words in his openly gay novel, Two People, first published in 1965— “It is ordinary to love the marvelous. It is marvelous to love the ordinary.” If you haven’t read Windham, seek out his work, both fiction and non-fiction. He’s a forgotten master of language and explorer of the creative process. And think about his words. “It is ordinary to love the marvelous.”

Everyone does that.

Turn around to look at the Greek god sauntering past, the Mogul prince standing regal on the cross-town bus. But Windham went on to write: “It is marvelous to love the ordinary.” The down-to-Earth. The real. The weary office worker sitting across from you on the subway, in crumpled jacket and pulled down tie, magazine open but unread on his lap, whose bloodshot eyes still sparkle. The multiply-pierced fellow with chipped black nail polish, hunched over the counter at your favorite health food store, who never makes eye contact with you but always puts the fragile tomatoes and delicate cilantro on top of your grocery bag.
Windham’s prescription is a key, as far as I can tell, to walking the path between “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” and “The greater the light, the greater the shadow.”

Here are his words again:

“It is ordinary to love the marvelous. It is marvelous to love the ordinary.”

It’s easy to be seduced by excellence. But Windham is inviting us to live in the world in a different way, grounded in the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane, the real.

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

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

White Crane #70 – Tom Spanbauer’s Now Is The Hour

Rvu_spanbauer Now Is the Hour
By Tom Spanbauer
Houghton Mifflin, 480 p.
ISBN: 0618584218, $26

Reviewed by Kathleen Dobie

Anyone who writes an autobiographical novel must have a healthy narcissism. Fortunately, in the case of Tom Spanbauer’s Now Is the Hour, that self-love translates into a lyrical, absorbing, and very entertaining coming-of-age tale with a teenage protagonist you can’t help but love yourself.

That narrator, 17-year-old Rigby John Klusener, starts and ends his story on the road as he makes his exodus from the narrow confines of his home near Pocatello, Idaho, for the wider opportunities of San Francisco. In-between is the wonderfully told and richly realized chronicle of a boy consciously and inexorably establishing his own parameters for his relationships with his family, his friends, his lovers, and himself.

The book shares a title with a traditional hymn. Early on, Rigby John says of it, “There’s something about that song. How it’s sad, but at the same time it makes you feel good inside.” Rigby John’s own story is bit like his assessment of the song: There’s a lot to make you sad, but getting to know him makes you feel good.

The rituals, benedictions, confines, freedoms, and the music of the Catholic church are deeply embedded in Rigby John’s life. Church music serves as a bridge between Rigby John and his mother as he sits beside her while she plays hymns, and, occasionally and poignantly, “Chapel of Love.” The church also serves as a platform for rebellion when Rigby John and his sister cruise the local drive-in when their parents think they’re at St. Francis De Sales Club meetings. Rigby John feels the power of “Jesus eyes” during critical moments of his life and finds more than a few opportunities to say, "I loved God so much right then."

Rigby John forms significant friendships during consecutive pivotal summers. Two hired hands his father has him supervise offer Rigby John his first experience of adult friendship along with the opportunity to set standards of his own, in deliberate and direct opposition to those his father espouses. During the hours stolen from De Sales Club meetings, Rigby John embarks on a key friendship with Billie Cody, schoolmate and soul mate. Billie and Rigby John’s relationship is circumscribed by their time and place and yet transcends them — as all important friendships do. They smoke together, they laugh together, they fart and cry in each other’s presence, they neck, they talk, they look at and into each other, they explore the boundaries of their respective worlds and dip their toes into worlds outside their own. And throughout Rigby John’s story runs George Serano, a.k.a. Injun George and Georgy Girl. Rigby John’s first actual meeting with George is filled with drama and trauma and insight, and those themes carry through their working together, being friends — and enemies — to each other, teaching and learning from each other, and hating and loving each other.

Rigby John’s story is universal in feel if not in the particulars, although a great many of the particulars are universally familiar, especially to those of use who were teenagers in the middle decades of the last century: cruising to the popular hang-out spot; trying your utmost to avoid any discussion of sexual issues with your parents — and the humiliating embarrassment of failing; risking your first attempts at physical and emotional intimacy; opening yourself to ideas different from those you’ve been raised to believe are the only valid precepts; battling the fear that you’ll end up being just like your parents. That Rigby John also uncovers the truth of his own sexuality is simply another leg in his journey of self-discovery.

