where do men who love men fit?

Affectionate male Valentine couple. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was pleased to read a rather depressing article the other day. Pleased because I’d rather see an issue faced, than continue to be glossed over.

The article was “Together Alone” by Michael Hobbes, subtitled “the epidemic of gay loneliness”.

The modern movement to bring sexual minorities into the fold of wider human society and understanding probably began in the 19th century with sexologists like Magnus Hirschfeld (though it was prefigured in the arts, and famously in the poetry of Walt Whitman). In the mid-twentieth century it took on a more self-determined and militant form, leading to the “gay liberation” that we became familiar with.

Whether you  saw yourself as part of the non-assimilationist “queer revolution”, or taking your place in the fullness of mainstream life and society, there seemed to be an assumption (with the politicisation of a basically humanitarian predicament) that whatever we truly dreamed of, we could have. That what stood in the way was social, legal and political constraints that could be changed.

It’s something of a heresy to think that maybe that actually isn’t true.

Coming back to Hobbes’ article:

For years I’ve noticed the divergence between my straight friends and my gay friends. While one half of my social circle has disappeared into relationships, kids and suburbs, the other has struggled through isolation and anxiety, hard drugs and risky sex.

None of this fits the narrative I have been told, the one I have told myself.

As he relates, we have made record progress in terms of legal and social acceptance, but:

“… even as we celebrate the scale and speed of this change, the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades. Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men. ….. Despite all the talk of our “chosen families,” gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women. In a survey of care-providers at HIV clinics, one respondent told researchers: ‘It’s not a question of them not knowing how to save their lives. It’s a question of them knowing if their lives are worth saving'”

Which is a very candid thing to say. Even where we have equal legal status, and legal marriage, things aren’t as good as you would hope.

“In the Netherlands, where gay marriage has been legal since 2001, gay men remain three times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder than straight men, and 10 times more likely to engage in “suicidal self-harm.” In Sweden, which has had civil unions since 1995 and full marriage since 2009, men married to men have triple the suicide rate of men married to women”

That may actually be an improvement on the suicide rates for unmarried gay men, and it’s still bad.

What I think it underlines though, is the false assumption that there is some kind of level playing field that is just distorted by bad laws, prejudice and injustice. To be sure, there have been plenty of unjust laws in the past, and our society remains bizarrely anti-sexual and moralistic, but as the laws have been remedied I think it becomes easier to see that there is more to being homosexual than just being like a straight person who wasn’t given the chance. That isn’t the fundamental reality of our situation, and it actually never has been. There is such a thing as Nature, and in some respects I think it is clear that we don’t have the same place as heterosexuals. Typically society, family etc helps a person find their place in Nature, more or less. With us it doesn’t, and neither does “gay culture”, and when you haven’t found your fundamental place in Nature, it takes its toll.

Of course I could still argue that society as it stands is in conflict  with Nature, is suppressing a wider range of bisexualities, and is socially prohibiting polyamory, and I think those are factors in a different way of living being possible. But the fundamental question, the one that needs to be answered whether you live in a small village in the countryside, or the “gay village” of a large city, is what is our place in Nature, as men who love men? What are we for? What is our meaning? When well over 90% of men need a woman rather than a man. When we can’t give the man we love a child. When a ghetto really cannot be made a life. When an important component of fulfilment actually comes from our finding our place.

And just to be clear, I think marriage is tremendously positive for men who love men. It’s a really important thing to be able to have that anchor and commitment. But it’s not everything. We need more. Above all we need self-understanding.

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coupled

I was happy to realize that the Sun had gone into Gemini on Wednesday, as it feels like we are on the fairground slide straight to Summer when we get to this point. I always feel that Mercury’s signs take us in and out of the middle of Summer. The Cardinal Grand Cross disengaged a little while ago (I think it is about a week, but it feels ages ago already) and I can truthfully say that I really felt a big difference, and Mars has gone direct now, though it will be July before it comes out of the shadow of its retrograde (ie goes past the point where it originally turned backwards).

The mythology of Gemini is generally related to the twins Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces in Greek), “born” of one egg to their mother Leda after congress with Zeus in the form of a swan; however whereas Pollux was the immortal son of Zeus, Castor was the son of the mortal king Tyndareus. The twins were inseparable and had many adventures together, but eventually Castor was killed, and Pollux grieved so much that Zeus reunited them in the Heavens as the constellation Gemini. Castor and Pollux are also two stars within the constellation itself. Hyginus and Ptolemy though associated these two stars with Apollo and Heracles, also half brothers.

Sign of Gemini – Giovanni Maria Falconetto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are intriguing resonances with the myth: the egg that hints at the alchemical, the twins mortal and immortal, dark and light. We can recall other “twins” or pairings of sames that are crucially different: Cain and Abel, Set and Horus, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Jesus and John the Baptist, Thelma and Louise, on they roll, receding into the twilight.

On a related note (this will make sense, promise) last week I saw an article that brought about a change of mind with respect to Jungian psychology. Like many people of my generation, as a youngster I found Jung a delightful and open minded ally, as someone who found so much meaning in the occult and paranormal. Just his idea of “synchronicity” was an immensely useful tool in validating the way that meaning unfolds in our lives, independent of rational-materialist causation. At some point in my twenties though, I finally tired of the apparent inheritance from Jung in the counterculture, most especially in the way it related to gender, sexuality and the psyche, with what became the soft dogma of anima and animus, or the internalized “opposite sex” elements within people, and what they were meant to signify.

