The unholy temple of queer spirit


traces of worship in the core of consumerist and often atheist queer folks

There’s abundance of demure articles on the ways how religions (mis)understand sexuality, sexual orientation and its variance in humans. We know the Abrahamic story of Sodom and Gomorrah by heart, we make fun of Leviticus, we know a psychological profile of macho apostle Paul… not to mention the prophets embodying infallible perfect-beings. However, this piece would like to reverse the perspective - and see how non-heterosexual people work around and work with spirituality. In between suspicious attitudes towards religiously-confident LGBT Christians, Muslims or Jews and dubious spiritual woo-woo of new age. And beyond…

Black, white and shades of gray

I like to call myself a natural taoist. Without the "ism" (dogma, belief) part in it. Tao is just a convenient (historically rooted) label for observation of natural duality of the world, that I discovered on my own - and later found resonance in already existing concept from the other side of planet. I know my bit on religions, I do not dismiss them at first glance, I get inspired by them, I work with them - though with awareness of a parallel process of scientific exploration, incessant questioning and examining, holy gift of doubt, distrust in ideas, checking of facts. While these two approaches may seem mutually exclusive at times, I acknowledge them both, live with awareness of both, feel the occasional pull on one or the other side. At the end, I do not take sides - I’m not a full-blood atheist ridiculing anything woo-woo (just to feel righteous, on top) - and I like to give my spiritual life a bit of sanity check, to scrutinize my beliefs.

It seems logical, that the majority of contemporary queers self-define as atheist, agnostic, or even anti-religious. Several thousand years of Abrahamic treatment of our folks does not need many more comments. Perhaps one, that is too "insensitive", "impolite", "politically incorrect" to be honestly discussed in our fake-multicultural society "respecting them all" … dogmas, zealots and lunacies: Human sexuality - whatever unproven and undiscovered combination of genetics, physical, emotional and social and perhaps mystical factors it results from, from a perspective of maturing person discovering it - is a given. A fact of reality. Any religion or spirituality is based on belief. Claimed, said, imagined ideas. Belief in supreme being, super-natural phenomena, purpose, holy books, chosen prophets … that "are right" because they are believed to be right by large number of people for far-long-to-remember time.

A fact and a belief cannot be ever compared on the same level. While we like to repeat that same liberal law of society that allows individual to practice any religion also protects any sexual preference and gender identity - et vice versa - this good-willed argument is quite false. The two are incomparable. A reality of a wholesome (i.e. also sexual) being cannot be put on a par with imagined spiritual world, whatever inspiring and moving it feels for its carrier. Whatever offensive it may sound, it is just a different grade. This is often mistakenly labeled as western perspective, sort of cultural imperialism. Regardless of cultural backgrounds of the observing mind - facts of nature are universal, while dogmas just stand in the way. The society that outlaws homophobia and transphobia and in the same time persecutes "offensive" critique of religions (or the whole concept of belief) that are offensive to reason and homophobic by its unquestionable tenets … has some serious schizophrenia issue.

Many religions misrepresent human sexuality as a matter of decision, criminalize some forms of it as a sin and even prescribe the punishments for it - murder (which they, in other passages, reprobate and punish with further murder again) They reproach pride alike (secular of course - self-indulgent belief in reason and scientific methods devised by it), while they proudly hold onto their belief as the right one, the only right one, without any key proofs or arguments while facing equally proud members of other religious denominations. As if the religions were built out of these paradoxes and self-contradictions. If viruses co-evolved alongside our immune system, killing us inhumanely throughout history, selecting the stronger of us - then religions can be seen as a virus in our social space, exposing our tendencies to blindly trust and raising our awareness of it, in millennia-old human laboratory. But… that’s a belief too.

With all this being said, now perhaps we could safely submerge into needs of our soul (scientifically still poorly understood, religiously managed and mismanaged for ages). Spirituality seems like such a need, quite unstable, unpredictable and violent to live with, quite difficult to eradicate. Who knows, maybe it is an integral part of our design/evolution, as much as "obsolete" foreskins, that some religion-driven pseudo-scientist tried to fix for some time. Maybe, along the hardware of our body and operation system of our psyche, we have also software of the soul, that tunes us up, to live smoother, healthier. Search for meaning, self-continuation in afterlife or reincarnations, eternity and infinity, all-knowing all-wise creator, truth and other fixed reference point in the vacuum of universe - may seem absurd - but in the same time self-preservation instinct, aiming for bigger picture, need for a law to organize society, making sense of it all, finding out why - seem as logical steps and aspirations of a thinking mind, searching for understanding.

Of course, it takes courage to reclaim the religions that deny the basic fact of nature (homosexuality in animals, homosexuality in all documented societies, in any periods of history, in any corner of the world) and in the same time claim infallibility of its erroneous scripture, far-too human prophets or God created in the image of man. Man also as in male. This inherent contradiction of queer Christians or queer Muslims may be a key to the religion itself. It just cannot be worked with literally - otherwise it causes the evil that it believes it is fighting against, the "Evil" it invented in the first place. If religion (belief) is the other side of duality with science (question), it should abandon the science-like exact "recipes from the book" and focus on what it was made for - symbolism, metaphor, inspiration. To work with spirituality, to be spiritual - one doubtlessly needs imaginative mind, ability to read symbols, playful detachment. Something that majority of people statistically lack, making them under-skilled users of religion … it being a dangerous fire to play with at all.