Spanbauer conveys these often pedestrian, yet transformational events, through evocative text that is immediate and witty and as refreshing as an impromptu stop for ice cream on a sweltering summer day. You’re right there in the truck when Rigby John and Billie go on a helpless laughing jag together on their first meeting. You relate completely when Rigby John’s arms turn into helpless blocks of Cheddar during times of emotional confusion. Your stomach knots with the pent-up, unspoken, and barely acknowledged tension that finally erupts into violence against George in the hayfield.

And though the story is told from Rigby John’s point of view, the people in his life are fully fleshed out, independent individuals.

From the first sentence Rigby John’s musings invite you into his world, his life, his soul. And you’re held there securely and comfortably for a long while after you finish the last sentence.

Kathleen Dobie is a writer and activist in Indianapolis, Indiana.

White Crane #70 – Vanita’s Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India & the West

Rvu_vanitaLove’s Rite:
Same-Sex Marriage in India & the West

By Ruth Vanita
Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 1403970386288  Hardcover, $6

Reviewed by Amara Das Wilhelm

Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West is an exciting new book by University of Montana professor Ruth Vanita.  No longer simply a debated concept, same-sex marriage is fast becoming a reality in Hinduism today—both in India and the West.  Hundreds of gay and lesbian Hindu couples are literally “tying the knot” in wedding ceremonies both public and private, with family approval or not, and increasingly with the blessings of officiating Hindu priests.  In her latest book to date, Vanita examines this phenomenon from a religious, social and more importantly, human perspective.

While most Hindus remain opposed to same-sex unions and have not thought about the topic very deeply or on a personal level, this is changing.  For instance, when a Shaiva priest from India was asked to perform a wedding for two women in 2002, he hesitated at first but then agreed.  Vanita: “He told me that when the women requested him to officiate at their wedding he thought about it and, though he realized that other priests in his lineage might disagree with him, he concluded, on the basis of Hindu scriptures, that, ‘marriage is a union of spirits, and the spirit is not male or female.’”

Srinivasa Raghavachariar, a well known Sanskrit scholar and Hindu priest of the major Vaishnava temple in Srirangam, India, deliberated upon the same issue and came up with a similar response: “Same-sex lovers must have been cross-sex lovers in a former life.  The sex may change but the soul remains the same in subsequent incarnations, hence the power of love impels these souls to seek one another.”

Swami Bodhananda Saraswati, a Vedanta master who took sannyasa initiation from Swami Chinmayananda and is the founder of the Sambodh Foundation with branches worldwide, had this to say on the subject of same-sex marriage: “There is no official position in Hinduism.  From a spiritual or even ethical standpoint, we don’t find anything wrong in it.  We don’t look at the body or the memories; we always look at everyone as spirit…Different priests may or may not perform same-sex weddings—it is their individual choice because there is no one position or one head of Hinduism.  I am not opposed to relationships or unions—people’s karma brings them together.”

Ruth Vanita also quotes Swami B.V. Tripurari, a sannyasi in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition:  “My opinion regarding gay and lesbian devotees is that they should be honored in terms of their devotion and spiritual progress.  They should cultivate spiritual life from either a celibate status, or in something analogous to a heterosexual monogamous situation…Although my Guru Maharaja (Srila Prabhupada) frowned on homosexuality in general, he was also very practical, flexible, and compassionate.  One of his earliest disciples was a gay man who once related how he had ultimately discussed his sexual orientation with Srila Prabhupada.  He said that at that point Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Then just find a nice boy, stay with him and practice Krishna consciousness’…I believe that Hinduism originally held a much more broadminded view on sexuality than many of its expressions do today.”

Of course, not all opinions are so favorable and open-minded.  Swami Pragyanand of Avahan Akhara, for instance, had this to say for a reporter from the Hinduism Today newspaper:  “Gay marriages do not fit with our culture and heritage.  All those people who are raising demand for approving such marriages in India are doing so under the influence of the West…we do not even discuss it.”  The diverse nature of Hinduism allows adherents to agree or disagree on this controversial issue.  Quite often, members of the same organization or temple will have varying opinions.  This is an advantage for gay Hindus who can then “vote with their feet” by avoiding priests with negative attitudes, such as the one above, and seeking out those with more compassionate and inclusive viewpoints.