I don’t know how many times I have been faced with a reader (or similar) who would say “and as a man you would feel x, function as y, the feminine would mean z to you” etc. It was as tiresome as it was both smug and inaccurate. And when it came to a psychological understanding of homosexuality, astrologers and others would again serve up a secondary causative explanation, seemingly taken from Jung’s own lack of understanding. No one seemed to stop and ask: “if we still subtly look for an etiology of homosexuality, then why didn’t we ever look for an etiology of heterosexuality, and what does that say?”. Psychology should ideally extend perception, deepen insight, empathy and compassion, and help us to listen and see. Unfortunately amateur psychology can devolve into a method of avoiding all those things. Even without the “amateur” element though, there were enough qualified Jungian therapists with seemingly no insight into the processes that might be true for gay people. It was a two tier psychology, however promising it might seem in other regards.

Carl Jung, standing in front of building in Burghölzi, Zurich – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But last week I got directed to an article at the website of The Institute for Contemporary Uranian Psychoanalysis which for the first time showed me Jungians really getting their feet wet in issues that spoke to me as a gay man. So much so that I was taken back to an earlier, less disenchanted self, that felt able to look to Jung with some sense of excitement, as I did back in the early 1980s. That sense that somewhere in here, maybe there was a Rosetta Stone, translating between alchemy, astrology, art, tarot, magic, healing and the whole mystical thing I glimpsed as a teenager. It was a really good feeling. The article was written by Mitch Walker in 1991 (over 20 years ago!), and looked at theories of individuation for gay men. He acknowledges and lists some of the distorted theories about male homosexuality that Jung himself expressed (eg that it is due to psychological immaturity, a “mother complex”, “anima identification” etc). He then notes:

“Nowhere in his writings does Jung articulate a soul psychology for homosexuals …… But starting from his viewpoint on individuality, such a soul psychology of gays can be responsibly developed. This is the task now facing analytical psychology, to grasp the idea of becoming and being gay in salutary terms of the improvemental growth of valuable personhood, that is, to conceive of individuation as gay, in which the realization of the Self occurs through becoming and being homosexual. Models of gay individuation can then be articulated and explored, as has been done so profoundly in the work on individuation as heterosexual (that is, the coniunctio and the anima/animus as soul-image)”¹

Mitch Walker 1991

That gets to the heart of it really. Analytical psychology had come up with profound models of straight individuation, and these models have become part of the lexicon of psychological spiritual growth for quite a few people both inside and outside esoteric studies, as if they were the universal human form. But these were not models of homosexual individuation. There were no formulated models of homosexual individuation, yet there must surely be models to be found for an entire (but historically marginalized) section of humanity. Mitch Walker goes on to say:

 “becoming gay and living as gay must then involve the individuation of a homosexual relationship between the ego and the Self parallel to the heterosexually organized relations Jung has articulated, especially that concerning the Anima as soul-figure. Indeed, in a gay person the structures of personality organized by the developing libido will constituently individuate homosexually”

Ibid

We are not just talking about sexuality, but about structures of personality, and relationships with and within the psyche that fit the developing life, and achievement of maturity, for a homosexual man. There is a point at which one realizes this, without explicit reference to psychology as such, but through one’s experience. You need a language that comprehends that you are a valid person, who grows and matures and makes mature relationships, and homosexuality is as central to that growth and language for a gay man, as heterosexuality is to a heterosexual. It is so simple and so obvious, and yet utterly invisible unless one sincerely takes the beginning and the end to be the individual meaning which is real for that person within their experience. Jung, who was so concerned with meaning, I do think appreciated this in essence, but he was maybe born too early to see how much he was excluding.

“Monick also identified Jung’s views on sexuality as in some aspects completely inadequate and outdated, especially his (non)treatment of masculine sexuality ………. ‘ in fact, there is an ‘avoidance of focused attention upon male sexuality’ (1987, p. 55). Monick suggests that ‘Jung was leery of physicality,’ but whether true or not ‘the fact remains’ that Jung did not engage in ‘significant direct research work on phallos,…[which] has resulted in a fundamental disservice to the importance of the archetypal masculine, a theoretical imbalance that cries out to be redressed’ (p. 56)”

Ibid

Further more:

“Jung emphasized the feminine in his analysis of homosexuality, just as he did in many other areas, such as his treatment of parental origins (Monick, 1987, pp. 51ff). Perhaps in actuality gay male psychology is deeply involved with the masculine. This is suggested by Jung’s third theory of homosexuality, that it represents “an incomplete detachment from the original archetype of the hermaphrodite” (Hopcke, 1988, p. 75), a symbol of wholeness, of the Self

Ibid

I do think this is all really very interesting, and starts to point towards areas that could be of use and relevance. As the author continues, he outlines the understanding that both gay and straight boys identify as male from early on, then:

“in the subsequent stage differentiate alternative yet parallel sexual selves. Thus, in gay boys’ development just as for straights, sexuality and the self are not to be separated and in conflict but intertwined and interdependent, mutually fostering a lifetime of personal growth and fulfillment as gay. Both straights and gays are capable of the adult maturity described by Erikson and Kohut”

Ibid

It seems extraordinary that this would even be in question, but that is how far a lot of theory was from the lived experience of gay persons. In many ways this is reflected in persisting mainstream attitudes towards gayness, which conflate it with a form of transgenderism² and being not-truly-men. The reality of a gay man though is every bit as male as any other man.

