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.