Love’s Rite presents a refreshing array of new and encouraging material that will help this emerging debate along.  It is well written and thorough, covering all areas of discussion, but at the same time quite easy to read.  Divided into ten chapters, Love’s Rite explores such interesting questions as—How is marriage defined, now and in the past?  Who defines it?  What are the differences between marriage in India and the Euro-American West?  Is the spirit gendered?  What are the differences between marriage and friendship?  Who is qualified for child rearing?  What happens to couples when they are forcibly separated or pressured into unwanted marriages?  All of these questions are thoroughly addressed in Vanita’s new book.

The personal dimension of Love’s Rite is enormously moving.  In particular, Vanita examines the recent phenomena of joint suicides in India committed by (mostly) female couples encountering violent opposition to their relationships.  In the following example, a poverty-stricken lesbian couple on the verge of suicide bequeaths their last few rupees to the local Krishna Deity: “Among the items Lalitha and Mallika left behind was a greeting card showing a man and a woman kissing in silhouette against a sunset.  This card was not new; someone else had already used it.  Mallika had pasted a piece of paper over the sender’s name and written her own name on the paper.  Inside was her message to Lalitha, giving her ‘a thousand kisses in public.’  Lalitha’s note also stated, ‘The Rs. 25 placed in the diary is to be given as offering to Guruvayoorappan.’  Guruvayoorappan refers to the icon of Krishna in the temple at Guruvayoor, a famous temple town and pilgrimage site very close to the girls’ hometown, Trichur.”

Another incident occurred at a yoga center in Tamil Nadu: “Sumathi, 26, and Geetalakshmi, 27, had been living at a Yoga Centre in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, for three years.  Since they were somewhat beyond the conventional age for marriage, and were living away from their parents, it appears that their religious way of life allowed them to remain respectably single.  But the people at the Yoga Centre found out about their intimate relationship, and threw them out.  They had to part and return to their parental homes.  Unable to bear separation, they decided to commit suicide.  In a letter to their guru at the Centre, they wrote, ‘We did a mistake because of which you threw us out…We cannot survive in this society.  That is why we arrived at this decision.  Please forgive us.’”

Not all of the relationships end so tragically, though, especially when they gain the support of their families and local villages.  Vanita notes that in India, custom and community support far outweigh any legal validity—in fact, unlike the West, Indian law does not require marriage licenses, whether for the couple or officiating Hindu priest, and the majority of marriages conducted in India are not directly registered with the state.  The importance of family and community support in India cannot be underestimated and is something that is slowly increasing:  “More intriguing than parents who oppose same-sex marriage are those who come around to supporting it.  Newspaper reports represent several parents participating in their daughter’s weddings.  In some cases, the weddings appear to have been elaborate affairs, attended by many guests.  In none of these cases was any gay rights movement or organization involved.  The arguments that convinced these parents were not, then, those that might have been put forward by gay rights advocates.  The family members quoted in the newspaper reports represent themselves as wanting to make their daughters happy, and becoming convinced that they would be happy only if they married one another.”

Love’s Rite offers several examples of same-sex Hindu marriages performed in both India and the West, along with heartwarming photos of the happy couples and their weddings.  Some of the ceremonies are private while others are lavish celebrations attended by many relatives and friends.  Most of the weddings make use of traditional Hindu rites such as invoking fire as a witness, exchanging garlands and vows, chanting sacred mantras, tying garments together, taking seven steps around the fire, and so on.  In 2001, a Hindu priest of the Srivaishnava lineage conducted a commitment ceremony for a Hindu lesbian couple in Sydney, Australia.  He mentioned that in the Ramayana, a partnership ceremony between Lord Rama and Sugriva is described whereby Hanuman lights a fire and the two friends exchange vows, circle the fire together, etc.—very similar to a Vedic marriage ceremony.  The priest was of the opinion that such a ceremony was appropriate for gay couples.  Other Hindu priests model their same-sex weddings after more traditional Hindu gandharva or vivaha types.