On the organization of the libido:

“The concept of a homosexual organization of the libido, as distinct from a heterosexual organization, then, would likewise underlie any analytic attempt to understand important issues concerning psyche in gay people today, such as the relationship with the unconscious. For a homosexually organized man, the ‘orientation’ of the god Eros would have to be gay, the relationship to phallos would be homosexual, the relationship with the feminine and the Anima would be a gay rather than a straight one, the actions of the libido, for example in the constellation of complexes and symbols of transformation, in the transcendent function, and so on, would occur through homosexually differentiated forms. The inner universe would be gay.”

Ibid

Bravo, because actually, that is how it is if you are gay. You are not “fitting in” to a heterosexual unconscious. You are not seeking a dispensation from a heterosexual Eros etc, like getting a sick note to be able to watch from the side lines of your own world. Everyone gets their own, authentic relationship and process. Getting it without support can be hazardous, but there aren’t any second class citizens of the psyche.

Walker asks on what kind of basis a Jungian model of individuation can be constructed, where the libido has a homosexual organization?  His answer is:

“Such a basis can be developed through analytic research into homosexually organized archetypes, as they can be studied in symbols and motifs from literature and other arts, mythology, dreams, visions and so on”

Ibid

He cites an example from Plato’s Symposium which talks of Aphrodite Urania (daughter of Uranos) as the goddess of homosexual love, and Aphrodite Dione (daughter of Zeus and Dione) as the goddess of heterosexual love. Each of these goddesses had their own sons, an Eros each, one of homosexual and one of heterosexual love.

“Plato, thus, proposes two ‘homosexual archetypes,’ one female and one male, counterparts of two heterosexual archetypes, who embody and express a homosexual organization of gendered love and libido as counterpart to a heterosexual organization”

Ibid

Then he goes on to describe the famous story of the origin of the emotion of love, where the original doubled humans are split in two, to make the two armed and two legged humans we are familiar with. Those who came from an originally two sexed individual strive to reunite with their other half in heterosexual love, while those who came from a doubly same sexed individual seek to reunite with their other half in homosexual love. Love is the yearning to regain the original unity. The former follow Aphrodite Dione and her Eros, the latter Aphrodite Urania and her Eros.

“In Jungian terms, the original Platonic hermaphrodite broken into male and female describes heterosexual development and the Anima/Animus dynamic, as Jung and other writers have discussed. It is all too typical that, in contrast to this treatment, the ‘union of sames’ in Plato’s story has not been discussed by these authors, or, as in one case, was mentioned but in a distorted, trivialized version. But Plato in his Symposium provides the outline for an archetypally-based image of homosexual love: ‘Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half’ (Plato, 1956, p. 355)”

Ibid

Entwined Geminis, Safavid Dynasty. Persia/Iran 1630-1640 C.E. – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You can feel that we are really starting to get somewhere here. Walker continues by making reference to the alchemical image of the coniunctio as the Royal Pair, the King and the Queen. He notes that this same royal pair can be seen in the astrological sign of Gemini, and in The Lovers tarot card.

 I. CLAVIS, the first key, engraved by Matthaeus Merian (1593–1650) - Chemical Heritage Foundation [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I. CLAVIS, the first key, engraved by Matthaeus Merian (1593–1650) – Chemical Heritage Foundation [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

But Gemini is also “the twins”, sames as well as opposites, and The Lovers card is ruled by Gemini (which is ruled by Mercury). In fact Aleister Crowley refers to an alternate title for the card of “The Brothers”³. Walker notes that there are thus two occult images for the same position (carrying the meaning behind the coniunctio or sacred marriage). And in Gemini of course, we meet the Dioscouri again, Castor and Pollux, born from Leda’s one egg, placed in the sky by Zeus as a testament to their love.

“Thus, that image of the ‘union of sames’ articulated by Plato as a basis for homosexual love can be seen amplified as the figure of Gemini. The celestial Twins, therefore, express a symbolism of mutual relationship in which libido is homosexually organized. Through analyzing this symbolism, then, a homosexual organization of the developing gay personality can be exploratorily studied”

Ibid

Mitch Walker notes that the Anima is a soul image in classic Jungian psychology, but that when Aphrodite Urania rules romantic love, then the situation of the feminine is going to be different. This has always appeared to be so for me, and the constant harping on the feminine and what it must mean for every man has always been one of the real drags of Jungian theorizing. Walker turns away from the motif of the King and the Queen here, and towards Plato’s image of two sames, “the Star Twins“, as a better expression of archetypal gay soul relationship.

 “This image describes a symbolic situation of a man having a special, erotic, twin ‘brother’ who is felt to be the alluringly personified ‘source of inspiration.’ I have previously termed this male soul-figure the Double, a term first proposed by Otto Rank in 1914. It is a different figure than those described by Jung as the Anima, the Shadow or the Self, but can and does enter into the constellation of these other archetypes in a way analogous to the role of Anima”

What he then says about the history of the idea of the soul as a “double” is very interesting. He cites the Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a myth which I think probably holds resonances for a lot of gay men:

“In that story, the Sumerian king Gilgamesh is redeemed from a wasteful, purposeless life by, and subsequently goes on great heroic adventures with, a strong man named Enkidu, specifically created by the gods as a ‘second image of Gilgamesh: may the image be equal to the time of his heart’ (Gardner and Maier, p. 68). Their love and union is explicitly likened to that between husband and wife, indeed, it is portrayed as ‘the paradigm of primary social relationships: male bonding, husband and wife, brother and brother’ in one (Gardner and Maier, p. 42). Ultimately, it is through passionate love for manly Enkidu, a same-sex figure too grand and bright to be a Shadow, yet too weak and mortal to be the Self, that every-inch-a-man Gilgamesh finds spiritual realization and maturity”

Ibid

Gilgamesh and Enkidu By Bepege (from Mark Zulawski/University of Nicolaus Copernicus Emigration Archives (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When he turns to Ancient Egypt we find ourselves delving into the subtle anatomy as envisaged by that culture. Within each person was an invisible being, a “source of life and breath” called the Ka. The Ka was shown as an idealized image of the person themselves.

