Blithe Spirit

I’m leading a workshop next weekend (Saturday 24th September) at a day-long conference on gay and lesbian spirituality in London.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I would talk about but have long felt that the gay and lesbian community has a special role in holding spiritual energy in this world. There are many cultures in the world where the LGBT person is also the spiritual lightning-rod for the community, attuned to a higher level. Perhaps because in past communities lesbian and gay individuals didn’t typically become parents and were freed up from the day-to-day grind of looking after dependents.

The sadness is that in contemporary UK, gays and lesbians, feel less than exuberant and holy. Research shows that gay women and men are much more likely to suffer mental disorders, more inclined to substance abuse, and have a higher risk of suicide than the heterosexual mainstream. This has everything to do with the dominant homophobic attitudes of society. They’re much better than they were 20 years ago but there is still worrying levels of homophobic bullying and the long shadow thrown by internalized homophobia that many of us carry around from our childhood. (I’ve written an article about this you can read here. It has details of all the research.)

This negative heritage is all the more reason to concentrate on the special qualities that we as gay men and women can bring into the world.

I’m not claiming that all gays and lesbians have to pull on a shaman-cloak and put feathers in their hair but it would be wonderful to pull the compass from self-hatred, beyond tolerance towards a sense of being positive and powerful members of society. The sensitivity that difference brings, the time and space many of us enjoy by not bringing up children. These are things to be celebrated.

To that end, the Love Spirit Gathering seems particularly timely. The government is just bringing in legislation to finally give us the right to marry like straight people – but it is a time to reach beyond equality towards an investigation of what we can add to society, what we can do to improve and help those around us – gay or straight.

My workshop – in the end, – is looking at the first step towards that: making sure that we don’t let the scars of our past distort positive work. Many gay and lesbian practitioners have lifted the spiritual traditions they’ve entered – despite residual homophobia in many religions. We seem to have a natural inclination to the spiritual. However, often the traumatic elements of our upbringing can distort practice into a defensive stance.

Gay children are often thrown back on themselves, believing that there is no support from their family or friends that will really sanction their inner core values. This can foster a strong self-sufficiency which is only made more rigorous by ascetic practices like Buddhist detachment – ‘purifying’ oneself from attachment, desire, clinging. To an extent these are valid practices but I would argue that they can play into the hands of an isolating self belief – “I must survive on my own” – which separates us off from a compassionate and warm-hearted sense of community.

Another very common defence of the gay child against unsympathetic parenting is to exonerate the parent and blame oneself. Research shows very high levels of self-blame and self-critical thinking in gay and lesbian subjects. These self-lacerating tendencies can be hardened and justified by spiritual traditions that speak of purifying and encourage a guilt-ridden self-image. Just because a religion seems to condone these stances, doesn’t make them easier to live with.

So, my workshop in London will be looking at these scars that gay children growing up in a straight world inevitably sustain – and how we need to work with them compassionately and mindfully before letting our spiritual lives unfold fully. Without mindful attention to those subtle stances our spiritual ‘work’ in the world can become distorted and all sorts of dangerous projections and damages can arise.

As Blake says, all desires are holy. We should never prune or be ashamed of our natural desires for love, intimacy and sexual connection. They are part of the same continuum as the desire for God and the desire for community with the Universe. One of our tasks as LGBT practitioners is to make sure we don’t forget that or let our past distort it.

As Marianne Williamson says, so beautifully,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

10 Comments

  1. John Mc

    September 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    This is wonderful news, Alistair! Thank you for bringing your talents, wisdom and compassion to share with the LGBT community. It seems to me that there is indeed a strong connection with the spiritual realm and LGBT persons—-I certainly felt it myself growing up. But as you state, the dominant homophobia in most churches/religions and society so often result in guilt, shame and self-hatred taking the place of that sublime connection to spirit. All the best to you and the participants. I hope you write more about the process, and the outcome of the workshop. Peace.

  2. AB

    September 18, 2011 at 5:36 am

    You’re right. I was lucky enough to meet a spiritual type a few weeks ago. In an hour my digital world had its first spark of analogue.

    The creative types tend to be more analogue – and more free once they overcome societal impressions. If they can. In my experience the creative analogues also tend to be gay 🙂

  3. marco lovestar

    September 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    great piece alistair, powerful observations on our woundings and spiritual potential. I look forward to meeting you at lovespirit, where i am presenting a workshop on hiv = healing is vital. will also be spreading word of faerie gatherings in forests and castles where queers meet to discover and create the loving community energy you rightly point out that we need, and get to share our spiritual explorations, whatever our paths