The book contains many nice summaries of Hindu tradition and philosophy, especially in regard to ancient textbooks and their many gender-bending narrations involving Hindu deities.  In Chapter Five, the reader is treated to not one but three renditions of the story of Maharaja Bhagiratha’s miraculous conception by two females—a Bengali edition of the Padma Purana and two separate versions of the Krittivasa Ramayana.  In Chapter Eight, there is an interesting examination of same-sex love between females as recorded in Rekhti, Indo-Muslim literature from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Using these and other textual references such as Kama Sutra and the Puranas, Vanita demonstrates how same-sex love and unions are by no means anything new to the Indian subcontinent.

In Chapter Seven, Love’s Rite explores the modern-day marriage arrangements in India of gay men and lesbians to opposite-sex partners.  Vanita writes:  “It is well known that in India and other supposedly traditional societies, large numbers of people live as apparently traditional heterosexuals, while secretly engaging in homosexual liaisons or leading lives of quiet desperation.  That the same is true in the West is less often acknowledged because many people assume that the openly gay community is synonymous with the entire gay population.  In fact, this is very far from being the case.” My one critique of this section is that Vanita fails to provide any scriptural evidence supporting or contradicting this modern day practice.  For instance, the Hindu concept of svadharma, or living according to one’s own nature and duty (as mentioned in Bhagavad Gita), seems to disagree with it, and verses forbidding the marriage of homosexual men to women can be found in Hindu texts such as Narada-smriti.  The story of goddess Bahucara, who curses her husband for dishonestly marrying her (he refuses her love and goes to other men instead), also comes to mind.  Nevertheless, Vanita recognizes the embedded tradition as highly questionable:  “While demonstrating that same-sex desire has existed in the past and still does exist within traditional families, I do not mean to suggest it flourishes there.  Among the gay Indians I know who have entered heterosexual marriage without telling their spouses, almost all have been plagued by fear, guilt, shame or regret…The few exceptions are those where both spouses are bisexual, or one is heterosexual and the other gay or bisexual, but they reach a mutual agreement not to be monogamous.  I do not have the data to examine the relative happiness of MOCs [marriages of convenience].”

Undoubtedly, this book will greatly assist anyone wishing to better understand the difficult and complicated topic of same-sex marriage from a Hindu perspective.  For most, the question will not be solved until one day, at some point in time, a dearly beloved friend or relative faces this issue in the most personal of ways.  This is exemplified by a soul-searching swami in the book’s final chapter:  “A couple of years ago, an eastern European devotee named Damodara hanged himself in a Vaishnava ashram in the US, after an Indian ashram had cancelled his trip to India when they found out he was gay.  Gaudiya Vaishnava monk Bhakti Tirtha Swami, wrote a soul-searching letter: ‘Recently, I have been making so much more effort in trying to open up my heart to be more available in understanding and serving all Vaishnavas…After hearing of Damodara’s suicide…I must say that I have seen the light…’” Another swami, Bodhananda Saraswati, reveals a similar mood: “We have to face this issue now…I’m sure spiritual persons will have no objection when two people come together.  But it is a social stigma…So what is required is a debate in society.  I have not debated it enough.  I have to do that.  I have a lot of people confiding in me, ‘I am very worried.  I am gay.  What should I do now?’”

In the beginning of her book, Ruth Vanita quotes San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who, while presiding over that city’s civil disobedience against California’s discriminatory marriage laws in 2004, said: “Put a human face on it.  Let’s not talk about it in theory.  Give me a story.  Give me lives.”  In this light, I offer many thanks and pranams to Ruth Vanita for doing just that—she addresses the important debate of same-sex marriage in her new book, Love’s Rite, from a perspective that is not only scholarly but deeply personal.

Amara Das Wilhelm is a Gaudiya Vaishnava monk and author of the book, Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex.