“Your Ka was born into life with you, always embracing and protecting you with his love, and connecting you with the world of Paradise, with the deity. The Ka served in this capacity because, as the image of the beloved soul, it was itself a body containing within it a soul, just as the person contained the Ka within his or her own body”

Ibid

This soul within a soul was called the Ba, and was usually depicted as a small bird with the idealized face of the person. The Ba flew down from heaven during pregnancy and brought the “Light of God”, the Akh into the body of the Ka within the fetus.

“The Ba inseminated the Ka with the seed of Light, from which flowed the Waters of Life, animating the soul. In this way, it was actually the great Akh which brings life to mortal flesh, only to be withdrawn back into heaven upon the person’s demise. However, the Egyptians held an even more sophisticated view of the soul and its workings. They held that the Ka itself was actually the summatory expression of fourteen constituent aspects, each itself considered a Ka. These fourteen Kas, in turn, were grouped in seven pairs as the incarnation of seven distinct Bas, each with its own aspect. The qualities of the seven Ka pairs can be seen to portray a developmental sequence ………… Through development of these fourteen aspects of the Ka, the soul could thereby be ‘perfected.’ Perfection of the Ka was conceived of as a spiritual ‘ladder’ of development, up which a person could move, and thereby obtain a form of spiritual self-realization, portrayed as eternal residence with the Ka soul in heavenly paradise”

Ibid

Egyptian Ba Bird – Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, this “spiritual ladder” was thought of as belonging to Horus and Set, who helped the ascent up it.

“Horus and Seth are among the most ancient of Egyptian gods, and were seen to personify the workings of the eternal opposites, as they represented light and dark, just and unjust, in and out, and all such dyads. Their eternal struggle yet ultimate reconciliation has been aptly characterized by Joseph Campbell: ‘Mythologically representing the inevitable dialectic of temporality, Horus and Seth are forever in conflict; whereas in the sphere of eternity, beyond the veil of time and space, where there is no duality, they are at one’ (Campbell, 1962, p. 81)”

Ibid

  According to Campbell the union of Horus and Set was known as “the Secret of the Two Partners”, and their united form was called “the double god”, shown as a single body with the heads of both Set and Horus. Walker also notes that there are texts where the pair are specifically likened to a man and his Ka, and to a man and his sexual partner.

“The relationship between a man and his Ba soul is also repeatedly likened to that between husband and wife in ‘The Dialogue of the World-Weary Man with his Ba’ (Jacobsohn, 1968, pp. 29-34). In the latter text (ca. 2000 B.C.), the Ba says to his man, ‘In that stillness shall I alight upon you; then united we shall form the Abode’ of spiritual rebirth (Reed, 1987, p. 83)”

Ibid

As Walker says, the Egyptians held a belief about the development of the soul which involved the struggle and integration of opposites, and this is actually a feature of the coniunctio, which can be related to the unconscious and “soul making”, but based upon a marriage of man and manly double; “a sacred union animated by a male-male eros, which leads to the integration of opposites and to psychic wholeness” (Walker 1991).

“Your soul, BA, become[s] conscious little by little in your incarnate KA. Our texts tell you that “he rises from your vertebrae”; from the dual fire in them, that is. That “he quickens your spiritual heart, opens your mouth and eyes to the Real”; that “being realised in you and having at last stripped you of your transient names, freed you from the humanity that is in your members,” he will “reveal your true face,” your face of Maat, and “make you one of the KAs of universal Horus.” (Schwaller de Lubicz, 1967, pp. 198-99) The idea of gaining this “perfection,” that is, individuation, through a gay sort of love echoes down from these original Egyptian and Sumerian ideas through subsequently recorded mythologies. Plato, of course, discourses at length on how this love leads to union with God, and similar ideas can be seen in Gnostic and Sufi thought. When the eye of homosexual libido is regardfully opened, its worthy manifestations can be meaningfully perceived, and thus more accurately studied and better understood. Far from nonexistence, the phenomena of homosexual Eros have always been expressed by humanity, and can be reasonably observed when they are approached with respect and openness. From studying such phenomena an accurate conception of a gay male soul- figure and his workings in psyche can be (re)constructed”

Ibid

This is a quite extraordinary passage, both poetically, and with its resonances with Hindu ideas of the raising of the kundalini, leading to a form of enlightenment.

Walker sees the Ka as an inspiring double through which a person can come to the Divine (in accordance with Egyptian teachings), and similar themes of coming to the Divine through a beloved “twin” or partner he sees reflected in Gilgamesh’s love for Enkidu which leads to “his initiation as a shaman”, in Socrates’ knowing “the truth” through his relationship with a beautiful youth, in Ibn Arabi finding Allah through his “Angel-Soul”. These are relationships of growth and realization, that occur “through a cyclic rising and sinking of homosexual libido”.

