Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Musings of a Philosophical Bear: On Gay Spirituality

I'm almost never described as a spiritual person. Intellectual maybe, even sometimes philosophical, but my skepticism and love of science often puts me at odds with people who describe themselves as spiritual. While I don't believe in a separate realm of spiritual existence, I am quite interested in the mysteries of consciousness and the nonphysical aspects of our perceived reality. I see spirituality as our means of describing the unknown, a way to speak the language of the indescribable, our way of reaching out to the intangible nature of our existence. I consider myself philosophical and there's a great deal of overlap in those two viewpoints. I'm deeply interested in the things that spirituality teaches us about consciousness. We long to have a way to understand our subjective experiences. For many people, spirituality and religion is the way we come to grips with the mysterious aspects of our lives. The gay and lesbian experience is possibly the most misunderstood of human experiences. Some people, even some of those who are gay, still see it as a choice we make, others don't even believe in it's existence. Being gay is a blessing, yet unnecessary guilt and shame are placed on some of us who are given such an incredible gift. I hope I can shed some light on the often overlooked advantages of being gay, not  only to each of us who experiences it, but for the growth of our collective human consciousness.

We often speak of gay men being shallow and vein. We tend to focus on each other's bodies and appearance, taking little to no consideration of another's inner life. We shun those in our community who we find unattractive. Even those of us in the bear community can be very hurtful to each other. This happens in straight land as well, but not to the same degree that it happens in the gay community; we live our lives seeking out attractive men, even for platonic friendships, searching the world around us for other men we desire and admire, we watch porn at rates much higher than our heterosexual counterparts, we throw sex parties, the majority of advertisements for gay gatherings include images of half naked men. For some, these examples prove that gay men are morally depraved. But when we take a step back and look at humanity as a whole, we are just part of a larger continuum of sexualized perspectives. The pervasiveness of sexual imagery is simply one manifestation of our beauty seeking consciousness, but far from the most important or interesting.

Modern Christianity views everything through the lens of body and soul, of people being spirits living a human experience, tempted by the pleasures and comforts of our lower selves. The soul being that which is clean, the body being that which is unclean. This way of seeing the world makes sex and sexuality potentially evil, something merely tolerated for the sake of procreation instead of a gift to be cherished. A popular name for the devil, that of the prince of darkness himself, is derived from words to describe worldly desires. Food and sex were luxuries seen as temptations capable of corrupting a pure soul. In this duelist view of reality, countless believers practiced the unnatural act of celibacy, starved themselves to near death, and whipped themselves bloody and weak... all as a form of spiritual practice. Is it any wonder that they also saw homosexuality as a perversion, a turning away from God? They saw no benefit in having sex simply for the sake of pleasure. We raise our collective consciousness when we refute this worldview, and homosexuality plays a large role in that process.

Sex is Good
We are made for love. It's why we're here, what we seek, and what each of us needs. French playwright Victor Hugo famously quoted, "To love another person is to see the face of God." It is one way of connecting with the whole of humanity through a single person. Because we are more alike than we are different, seeing the shared humanity in another person helps us to have more compassion and understanding for the rest of humanity, and for ourselves as well. When religious fundamentalist attack homosexuality (gay marriage in particular), it makes sense that evoking love would make the best defense. Why would a Christian be against love? It's a pretty good tactic, but we know they aren't against love, they're against sex, especially gay sex. They're against pleasure for it's own sake.  Using this argument implies that love makes sex a good thing. I completely reject this line of reasoning, even if the tactic can be effective. It's time for us to embrace the idea that sex is an inherently good thing.

We may want to argue for love to conservatives, but within out our community we need to remember that sex is a good way to have a spiritual experience. Male Media Mind contributor Breeze Vincinz wrote about the spiritual aspects of sex in The Big O.  Many spiritual practices attempt to get us to live in the moment, to forget the thoughts that embarrass or shame us, to stop worrying about things that haven't happened and may never happen. We often experience that in an orgasm. We live in a perpetual now, but our incessant thoughts don't always make that apparent. Sex is a gift. Everyone can experience a moment of enlightenment because the sexual drive is universal. Not every orgasm is profound, but every once in a while we can have a moment of clarity. In those moments, we get a hint of infinity, our mind expands, we may lose consciousness, we can experience the endless "now" that is the nature of existence, and we may get to connect with another who shares that experience with us.

Love may not make sex okay, but together they can help us connect with another human being in ways neither could do alone. Sex isn't always used for connection, and so the religious can see it as a waste of God's gifts. Certainly there are many dangerous aspects to careless attitudes toward sex, but this has more to do with biology than spirituality. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but they aren't the same thing. Sexual promiscuity without the aid of protection is more an issue of physical hygiene than spiritual retribution. It can be argued that the gay community paid a high cost to teach humanity at large to respect the power of pathogens, but it says little to nothing about the ethics of sex. The fight for gay marriage is in itself a triumph of conservative values. Gay men and women, free of the social constraints of traditional marriage and relationships, found that promiscuity didn't fulfill our needs thus reaffirming the need for love in a way that straight men and women could never chance alone. When we accept homosexuality, it may be a lesson for all of humanity of how much we need loving relationships, or at least confirm that most of us do.

The Spiritual Lessons of Gay Love
How gay men love differs from straight men in two major ways. One of the ways we diverge from heterosexuality combats a duelist view which gives rise to homophobia and the western conception of evil. Gay men don't separate earthly desires from spiritual ones. When we see a man we desire, we often times aren't fully aware of whether or not we want to be with him, or be him. We may in one moment want to touch is body, to smell his odor, to taste him in more ways than one, and in another moment we have aspirations of possibly emulating his beauty for ourselves, seeing him as a role model for who we want to be. This unification of physical and spiritual desires can only be helpful in transforming the collective consciousness stuck in duelist views of reality.