  4. Juliano

    September 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Great to hear what your doing. ONG I grew up in the 1960s. The music was fukin GREAT. a 1000.000 percent better than now, Mowtown, Stax, and The Kinks, Hendrix, and on and on. Sorry if ya missed it haha, but—–gay as a word for being gay wasn’t even invented then. It was WEIRD. let me try explain—my little story. Are you sitting comfortable, mmmmmmlol OK it was TABOO!! literally taboo. Yes you had kids in my class who would call fukin ‘bumming’ I was SO naive, even though i thought i was ‘hip’ I tough they mean putting bums together…! I KNEW I fancied males, YET was pressurized to have girlfirends, and so was assuming i was straight (another word not invented) I know how confusing that sounds and even counsellors i have told it screw up their faces totally bemused. it was cognicent dissoance maybe. It was a kind of split persona. When i was neckin girls even though i was REALLY excited i was fooling meself.
    The ONLY film available to me ‘secret life’ was —was titled VICTIM. Yeah! It starred Dirk Bogarde, and was aan extremely depressing portrait of being ‘homosexual’ in seedy London where all the puffs got blackmailed and there was suicide….I remember watching it on the black and white telly with my mum and grandpa in the room. I was watcing it and i FELT like there was a camera zooming me, and what made it worse was my mum and gramps went in the kitchen and shut the door so as to suggest they were talking in private and i just ‘KNEW’ they had discovered my DEEP secret. Horrible
    Remember that only in the previous decade Alan Turing went through fukin HELL from the fucked up State because of being Gay and ended up toppin himself.
    But yeah thank GOD for the internet where now young boys can see other boys free with their sexuality and not feel as isolated I felt. I am hoping that feeling like that does not DEPEND on an internet!

  5. Ian

    September 19, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    It is so great you are writing about this Alistair, and leading a workshop on the subject. It is a subject dear to my heart. The LGBT community is sorely lacking in role models to remind us of our inherent role in society as the healers, wise men and women in our ‘tribe’. Although psychiatrists would label me a textbook gay ( absent father, dominant mother ) I have always felt that my ‘sexuality’ stemmed from a soul state rather than any other kind of conditioning. In fact it has less to so with whom I chose to go to bed with than my function in my ‘tribe’ as spiritual guide. Malidoma Some write that in his tribe in, I think Mali or Burkino Faso, what we call ‘gay’ they call ‘gatekeeper’. When a woman in his tribe is pregnant she can feel from the frequency of the soul she is carrying that he/she will be a gatekeeper.

    Society/religion disempowers and dishonours LGBT people by defining them by their sexual preferences only and the LGBT community colludes with this attitude by their unconscious actions and behaviour. I believe it is high time that we as a community reclaim our power by owning our spiritual nature and directing it towards helping to rebuild a more conscious society.

  6. Ian

    September 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Oh, and by the way, it was Marianne Williamson who wrote the words that Mandela quoted in his inaugural speech.

  7. Charlotte

    September 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    That’s a beautiful photo of a rainbow and an inspiring quote, I liked reading this. I think its lovely you’ve taken the time to think so deeply about these things so that other people might understand themselves better. I hope this workshop helps lots of people to feel happier within their selves. You wrote this, which seems very true to me: ‘Sex is not about making babies. Sex is about meeting people. Without the sexual urge, human beings would stagnate in their own pool of personality. Sex pushes us out of our own stale orbit and lets us into other people’s solar systems. In this way our horizons widen, our lives get richer, life becomes meaningful. True, it also freshens the gene pool when men and women have sex, but that is just a fortunate side effect of the greater purpose.’ For me what this suggests that we are all spiritual beings that just happen to be in male or female bodies and we should have the freedom to express our love towards men or women as men or women in a sexual way … On this basis as spirits are we all basically bisexual and we have a choice I’m not sure?! I say this because I’m attracted to both sexes.
    Without wanting to not appear to self absorbed ill talk about myself, people are always telling me I’m a very spiritual person, it bugs me in the nicest possible way because I feel have to express this more in my life. I do consider myself to be a multidimensional earth angel because it makes me feel limitless. I also seem to be attracted to men and women, so maybe you’re right the two do go hand in hand, I think it’s a lot to do with being an open minded person. I’m still getting to grips with my own my sexual and spiritual nature and I’m a bit unsure about what to do about my attraction to men and women. I’m sure your workshop would be perfect for people just like me.
    p.s. Is there any chance that you might be bisexual? I’m going to be very unhappy if there isn’t… joking! It’s just that you’re gorgeous.

  8. cheri

    September 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    “Gay children are often thrown back on themselves, believing that there is no support from their family or friends that will really sanction their inner core values. This can foster a strong self-sufficiency which is only made more rigorous by ascetic practices like Buddhist detachment – ‘purifying’ oneself from attachment, desire, clinging. To an extent these are valid practices but I would argue that they can play into the hands of an isolating self belief – “I must survive on my own” – which separates us off from a compassionate and warm-hearted sense of community”

    This is me to a tee. Fossilising and isolating self-sufficiency the result of emotional mutilation and abuse at the hands of my parents. I am not gay but it applies equally. Interestingly, I get on well with gay and lesbian ppl and feel much more at home around them than I do most straight ppl whose attitudes often frustrate me especially in relation to sexuality. You write so well Alistair – I am uplifted and comforted by the thought of you and your openness; the opposite of judgemental. This is obvious from your writing and demeanour – even on the house prog. Please keep writing. x

  9. Red

    October 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Hello Alistair,
    I love the saying about ‘our deepest fear’ but it’s not Nelson mandela – it’s from Marianne Williamson…blessings

  10. Maryanne

    October 5, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Absolutely beautiful and very spot-on for the most part. However as a lesbian AND a mum, I believe that I, too, have a power, a spirituality, and a responsibility. I’m empowering and raising a daughter who is tolerant, loving, and who is becoming very spiritual on her own. It’s just who she is.

    Much love to you, and wonderful, positives thoughts to you and your work.

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