“Jung has formulated the concept of Eros as the secret operator of the transformations by which the processes of individuation occur, a figure who both inspires and guides this process, and he has also seen this operator in the Egyptian Thoth, the Greek Hermes, and the alchemical Mercurius”

Ibid

 II. CLAVIS, the second key, engraved by Matthaeus Merian (1593–1650) - Chemical Heritage Foundation [Public domain]

II. CLAVIS, the second key, engraved by Matthaeus Merian (1593–1650) – Chemical Heritage Foundation [Public domain]

And here it is interesting to note that Thoth is himself in some myths considered to be the child of a homosexual congress between Set and Horus, the “son of two fathers” as Walker says. Walker refers to this figure as “Eros as teacher”, and says that in terms of the soul the Egyptians referred to this kind of teaching figure as the “divine ka”, who guides his man towards spiritual self-realization, and a union of the human and the divine. Of Thoth (Tahuti) Walker says:

“He represented the “fruit” of the sacred union of the Great Opposites: spiritual realization and knowledge. As such, Tahuti was considered the original shaman, the first alchemist, the first gnostic, the archetypal initiate of the Wisdom of God, who is both the originator and product of the developmental process of self-realization gained through union with the Ka soul”

Ibid

The Ka here starts to look like the inward divine presence in the heart, the Lover or Beloved of various mystics.

On the European alchemical Mercurius Walker says he is:

“the cause and result of the operations which complete the opus. In fact, to effect the operations Mercurius, who is “duplex” (CW 13, par. 267), splits himself up into an active half and a passive half, and it is those two halves that are then called the King and the Queen, and it is they that combine to recreate Mercurius on a more refined level, that is, the process of “perfection” we examined previously, here gained through Mercurius’s submission, by his feminine half, to the inseminating union of his masculine half”

Ibid

So the King and the Queen are the two sides or phases of Mercurius, separated so they can recombine at a higher level. But Mercurius is the start and Mercurius is the end. Walker further claims that during the Middle Ages and Renaissance the figure of Hermaphroditos (“the basis for the alchemical combination”) may have been considered an allusion to homosexuality, as shown in woodcuts depicting the alchemist being inseminated “by the masculine spirit” in an act of anal intercourse. In similar vein, the story of Zeus and Ganymede was also employed by alchemists to represent “alchemical union and transformation”.

Ganymede abducted by Jupiter – Rubens – photo by Jérémy Jännick (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“the twinship union could be perceived of as procreatively potent, as enacting a form of generation in its own right. Otto Rank was the first modern psychologist to identify ‘the self-creative tendency symbolized in the magic meaning of twinship. As the twins appear to have created themselves independently of natural procreation, so they were believed to be able to create things which formerly did not exist in nature;’ the twinship union has an ‘inherent creative power’ making the twins ‘independent of [hetero]sexual procreation’ (Rank, 1958, p. 92). Such generative capability gives the twinship union ………. the viability to sustain and further the individuation process in gays in a productive manner valuationally parallel to that occurring through heterosexual procreativity”

Ibid

In other words, the twins or doubles are an expression of a profound and primal psychic reality, and their union is erotically, magically and spiritually potent in a way which parallels the motif of heterosexual union envisaged as the marriage of the King and the Queen. Their procreativity is not physical, but then neither is that of the King and the Queen alchemically.

The last thing that Mitch Walker deals with is the question of “the feminine” in gay men, which is important both for the weight placed upon the feminine by Jung, and on account of popular conceptions and misconceptions about gay men and femininity. To do this he goes back to  Plato’s placing of homosexual love under the protection of Aphrodite Urania. Whereas in classical Jungian thought a man’s femininity is projected as the soul figure or Anima, for a gay man under the influence of Aphrodite Urania, the feminine falls into place as “a helpful attitude toward the masculine soul, that is, one of receptivity toward feeling love well”. Walker sees such a feminine homosexual orientation in Gnostic thought about Sophia and Jesus, and in the tale of Amor and Psyche.

Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden by John William Waterhouse (1904) – in Public Domain. Via Wikimedia Commons

“It is the Sophia, the Psyche in a gay man which allows him to orient to and gain union with the divine Eros (J. Clark, 1987, p. 11). From this perspective, the positions of Psyche and Ganymede are metaphorically the same. It is not a question of effeminizing an otherwise properly masculine person: In becoming and being gay, a gay man’s ego becomes attitudinally “wife” to his masculine soul “husband,” he attends raptly to psyche organized homosexually, so as to undergo the processes of union and transformation with the Angel within”

Ibid

Thus a gay man does not become less of a man, but in alliance with the feminine (not polarization and projection) realizes his own receptivity as a man and:

“becomes the crucible for psychic change and maturation via congress with and insemination by the Spirit of God, that is, the Self, in subsequent order to productively bear the Sacred Child of the Two Fathers. Through quickening relationship with this transformative union a gay man can meaningfully progress towards an individuated androgyny, and thus wholeness and completeness of being”

Ibid

Thus there is a homosexual alchemical opus.