If your sexuality is focused on oppositely sexed people, the world appears full of polarities and interacting dualities. It makes since that a culture dominated by straight men sees the world polarized, creating dualism of body and soul, creating a concept of evil that rejects pleasure. If that sexuality is focused on same sexed people, the world appears full of unity and sameness. This difference is subtle, but cannot be underestimated when considering how love and sexual desire is a reflection of one's own beauty and desire to obtain pleasure. Gay men don't see the world in opposites the way our heterosexual counterparts do whereas, for them, the difference between the sexes matters enormously. While we as homosexuals may not find women sexually attractive, we have no hangups in seeing the nonsexual beauty in women. The same cannot be said of straight men looking at other men.

We often want to replicate that beauty, in him and in ourselves, through creative endeavors. It seems stereotypical, but gay men seek out the arts at much higher rates than straight men. The way we see beauty and spirituality as unified has a lot to do with that difference. Even in areas that have little to do with sexuality, gay men find themselves at home creating works of fiction and poetry, designing homes and furniture, making music and paintings that on the surface seem far removed from our sexuality but is connected through that underlying experience of a unified body and soul. This gay perspective becomes a gift to the rest of humanity, valuing the beauty in our surroundings as inherently good, challenging the dogma of austerity and chastity, moving us away from our narrow concept of evil as worldly temptations.

The other way in which gay love has blessed us is in the way we can be attracted to the same person as our lover. It seems like a small difference, though all gay men aren't attracted to the same things, we at least have the possibility that we can. We aren't as prone to jealousies and misunderstandings as our straight counterparts because we can experience the same sorts of attractions as our partner. While straight men will share with each other how they are attracted to women with each other, it lacks the sort of intimacy that can foster deeper understanding and appreciation of attraction itself. This creates a different dynamic in our love relationships, one that we share with other gay friends and thus creates community that can extend beyond the normal boundaries of social conventions, bound to each other by our common experience of a heightened level of sexuality and beauty.

The Beauty Loop
As we share in our sexual attractions with our partner, we come to understand and appreciate beauty more deeply. This can create men who are shallow and image obsessed, but of course it doesn't have to. When we look in the mirror we don't have to wonder what our object of desire will see in us, we see it in ourselves, we may actually find ourselves sexually attractive, spending hours in the gym making sure everything stays tight and in the right place. This sort of sexual drive can create a feedback loop that tends toward the extreme body and beauty culture associated with gay men, but not always. It's something discussed a length, something we're all aware of, but I thought it would be a disservice not to be acknowledged.

Psychological problems, disease and spiritual decay can all result from an all pervasive hedonistic, promiscuous culture. No one is saying that these problems don't exist, but so much attention is paid to what is wrong with the gay community that we don't reflect on the lessons that this culture can teach us and all of humanity. The fact that some of us take our beauty inclined perspective too far affirms the power that beauty has to change people. Just because a fire can burn, doesn't mean that it can't be used to productive means. Having such a diverse range of experiences can give us the power to better live our lives. Many people who have same-sex attractions don't feel like they're a part of the community because they don't share this obsession with image, but they are simply just part of the diversity that is human homosexuality. We need to take a look at all of our experiences and see what we can learn about human nature, not simply try to fix it.

How Homosexuality is Shaping our Spirituality
Many gay men go through a spiritual wakening because of our struggle against the beauty loop and we often have to confront and reexamine the teachings of our childhood that attempted to condemn us. The inner work necessary for us to confront and truly consider the religion of our childhood is beyond some of our capabilities. To sit back and write long articles on philosophy and spirituality is a privilege not afforded to every gay person. Some of us aren't given the intellectual gifts, while others are consumed with the struggles of surviving from day to day. Buying food and paying rent sometimes crowds out our bigger concerns over the ultimate nature of reality. Still it remains important that we find positive lessons from our experiences.

The time and effort needed to think about the bigger issues isn't just to understand why we're not going to hell, but to affirm that we're actually good people. Even after years of work many of us still carry around the vestigial guilt of our upbringing. This isn't to say that straight people don't go through their own inner struggles with self-worth tied to misguided religious beliefs, nor do all gay men. But many gay men are forced to struggle in a way that can lead to deep thinking about spirituality. As a result of the scientific method, our relationship to "The Truth" has forever been changed. The Universe is being explored through the models of relativity and quantum mechanics. We now know that space stretches out beyond our ability to comprehend. And, as far as it stretches up and out to infinite distances, it so goes down and into infinitesimally small places. We need to examine our own experiences in much the same way, gathering new insights from our observations and letting go of things we thought were true when new evidence emerges.

We are at the heart of the modernization of religion in our time. Society is having to acknowledge homosexuals as equals and thus reinforce the value of equality. The gay rights movement meets with violent opposition because the stakes are high. We upset the taboos about seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure, we're heretics, we're changing the nature of our relationship to evil. We embody the spirit of rebellion because we dare to be who we are when everyone else says we're wrong. We're against what the religious call the "natural order". We must struggle against the social pressures of the world around us and within our own community to find balance and purpose. We're easily critical of institutions because those institutions long abandoned us. We're on the forefront of spirituality in our culture and it's about time that we acknowledge it for what it is.

Male Media Mind