Gender & Spirit White Crane Journal #50 Fall 2001
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My Life as an Intersex The Myth of Hermaphroditus: The Embodiment of the Struggle to Integrate Both Genders Questions of Gay Gender and Culture A Sexual Stockholm Syndrome Back Into The Future: Transphobia Is My Issue Too When I Was Born Book Review: Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People And Why It's So Hard to Be Human by Robert Minor Book Review: The Black & White Book: Two Sides to Every Story
by R.P. Moore
Book Review: It's All God by Walter Starcke Book Review: Gay Tantra by William Schindler
As much as we like the world to fall into neat little categories, often the more we work for that the more rapidly the distinctions fall apart. It seems the moment lines begin to be drawn they begin to blur.
One of the most radical ideas of the 20th century was really an old idea come full circle. Literally. As far back as Plato it was suggested that there were more than two genders, two sexes, and that originally, human beings were round, circular beings made of two male parts, or two female parts or, occasionally male and female parts. Oddly, in this version of things, it's the male-female circular being that turned out to be heterosexual and the male-male, female-female beings would search their lives full to find their same-sex half.
Early gay liberationists, shrugging off the twentieth century fascination with psychology and its susceptibility to the illness model of aleopathic medicine, shook the world with the radical suggestion that homosexual (the psychological term) people might actually be another oppressed minority (though Plato and Kinsey both might argue same-sex orientation is actually, numerically, a majority) or, even more fundamentally and intriguingly, a third, fourth or maybe even sixth, seventh or eighth gender.
So are we being told gender is simply another form of sexuality? Are physiology or biology destiny? And if they are, what are their relationships to psychology? Do gay people have special sensibilities because of the sex they have? Or do we have the kind of sex we have because of the sensibilities of our special souls? Chicken. Egg. Egg. Chicken.
If one thing has become clear in the development of the Fall 2001 issue of White Crane Journal it is this: the subject of gender is worthy of an on-going journal of its own. Just as the facets of spirituality inherent in the lives of gay male-identified individuals have filled the pages of White Crane for over ten years, this subject could easily engender a similar volume of thought, questions, answers, experience and just plain stories.
Something as simple as what to call someone becomes a source of endless discussion in this matter. Pronouns become problematic. The late Ojibway elder Wub-E-Knieuw, author of We Have The Right To Exist (Black Thistle Press) asserted that English and European languages were incapable of relating the spectrum of experience because they were exclusively "male" languages and had no expression of the female experience. At the very least, our choices are reduced uncomfortably to "him" and "her" and the objectifying "it." Where does that leave one's "self" if "one" feels like "none of the above"?
There are websites, chat rooms and e-lists of individuals on the Internet, of course. If you search under "gender" nearly 10,000 sites are suggested and an attempt to narrow the subject only expands it into areas of "religions and spirituality, law, science, Buddhism, social sciences, psychology, arts," and, oddly, "celebrities." I guess there's nothing in modern American culture that wouldn't include a celebrity or two.
Is it possible to discuss, much less define a third or fourth gender in terms that don't need the words "male" or "female" to delineate? Does "not-male" mean "female"? Or can there be a "not-male, not-female" place? What does it look like? And what evolutionary role might these individuals play in the Darwinian scheme of things? So much of our time is spent defining ourselves in terms of what we are not. Who might we be without the struggle? Who would we be if we were just able to be? History, other cultures and this issue of White Crane offer some fascinating suggestions.
So with this issue we attempt an overview of this vast and occasionally troubling subject. Some questions get answered and some don't. Some only raise new questions. What seems clear is that, as usual, the binary either-or, male-female way of looking at things is once again woefully inadequate to the permutations of the discussion.
Viewpoints we are privileged to share in this issue range from the deeply personal ones of an intersex reader who is willing to identify only as Berdache Paul, to the scholarly work of Wesley Thomas, an acknowledged "nadleehi" of the Navajo nation and the recent results of a study by Ingrid Isell. We have science fiction and spiritual reality... the lines blur and hopefully we achieve a modicum of clarity as a result.
Bo Young, NYC, Autumn 2001
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My Life As An Intersex
The word "gender" was coined by Doctor John Money of John Hopkins Medical University here in the USA, in 1947 in a book he authored based on his Harvard doctoral dissertation entitled Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox.
Terms do have some importance and it is necessary that we define them to discuss certain matters. The following are the definitions I use:
"Sex" denotes the medical and biological organs involved in reproduction, producing hormones that effect divergent appearances between the two forms needed for reproduction having physical attributes as secondary characteristics proximate of these hormones.
"Gender," is the exhibition of a sexual appearance and/or behavior with social deportment and mannerisms generally accepted as "appropriate" for the exhibited sexual appearance, denoting one's biological sex or sexual preference within a culture, rote mannerisms and enhancements designed to attract the other biological sex required for reproduction and to secure survival.
If you can accept these general definitions, we can have some meaningful communication.
Sex is biological, medically physical and has only a few exceptions, among them are a few anomalies, hermaphrodites/intersexuals and some others with biological birth defects or anomalies from various causes.
Sex is simple and easily discernable by medical tests today. Including various kinds of intersexuality. Horror stories arise from a lack of surgical skill and/or tests, derived from the bias sexual preferences of involved adults, cosmetic elective surgery being performed on children under their control. This is done to normalize sexual appearance, fool the child and society into acceptance of a sexual façade. Biologically they remain unchanged intersexuals.
Gender however is infinite, complex and poorly defined even by psychological terms, so much is only social perception of acceptable conduct, dress and behavior. There are as many definitions of gender and individual expressions of it as there are people.
Behavioral "gender" terms are words like feminine, masculine, lady-like and gentlemanly are terms of desired behavior attributed to male and female. I am sure you have seen gay males who are more feminine in gender manners and gesture than birth females.
Many social concepts and taboos are rooted in historical divisions of labor and conduct needed to survive in harsh environments, tribal or cultural rules. With survival of the tribal group as the major concern, there were brutal acts of simply killing those whose sexual behavior caused discord or lacked any valued social contribution, as such behavior was seen as a risk to the cultures survival.
In today's affluent world of plenty, the procreational importance of rigid sexual divisions and laws regarding appropriate dress and behavior, are without that importance, now noncreational sexual expression has became "generally" tolerated, if not totally accepted.
I want to write about my own feelings and thoughts about living my life as a contemporary hermaphrodite/intersexual. And that is to say that basically I feel like a captive alien from another world, attempting to communicate my conflicted feelings to humans, who have no real parallel experiences, no common language. Only through imagination can most "normal's" identify and commiserate with me.
A classic science fiction book, "Stranger In A Strange Land" is a more idealized relating of, yet a situation not without parallels to, my life--excepting the ability to communicate and the happy ending.
Society, through its reigning medical establishment has butchered my peers, a medical holocaust I feel guilt for surviving. Those having been medically abused and tortured are justly angry, consumed with rage and heartache, are fashioned into people who are no longer my peers, only medical casualties.
Many of my mental and emotional problems and conflicts I attributed to my intersexual condition for many years. I later discovered were the result of my childhood sexual abuse and rapes. We all share the common desire for love, friendships, and acceptance within our families and with in our peer-group.
As hermaphrodite, I did not have a peer group. When younger it was critical that I play the male role, and my adopted peer group was male. In that peer group one can not be different, for if they sense our "difference" they will reject and vilify those that are different. "Being different" is dreaded and feared in all young people, allowing others to feel superior and smug in their sameness and peer acceptance.
Being "different," ostracizes, forces us to individually examine ourselves, ["what's wrong with me?"], forces us to seek knowledge of our condition and determine what direction, this reaction to the truth of our own "innocence," should take us.
