Queer Spirit Rising
The division of gender and sexuality into neatly defined and labelled boxes by the new scientific kids on the block, psychology and sociology, from the late 19th century onwards has never sat well with some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
There have always been queer voices in the west who objected to the limitations of an identity based on sexual attraction, and saw the commonality of gay men, lesbians and transgender people as stemming from our spiritual nature and history.
The division of gender and sexuality into neatly defined and labelled boxes by the new scientific kids on the block, psychology and sociology, from the late 19th century onwards has never sat well with some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. There have always been queer voices in the west who objected to the limitations of an identity based on sexual attraction, and saw the commonality of gay men, lesbians and transgender people as stemming from our spiritual nature and history.
Some have viewed all LGBTQ+ people as part of a 'third-gender' that stands apart from, sees life from a different perspective to that experienced in the binary world of heterosexual men and women, and that produces in many of us a love of nature and aptitude for spiritual service to the wider community. As we gradually decolonise our understanding of gender and sexuality, many examples from around the world confirm this association.
Victorian philosopher Edward Carpenter saw gay, lesbian and trans people as 'Intermediate Types', pushing forward the evolution of the species. In Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk, published 1914, he wrote:
“...between the normal man and the normal woman there exist a great number of intermediate types - types, for instance, in which the body may be perfectly feminine, while the mind and feelings are decidedly masculine, or vice versa...Since the Christian era these intermediate types have been much persecuted in some periods and places...that they might possibly fulfil a positive and useful function of any kind in society is an idea which seems hardly if ever to have been seriously considered... In pre-Christian times and among the early civilisations... the intermediate people and their corresponding sex-relationships played a distinct part in the life of the tribe or nation, and were openly acknowledged and recognised as part of the general polity.”
The book focusses on many examples from around the world which link together same sex erotic behaviour, gender fluidity and the sacred, and speculates on the future of the species:
“This interaction in fact between the masculine and the feminine, this mutual illumination of logic and meditation, may not only raise and increase the power of each of these faculties, but it may give the mind a new quality, and a new power of perception corresponding to the blending of subject and object in consciousness. It may possibly lead to the development of that third order of perception which has been called the cosmic consciousness...”
Intermediate types among primitive folks
Recent works, such as Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred by Randy P. Connor (1993), Queer Magic by Tomas Prower (2018) give in depth analysis and hundreds of examples of queers in sacred roles in communities around the world throughout history. But this knowledge, as surprising to many as it will sound, has been around a long time, It was observed by European explorers from the 16th to 19th centuries, some of whom drew parallels to the ancient queer pagan ways of Europe. The Europeans called the shamans of the Americas ‘berdache’, a term, originally Persian, for a gay bottom – this term was only dropped in the 1990s when the shamans themselves adopted the term ‘Two-Spirit’.
As far back as 1896, A Problem in Modern Ethics, by John Addington Symonds, called on the world:
“...to obtain a correct conception of the steps whereby the Christian nations, separating themselves from ancient paganism, introduced a new and stringent morality into their opinion on this topic, and enforced their ethical views by legal prohibitions of a very formidable kind.”
In 1906 Finnish philosopher and sociologist Edward Westermarck stated quite plainly in his book the Origins and Development of Moral Ideas:
“...the Hebrew's abhorrence of sodomy was largely due to their hatred of a foreign cult. According to Genesis, unnatural vice was the sin of a people who were not the Lord's people.... we know sodomy entered as an element in their religion. Besides kedeshoth, or female prostitutes, there were kedeshim, or male prostitutes, attached to their temples. The word Kadesh, translated 'sodomite', properly denotes a man dedicated to a deity; and it appears that such men were consecrated to the mother of the gods, the famous Dea Syria, whose priests or devotees they were considered to be.... the sodomitic acts committed with these temple prostitutes may, like the connections with priestesses, have had in view to transfer blessings to the worshippers.”
As we gradually today decolonise notions of sexuality we learn about the common association around the world of gender-fluid and same-sex loving people with ‘magic’, with the spirit world, with priestcraft, divination and healing. Examples include the Quimbanda wizards of Angola, the Mahu of Hawaii, the Gallae priests of Cybele (an ancient Anatolian Goddess who became the Great Mother of the Roman Empire from 2nd century BCE until the 4th CE, called by one Christian writer 'Sons of the Earth') and the Buddhist monks of Japan, for whom gay sex was considered normal, while sex with women was forbidden. When European Jesuits objected to the practice, the insulted Japanese threw them out of the temple!
