The expansion of LGBTQ life into the spiritual dimensions could be the catalyst for our emergence as a GLOBAL FORCE, a tribe of lovers, radicals, healers, artists… of agents of change bringing about a more accepting, open-minded, heart-centred world. This summer for 5 days in Wiltshire a few hundred queers who are exploring and celebrating their spirituality as well as their sexuality will gather for the world’s first Queer Spirit Festival. Beyond the sexual, social and political, this is taking the journey of our collective liberation to the next level, to the spiritual core of who we are.
The pace of change in LGBTQ life over that past few decades has been rapid. Nobody would have expected gay marriage two decades ago. It took over 3 decades before the age of consent for gay men was equalised in the UK with that for heterosexuals, but that was quickly followed by adoption rights, civil partnerships, protection at work etc for all of us. Two decades ago men were dying left, right and centre from AIDS. Now we have effective medications, we have PEP and PrEP, creating a sexually charged men’s environment that has not felt so liberated since the 1970s. Queer life evolves fast. While gay men’s life in particular seems to spin down the alley of hedonistic excess, leading to addictions and diseases both physical and mental, the issues we are facing as a community prompts many voices to speak out about the need for Brotherhood, for Community – the need to care about each other as well as to get good fun from each other.
These were in fact the lessons the AIDS years taught us, but which we have not yet been properly learnt. Before the effective HIV meds arrived, in the late 1990s, those of us that were HIV+ realised that our greatest hope of survival was a positive mindset. We learnt that our thoughts really do create our experience of reality. Men who fell into despair died, whereas I believe many of us who looked for the light in the darkness are still around. The LGBTQ community pulled together and became stronger during the AIDS years, and the political achievements of the past 20 years are a result.
But political freedom, and social acceptance, is not the whole of the story. Amongst gay men, as rates of HIV and Hep C infections continue to rise, addiction rates soar, as sex becomes more and more of a commodity (found easily by tapping fingers on a phone), the gaping holes in the soul of our community are revealed.
When I came out in the mid 1980s the message in gay life was ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’… AIDS was hanging over us. Safe sex was being invented. Our community was under attack from right wing media and politicians. The political battle was on.
It would be a whole decade before I came across the knowledge that historically, because of the way we queers carry both masculine and feminine within ourselves, we had often served as spiritual functionaries in tribal societies, and were even respected for that. When I read the book Gay Soul, a series of interviews conducted by Mark Thompson with 16 gay elders, including Harry Hay, Ram Dass, Andrew Harvey, Paul Monette and poet James Broughton, I became aware of a spiritual, philosophical lineage in gay life that ties us in not only with this historical energy of the tribal shamans, but also with modern evolution of spiritual awareness of the human species.
Those modern thinkers interviewed in Gay Soul are developing the legacy and vision first given to us by Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter in the late 19th/early 20th century. Whitman envisaged a new democracy emerging from the ‘divine love of comrades’ and Carpenter saw ‘the Uranians’ (both male and female) playing a vital role in helping humanity overcome taboos around the body and sex, putting love and relationship at the centre of human life instead of business and finance, and bringing the divine Self into relationship with the body.
This legacy of vision and potential is still not widely recognised in LGBTQ life, but it’s clear times are changing when I see the editor of London scene magazine QX, James Egan, posting about our historical shamanic/spiritual roles on Facebook. If the journalists who work to keep the queer population informed wake up to our spiritual nature, the word could spread and another rapid period of growth and transformation could happen for our community soon.
The TWO SPIRITS of the Native American Tribes are the most well-known example of the shamanic energy and history of queer souls on the planet, but in fact they were far from being the only one. When the Europeans landed on the shores of the New World and reacted in horror to the acceptance of sodomy, of cross dressing, of same sex relationships (and the association of all this with practitioners of spiritual healing and service – they gave the name Berdache to the shamans, from the French for a passive homosexual), it was after the Church had spent centuries wiping out the last vestiges of this phenomenon from European lands. The old religions had held a very positive attitude to sexuality, viewing it as a gift of the gods, a holy force within us, and in the millennia preceding the domination of Christianity spiritual power had resided in those with the best access to those sexual powers – women and queer men. European examples include the Seidr shamans of Scandinavia… the Galli priests of ancient Europe….the cult of Antinous…the Cathars and Bogomils in medieval times. In some parts of the continent there were in fact more men than women burned during the Witch Hunts of the early modern era.