The subsequent awareness of my social rejection, the horrific moral, medical and legal invisibility, within an allegedly "just" society, left me with no choice but a lesser of what I perceived as two evils. Social confrontation or concealment, to survive.
I was taken to see the movie Frankenstein as a child and while watching the scene where the whole village rises up with crude weapons and torches to destroy the Monster, I was told this was what would happen to me if people EVER found out and knew what a sexual freak and a monster I really was.
This was actually good advise from the person who took me to the movie and regularly sexually and physically abused me. (I never imagined this was done to keep me quiet about their perverted sexual use of me.)
In later years I felt all the guilt myself. I discovered that what I had participated in to please those I was dependent upon, and to survive, was "wrong"!
I was told that I was, by my intersexual difference, "bad and evil." I was "sin personified." This was pounded into my brain by both my family and those that knew of my condition.
Society and many religions would indeed destroy me. (Realize, this was at a time when, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and many were institutionalized as insane and died in asylums.) I was certain, I too was insane and that reinforced my concealment and secrecy determinations.
I found an escape. I disassociated from the truth, simply ignored it and became another "normal person." If this new person failed to gain acceptance, I'd simply become still another. I did not know who I was as I had no role models, no true peers. I could only mimic roles in order to survive. I became adroit at simply ignoring others who indicated or sensed my gender act or sexual physiology was flawed.
At puberty I was living as a boy and discovered I was not developing like other boys. I had locked away and forgotten any memories of my actual sexual identity. I could not yet cope with those memories. Yet, I was dismayed by my appearance and lack of any "normal" puberty. I did not know why this could be.
Fortunately a doctor agreed to secretly give me male hormone injections, so that I would pass, at least superficially, as a male, freeing me from my abusive family.
I had no sexual urges as yet, but I was absolutely certain I did not want to be "used" as a female again under any circumstances. I felt a great pity for every female. I wanted to protect them from my childhood experiences as a "female" but I was helpless.
Only as a male would I be safe myself from the brutality and lust of men and the women who condoned my abuse and even welcomed the aggressive and brutal behavior of my abusers.
My tentative contacts with religions and my observations of their hypocrisy and bias with regard to sexual realities, disillusioned me forever!
My masquerade as "male" lasted many, years with my feeling like a spy in the enemy's camp, listening to the duplicity and motivations of heterosexual men. Listening to their discussions about their efforts to mislead, dominate and control women was further reason for me to despise and fear them and my possible exposure.
I was forced by my actions in life, into self awareness and exposure via a wonderful doctor. It took years of psychotherapy and hypnotherapy to accept that I was not mentally ill, not crazy. However, I was a freak. I finally remembered and faced my hated and avoided gender reality.I lived a semi-productive life until my health failed. Some DNA tests were done which showed my karyotype of 46 XX/XY (mosaic). I was taken off the male hormones due to the medical conditions. However a laboratory worker leaked my unusual test results, destroying my life in my small town, when it was made public.
I was the same person. But friends of 20 years could not accept me now. I was not "male." Therefore I must be female or some other "lesser" gender and, in their minds, some kind of homosexual because they thought I was a male all those years. They've labeled and called me fag, freak, pervert.
The actions of my home town and of others are responsible for my active efforts to combat homophobia after my exposure. I didn't leave the closet voluntarily, I was socially ejected.
It was my decision however to confront the issues by a web page, fully realizing I would be attacked. I was frightened and apprehensive knowing how violently certain homophobic people can react. Courage only pretended at first, becomes a reality when used. It gets stronger with each use.
The hate mail suggesting I be sterilized or people like me, aborted or killed, (some from pseudo-Christian ministers) are outnumbered by the positive letters ten to one. I have and do support those lonely people confronting our "differences" alone in the darkest of closets.
I felt my strange sometimes funny life needed to be told and wrote my biography, such observations and opinions I hold as true, such as these, despite my very poor writing skills.
In my own small way, I've joined activist gay people, males and females fighting "sex and gender" discrimination and legal discrimination. They too suffer homophobic prejudice, internal conflicts, and are subject to hate crimes and rejection. They can identify with me in many, but not in all ways. I envy them in their having a community of spirit and support from their peers, the lasting relationships I have seen and the abiding love some find.
I am active in the Gay Pride movement, even partially accepted. I am treated well, yet I am still the alien standing outside, observing.
In one word I am lonely. I have become celibate and resigned, still finding a measured contentment with who, what and where I am. I have a few close supporters and friends as well as several of the children I raised alone, who are mine emotionally if not mine biologically.
I know that I am a child of creation, and there are no gender rules one must meet to qualify for that, despite what organized religions may try to promote.
I've learned to accept and use both my female and male God given bents of mind. At times I may enjoy a depth of feeling, emotion, compassion and connectedness that eludes many hetero-sexual males who are so concerned with their sexuality and maleness, that their minds and hearts are closed to anything that might threaten their internal, societal inoculated macho image of themselves. On the other hand, I can and do easily assume the male role in confronting other males. Concealing my feminine body characteristics, and speaking to them in the language they understand. I must, or they would still destroy me.
I think of myself as neither male or female, as I am BOTH. Gender is a fluid concept. There are masculine girls, feminine boys. This is natural. What is unnatural is society's penchant for making us must meet the idealized versions of gender or else were are perverts, sick or an abomination. This condemnation I have noticed, is stronger with the male, insecure and unhappy in their own sexuality.
Many formerly inclusive Native American traditions, have been corrupted in their tribal spiritual beliefs, through social exposure to this hypocritical and homophobic society and education in despicable Government "Indian Schools." It is another huge loss, of that accepting and inclusive spiritual faith which we use to have.
This is the path given me by my Creator, or Creation, I pray I can walk it with my best effort, with honor and in love of all creation, never to be blinded to earth's way's and beauty.
Berdache Paul lives in Arizona.
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The Myth of Hermaphroditus: The Next Step: The Embodiment of the Struggle to Integrate Both Genders
According to the myth of Hermaphroditus, this son of Aphrodite and Hermes was loved by the maiden Salmacis, but did not return her love. In an effort to make love to him, she embraced him with such passion that the two became one, and that is how s/he came to have two genders.
It's interesting to note that this myth repeats itself in various cultures. In India, the same is said of the god Ardhanarisvara, which is really an aspect of Siva, and is worshipped by gender variants in India. The Indian hermaphrodite is imagined having half his body with male attributes, and the other half with the breast, jewelry, and body curves of a woman. He is literally a blend of Shiva and Parvati, who became one person in a passionate embrace. However, this "mythic monster", in his Indian manifestation, is sometimes perceived as an unhappy marriage between opposites. I've read that, in Indian imagination at least, the male and female aspects of Ardhanari are still two separate identities, and struggle against each other for control of Ardhanari's body. So, some people imagine Ardhanari, not as a Two Spirit person, but as literally two spirits who possess one body, something like Siamese brothers with one head.
There is also a third hermaphrodite, in the Yoruban pantheon (from what is now Nigeria, in West Africa). His name is Erinle, and in the Americas he's identified with Saint Raphael (Healer of the orishas, or gods), and with Ochosi, the patron of hunters. Lesbians in Cuba revere him/her as their matron. The myth is not very different from the other ones. He was walking by the seashore, and the spirit of Yemayá/ Olokún fell in love with him. Yemaya and Olokún are often identified as one person, but in myth they are sometimes mother and son, the Goddess of motherhood/nurturance and of the seas, where life began, and her son, the mysterious god of the depths of the ocean. So, after making love to the beautiful Erinle, Yemaya noticed that Erinle had gained her wisdom, and was afraid that he would share it with others, which would be dangerous. Therefore, she cut Erinle's tongue and cursed him, so that the only way that he can communicate is through her. Erinle never again had sexual relationships with women. It is believed that Erinle has two aspects. His more masculine aspect (worshipped mostly by lesbians, transgendered persons and "straight-acting or straight-looking gay men") bears one of the names or titles of Yemaya, and his more feminine one bears one of the titles of Erinle. Yemayá in particular is said to be fond and compassionate of gay people, thus displaying the motherly unconditional love inherent in her character. Other orishas also have male and female aspects, but these are male or female aspects to their idiosyncrasy, which doesn't necessarily make them gender-variants.
