I couldn’t say enough how important I feel maturity and maturation are for people. I think I could also link this to the idea of individuation, becoming the rounded individual you implicitly are, in the way that is right for you, in simple terms.
I do consider this to be an important subject, because it is a process which all people face and benefit from, but which gay men seem to have little guidance on. The need for such maturity and development among gay men is I think very strong, and it seems to me that it is conspicuously lacking or curtailed in a good section of the visible gay male community. For all our gains, I would say that male “gay culture” in general isn’t coming from a place of wholeness and maturity, and doesn’t do an awful lot to communicate a road to those states. Too often it has a plastic, inorganic, un-aged quality that rings hollow for me.
I don’t think that is so surprising. Gay boys face a formidable obstacle course of detrimental factors from childhood onwards, some overt, some insidious, and some a combination of absences, negations and punitive denials. That has been historically reflected in religious teaching, pathologizing and marginalizing psychology and psychiatry, and social norms that infiltrate communities and families, down to the closest people in a child’s life. It’s no surprise that “gay culture” doesn’t reflect well being, wholeness and relationship, but it’s not something to acquiesce in, let alone perpetuate.
Though pop psychology mysticism can give the impression that individuation is a heroic personal quest, I don’t think this is really the case. Every person that reaches maturity does so with the support of an entire world of people and poetry, role models, mentors and mythology. The real individual isn’t the one who necessarily stands out, it’s the one who is true to themselves most deeply. If that means resonating with a minor variation on a traditional and common theme, then that is neither here nor there, except that it be right for that individual. I believe that to individuate is to come home and find peace as much as anything else, to be the reconciled part of a wholeness as much as attaining a completeness within oneself (there is a certain sterility to the idea of such “completeness”) . We are very much human, ordinary people all of us, and for me that is where the real treasure lies.
When gay liberation came about I think it was a quite unprecedented thing, though something with roots that went back a good way beyond the 1960s. This was gay, lesbian and bisexual people finding their own voice, their own representation, from their own experience. It was people viewing themselves as a people and not an objectified condition, trying to act and express from the point of view of as if they had as much validation as heterosexuals. I say “as if” because socially, culturally and in terms of our biographical experience we didn’t, and we still do not have that equality of validation, not just as a minority, but as a diaspora of scattered children sown in a field which is both home to us and at the same time alien. This is an experience which makes parts of gay and lesbian oppression as invisible as they are ubiquitous.
One thing I pick up is an often ambivalent relationship to gender as almost universally presented. Gay liberation said that gay men are unambiguously men, and this was one of its signature points. The “queers” were actually men and women, real people who loved those of their own gender. And this was important, because we don’t come home till we come home to our bodies and our psychological roots*. Yet often I feel this was only superficially realized, and you still find gay men (who are not transgendered) seemingly at war with their gender.
I think the reasons for this reside in our isolated minority status, within a greater community that defines gender identity in terms of heterosexual behaviours. We grow up with that, and where straight boys may have a better chance of understanding themselves, we grow up misunderstanding ourselves, mystified and lost at some level. We reach for the feminine because it reminds us of parts of our nature and our desires. It is a mirror, but not a mirror that reflects our physical selves and presence in the world. It is a mirror with a fault line embedded in it. We reach for the masculine for what we love, in our fathers and friends, and open up to a shut door, a distancing hand or worse, and to confusion and hurt.
Everything says “you are not this, you are not this either, you cannot have this, you cannot have this either”. The world teaches us that we can have the glass that is full of just what we aren’t, what we don’t feel and don’t need. The cup that we know instinctively is ours, we are told is not, or does not exist. It’s like being given a present that has been meticulously broken before our younger self could unwrap it, and replaced with a fake. So gay boys grow up as if behind a pane of glass, and eventually we have to smash that glass, but that still won’t do the work of growing us into the happy teenagers, adults, parents, family and connection with human life and dreams fulfilled that lie within us as they lie within all human beings, as part of their shape.
If too many gay men you see on club scenes seem like they never grew up, can’t form lasting relationships, can’t stop the Peter Pan dance, well maybe it’s because there was no pattern of growth available from an early age, except the road to the empty glass.
Such spells have to be broken. Gay children are fully part of nature, and are meant to grow into mature adults. Gay boys grow into men, and have husbands and partners (in whatever configuration is natural to them). If they get the chance they can be fathers too, with children of their own.
Gay liberation was a tremendous breakthrough for us; we saw and expressed what we intuited: that we are 100% part of Nature, with a nature of our own as deeply rooted and valid as any other, as healthy and sacred and full. We saw ourselves through our own eyes, and through the heart’s own sensibility. But the societies we were embedded in still saw things differently. In fact not just the society we were embedded in, but the human reality that we had apparently sprung from.
To cut off from that ground is a failing game we are enticed to take part in, to fabricate an alternative world without mud between its toes. To accept the heterosexual interpretation of that ground reality though is not tenable for us either. But a third way is there. Expressing a fully embodied and rooted nature, as the kind of men that we are. It’s not handed to us, and it can’t be fabricated, but it is a process we realize through our growth and honesty. We intuit and understand it already, because it is deeper than social in us, deeper than cultural, deeper than any amount of history.