White Crane #70 – Behind the Mask of the Mattachine

Rvu_searsBehind the Mask of the Mattachine:
The Hal Call Chronicles and the
Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation

By James T. Sears
Haworth Press; 540 pp; $34.95

Reviewed by Jesse Monteagudo

History – and the lesbian and gay community for which they did so much – ignore and neglect the pre-Stonewall, “homophile” activists. Even today many histories of the gay movement begin with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, tossing aside decades of ground-breaking political, educational and social work. With the exception of the iconic Harry Hay, and a few activists who continued their work and wrote their memoirs in the post-Stonewall years (Jack Nichols, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon), gay leaders of the 1950s and 1960’s are unknown by today’s generation. Posterity has been singularly unfair to Harold Leland Call (1917-2000). Most of us remember Hall Call, if at all, as part of a conservative clique who in 1953 “stole” the Mattachine Foundation from Hay and other leftist idealists. Later, and after driving out his competition in the newly-named Mattachine Society, Call ruined its image by making it a “front” for his commercial enterprises, including an “adult” book store and movie house – the CineMattachine.

The truth, of course, is more complex. It remained for historian James T. Sears to remove the mask of the Mattachine and reveal the real Hal Call, both man and activist.  Based on extensive interviews with Call, his allies and enemies, Behind the Mask of the Mattachine is a tribute to gay America’s first activist generations. In fact, Dr. Sears goes back in time past Call and Company; back to the early part of the 20th Century and courageous trailblazers like Henry Gerber and Manual boyFrank. He then takes Call from his Missouri boyhood to World War II, Colorado journalism and then to San Francisco (1953) in time to confront Hay for leadership of Mattachine. If this book does not show Hay the way that he is accustomed to it is because Dr. Sears has given his opponents, almost for the first time, the right to give their side of the story.

In Behind the Mask of the Mattachine we read about the power plays, bitch fights and ego trips that consumed and eventually destroyed the Mattachine Society. We also learn about the very human men (and a few women) who dared to publicly advocate the rights of homosexuals at a time when most of their fellows were hiding in their closets. At the center of it all was Hal Call. A most contradictory man, Call was both a political conservative and a sexual libertine who hosted orgies in his apartment when most Mattachines (including Hay) were virtually asexual. Call realized, long before they did, that sex was the common factor that brought all gay men together; and it was sex that made us a community.

Behind the Mask of the Mattachine combines two of my favorite topics, politics and sex, as seen through the life of a most extraordinary man and of the Society that he eventually controlled. Dr. Sears reveals Call in all of his complexity; with his faults and failures along with his skills and successes. Thanks to Dr. Sears’ painstaking research, skillful writing and insightful analysis, gay San Francisco in the 1950’s – the Age of Hal Call – comes vividly to life.  Today’s generation of activists can learn much from Call and his contemporaries, from both their achievements and their failures.

Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author, activist and frequent contributor to White Crane.  He lives in South Florida with his life partner.   Drop him a note at jessemonteagudo@aol.com

White Crane #70 – Williams’ & Johnson’s Two Spirits

RvuwilliamstobyTwo Spirits: 
A Story of Life With the Navajo

by Walter L. Williams & Toby Johnson
Lethe Press; 332 p $18.

Reviewed by Jesse Monteagudo

Two Spirits is a collaboration between two of our leading gay cultural figures.  Walter L. Williams is a historian and anthropologist who is best known as the author of The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture.  Toby Johnson is the former editor of White Crane and author of various books of gay spirituality, history and culture. In Two Spirits the ideas that Professor Williams expounded in his earlier book are used in a fictional adventure that is as exciting as it is instructive.

In 1864 the U.S. Army under General James Carleton and Colonel Kit Carson decimated the Navajo nation (the Diné in its own language) and forced it to leave its ancestral home to settle in the Bosque Redondo reservation, where it barely survived in what was essentially a concentration camp. Only after Carleton was found guilty of corruption and removed from his post were the proud Diné allowed to return to their homeland, where they survive and flourish till this day.  Many of the Diné were gender-variant nadleehí, “two spirit” men and women who, as in other Native tribes, reached positions of great leadership and respect.

So much for history.  In Two Spirit these facts form the basis of a great historical novel. In 1867, the young Virginian Will Lee is sent to Fort Sumner in the Bosque Redondo reservation, where he is to serve as the government’s Indian Agent.  Though the unscrupulous General Carleton and his associates do their best to keep him in the dark, Will soon realizes that the people whose interests he is supposed to represent are being exploited by his own government forces.  Will becomes friendly with the down but not out Diné, particularly with Hasbaá, a young spiritual healer and gender-bending nadleehí.  This forbidden love between the “hairy face” Will Lee and the “two spirit” Hasbaá leads Will to question the values that he grew up with.  Together, Will and  Hasbaá set out to help free the Diné and allow them to return to their ancient home.