It would seem, from this sample of hermaphrodites from very separate world cultures, that this archetype is, rather than a balance of opposites, an incarnation of a struggle for power (Ardhanari) or for control over wisdom (as in Yemayá's case), or just a monster. Although these creatures were all created from a passionate embrace, and embody sexual ecstasy and pleasure, and a glimpse of the Complete Self, they became, to the cultures that gave birth to them, monstrous entities that embodied chaos and disorder in the minds of those that did not understand variations in gender identity and the power of this archetype. It seems obvious that these interpretations of these mysterious, awe-full, and numenous deities, were not made by people who had balanced their male with their female qualities. They were made by homophobes, or simply by people who lacked understanding of two-spirit powers and potential.
Today, we know that all human beings carry within them male and female hormones and qualities, and that a perfect, holy, and balanced person is both male and female. S/he has integrity (which not only means authenticity, or the ability to have harmony of thought, word and deed, but also he/she is ONE person, capable of experiencing his/her whole SELF). She/He knows that the human mind is very flexible and has the power to transform him/herself into whomever s/he wants to be, and to stretch and bend his spirit. He/She is a Shape-shifter, much like RuPaul. She can be a majestic manly Queen.
Our Impact In The World Today: The Next Steps
Okay, so you may be asking yourself: so what does this mean FOR ME? I'm a queer man or woman in the 21st century, I do not live among a tribe, I'm not a Navajo or a Lakota or living in India. I may be excited to learn some of the things about intersexed people, but our society does not sponsor a spiritual or ceremonial role similar to Two Spirits in these societies. So what does this all mean to me? How do I incorporate this into my life? How do I empower myself? How do I act on my convictions or beliefs?
All the research that I've done is good, but where to from here? What does this knowledge give you, if you don't use it, if you don't turn it into real personal power? What is the place for Two Spirits in today's world? This question has been brought up to me by some of my readers. The answer is, it is entirely up to YOU, and US, where this will take us.
First of all, knowledge is power. Knowing our history may be enough for some of us. It allows us to realize that we were not always hated and humiliated for being who we are. We were celebrated and honored once, and will be once again. But more than that, ACTION is power. When this knowledge transforms our lives, how we think of ourselves and act, we become the message, and we become role models. We develop pride to heal the internalized homophobia and the hate, and the low self-esteem. We heal. We develop our talents and gifts and own them as opposed to thinking of our sexual orientation or gender identity as a burden or a curse. So it transforms our awareness.
But some of us may want to go further in affirming our Two Spirit identity and awareness. Since the path that each must take is unique, I can only suggest some things, but never suggest that I have THE answer or THE formula, because I don't. Here are some clues, based on what I know from experience:
1. The Inner God: While masculine spirituality focuses on a transcendental Godhead, God the Father in the Heavens, and feminine spirituality focuses on God the Mother on Earth, or immanent Godhead, God the Androgyne incorporates both and focuses on God within. The Great Spirit is both within us and everywhere all around us, it guides us from all places at all times if we only listen. This is the most mature approach to godhead, assuming personal responsibility for our actions and our SELVES. The Perfect, Most Authentic Self is within, and it shines forth within us and through us, if we allow it to express itself, in the way that we talk, dress, and carry ourselves, and in the service that we engage in. It is our responsibility, if we choose a spiritual path, to develop a personal relationship with the inner Godhead, perhaps in the way that is taught by the spiritual tradition that we follow. It is also our responsibility to create the lives that WE want, trusting this guidance. In order to develop a personal relationship with Godhead it's a good idea to have a spiritual path where we find consistency. We may join the Hare Krishnas, a coven or church, or simply pray regularly and fervently within whatever tradition we follow to our chosen deity. Indians have an interesting concept, the 'ishta devata', or chosen deity. This is the deity that we choose to follow and worship because we love and prefer this deity over all others, and have some affinity with it, and our ishta devata protects us and helps us as a response to our devotion. This idea helps provide consistency and develop a meaningful relationship with God. We may also marry a God-husband. Here's what a friend of mine, Sreekishen, has to say about this phenomenon:
"... the cult of the god Kutandavar Aravan, who is worshipped primarily by tranvestite, transgendered and gay people (although several heterosexual people adore the god as well, the fact that the gods lover is a transvestite makes him appealing to gays etc...). Yet the festival of the god, and his marriage to the men attending it, is described as it occurs in two different villages. Niklas's article documents the festival in the remote village of Pillaiyarpukam, while Gariyali describes her experience in the equally remote village of Kuvagam. The people in these villages are quite friendly towards gays and transgendered people, and invite such people from all over India to come and wed their god, Kutandavar, who, as a good husband, will protect his "wives" and see to their welfare ... "
The person who wrote this to me also mentioned a transgendered friend of his who told him that she was now a saddhu (an ascetic or mystic) and married to Lord Krishna whom she served, which is acceptable within the bhakti tradition in India (one may worship God as one's son, parent, guru, or husband). So Native American culture is not the only one where it is accepted for a biological male to worship God as husband.
2. A Service Plan: What impact do you want to have in your society, based on your deepest longing for fulfilment and Self expression? Explore the impact that you'd like to have, the healing that you want to bring to others, reminding yourself that the gifts of a Two Spirit belongs to our community. You may educate, care for the sick from HIV or for the dying, become a priest in whatever religion you follow to counsel and help others, learn shamanic practices or divination systems, become a Social Worker or Counselor and work with a community for which you feel a special compassion. You may choose to lay out your Service Plan in writing, sort of as a map to help you direct yourself. It may be as detailed as you choose it to be, but it does not have to be detailed. It only needs concrete steps so that it does not become a mere abstraction, like 'education', or 'community work'. Something more concrete than this would be "I'll serve by volunteering at such and such organisation", or "I'll become a nurse and work in such hospital where they attend to the needs of HIV patients" ... You may even choose to share your service plan with others in the community.
3. Training: The more private part of our spiritual path consists of the spiritual training that we undergo in order to serve. This may include yoga, magical practices, counseling, formal schooling, learning any of the healing arts, and within each spiritual tradition there are 'sacred roles' that many of us may be drawn to. Divination through the runes (I learned on my own, and the learning never ends here), being a christian priest or a muslim Sufi, learning to use affirmations (here, again, no formal training is required, only a good attitude and a little bit of time), etc. Depending on what our goals are, we may choose to undergo any of the above, or some other form of training.
Saadaya is a twenty-five year old Two Spirit who lives in Chicago, and moderates Androgyne, an internet list that aspires to help reclaim the spiritual heritage of queer peoples.
He can be reached at: www:angelfire.com/journal/saadaya or http://groups.yahoo.com.group/ANDROGYNE or twospiritsaadaya@hotmail. com
Questions of Gay Gender and Culture
There always seem to be people asking questions. They are always searching for explanations of things: why are some people gay and some not? What kind of gender do gay men have?
The gender issue is particularly confusing. In any case the question is not limited to any particular culture nor even to human beings. The question is much more complicated than simply gay vs. straight.