Imagined dimension - immense imagination

The rare spiritually talented people amongst us often occupy fringe and liminal spaces. This was the case with most of the shamans, witches, priests, oracles and healers - living nearby, but still outside of the village. Two-spirit concept of Native American tribes deemed queer (in between male and female) people to be predisposed for the role of spiritual leader of the community (in between world of spirits and humans). There are other in-betweeners among us too, created by life’s coincidences/quest e.g. former priest and monk, now depth-psychologist Thomas Moore. He uses antic mythology and religious stories as the stimuli of imagination, that help us grasping and living through (not fixing) the situations of life beyond our control.

"The strange soul does not sit well among other souls. They are often feared, and this isn’t just because a church said that they were potentially in league with demons. They were feared, even in pre-Christian times, because the witching they bear, the sorcerous connections to spirits they bear, is a strange thing- it’s all very strange, somewhat chaotic, and hard to comprehend, even sometimes for the witch. The witch was a peripheral person, a person that community members sought out. They didn’t tend to sit in the middle of town with a “open for business” sign sitting out. Obviously they didn’t do this back then because it was illegal- of course- but what I mean to say is, they were always a little obscure, out of the way, and only really whispered about. It’s important for strange souls and the strange powers they attract to remain a bit peripheral, if a community wants to have any hint of metaphysical stability or normalcy." * An excerpt of the contribution by Robin Artisson in the wider discussion on the borderlines of witchcraft.

As one example of many: Moore, walking in between his own experience and partially in footsteps of his mentor Hillman and also Jung, does not medicate out depressions, he tries to listen to it, align with its nature, find its ancient deity, hear the associated stories, use them as a tool to grasp the situation, understand the imagination behind/below it, also the contradictory need for it, he understands it as a regular weather condition of human soul, healthy on its own, healing in its inherent nature. As much as physical maps allow us to see the bigger picture of where we stand or block schemes can help us to understand complex virtual processes, archetypal images facilitate dealing with physical, emotional and social circumstances of life.

Spirituality might have been the discipline, that was devised to work with imagination, stories, parables (a language of its own, impossible to dissect scientifically) - before it was hijacked by people without imagination, the followers of prophets, the half-machines that execute the exact instruction code. A religion was born - in-betweeners as its natural craftsmen were replaced by (metaphorically) straight-male raid, with its own flavor: zealousness, righteousness, infallibility, gurus and followers, stars and admirers, hierarchy in structure, titles, ego, pride, sulfur-spitting ideologues and other "I-am-rights" and "listen-to-mes". Next logical step would be queer people reclaiming their domain and maybe even restructuring it to make it immune to this virus of sinners and saints.

Of course, that does not necessarily mean digging into (and goddess-prevent memorize) the books. Writing things down in immutable fashion was not our style (pun towards this article acknowledged). Queer people as natural-born in-betweeners embraced drag as one of their arts of self-expressions. For fun of it, for the political symbolism (!) of it, for the message - questioning male and female roles, stereotypes, the preconceptions of beauty, associated imbalance of power, ways how we address and treat people depending on what they wear. Proceeding in this direction, nothing was holy in our holy crusade on heteronormativity, not even religious outfits. With a bit more of perspective, we tend to perceive holy mass, pilgrims, conclaves - as one of the Greatest Drag Shows in history of mankind. Some might find it superficial, missing the point (spiritual depth) - some find this as lifting and relieving detachment that unmasks pretense, false esteem, vain authority.

A queer tribe that grasped this playfulness wide and deep (pun intended) is Radical Faeries. As part of their call to reject assimilationism and cult of normality, they offer queer form of spirituality to queer people made of flesh and blood, not renouncing body, carnal pleasures, sensual joy, full-range sexuality and many untried ways of intimacy and mutual relationships. They re-purpose religious items in sacrilegious ways, they sanctify random and trivial objects. Faerie rituals can be perceived as shallow, foolish, ridiculous - although this may be their strongest feature - they are not interested in constrained and prescribed form, not even repeating the same rites twice, traditions can be creatively revisited and then whimsically abandoned. No gurus, no holy scriptures, no proper ways, no "inappropriate" - a playful spirituality that fits in the moment, reflects actual needs of the present group and its unfolding drama, turns things upside down, touches the heart. They nurture spirituality made by individuals to caress their soul, does what needs to be done, with what is at hand.