It wasn’t only in the Americas that the European invaders found an active link between homosexual/transgender people and the spiritual. In Angola the Quimbanda were cross dressing, sodomizing wizards who were greatly respected by the people. In Madagascar the Tsecats were the queer bards and poets of the tribes, the Mwammi, who were men living as women, were the prophets of Zambia. Moving to the Far East, same sex activities were largely regarded as a privilege enjoyed within monastery compounds by Buddhists monks. Francis Xavier of the Jesuits complained “It is visible and public to all, including men and women, young and old, none of whom think much of it nor despise it as it seems to be a common habit indeed.”
The Dagara Tribe of West Africa honours their gay and lesbian children as the Gatekeepers to the spirit worlds. Their teachers who have come to the west, Malidoma and Sobonfu Some, have both written and spoken about. Sobonfu Some observes, “Gatekeepers are people who live a life at the edge between two worlds—the world of the village and the world of spirit… . The gatekeepers stand on the threshold of the gender line. They are mediators between the two genders. They make sure that there is peace and balance between women and men.” The Somes stress the importance of gatekeepers to the tribe as a whole. Sobonfu observes, “gatekeepers are encouraged to fulfill the role they’re born to, to use their gifts in the interests of the community.” She comments that to define a person by their sexuality, as we do in the west, is to seriously limit their potential. She also tells us that in the Dagara tribe it is perfectly normal that a person may not have the same internal gender as their outer physical one. These issues that have caused, and are still causing such conflict and suffering in the world, may in fact be the key to unlock who we really are and, once accepted, bring our true potential into the world.
The big world religions, while often so hostile to our kind, have also been havens for us. Gay men and women throughout centuries were able to serve their communities and live a peaceful life in Christian churches and monasteries. For much of its history, Islam displayed a much more tolerant and celebratory attitude to same sex love relationships than it does now… the great Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz being examples of how love for the same gender was seen as having holy potential. Ancient Greeks such as Plato were onto this too.
With all this history lined up behind us, it becomes clearer that the modern LGBTQ manifestation is missing a core element…. Our relationship with the spirit dimension. I would argue that the sexual and chemical excesses of gay life are a clear sign of this. Many gay men and women are shamanic souls born with the ability to ’connect the worlds’ and be healers for the species and the planet. The emergence of a more vocal and visible Trans community is a sure sign of the same thing – gender norms are breaking down, because gender – sexuality – are not who we are. The human spirit is waking up – and wants us to wake up – to the core nature of what we are as humans, ie ONE DIVINE CONSCIOUSNESS EXPLORING ITSELF, CREATING ITSELF, REMEMBERING ITSELF.
The roots of our queer spirit go back to a time long before man made religions dominated the earth, to a time when direct communication with the spirits of the land, plants, creatures and skies was normal. For thousands of years the gender benders were the servants of the Goddess, and sex was honoured in temples as a sacred force within us that can connect us to the Gods. To discover and reclaim those roots today the most effective method is to GET BACK TO NATURE. Nature has no rules, no books, no gurus, no bishops. She teaches us that we, and our beautiful sexuality, are natural, sacred and needed. Connect directly to the earth and spirit, and we find out who we are.
Radical Faeries have been meeting in sacred groves, on holy mountains and forming queer sanctuaries of healing and self-discovery since the 1970s in the USA, 1990s in Europe. There have been Radical Faerie gatherings in the UK since 2005. On the sidelines of gay life the exploration of our spirit, of our potential as healers and radical agents of change and transformation, has been going on quietly, so that as we reach the point where the political, legal and social journey to liberation (in the west) leads gay life to the next frontier, the spiritual frontier… there is an army of lovers waiting to show the way through to the next steps for our community.
A manifestation of this accelerating energy is the world first QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL coming up August 17-21 in Wiltshire this summer…. Space for 500 queers to camp in a wonderful setting in nature… dozens of workshops on offer, performers, healers, ceremonies and lots of dancing. Queer Spirit is about us connecting to the ancient, natural, forces of this planet, about finding our deep connection to the elements, to ancestors, animals spirits and even to angels. There is a multiverse of consciousness out there waiting for us to join its dance consciously, compassionately and queerly.
There is so much to being Queer. We break down society’s taboos, fears, barriers, and have been doing so for some time now. But the situation for our kind in many countries is not so good … we are still persecuted, arrested, killed for being who we are. This is the result of hundreds of years of evil propaganda about us put out by so called religious people, which some are still putting out today. Queer Spirit is about us taking our identities and roles into our own hands, it is the next step in us telling the rest of the world who we are – a global manifestation of human diversity, colour and love, and refusing the limitations of the definitions and abuse put onto us by others. We have power in our queer hearts to bring positive transformation to life on earth, to grow into a global force of warriors for peace. Our path to growth involves LOVE, JOY and COMMUNITY……
Of which there will be plenty to go round at QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL! Please help us spread the word and invite your friends! Hope to see you in the magical meadows of Wiltshire!