As the son of a missionary in Polynesia. I learned the Polynesian way to view gay and straight relationships. Such views are cultural even though gender and orientation are universal. In old times in Polynesia, the committed gay men were called "mahu." They were the equivalent of the native American Two-Sspirits, the berdaches. But, since same-sex sex is (or was in the 1930's and before) fully acceptable, there were others who regularly had sex with other men. They were called "aikane." They did not display the same gay orientation that the mahu did. Many of them, but not all, were bisexual while. Rather few of the mahu were bisexual. If there were gender differences, then the mahu were different from the aikane who, in turn, were different from straight men. The gay culture in Polynesia is, or was, vastly different from the gay culture here.
In our culture, because of homophobia, there are far fewer adult men who behave as aikane. It is not too uncommon among horny teenagers, however. Later, when they grow up, if they are bisexual they often insist that they are straight. They do not want to be called gay. Here both mahu and aikane are lumped together and called gay.
A theory that I like to call the "High-Low Theory" offers one of the most intriguing explanations that I ever heard of for gender differences. Before we get to the theory, however, please understand that the word, "gender," has to do with behavior. It does not mean biological sex, the way the word is commonly used today.
The "High-Low Theory" is this: If a biological male has high male gender, then he is straight. Likewise, a female with high female gender is straight. Now it sometimes happens that a male will have high female gender. Then he is gay. If a person has both high male and high female genders, then he or she is androgynous, or bisexual. People who are low in both genders are undifferentiated. This is the only theory I know of that makes such neat distinctions or that explains bisexuality so well.
I adamantly defended the "High-Low Theory" for years. Then I began reflecting back on people whom I have met or known over my life time. There were some exceptional cases. I recall one log truck driver, a real husky brute, who was really a woman. In spite of rumors it was not until I happened (by accident, of course) to see that hunk naked that I was certain that she was a woman. She was very masculine. She was straight, too, in terms of sexual activity. Anyone who suggested that she might be lesbian might get his "lights punched out."
The "High-Low Theory" has other faults as well. It does not explain where the male and female genders come from. Obviously they could not be mandated, as is commonly supposed, by biological sex. Nor is the difference between the mahu and the aikane recognized or explained unless the aikane happen to be bisexual, which was commonly the case.
When I was growing up in the 1930's and 40's gay people were often called inverts or perverts. People said that they were just awful. They were sick. You would not believe the things that I was.told they would do. I was not just awful like one of them so I knew that I was not an invert or a pervert. Sure, I liked to be naked and mess around with my friends. They were the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. But were we perverts? No!
My family left Polynesia and moved to California in the 1930's before the war. I made new friends. Then came the time, in my teen years, when like most boys I began sleeping over with my friends. I loved to do that.
There were some special friends whom I was especially fond of sleeping over with. I remember times when a friend and I would lie naked on his or my bed. We had slept over together the night before. We would caress and hold each other. We felt no need or desire to restrain our feelings for each other. I would drink his semen as it spurted from his body. I would savor his musky aroma and find delight in his ecstasy.
Such feelings are wonderful. I always felt as though I had just been served holy communion. God does live in everyone. I am convinced of that. The communion served to me on those delightful occasions came from the deities within my friends. We would hold and caress each other some more. I would take my turn in the opposite role.
It is very sad that today one must use condoms for protection against the plague. The touch and taste of naked genitals, the taste of semen, the pure aroma of sexual musk, all of those things add to the experience. Still, there are many other wild things that a person can do that are safe and that harm no one.
But what made us suck each other? Most of my friends were masculine boys. We grew up rough. We went to war--most of us as medics--where one of my best friends was killed. Later I rode Brahma bulls in rodeos. After college I became a professional forester. Still later I excelled in master's sports. Before I became a vegetarian I use to hunt big game. Neither my friends nor I were particularly effeminate. But we loved each other and delighted in having sex together. We all had a lot of teenage spunk and lust. At least some of us were true mahu. But many of my teenage friends proved, over time, to be more of the aikane orientation. Later they became bisexual and still later they would insist that they were totally straight. Those of us who were mahu saw the world differently than most boys did. We knew that we were different. We also knew that we were not just awful--not one of those.
What, then, is the constitution of a mahu that is so different from a non-mahu? It is not sex. The aikane have sex with each other but otherwise are more straight than gay. True gayness means more than sex. Even within our gay culture there are common misconceptions about that. I believe that it is largely gay culture, not gender, that causes us to be gentle, to take a different approach to roughness, to life, and to its problems. Gay gender has often been described as fitting into the gay culture of cities like San Francisco and Amsterdam. There is a distinct gay culture in the big cities. Since gayness creates minority culture subjected to discrimination by the majority, a sense of community is evident there.
Being gay does not mean that a man will not be rough, however. I have known gay cowboys, gay loggers, and gay mountain men. They were committed to being gay but did not fit into the urban gay culture at all. They showed little interest in drag shows, gay bars, baths, or any other of the urban gay scenes. They were not part of that community.
This brings up the question of psychological types. The gay Jungian analyst, Graham Jackson, wrote two fascinating books on that subject: The Secret Lore of Gardening, Patterns of Male Intimacy and The Living Room Mysteries, Patterns of Male Intimacy Book 2 (both available from Inner City Books, Box 1271, Station Q, Toronto, Canada M4T 2P4). The first of these deals with these differences in type. There is the "green" type, earth centered. The rural gay cowboys that I knew tended to be of the "green" type. And there is the "yellow" type, sky centered. These types behave differently and have different affinities.
The evidence, then, is that much that is commonly perceived as typically gay is typical of only the urban portion of the gay population. Those people tend to have a disproportionately high percentage of the "yellow" type. Groups that claim to be rural, such as the Radical Fairies, are often composed largely of people from urban areas who have moved out of town to form their own communities. They bring their urban culture with them. It is the urban gay population that produces the gay media. Writers tend to be of the "yellow" type. Consequently the gay media is inadvertently biased.
What I am getting at here is that neither the urban gay culture, nor any other culture, is predicted by a population being gay. There are questions of psychological type and of the parent culture. Still, there do seem to be traits characteristic of most gay men, but often for explainable reasons.
Alexander the Great was a famous historic gay general. One of his tactics was to hide some of his troops, and then fall back. The enemy would follow him as he falsely retreated. Then the hidden troops would then come out of hiding and surround the enemy. Often the enemy would surrender with little or no fighting. His was a gay approach to doing battle. Some people might call it effeminate. He avoided violence. But he won his battles. It is hard to imagine the macho generals of the Pentagon behaving that way today.
Perhaps there was a reason for Alexander's avoidance of violence. Perhaps it was for the same reason that gay men often choose to be medics rather than to go into the infantry. Is it because they do not wish to kill beautiful men? How many straight men would want to slaughter an army made up of sexy pin-up girls?
One might also consider the martial arts. In the soft arts, such as judo and jujitsu, when someone pulls, you push. When someone pushes, you pull. Perhaps gay men sometimes prefer the soft arts so that they can touch and hold another man. And who were the "soft" people who developed those arts? It is well known that some of the early Samurai who developed those arts were gay. The soft arts contrast vividly with the kick-and-punch hard arts, such as karate, which seem to be more popular with straight people.
Body building is popular with gay men. There are well-known gay athletes. The commonly offered belief that gay men do not like sports is false. Consider the Gay Games, for instance. There we have a beautiful exhibit of well-tuned bodies working to perfection. There is a celebration of health and vigor. The exuberance and joie de vivre is wonderful to behold. All of this is accompanied with camp humor and laughter (and some, yes, some cruising). It is a delight for a gay man to participate in such an event. My feeling, now, is that neither science nor gay men have accurately described a gay gender. Much that has been attributed to gender is really culture.