We experience ourselves as men, yet the mainstream culture has often seen us through a lens that marked us as non-men, cross-gendered by virtue of our desires and the form of our need for love. We could take this positively, but it wouldn’t make it accurate. I think for this reason our road to liberation (and growth) has had an ambivalence about gender and masculinity. There is no right or wrong about how a person sees their gender, except in accordance with what that person most deeply experiences. What our society assigns as masculine and feminine characteristics is I think also a matter of what it finds useful in its scheme of polarized sexual apartheid. That is not nature either. But our collective human experience of gender is a reservoir of psychic experience, and throwing out the baby doesn’t clean the bath water. I’ve seen a lot of people nursing stirred up bath water.
It should be a simple thing, being a man, and homosexual, and expressing and developing the range of characteristics our natures encompass. But human beings aren’t that simple; we all need raising, and raising each other once we reach adolescence or after, without rooted and transmitted guidance, is fraught with difficulty. So many of us find we have a lot of work to do.
We actually can’t do all of this work on our own. The parent society has to do some of it, literally the parent society, for it starts when we are children, babies. I see parents who do the work, and their work is world changing, and I hope they realize it.
For us gay folks though, we might do well to work out our individuation process. I once heard the transgendered shaman Raven Kaldera say that he tentatively mapped a life process for transfolk onto the scheme of primal colours white, red and black, which for some in the Pagan community are associated with the Maiden, Mother and Crone archetypes. But for transfolk the process was different. The black came first, the difficulty and suffering of experiencing life in one’s body as wrong for ones gender identity. Then came the white, the idealized, ephiphanous, realization of personal true gender. Then came the red, the more earthed, full experience of selfhood, identity and body (this is how I remember the gist of what he said, not in exactly those words maybe).
When I look back at my life, it seems more like a bar code than a three sectioned flag, but overall I could shade it in a not dissimilar scheme possibly. First the white, innocence and unconsciousness, unawareness of what the mismatches of childhood meant, plus the essential quality of childhood. Then the black, dealing with the mismatch, exclusion and difficulties consciously, finding a way through the maze of gender qualities and identities, a descent to the underworld in life. For me personally this negrido stage ended in a kind of psychological death and breakdown, followed by a breakthrough which was like a rebirth into an extraordinary sense of innocence and oneness with an unsuspected world of spirit and love. Third the red, the realization of a greater, fuller, earthier, vital wholeness as a man and an individual in relationship.
Still, the passionate thread of the red weaves through all stages, the white of innocence and essential nature actually returns and becomes increasingly important for me, and the lessons and experience of the black are not lost, even if the suffering is healed. So maybe with a bit of naive literalism, I mix the palette and call the process maroon. Sometimes it’s pretty damn wonderfully pink (actually one of the key colours of my rebirth), sometimes it’s the deep colours of the earth. It might actually not be the best scheme, or the right one, who knows, but it is a symbol that may serve temporarily at least. And maroon, somewhere between rose and mud, like wine poured on soil, a libation, it has something to it.
In the maroon, the ambivalent androgyne assigned me by heterosexual psychology in youth gave way to the man that I am, not an androgyne (which had never seemed sexual to me), but an embodied and spirited animal, an animal acquainted with soul, now strong enough to not be defined by a language that doesn’t describe me, experienced enough to not need the extreme initiations of previous years, deep enough to let Nature flow and speak through my own flesh, a language of its own. A language we all knew, all along in fact.
How does it look now, as the man that I am? That being a man is nothing like the impoverished, distorted and controlled options that I once looked upon with a horrified rejection as a youngster. That being a man is earthy, fecund, warm and embracing, deep, nurturing, passionate and strong. Dry as desert and fertile as black soil. Like I say again and again, eat the whole fuckin’ menu.
I don’t want to see people have to go through what I went through though. I don’t want people to have to go through what I see others go through even worse. But we do need guides to our inner lives**, as well as changes to society, culture and family life. And we have to ask ourselves, what lives do we give our children?
It actually needs to be more than a maroon flag. And our love for our collective children needs to make the home, the road, and the future; not leave it to children to work out their own salvation.
I went through what I went through, in descents and journeyings and rebirths. But I’m a Witch, and some of that is par for the course, even though I was too young to know what I was asking for. It’s not ok for children to go through that though, when all they want is a life.
So ok, here is my maroon flag, for them, so they don’t have to. And there’ll be stars on my maroon flag. If it was a muddy river, let it honor an innocent sky.
* Gay liberation included more than this in its sweep, but I believe that for gay, lesbian and bisexual people of the time it was an important realization. I’m not at all suggesting here that we distance ourselves from transgendered folk, but that the issues can be different, even though I believe we all carry clues and help for each other.
** One of the most enlightening books I found on gay male development was “Being Homosexual” by Richard Issay incidentally, a gay Freudian therapist.