Two Spirits tells an exciting tale, about a way of life that is sadly no longer with us.  Though the Navajo/Diné nation has survived and prospered, like other Native nations it has given up many of its old ways, including the time-honored nadleehí.  Even so, those of us who are GLBT in the early 21st century can learn much from the experiences of the fictional Will and Hasbaá in the mid-19th century.  Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo is the well-deserved recipient of a development grant awarded by the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation.  Williams and Johnson have given us a book that is both entertaining and inspiring.  As if that was not enough, Two Spirits features a well-written “Commentary” by Wesley K. Thomas, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Gender Studies & International Studies at Indiana University and himself a gay Navajo.

Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author, activist and frequent contributor to White Crane.  He lives in South Florida with his life partner.  Write him a note at jessemonteagudo@aol.com

White Crane #70 – Daniel Helminiak’s Sex and the Sacred

Rvu_helminiak Sex and the Sacred:
Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

By Daniel Helminiak
Harrington Park Press, 235 pages, pb,  $16.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

In engaging, easy-to-read prose, Daniel Helminiak addresses the central work of religion and spirituality today: to tease out the rich meaning and significance behind the myths and doctrines that have come down to us in the great traditions without getting trapped in literalism and superstition, that is, to rearticulate religion so it makes sense—and makes sense especially to and about—us lesbians and gay men who have been so influential in creating religion and yet who have been so victimized by it.

In this collection of essays spanning his career as theologian, Scripture scholar, psychologist, and gay spiritual apologist, Helminiak shows how true Christianity is not inimical to modern LGBTQ consciousness and indeed that spirituality—and gay spirituality in particular—transcends any and all specific religions.
Central to Helminiak’s thinking, expressed through some six books, is that spirituality is common to all human beings, including, of course, gay human beings, and that it is not necessarily linked with religion or belief in God. Indeed, the link is the reverse of what’s usually thought: it is spirituality that comes first—“the infinite longings of the human heart”—then come God and belief as natural outworkings and projections of that hunger.

Spirituality is a human psychological enterprise. And every person deals with these issues whether they identify them as religious or not. And because these issues are psychological, they necessarily include sexuality and they call out for sexuality to be understood with respect and not condemnation. For spirit comes out of the human heart and seeks to satisfy the hunger of the heart, not down from God or Church officials demanding repression of the heart for the sake of order and societal authority. Helminiak observes that this distinction between spirituality and religion (and God) may be his most important contribution.

The book consists of some fifteen essays that address various issues of importance to gay people: from coming out and achieving self-acceptance, the longing of the heart for infinity, and sexual ethics to the real lesson of Jesus’s example, the Church, the Bible, gay marriage, and even the effects in the human spirit of the terrorist war. The chapters are independent of one another, but read consistently as a more and more comprehensive presentation of what religion could and should be.

Daniel Helminiak is a precise and thorough-going thinker. Some of the arguments in the book may seem obscure and tortured. You can tell Helminiak doesn’t want to just cut through the Gordian Knot of Christian doctrine, but respectfully and intelligently to untie it strand by strand. Still the book is readable and entertaining, filled with interesting tidbits of Biblical and Church history that change how everything should be understood. His analysis, for instance, of the Council of Nicaea places the “divinity of Jesus” in historical context; what that idea meant to the creators of the Christian religion is much more subtle than the common Christian myth.

Perhaps most interesting and relevant are his discussions of real life issues: the spiritual lessons of AIDS, for instance, and appropriate gay sexual ethics. Even if you’re not especially concerned about Church history, these topics hit home—and with such positive and caring attitude.

Daniel’s right, I think, that his well thought out and thorough-going distinction between spirituality and religion is a major contribution. And this particular volume of his presents these arguments sensibly and very readably.
The essays on heaven as everlasting orgasm and on the homosexual modeling of relations within the Blessed Trinity are delightfully provocative and downright queerly brilliant.

Toby Johnson is former publisher and current contributing editor  to White Crane.  His newest book, Two Spirits, is reviewed in this issue.

Building Connections & Community for Gay Men since 1989