There are different theories that I have not mentioned, of course. Karl Ulrich proposed, many years ago, that gay men comprise a third sex, a third gender, which he referred to as Urnings. Since then several other thinkers have suggested the same thing. Modern science seems to reject those ideas.
Possibly we are a third gender. But if we are, then how can we explain the androgynous, the bisexuals, the aikane, and the other variations? There are quite a number of sexual orientations and paraphilias. Are they other genders, too? How many genders are there? Such an explanation creates more questions than it answers.
It is human nature--our nature--to seek answers. We ask questions. We follow the ancient admonition: "Know thyself." Fun, isn't it?
As for sexual orientations, I see them as spiritual. Our gayness is a spiritual gift. It is a gift that, by setting us apart, gives us wonderful insights and opportunities. Sharing sex with gay friends can be spiritual acts. I still like to think of sex, especially oral sex, as holy communion. It comes from God, the Gods within our partners.
Regardless of the gender-culture question I give thanks to God, the God within each one of us, that helping another person into ecstasy is a possibility. It is a possibility that we can find delight in.
Don Dimock lives in a small town in Oregon.
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A Sexual Stockholm Syndrome
Following World War II when the prisoner of war camps were liberated the Allied forces discovered a phenomenon which was at best perplexing and at worst, seemingly treasonous. Many prisoners seemed to have surrendered more than their bodies to the enemy. They appeared to have forgiven and even defended their captors and in some cases, taken on, in horrifying ways, many of the characteristics of their captors. The phenomenon was initially observed and coined eponymously in Stockholm, Sweden when hostages in a bank robbery began defending their kidnappers and refused to testify against them in trial.
We have now come to understand post traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of terrible life experiences, plane crashes, rape and other traumas to the psyche. This peculiar war phenomenon became known as the Stockholm Syndrome, most famously demonstrated in recent times in the kidnapping and captivity of Patty Hearst who went from Bay Area debutante to automatic weapon-toting, bank-robbing revolutionary under the influence of the Symbionese Liberation Army who had locked her for weeks in a closet and subjected her to rape, verbal abuse and physical deprivation. In a primal attempt at self-preservation and survival, Ms. Hearst became a mirror of her captors, dressing, acting and talking in a parrotic manner so as to say, "See? I'm just like you. So spare me, don't kill me."
It is my suggestion that a variation on this same syndrome can now be seen in the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement and to disastrous effect for all concerned expressed most commonly in the form of "See? We're just like you (we want to be married and have children and we work hard and have mortgages) except for what we do in bed. So don't kill us." This has deep implications for modern gay politics, which extend to psychology, sociology and spirituality. I call it the Sexual Stockholm Syndrome.
In Native American culture, being same-sex-oriented, or "two-spirited," was considered a privileged spiritual state. In many instances, to be a shaman, one had to be two-spirited. Genocidal contact with Western culture and Christianity has made this less prevalent -- or at least observable -- today (genocide has a remarkably efficient chilling effect), but the precedent and the culture is there for all to see.
To have a two-spirited child was considered to be a blessing on a family and the tribe. Children were often identified at infancy, though someone could take on the two-spirit mantle through vision quest or dreams. Many of the greatest chiefs of the great North American nations had "berdache" wives. Berdache were held in the highest esteem, consulted on all matters of importance to the tribe, were taken on hunting and war parties because they were thought to lend a certain civility to the proceedings. In fact, it was this social role that was the mainstay of the two-spirit, berdache existence. Their sexuality (not to mention the sexuality of the men who visited them and sought counsel and comfort from them) was of little if any interest to most, though often a subject of good-natured, often ceremonialized, teasing.
In the Native tradition as late as the late 19th Century, this was the role of the berdache, the "winkte," the "lhamana," the "tennewyppe" (Lakota, Zuni and Shoshone respectively) -- to "flesh out" the connections between seemingly disparate ideas, cultures, people. As two-spirited people, berdache were unique in their position to be mediators in all the manifestations that role can take. That great tradition of our people, same-sex people, once again wiped out by the European hegemony, can only be reclaimed by us. It should come as no surprise, then, that we may have lost the real spiritual connection that occurs between two men (or two women) when connecting erotically, and that we might somehow have come to believe that the erotic is, by definition, separate from the spiritual. Instinctively, if not from experience, we all know how false this is. Same-sex oriented people have always known this.
In the world of bodies, we are separate; in the world of spirit, we are one. We heal the separation between the two by shifting our awareness from "body identification" to "spirit identification." This heals the body as well as the mind. This opens your body, connects it to its spiritual roots and takes you to the other side, where spirit resides. But we must be open to that experience. We must bring the openness -- the spirit -- to the experience.
While it would have been considered unusual in either classical Greek or Native American culture for two men of equal social or economic standing to form a romantic relationship, perhaps such equal relationships show the growth that we of the 20th Century are bringing to the table. Wiping away seemingly arbitrary distinctions between social caste and economics, we are forming romantic, erotic relationships with whomever our hearts desire. Perhaps humanity moves up a karmic ladder of chakras just as individuals can in their own lives and bodies, sloughing off old restrictions like old snake skins to reveal something the same yet different, an old form with new meaning.
This difference, this diversity in sexuality to begin with (but in fact representing a similarity among people, the detection of which is a two-spirited gift, to see commonality where others see disparity) is the critical element of this syndrome. The real value of same-sex relations is in the diversity it brings to culture at large and individuals specifically. This requires a sex-positive attitude which is egregiously lacking in our culture, but it is this argument which might actually bring about the necessary changes which that culture so desperately needs, though it may be loathe to accept.
But as long as we argue that "We're just like you except for what we do in the bedroom" we will suffer as those prisoners of war suffered, as Patty Hearst suffered, from the debilitation of a Sexual Stockholm Syndrome. I suspect the symptoms of the Sexual Stockholm Syndrome, among gay people, to include hyper-masculinization, sexual objectification (most often expressed in the form of what is often called "promiscuity"), an obsession with youth, an inclination to separatism and other hetero-imitative behaviors, institutions and language such as "top" and "bottom". And while I fully support transsexuals in their quest for a medical solution to their physical conundrum and for transsexuals to seek literal and figural "redress" for their plight in this society, it is, nonetheless, the continuing extremity of the limiting binary view of sex and gender that forces them to seek the physical mutilation the medical solution provides.
And it is not only a critical issue for gay, lesbian, transgender and transsexual people. For the larger "oppressing" culture it weakens family structure, obliges furtive sexual activities and imposes a lack of true spiritual depth most visible in the consumerist culture that looms over us all and the decreasing respect for arid, sterile, institutional religions that function more as political enforcers of conformity and compliance than as sources of spiritual nourishment and growth.
Deprivation of a meaningful social role, or more to the point, the acknowledgment of the meaningful social role which same-sex oriented people have historically played in society, deranges individuals who see the world as something other than a binary split of male and female. It is the either/or way of thinking that has supplanted the both/and way of looking at individuals that leads to social disruption, discord and dysphoria in every individual who succumbs to this kind of thinking. In the shadow of the Stonewall riots we lost this diversity and acceptance of a varied erotic life. People had to choose sides, gay or straight, and those who were caught in the middle were stigmatized and despised by both sides.
Before Stonewall there was something of a tacit understanding that men sometimes went with men. Those men weren't themselves considered to be "that way." Many were captains of industry and barons of financial empires. The generally effeminate men they went with were called "fairies" and were seen as cut from a different cloth. But the "men" themselves were from the "boys will be boys" old school and unless they scared the horses, most people and the tabloids looked the other way. Not unlike their distant Native American cousins, the fairies were seen to be performing a kind of social role. Perhaps that was one of sexual release that meant Daddy would continue to be around the household to support the little woman and their progeny. Or perhaps it was a way for them to simply blow off steam, "just having some fun." The point is that not much was made of it all, despite the well-known existence of drag balls and "secret" meeting places where uptown men went with downtown men dressed as women.
