It's lonely here at the top. Do you know what I mean? On top of the pile. At the top of the food chain. Sitting on top of the world. We -- Gay people and everyone else -- live in the dominant culture of the dominant species on the whole planet, and still, apparently, what we've got is not enough. Look around. There's a desperation in the popular culture, a frantic rush this way and that as the crowd of us searches for something we haven't yet figured out. There's a hole inside the collective soul and we try anything to fill it. Some of us try consumerism. Some tread the glittery paths of glamour or addiction. Some join an endless pursuit of sex or pleasure. Others grasp at fundamentalist authority or chase one spiritual fad after another. None of it is enough. If it were, why are we still rushing around?
In all the pre-millennial hype about human progress, one word you rarely hear is "loneliness." Yet I'd bet that for most of us, a deep, honest look beneath all the busyness would reveal a profound longing for connection. It's not just personal. This loneliness goes far beyond the situations of our individual lives. It's more a collective longing, the sadness of an inherently social species that perceives itself to be totally alone in the universe.
Think about it. Humanity evolved from the heart of Nature. Day by day, season by season, generation after generation for eons, human lives were inseparably linked to the cycles of the living world. Like the heartbeat of a great Mother, the rhythms of Nature imprinted themselves into every cell of our bodies. We developed Earth-based spiritualities that honored our place within a vast network of sibling species. Only in the last few hundred years -- a mere eyeblink in terms of evolution -- have the old concepts been pushed aside by ideas that tear us away from our broader family.
The new myths are hard. Like a devouring parent, the dominant culture whispers from the moment of our births that it alone can fulfill our needs. Religions tell us we're separate from other living things and charge us with dominion over the natural world. They brand our flesh -- the very flesh of the Earth itself -- as weak and our desires as evil. Science and technology strip the soul from everything else. Not recognizing truths that they can't measure, they tell us that love itself is a mere chemical artifact. The ruling priests of our world economy reduce all Nature -- the rest of our collective body -- to exploitable "natural resources". Our minds may believe them, but our hearts remember the truth. No wonder we're lonely.
Most sadly, our pain is self-inflicted. We don't have to feel this way. In reality, we still dance within a sea of life. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the materials we use for clothing, housing, transportation -- all belong not just to us but to the planetary being. Pay attention to your next breath. Where were those air molecules just a moment ago? -- passing through an oak leaf? igniting inside a carburetor? being part of a puppy's snore? Where do they go when you exhale? Try the same exercise with any part of your being. Humanity only exists within the context of GAIA, the great and living Earth, which continues to support and nurture us even when we ignore it. Like a child who throws a blanket over its head and then cries to think itself abandoned, we've blinded ourselves to the family of relations around us.
The concept of GAIA makes intuitive sense, yet many in our society are threatened by the very idea. And no wonder! What would happen to business-as-usual if we truly saw the planet as a living being? How would we treat the water if we saw our own blood pouring from the faucet -- or the forests, knowing them to be our own precious lungs? What if we approached each other as different cells in the same body and other species -- trees or whales or earthworms -- as organs in our own body as vital to our personal health as neurons, liver cells, or T-lymphocytes?
What does GAIA have to do with Gay men? In fact, everything. We're as much a part of the living Earth as everyone else. Indeed, the fact that we're here at all, generation after generation, is biological proof that we play an important role in the functioning of the whole. Right now, a global social and ecological crisis calls every person to assist in planetary healing. Gay men, because of who we are, where we've been, and where we do -- and don't -- fit into mainstream society, have the opportunity to make major contributions. GAIA is a radical concept. In our society, so is same-sex love. We're radical. Indeed, many of the cultural forces that have damaged the planet -- macho insensitivity, intolerance for difference, over-aggressive competition -- are the same forces that continue to oppress Gay people. It's no coincidence that the qualities in Gay men most threatening to the establishment -- our ability to be receptive, for example, or to approach other men as partners instead of competitors -- are the same qualities needed to change our macho dominance of the rest of the planet. If planetary healing is to happen, Gay men will have to be on the forefront.
We have what it takes. Gay men are social innovators and cultural explorers. We tend to push limits and develop new ideas in realms that range from fashion and the arts to relationships and social mores. In many societies, we play important roles as intermediaries between men and women, as spiritual leaders (though not always openly), as healers, caretakers, and teachers. Because we live toward the fringes (think "cutting edge") of society, we're often able to observe what's going on more clearly than people enmeshed in the mainstream, and more free to experiment with new ways of living and relating.
Gay men have other gifts as well. We have lived in the wilderness. We've been scorned, oppressed, and wounded by mainstream society for a very long time. There's great pain in that -- and I don't condone it at any level -- yet our journey has given us strengths we have the right to claim. We've learned stamina and self-reliance. We know the evil of trying to suppress what is natural. We know the pain of isolation and the value of creating loving relationships to antidote it. We know how to survive hardship and -- as we did early in the AIDS crisis -- to band together to take care of our own and fight to change a hostile establishment. These are strengths we need to teach the rest of the world.
Look at it from a different viewpoint. When an organism is stressed, as GAIA clearly is, it has to mobilize its defenses. Some cells -- like T-cells in your body -- respond more quickly than others. In society, when things get uncomfortable, certain groups reach a point where they are pushed to the wall -- and then start acting to make changes. Gay people are one of those groups, though we're certainly not alone. When the pain of being out-of-balance gets too strong, the motivation to try new ways comes to the fore.
Among groups, we hold a unique position. We're perceived as outsiders and have created our own identity as a separate community. We're also part of every family, every clan, every group on the planet. Outsiders and insiders at the same time, we have a valuable opportunity to share what we've learned. We have a chance to network and to teach respect for diversity. If we rise to the challenge, we can help break down cultural barriers and re-weave the connections among diverse peoples. This healing is deeply needed by GAIA and one that we were born to do.
To fulfill our job, we need to make ourselves strong. That means coming together to support each other and heal the old wounds. It means taking responsibility for our own lives instead of waiting for others to tell us we're okay. It means learning to see our differences in the same way we see the variations between, say, heart cells and brain cells. The differences in form and function are valid and important for the health of the whole. Finally, it means breaking new ground and developing a more inclusive view of other species that make up this great being, GAIA.
What can you do as an individual? Claim your whole self. Claim every aspect of your sexuality, every desire, every dream, and every ounce of creativity that lives in you. These are gifts for you to enjoy personally, of course. They were born in you, though, because they're needed by the planet as well. So claim them! Explore your differences, for therein lives the healing. Trying to change your core self to get mainstream approval won't do a thing to help you or the Earth. The planet needs men to push the envelope. It needs rebels and artists and visionaries. It needs men whose priorities include respect for all being. It needs men with the balls to love each other and the Earth. The planet needs you. Now.
John R. Stowe is author of Two-Spirit Warrior: An Empowerment Journey for Gay Men. He can be reached at jrstowe @mindspring.com or http://earthfriends. home.mindspring.com.