***

Jungian writing can appear very wordy, cerebral and over complicated, but I do believe it is useful, when mulled over poetically, digested, played with. In many ways this is connected with what I was trying to get to in posts on a morning of the magicians, the medicine beast, and a flag stained with earth and wine.  There is a way for us to mature and reach higher forms of human realization as gay men, and while they are not unconnected with the masculine and the feminine, they involve our own relationships to them, but those relationships still have to be genuinely soulful. Similarly the androgyne holds keys here, as it does with other forms of the alchemical opus, though I feel for us it holds particular virtues and particular hazards or pitfalls. The source Mercurius and the goal Mercurius are not the same, even if outside of time they ultimately are. Separation must still occur before recombination, for a higher form to be reached. I have for quite a few years been intrigued by two contrasting visions of the androgynous: the mercurial spirit that is reflected in the youthful, flighty, almost asexual sense of androgyny, and the realized, fully embodied, mature form of the androgyne, which I provisionally called the “gynander” to distinguish it from the former, though it most essentially is an inward realization residing fully in one’s own body at peace. And lastly, as gay men, we can come to a state of true peace with being male, being men, in erotic, libidinal and loving relationship with other men. This single-genderedness is part of our meaning and our functioning, and the mature form of our life.

Let’s dance on to the heart of Summer, and find our own meanings.

Mercury on island of Källskär by ReinerausH (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

PS 25th May 2014: I have drawn heavily on a single article by Mitch Walker for this post, but have tried to select quotes,  comment on and illustrate it in the hope of making the subject matter more accessible. If you wish to follow up on Mitch’s sources or see the full article, you can find it here.

¹ Not that Jung was ill disposed towards his homosexual patients, he was progressive for his time, and he expressed forward thinking ideas eg  “an individual’s homosexuality has its own meaning peculiar to the individual in question and that psychological growth consists of becoming conscious of that meaning”.

² The psychic processes of gay transmen are something which I do not have enough personal insight with to be able to offer any added or alternative suggestions for here, but every individual will have their own valid individuation process, and every grouping must surely have their own characteristic inner patterns.

³ Aleister Crowley – The Book of Thoth.

how much confusion?

When we were at the tat parlour recently me and Phil were having a conversation about gay men and gender. I know that sounds like half an introduction to some god awful seminar, but there’s a question here which I have been asking for sometime.

Basically it goes like this:

Out of the population of gay men, how many are gay, and how many have unacknowledged issues around being transgender?

The reason I ask this is because I have met so many gay men who seem to identify as men only ambivalently, and so many who seem to barely be able to hide what I can only describe as a “revenge against masculinity”. And if you are a man who loves men, that really doesn’t make any sense. If you’re not a man, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you are a gay man, then you are a gay man.

I know it is complicated. People confuse gender and physical sex. People confuse socially conditioned gender characteristics with a more deeply experienced sense of gender. People rebel in the process of finding themselves. No one’s sense of gender is as simple as it looks. But at the middle of it, deep inside there, there is something simple, and it is what makes you the man that you are, and gives you peace with your own manhood.

And I see a lot of gay men who are not at peace with their manhood. I also see a lot of gay men who are deeply emotionally unhappy, and while there are a lot of reason’s for that, being at war with your gender (or not realizing your actual gender) would be a contributing and sabotaging factor if it were present.

Another thing I notice with mainstream gay culture is a tendency to invalidate grounded and emotionally connected masculinity or femininity. We have butch and femme, and both seem to be based upon surface, performance, appearance and pretence. Yet in my experience both are asserted defiantly, as if there were no “real thing”. But the fact is there is, though it may take healing to get to it.

Back at the tat parlour we felt that there were probably quite a lot of gay men who had confusion between sexual orientation and gender. It’s reflected quite strongly also in traditional “gay culture”. Of course, with so many factors at play we really don’t know, but it’s a question, and I think there may be more to it than appears on the surface.

Greek theatre mask by — DerHexer (own source) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

a flag stained with wine and earth

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.

“Maroon Flag” – treated photo by CredenceDawg

* 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.

a dream of herds, freaks, and peace

At the Full Moon which is just subsiding, I had a dream. Early in the morning about 6am, after a night of disturbed sleep. Phil had sprinkled jasmine oil around the bed, and that may have had something to do with it being such a dream laden night in conjunction with the Moon’s fullness.

The dream was like a story being told within the dream, which became the dream itself. There were a lot of animals, most similar to horses and cattle, in an area that was part natural and part built, like a market square on uneven earthen ground, with some wooden posts and railings, and a lot of these animals. Then in came just a few of these mutant-like horses, golden brown with many legs, but lopsided, like most of the legs on one side. I think I only noticed one at first, but in any case the freaky horses were chased by the others and attacked by them.

Then it became apparent that there were two freak horses running side by side, and they were male and female, not coupled as yet but there they were running side by side from the other horses, thrown together by chance. This was an amazing occurrence, that these rare, despised horses had found each other, their compliment, their mate. They ran, and when they got to a clear space they mated.

At their mating before all the other horses, the animals surrounding them got down on their knees and lay down facing them, as if in respect and a kind of reverence. It felt like a religious scene, and was very moving, and I cried in the dream, and then I woke up.

Something about the end of the dream was almost reminiscent of a Christian nativity scene, except that the animals were peacefully “bowing” before a mating couple, rather than the “holy mother and child”.

This dream really spoke to me very personally. The freak animal attacked by the herd, for it’s difference of nature or form, I think that would strike a chord with a lot of people from the LGBT community. That these freak animals found their mates against all odds, again struck a real chord with me as a gay man. Not sex, not just finding “some place” in the world, but your true mate. There’s no doubt that our relative aloneness predicates a lot of both our early self experience and our treatment. In the dream, it was the sudden appearance of the mate that was the turning point of the dream, that changed the entire meaning of their freakdom. Even before it was apparent that they were actual mates, the meaning had changed, though the chasing and attacking didn’t stop till they’d found their own space, however temporary, and consummated their union.