Of course there was considerable harrassment of the 'fairies' themselves. Bar raids and payoffs were the norm for them until Stonewall. It was after Stonewall that we had to choose sides -- either/or time again -- and while that was important politically, spiritually and psychologically it had disastrous results for all concerned. It effectively enabled us to avoid looking at why some men sometimes want to be with other men, which would have gone a long way towards an understanding of why some men always want to be with other men.
Instead it was explained away with the big lie that homosexuality was a perversity, when in fact, it is a natural state of affairs for a majority of individuals. For, if Kinsey was right with his sexual scale of 0 to 6, with 0 being totally heterosexual and 6 being totally homosexual, then that means there is a preponderance of 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s who occasionally or frequently look to members of their own gender for sexual solace, enjoyment and release. In fact, the result of the bifurcation of erotic life was the diminishment of the dialogue into matters of mere sexuality and enabling of the denial of the spiritual meanings of erotic connection and diversity.
As Harry Hay puts it so succinctly: The bedroom is the only place homosexual people are like non-homosexual people. It's everywhere else we are different. Even using terms like "homosexual" and "heterosexual" divides the world into an either/or system that fails to understand the nuances of human sexuality and experience. Modern gay people grasp hungrily at the Native American Two-Spirit idea as a vindication of their condition and preference -- construing it as an explanation of transgender and transvestitism or justification of some sense that they might embody both male and female in their physical form. Will Roscoe has brilliantly revealed this tradition and we now understand that these individuals were perceived not seen as some amalgam of male and female, but were seen as "non-male, non-female." This is very different from a physical vessel containing both. We have little if any vocabulary for understanding the true nature of the culture from which they seek to find solace. While it is true that the berdache often cross-dressed and in fact had sexual relations with the "men" of the tribe, their life was defined not by their sexual activity, but by the social roles they embodied and were seen to have innately within their being, the sexual aspects being seen as one relatively unimportant custom of its expression.
If their role was purely sexual in nature, who and what were the "men" who had sexual relations with them? It was through the offices of their social value to the society that berdache were honored and accepted by their societies. Their ability to mediate, take the middle ground, see similarities and connections instead of differences and disconnects, demonstrated in many aspects of the day-to-day life from healing to teaching, from counseling to cultural maintenance and development, to even childcare and education that made them indispensable and honored members of their society.
While it would be difficult to measure statistically because of fear of exposure, it is my contention that what are now called "gay people" still function in this same mediating manner in cultures everywhere, not least of which in the United States. Artists, priests, therapists, teachers, designers and cultural arbiters, to name just a few obvious examples, are frequently weighted with the presence of same-sex oriented people. It is the deprivation of acknowledgment of that role and the demonization of natural sexuality among people by erotophobic religious groups that has resulted in the depraved and troubled society in which we find ourselves living. Typical of the "big lie" strategy of oppression we have been told that it is this very thing that has brought about the problems which are so evident, diverting attention from the real source and continuing the denial of what we must do to overcome it.
Gay people must begin to embrace and celebrate the differences which we embody, if only in the declaration of who we choose to love, though it is so much more than that. This requires the bravery of a soldier and facing the fear of being different and demanding our birthright. The Sexual Stockholm Syndrome is a degrading, demeaning and dangerous complex which threatens to continue to separate us from our true natures and to condemn our culture to banality and isolation. Harry Hay once wrote that the greatest sexual abuse ever perpetrated on human beings is the maniacal social imperative to be heterosexual forced on homosexual people. He goes on to admonish us that until we are able to stand in our own light and define ourselves in our own terms --separate and distinct from the heterosexual constraints--we will never succeed to convincing the greater culture that we have any value to them.
Bo Young is Associate Editor of White Crane Journal.
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Back Into The Future: Transphobia Is My Issue Too
Warren J. Blumenfeld
Friends affectionately call me, "Estelle Abrams"-- honorary Jewish bisexual woman from Brooklyn. Estelle embodies the feminine side of my soul--my joyous, playful self, the creative, spontaneous, sensitive spirit that I have come to treasure and genuinely love. But this wasn't always the case.
When I was quite young, long before I learned what was considered the "proper" rules of conduct, I naively introduced Estelle to the world. Others, I was quick to discover, feared and even despised her. Children called her names like "queer," "sissy," "fairy," "pansy," "faggot," "little girl," with an incredible vehemence and malice that I did not understand.
Adults hated her too. Soon after I introduced Estelle to my parents, they sent me to a child psychiatrist when I was only five years old and continuing over the next eight years, in their attempt to kill Estelle, to exorcise her in the hope of forever eliminating all contact, all vestiges, all memory of her ever being a part of me.
All this taught me to cloak her from the sun's exposing rays, to keep her well concealed deep within my consciousness, to summons her only during those rare but precious moments of tranquil and safe solitude.
The forces that set out to kill Estelle--those societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of femininity in every male--nearly succeeded in coercing me into denouncing her, but through some power more potent than they, Estelle was victorious in fending off their attacks. Being mightier and more willful, she stayed with me through times of torment and times of treatment.
Even when I began to lose trust and to doubt her, she never gave up on me.
The good news is that Estelle not only survived, but she thrives in me today. Each day I am alive, I thank her for the extraordinary gifts she gives to me. Her presence not only enriches me, but also gives special meaning to my life, and for that I am truly lucky.
Some have asked me, "What was that energy, that force empowering Estelle to repel her would-be executioners?" Quite simply, it was a vision--a vision of social transformation articulated by feminists and later by early gay liberationists during Estelle's youth.
Earlier--much earlier--in the Middle Ages, the fairies--those men accused of same-sex eroticism--were rounded up, bound, tossed on the ground as if kindling, and set ablaze igniting women accused of witchcraft who were secured above. Later, the reverse would be true. Catching the spark of feminist thought and theory, fairies joined together exploding conventional notions of gender, most notably of masculinity.
In 1993, during the National March for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Rights in Washington, D.C., I attended a reunion of the Gay Liberation Front, D.C., which--over twenty-three years prior--formed the leading edge of a movement rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
We held early meetings at Grace Church, the Washington Free Clinic in Georgetown, and All Souls Church on 16th Street, until we rented a brownstone on S Street, in Northwest for the establishment of a Gay Liberation Front living collective. Meetings provided a space for gays, lesbians, and bisexual women and men to come together and put into practice what feminists had taught us--that the "personal is indeed the political."
We laughed and we cried together. We shared our ideas and our most intimate secrets. We dreamed our dreams and laid our plans for a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and as we went along, invented new ways of relating.
For the men, we came to consciousness of how we had been stifled as males growing up in a culture that taught us to hate the woman within, that taught us that if we were to be considered worthy, we must be athletic, independent, assertive, domineering, competitive, that we must bury our emotions deep within the recesses of our souls.
Looking back over the years, as our visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, but also, something very precious has been lost. That early excitement, that desire--though by no means the ability--to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in many sectors of, at least, the gay male community.
I do remain hopeful, however, for I believe that bisexual women and men and transgenderists today are on the cutting edge of the discourse on gender, having the greatest potential to bring us back into the future--a future in which the Estelles (and the Butches) everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by other's notions of behavior, one in which the "feminine" and "masculine"--as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between--can live and prosper in us all.
So therefore I say, let us not work only toward lifting the ban against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the military, but let us also work toward lifting the ban against our transcending and obliterating the gender status quo.