Despite aiming deep, Thomas Moore’s works suggest that physical dimension - costumes, props, sets - may be quite important for our soul - as much as theory is for our spirit. Since the times of shamans, rituals (that involve the travesty of masks) help understanding, remembering, adopting the archetypal stories that they convey. Reading about the fact and experiencing it sensually and emotionally are two different qualitative levels. While cynical soul might see church as a pitiful self-indulgent baroque theater - that fools the sheep through spectacular form and feeds them the content of the sermon, or even create fake air of ancient tradition, unchanging truth in tumultuous times, to sanctify dubious do’s-and-don’ts of faith … we may as well reverse the perspective and see the regularity, repetition, reliable structure, the Big Drag Show, the opulence, the colors, the music, being together at one place and one time, shedding of social differences (by replacing it with religious roles), the symbolic gestures of brotherhood, The Beauty in its classical sense - as the actual content - that feeds the soul, makes it content. The fiery sermons knock on the door of the mind, reason, even ego - while the feast, celebration, conviviality feeds the soul.

I worship, high praises, my longing drives me crazy for you

Most of the atheist will not have much of the experience with church at all and the quality of ritual and its repetition may seem difficult to describe. Though, imagine or think for a while: in the age of home cinemas, UHD 3D LCDs, smartphones - why do people still go to cinemas or theaters? Walk a mile into the concrete temples, watch together in the random assembled commune, in the ritual darkness, eat ritual food (goddess forgive: pop-corn and cola), watch their favorite impersonators enacting stories - some of the becoming legendary, watched over and over again, carrying a message, wisdom of a new perspective, humanizing its spectators… They still enjoy participating in even larger festivities - festivals - assembling in great crowds to receive killer dose of stories, exchanging the thoughts and emotions that arose.

Aside of obscure idolatries (it being forbidden in the scriptures, of course) of various icons, relics (even body parts) and saints recognized and sanctified by hierarchy of fallible mortals, part of religious practices is a pilgrim. Christians fly to Holy Land or at least hike painful miles into Santiago de Compostella, a faithful Muslim should visit Mecca at leas once in a life to walk around Ka’aba, stone Sheitan, drink from Zamzam well. The symbolic meaning of a Way or Path, the Journey quality complementing the Goal, the adventurous entertainment aspect of it - don’t need to be described in length. It’s in our upbringing, in our blood, in way too many cultural references, we decipher them instinctively. Even the atheist may sigh, that while he does not crave for religious delusions, he misses the adventure, the opportunity, the ritual.

My "epiphany" happened in one of the legendary queues of Berlin. Thousands of gay men from all around the world, as far as America or Australia, navigate to this particular club in the middle of Europe (pilgrim), to withstand painful late-winter cold (peril, suffering), standing in a queue for 3-4 hours (ordeal, patience), in order to be checked by quite whimsical gate-keepers (purgatory?, ), that may let them in the "best club in the world" (temple) where many are not admitted, ever, on a special party (feast) that happens only once a year (coincidentally and practically on Easter Saturday). They change into very specific costumes - leather, rubber, most of the guys wearing harness - not worn anywhere in regular life (even the would be "sports" items). Inside, almost everything that does not happen in asexual reality is allowed (receiving bliss), sexual connections with dozens others can occur (communion), hundreds of touches, approaches, negotiations, winks, smiles, acts of friendliness may happen (shaking or holding hands).

Even this aspect of reversal counts in - here all the carnal pleasures are allowed and sanctified, sometimes on behalf of spirit, sometimes soullessly - but this negative image makes a silent comment to on-side obsession of the most of the religions about spirit that they chronically put above flesh. Material world, sensual experience. It is almost like a distillery of common gay desires: no other world or consternated families around, no statistical probability of rejection by straight guys, no fears of phobic violence, no artificial morals, no shame, no inhibitions, no social roles, no complicated rites of addressing, approaching and courting, just straight to the point: "Did you notice me? Did you acknowledge me? Do you like me? Do you want to make out with me? Do you enjoy it? Do you want to move on? Do you want to see each other again?" - eat-drink-piss-fuck-dance - liberating animal sex amidst the crowd, no shame no judgment, redefining of "normal" without external templates, preconceptions or outrage - to suit our need. Something that should have been dreamed long time ago, something we should have started with. It’s an utopia of the earthly paradise, imperfect and clumsy of course, vain and monotonous, saturated but not satiating, impossible to live in, potentially hazardous - as many religious fantasies of paradise are.

The masses of almost nude bodies sweat in the rhythm of techno (ritual dance into the sound of modern "drums"), the sermon being held by the most famous among the DJs. Without knowing it, subconsciously or unconsciously, all participate in and co-create a mass, a festive event, where (unlike in churches) they are accepted as they are, with their sexuality, with their kinks, indulging in connections instead of killing each-other out in some jihad, crusade or "sportive" combat.

This insight did not send me back to church really, it just made me aware of reality on more layers. I can’t just consume it anymore - in the way it is presented - "wear gear, dance, have sex". It’s another level to understand, what wisdom is being conveyed through this beyond-conscious experience. As mentioned earlier: the thoughts may seem deep, but barely penetrate the skin … while physical participation in ritual may carry the message straight into the soul. Talking about fetish may be important, but living it, experiencing its pull, being trapped in its dynamics - seeing above it - can be really fruitful. As it sheds light on many interactions and situation in "normal" life that we do not consider immediately as driven by fetishes.