I realized as well from this dream that at a level of my psyche “male” and “female” symbolised the animals’ “other halves”, and that this was actually beyond gender, for there was no doubt for me that the dream was about gayness (in my case) or queerness more broadly, yet the “male” and “female” symbols held. I felt that was personally informative for me in terms of questions about “Queercraft“, and at least contributes to the answering of some questions that are simply not amenable to merely rational or political enquiry.

The other animals’ reverence and peace in the face of the consummation of the freak animals’ natures and love was like a deep, perennial hope, that the spiritual recognition of love and nature would indeed annul the herd instinct to turn on “freaks” and persecute difference of nature and form.

“wild albino donkeys” By Dirk Hartung – used under creative commons 2.0 license

the same, and different, just like everyone

At an LGBT Pagan meet up recently we had a discussion about male gayness, and just how “just like everybody else” we actually were. Some felt that really we weren’t, that we were different, and that the difference went way beyond who we were attracted to etc. In short that it was important for us to represent our difference and not model ourselves on heterosexual forms and expectations, but find our authentic way beyond that. Some felt that the drift of gay rights issues had crept towards an assimilation that didn’t serve us well.

Though I can relate to some parts of this, essentially I disagree with this view, and I’d like to explain why.

There is something which I learned of years ago under the term of “coming out within”, whereby we come to terms with our particular characteristics as who and what we are, and what will actually work for us, and what won’t work, because it is modelled on quite specifically different kinds of person. The “closet inside” can relate to a lot of things, but in part it relates to internalized images, identities, expectations and aspirations. Coming out of it is an ongoing process of growth. I spent many years looking at, and trying to follow certain spiritual paths in my own way, and one part of “coming out within” for me was giving up paths that could not explicitly and upfront just accept me as a gay man with a full life.

One of my main concerns re gay liberation and gay rights is what will serve the needs and bring about the well being of me and my loved ones. It has to be, because it’s personal. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that an under-represented minority cannot simply take on the roles and definitions apportioned it by the majority. To do so is to live a distorted life from outside your own experience and sense of being, and even enshrine that position and so further distort your life.

But have the roles and definitions traditionally apportioned to us by society at large encouraged “assimilation”, or treated us as “just the same”? Not at all. The roles and definitions historically apportioned to us encourage exclusion, ghettoization, and use, as a kind of specialist service industry with no real concern for our wholeness or well being. Entertainer, dresser of hair, comedian, female impersonator, manager of decor, prostitute, confidant to straight women, etc. Then there’s the shadow side: punch bag to insecure young men, vilified and suspect sexual outsider, the rape that doesn’t count, the victim of campaigns of violent elimination. Traditionally, no one was trying to assimilate us, aside from the unusually enlightened and compassionate.

Are we different? Yes, of course we are. But do we think that “straight” people aren’t, from each other, or from the “norm”? We don’t have a monopoly on difference, but as a group we probably are more divergent from the norm than the average heterosexual in specific ways. We have also developed some of our own (frankly oppressive) “norms” over time, which I certainly do not feel a part of. But none of this difference abrogates our essential, common humanity and human needs. And it is just that common humanity which we have traditionally been excluded from, and which now shows signs of yielding to inclusion and recognition.

The entire area of “what’s our nature” and “what role are we offered” on the basis of alien judgement is a really quite complex one. We can ourselves take on those judgements, even if they are not rooted in our own experience, with some quite maladapted consequences. Because gay men love other men in ways which include the erotic and sexual, they are taken to be cryptically transgendered even where they are not. Sometimes we are referred to as a “third sex”, or as being in-between men and women in our natures, when in fact we are simply men. You can point to our characteristics which can meld what are traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” traits in different ways and different ratios, but this simply brings up questions about what can truly be called masculine or feminine, and just how much it has to do with physical sex or with gender. And again, to pretend that heterosexual people do not mix such characteristics seems to me to be colluding with an ideology of psychic segregation which, despite its historical power, really doesn’t match the nature of everyday experience. Gay people are apportioned transgenderism and deviance from that ideology of psychic segregation, and in part we hold it for the straight majority. I think it’s time to give it back, not absolutely but in equable measure, for the good of us all, because it’s the ideology that needs dissolving, and carrying either end of it is not healthy. I’m proud that transgendered, gay, lesbian and bisexual people share a struggle here, but the threads need to be untangled in order to bring about profounder change, not just for sub-groups, but for human beings at large.

Because we are often marginalized by society, shifted away from the centre, and represented as “others” so often, we get landed with descriptive terms like “transgressive” and “liminal” – but just how “transgressive” or “liminal” is being yourself and living your life happily? Transgression is a judgement of an action, it is not a place where anyone makes a home. And home is just what most people need, a place to grow and flourish, to be with loved ones, to raise family if they choose to, to be at peace, to rest, play, work and create, to feel loved and secure in our interrelationships.

It is exactly the realization of “we are not other” that makes possible the maturation of an authentic vision of self. And while rebellion is necessary at times, it’s no home either – it inevitably encodes a piece of alienation within its form. So we may start off asserting “yes, I am the other” to awaken our sense of being and self worth (ask any adolescent!), but ultimately we have to realize a selfhood of our own, which simply comes naturally to us, with our own nature as central as any one else’s. It is in this sense that we are “just the same as everyone else”, and it’s quite true. Realizing the presence and validity of gay existence from birth, through all stages of life, to old age and death is a corollary of this, and the denial of this (especially I feel the existence and needs of LGBT children) is simply a systematic form of abuse and elimination.