Let us not limit our efforts to defeating homophobia, heterosexism, biphobia, and the many other categories of oppression, but let us also work toward conquering personal,institutional, and societal forms of transphobia and its offshoot,what some of us have labeled "effemiphobia"--that insidious and dehumanizing fear and hatred of anything even hinting at the feminine in males, which is, as we all know, basically the fear and hatred of females.
Let us continue to work on issues around same-sex marriage and domestic partnership, but let us not fail to put efforts into strengthening a partnership between our masculine and feminine qualities making us all whole, integrated human beings.
If indeed it is true, as the old saying goes, that the fish is the last to see the water because it is so pervasive, then from our vantage point at the margins, we have a special opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to serve as social comment-ators, as critics, exposing and highlighting the rigid gender roles that dampen and saturate our environment, and to challenge the culture to move forever forward and to grow. This is my view of true and lasting liberation. I hope it is part of yours too.
Warren J. Blumenfeld is Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, Co-Author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life and Editor of the International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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When I Was Born
When I was born, the nurses wrapped me in a yellow blanket. My parents told this story over and over again. How I was such a wonderful baby, such a beautiful baby, that the nurses, the nurses in the hospital, they wrapped me in a yellow blanket.
A yellow blanket. Not a blue one. Or a pink one. No, they wrapped me in a yellow blanket. And every time I heard that story I got mad.
Blue is for boys. Everyone knows that. And pink is for girls. But what is yellow for? I know that there are planets with more than two choices. But here, here on Earth, you only get to choose from blue or pink. And, frankly, I didn't care which. Boy or girl. Girl or boy. Either choice would have been fine with me. But what was my choice?
In a yellow blanket, not blue or pink, I was sent home from the hospital. And how proud my parents were, of their different, their beautiful, their special little baby.
That story haunted me all through my childhood. Haunted me in the schoolyard where I sat alone under a tree. Watching the boys play baseball in one corner while the girls jumped rope in another. It haunted me in the bathtub. It haunted me in my dreams. And it haunted me later, when the hair started growing on my upper lip, in my armpits, beneath my Fruit of the Loom white jockey underpants. Wrapped me up in yellow. Chicken. Scared.
When I was born, the nurses wrapped me in a yellow blanket. Not a blue one or a pink one. And my parents were so proud of that. They told the story over and over. But it took me more than twenty years to own that story. Twenty years to be proud of who I am.
When I was born, six pounds and seven brown ounces with a head of curly thick black hair, the nurses wrapped me in a yellow blanket. Not a blue one or a pink one. And I'm wrapped in it still. And I ask myself, over and over, how did those nurses know, when they wrapped me, newly slipped into this world and still jet-lagged, how did they know on that new spring night in 1951--that I would be as different as I am? A walker. Rememberer. And a teller of the stories of our people. That nobody else can tell, but one of our people.
Andrew Ramer is author of Two Flutes Playing, a classic of gay mythmaking and remembering.
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Reviews and Books
Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People And Why It's So Hard to Be Human
Robert N. Minor, PhD
HumanityWorks!, pb, 218 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
This is a brilliant book. It ought to be required reading for every human being--and certainly every gay or lesbian human being.
For, as Scared Straight explains in exacting detail, indoctrination into the way of thinking it argues against is, in fact, "required" of every person living in modern human society.
Robert Minor, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, describes the process of conditioning into conventional gender roles that dominates and directs our lives. He uses an interesting bit of computer terminology that helps make his argument clear: he refers to gender conditioning as being "installed" the way a piece of software is installed. A small program analyzes your computer and determines what needs to be where for a desired application to work, and then inserts whatever pieces of code are needed.
Now in the installation of gender role conditioning what's needed are a set of beliefs, opinions and unverifiable assumptions about the nature of human life and sexuality that support and explain the existing system. Using the familiar story about the fish who observes "I've been swimming in it all my life, but all I know about it is it's water," Minor shows how in fact we're all "wet" with the tenets of male dominant gender conditioning but can't realize it because we can never--or at least seldom--get out of the water enough to see what it is.
What it is is the installed beliefs that male is better than female, that males should compete with other males to prove they're "real men" and not like females, that females should effectively be victims to males' desires and priorities in order to be "real women," that men should want to "get laid" and women should want to "get a man," and that nobody should question these beliefs lest the males demonstrate they're like women and the females demonstrate they're unworthy to be men--thus proving the assumptions.
In a way, of course, this is a further reiteration of the original feminist critique. It's not new. But in this book it is brilliantly and exhaustively argued and explained.
The consequence of this installation of gender roles is unquestioning acceptance of male dominance, hierarchical ordering, competition, scarcity and dualistic thinking--especially the notion of right and wrong--as though these were "God-given." Even the idea of that "God" is a self-serving, self-verifying artifact of the male dominant conditioning.
Minor shows how heterosexuals are forced into being "straight" at the cost of men's emotional well-being and freedom and women's self-respect, autonomy and intelligence. He very insightfully explains that being straight is not at all the same thing as being heterosexual, that "straight" means acquiescing to the gender role conditioning, and that because the conditioning suppresses natural responsiveness to feelings, it in fact disempowers real heterosexuality. People don't respond to their actual heterosexual feelings as much as they react to and obey gender conditioning. No wonder straight marriage is under seige.
Minor then shows how gay people are taught to be gay by a system that demands everybody be "straight." Thus we see the notorious terms applied to gay people: "straight-looking, straight-acting." Even homosexuals try to be "straight."
The reason homosexuality is so scorned by the system is because the very choice of "coming out" means choosing to be true to one's own feelings instead of buckling under to conditioning. In order to be gay, at least on the surface level, one has to decide to violate the conditioning, that is, to jump out of the water. This, in turn, threatens the system because it shows that human beings can survive without agreeing to the tenets of male dominant heterosexism.
On a deeper level, of course, gay men and lesbians continue to struggle with the installed program of conditioned expectations, values, and self-assessments. But at least we're potentially aware of what's going on. And with our struggle we call the "straights" to wake up and be aware.
The gay and lesbian rights movement then is not just another attempt by one group to compete with and dominate another (that's how the conditioning would portray it and that's why straights feel threatened, why, for instance, they think that gay marriage threatens their relationships). Our movement is about the human race waking up from a set of assumptions about the nature of life and God that (maybe!) made sense at the start of agrarianism, when our ancestors were coming down from the trees and moving into villages, but that don't fit modern, technological, egalitarian, psychologically-enlightened society.
To pursue the computer analogy, we're part of the "deinstall" routine. And deinstalling the conditioning promises to make heterosexuals and homosexuals alike happier and more responsive to their natural humanity. Reading this book, itself, is a kind of routine for deinstalling the conditioning. For what activates the deinstallation is precisely the awareness of the installation process itself. Every one of us would benefit from running that routine.
Sacred Straight is available at www.fairnessproject.org.
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The Black & White Book: Two Sides to Every Story
Pocket Books, hb, 130 pages, $12.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
This book belongs right at home in our discussion of gender and polarities, for it's about polarization and getting beyond it. It's a little less of a content-filled book than a single idea that is reiterated over and over again in different ways. But with repetition the idea is only given more strength.
The idea is a gimmick. Every page of the book is black on one side with white writing and white on the other with black writing. On the black pages are printed examples of negative thoughts and negative experiences and negative assessments of events. On the white pages opposite are printed the positive take on those same thoughts, experiences or assessments of events.
The back cover provides an excellent example. On the top half of the cover, in white on black, are the sentences: "This book is filled with negativity. It might make you angry. Some stories may stop you in your tracks. This book is rude. This book is not funny. It may hit too close to home. How could you think of owning this book?"
On the bottom half, in black on white, are the cognate sentences: "This book sees the good. It will probably make you happy. Some stories will give you strength. This book respects you. This book will crack you up. It may be what you've been waiting to read. How could you think of not owning this book?"
While it sounds like this could get old, it doesn't. The examples are varied and the flips from negative to positive come in sometimes surprising ways.
All the polarities are there just so we can overcome them and rise to a higher perspective. This insight is specified in the last paragraph of the introduction: "Acceptance is the single greatest concept I have ever incorporated into my life. Without it, I could not have authored this book. I at last accept my anger and my darkness, your fear and your hatred. I have found that it's only the resistance that makes these human conditions so painful."
The punch line, by the way, is the author's acknowledgement of his bout with AIDS.
A wonderful book for a gift. Nice reading matter to leave in the bathroom. A marvelous declaration of an insight we all need to get over and over again because as the last sentence of the book says, "It has been my experience that the more darkness I encounter, the greater my capacity for light. Ugliness turns to beauty. The negative with the positive. Up, down. Black and white. And so it goes…"
The Black and White Book is available from the website: www.blackandwhitebook.com
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It's All God
Guadalupe Press, 1998, pb, 292 pages, $15.95
Reviewed by Ralph Walker
Walter Starcke is a figure in the current day culture of the Texas Hill Country and occasionally a character in the gay community of San Antonio. He's been a young dashing Texan in New York City, a Broadway producer, a friend of Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal, Chris Isherwood and his circle, a Key West entrepreneur, a gay man, a straight man, an adventurer and world traveller, a spiritual seeker, a mystic, a teacher for the various progressive churches called "metaphysical," a retreat master, a meditator, a spiritual writer, a devotee of Joel Goldsmith, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Albert Einstein and Jesus for the quantum age, a textile manufacturer, an innkeeper, the wise gay elder of central Texas' original Shaman Circle.
He's now in his early 80s, but still seems young and vibrant. He is on the road these days, taking the wisdom of his newest book across the country. One of Starcke's aims is to show how "new age" and "new paradigm" spirituality can be derived from Christianity and the sayings of Jesus, certainly a worthwhile endeavor in the contemporary process of transforming religion.
Ralph Walker, Founder of The Loving Brotherhood, ran an enthusiastic review of Walter Starcke's book in the August issue of the TLB Newsletter. Here's a version of that review.
This book is about expanding and revitalizing the message of Christ seeing him clearly as human, as are each of us, and touched by the Divine like us, and far more profoundly experiencing That than any of us, and yet who told us, in "oh so many ways," that what he did we too could do… indeed, "even more so than I."
In nudging us toward the experiencing of our own Christ nature, Starke manages to incorporate and acknowledge all of our weaknesses and foibles and makes clear that Christ too, was flawed. He got angry, he was tempted, he made mistakes. Indeed, the tragically inaccurate "teaching" of most churches is of Christ as "perfect" and thus saddling us with the notion that only as we "become perfect," as he was perfect, are we acceptable to God.
How can that be, if "all of it" is God? For even the weak, the fallen, those wallowing in sickness and sin and depravity are, too, a part of God, for "it's all God!"
For, at all these earthly levels that we are told are "God, there do exist the dualisms of good and bad, yes and no, right and wrong. AND, if we are to be fully in touch with our own Buddha nature, the "Christ within the soul" it will require that we accept our failures and frailties and those of others as opportunities for expansion, learning and growth, and part of what "God" is about.
What Starcke manages, with consummate skill, is a "wholing" of all of the parts, and as he does so, in each instance, often as the last sentence in each chapter, as still one more reminder, he repeats: "It's all God."
What a blessedly ecstatic way of looking at the world! To see that "all of it," when embraced exactly the way that it is, is perfect! Until we are able to accept, acknowledge, allow, and indeed embrace all of it, exactly the way that it is, our lives will be plagued with sadness, distress, a sense of futility or loss....
For those of us who still are venturing toward fullness and ecstatic living, Walter Starcke is offering a formulation that does indeed, include it all. Yes, I advise you again: it is hardly a quick and easy read. It requires--yet clearly merits--slow and thoughtful reading and soul-searching thought. It yields a plenitude of rewards, and most of all, a restored Self. Or as Starcke's suggested prayer says it: "All of what God is, I am That." A most profoundly rewarding place to be!
It's All God is available from Guadalupe Press, P O Box 865, Boerne TX 78006. (830) 537-4655. A study guide is also available.
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by William Schindler
Xlibris Corporation, pb, $16.00
Reviewed by Bruce P. Grether
As an activist for the erotic liberation of my fellow men I found William Schindler's new book Gay Tantra particularly fascinating. One thing I've long been aware of is that in the Western World we misuse the term Tantra to mean any kind of enhancement of sexual pleasure through prolonged or nonejaculatory practices. So it's refreshing to read this book that explores the authentic meaning of the term. It actually indicates a wide range of techniques both ascetic and ecstatic for training the senses toward heightened spiritual awareness.
Clearly Schindler, a long-term practitioner of Tantra and student of Sanskrit, knows what he's talking about. Early on he makes it clear that this is not a sex manual or sex how-to, but an examination of these concepts related to Hindu religious practices, yet potentially relevant to anyone. In particular I appreciate how the author relates the subject to gay men, with our special awareness of gender fluidity and the outsider's perspective.
He explains: "Ultimately, Tantra will teach us to find our true identity as pure consciousness, the essence of the Divine. The individual body/mind will be seen as part of the content of consciousness, and we will experience the true Self as pure consciousness." This basic insight of seeing beyond duality to essential Oneness is a message that seems to be coming at me personally from every direction these days--also from this book. As a gay man, I feel my life experience has enhanced my awareness and curiosity about the nature of things. Schindler states: "Tantra says take the whole experience as it is, ignoring nothing. Feel the pleasure and the pain. See what is there and what is not there. Know that the Truth resides in every experience and learn."
He pulls no punches in presenting aspects of Tantra many might find distasteful, including animal sacrifice and a tradition of offering severed heads on altars. While some of these optional practices don't thrill me, I appreciate the challenge of moving beyond my own likes and dislikes to consider their real significance. "Severed heads, for example, often represent ahamkara or ego, the mental function that makes us believe falsely that we are separate from others and from God." Other matters are more familiar to students of Eastern religions: "Above all Tantra emphasizes practice, sadhana, methods for realizing our true nature and for connecting with God."
Another common misconception is that sacred images of Shiva and Shakti copulating validate heterosex over homosex--in fact such images represent integral forces and noduality. The book argues persuasively that gay men's awareness of how arbitrary gender roles are can be an asset."A true integration of gay identity requires discovering the unique gifts of being gay along with the unique hardships. It requires coming to appreciate how the hardships have contributed to gifts of greater insight and emotional strength." This only begins to suggest the rich concepts found in Tantra.
But I appreciate the simplicity of the essence: "The ultimate affirmation is the affirmation of Oneness." That is not to suggest that such awareness is easy to achieve. Still I especially enjoy how the author sums up his discussion of mindfulness: "Ultimately mindfulness is all about getting one's ego self out of the way and experiencing the unbroken flow of attention that is the true Self within." So if you're curious to know what Tantra is really about, this book is a fine place to start.
William Schindler's website is www.gaytantra.org
The book, GAY TANTRA, can be ordered from that site or from Xlibris.com or from Amazon.com
Bruce P. Grether is host of the sites: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/male_tantric_masturbation & http://groups.yahoo.com/group/txfaerieconx. He is also known by his Faerie name Swami. He and his mate Hyperion are The Texas Faerie Connection.
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Link to Toby Johnson's GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness Last update October 28, 2001