The majority can’t hog human inclusion, and we can’t hog difference. We would be so strong and powerful if it was just all “us”, infinitely diverse. That would be a true social psychedelic. That would be a real trip.

“Leaf diversity” by Gauravm1312 – in public domain

 

What’s in a bear – what’s in a nature?

Bears are my part of the gay community, and they describe the kind of gay man I am, and they also reflect a very old sense I’ve always had of what gay maleness is for me. But that takes a little backtracking and explanation. You see, as bears have become more known, and the bear community has become more mainstream, it’s a bit like a tide that has moved off and filled different pools on the beach, and I’m just doing what I’ve always done really, still a bear, but also a bit of a fish out of water. Not a big deal, but a pause for thought.

More people seem to know about bears than did 10 – 15 years ago, both inside and outside the mainstream gay community, and we’ve gradually seeped into odd bits of popular culture; even Homer got taken for one in an episode of The Simpsons!

Bears are gay and bisexual men, both part of the gay community and part of a previously unacknowledged reality of gay men in the population at large. I had my epiphany with bears about 1992, as a thirty something refugee from the 1970s, shy and half closeted, hopelessly romantic (still guilty as charged!). I found a copy of a book called “The Bear Cult”, a photo book with an essay on bears in the States, and two things happened: 1 – everything fell into place, I wasn’t alone! 2 – the whole body-spirit hope of gay liberation came alive for me again, for the first time since I was a naïve teenager intoxicated by the sheer natural power and sacredness of sexuality amidst all the social upheaval after the 1960s. The sense of recognition and home coming was very powerful for someone who’d always looked up to Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman as gay role models.

As you might tell from my intro above, my take on bears is pretty old fashioned. On the other hand it’s pretty open minded, but I’m not so happy with everything that’s happened to bear “scenes” in the UK with commercialisation and mainstreaming since. I can’t speak for what the bear scene may have become in the UK. But for those who don’t know about bears, or only know the “clubbed and disco’d” hook up version, here’s my experience of what being a bear is about.

Gay people are just about everywhere, every place, every town, village and country – every family, somewhere. We’re part of the fabric of nature before we are part of the fabric of culture. Gay “culture” really has nothing fundamentally to do with being gay when it comes down to it. Being a gay man is being a man who loves other men sexually, erotically, emotionally and spiritually. And most of us are out there, unacknowledged, and often unidentified until we identify ourselves. Anybody, any man and “everyman”, from the most eccentric to the average Joe. This was one of the understandings of gay liberation that distinguished it from the pre-liberation homosexual cultures that grew up where they could in such forced and oppressive circumstances. We still have a hang over from these pre-liberation subcultures in many “gay scenes”, but these very scenes leave out in the cold a lot of gay men, many many gay men who are very much gay, but only ambivalently a part of “gay culture”. These men form a great unacknowledged base to male gay nature. These guys, these simply gay guys are the ones who tended to identify as bears to my understanding. But one of my favourite quotes on what bears are came from a book called “The Bear Handbook”, where it humorously sums up bears as “real men, masquerading as real men”. Now tell me, apart from that we know we’re doing it and enjoying it immensely, where’s the difference with any other man?

An old definition of bears ran along the lines of “bears are gay men who are as at ease with their manhood as they are with their gayness, and who have good heart”, and that still holds pretty good for me. And the “good heart” bit is very important to me.

Physically bears have been identified with a body type which is predominantly heavier, hairy, bearded, mature and unreconditioned. The reasons are pretty simple when you think about it – a healthy man left to his own devices grows up and fills out. Most men get hairy to a greater or lesser extent if they don’t try to cover up the fact, and unless you scrape it off your face, a man grows a beard just like nature intended. But that doesn’t make this a “necessary” body type, or the basis for a new body fascism, and neither is it another flavour of gay fetish. Because it’s what comes naturally, bears come in all shapes and sizes, from the thin to the extra large, the relatively smooth to the really furry. It seems natural to most bears though that natural masculinity would be loved by a gay man, and so male secondary sexual characteristics are usually treasured and valued, beards, bellies and all.

Emotionally bears have been associated with strongly affectionate, nurturing and cuddly qualities, tactile, sociable and inclusive, accepting rather than exclusive. In outlook bears have tended to aspire to being open and tolerant rather than judgemental, being laid back and low on attitude. Sure some bears are queeny and some bears are aggressive, but most bears are just pretty regular. Bears also have a strong streak of don’t give a damn individualism, which is pretty much a necessity for any man’s life to be free.

At the same time, qualities which mainstream society often takes to be stereotypically feminine, such as nurturing and openness to emotional vulnerability, sensuality and empathy, a lot of bears take to be naturally masculine for them, and part of themselves. Bears don’t follow the rules – we just eat the whole menu.

But with a moving social tide, with marketing and fetishising, with the “shallowing out” that the gay mainstream often seems so good at, is this all in the past? Nope, I don’t reckon so. A bear will just go his own way anyway. And if we hit the road again, or if we settle and raise chickens and goats, a man who’s gay is going to be just that, and he’ll always have to do it his own way. And that’s a bear in my book.

Nature is good, that’s why we know we’re good. But sometimes Mother Nature is a Daddy, and sometimes he’s abundantly queer.

Welcome to my bear world.

It’s only natural.

a real bear masquerading as a real bear