The work of exposing the roots of religious homophobia has not been undertaken yet largely because the modern Gay Liberation movement is in many ways the love-child of secular society - which dismantled centuries of religious prejudice to give us rights - and the 1960s counter-culture, which shook up society's attitudes to both sexuality and spirituality. In 5 decades the powerful energy of Gay Liberation has brought huge advances in political, legal and social realms – but the spiritual world remains in shadows, as the constant threat of schism in the worldwide Anglican communion over gay issues shows. Rooted in misunderstood religious texts, hatred, ignorance and prejudice still taint our lives, with the trans community taking the brunt of it in the UK at the moment (in which there are clear parallels to the treatment of gay men by the government and media in the 1980s).
This situation will not fully resolve until we decolonise our grasp of gender and sexuality - dismiss the limiting labels invented by Victorian minds - plus tackle and transform the spiritual world too:
The global LGBTQ community has yet to address the cause of, and uproot, the religious homophobia that continues to blight the lives of queer people around the world, and is still used to justify persecution in many countries. Homophobia was part of the effort of the Father God religions to separate themselves from the Goddess worshipping pagan past, in which the body and sexuality were highly revered as sacred, as were the gay and transgender priests who enacted her, often erotic and ecstatic, rituals. As pagan ways rise in popularity in the world in modern times, and making reconnection to nature and the holiness of the body calls many to spiritual awareness, queers have a role to play and an inheritance to receive.
The Radical Faeries are a global community that has been reclaiming and exploring the spiritual links between queer sexuality, gender-fluidity and nature since the late 1970s. Existing on the sidelines of mainstream gay life, this non-commercial, co-creative, consensus led group puts heart and spirituality at the centre of queerness, builds connection through the heart circle, and celebrates gender non-comformity.
Harry Hay, a founder of the Mattachine Society campaigning for gay rights in 1950s USA and of the Radical Faeries:
“It is time for us to reject the lie by which Organised Religions have attempted to obliterate us for two millennia. Sexual Orientation isn't the only difference between Us and the Heteros. As a result of the way we had been malignantly demeaned and diminished over the centuries, it is the only difference LEFT between US and the Heteros. It is time we took a leaf from the lessons Third Gender Brothers in other cultures have to teach us in how to re-earn the respect and gratitude of our Hetero Communities for the Different people that we are – as well as for the talents and gifts we bring to share.”
Many traditional cultures around the world recognised more than two genders, and frequently considered third-gender people as having specific qualities, for which they were highly regarded. Hay wrote about:
“...our capacities as Mediators through History – in cultures around the world as diverse as the ancient Sumerians in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Neolithic as well as the Barbarian Celts of the Danube and Rhine Valleys, the Achaeans of Macedonia, the Dyaks of Borneo, the Arabs of 19th and 20th century Morocco, and the Navaho of yesterday's and today's Arizona...
… MEDIATORS between the seen and unseen - as Berdache Priests and Shaman Seers, as artists and architects, as Scientists, as Teachers, and as Designers of the possible;
… MEDIATORS between the make-believe and the real – through Theatre and Music and Dance and Poetry;
… MEDIATORS between the Spirit and the flesh – as Teachers and Healers and Counsellors and Therapists.”
Hay proposed that western gays take “a hand-up example from our potential allies” in other cultures, and went as far as to suggest:
“...that we Gay Men of all colours prepare to present ourselves as the gentle non-competitive Third Gender men of the Western World with whole wardrobes and garages crammed with cultural and spiritual contributions to share.”
One of those talents, as identified by Hay, is gay men's capacity for what he called subject-SUBJECT Consciousness, the natural occurrence of what Edward Carpenter had called a “new power of perception corresponding to the blending of subject and object in consciousness.”
“The way out of our comprehensional stalemate, the quagmire into which the Binary inheritances of our brain-training and our cultural superstructure have hurled us.... Humanity must expand its experience to thinking of another, that other, not as object – to be used, to be manipulated, to be mastered, to be consumed – but as subject, as another like him/her self, another self to be respected, to be appreciated, to be cherished.”
Two wisdom teachers from the Dagara Tribe of Western Africa have affirmed that indigenous understanding of queer sexuality is a spiritual one. Sobonfu Some, in The Spirit of Intimacy (1997) wrote:
“The words gay and lesbian do not exist in the village, but there is the word gatekeeper. Gatekeepers are people who live a life at the edge between the 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 there is peace and balance between women and men. If the two genders are in conflict and the whole village is caught in it, the gatekeepers are the ones to bring peace. Gatekeepers do not take sides. They simply act as “the sword of truth and integrity...
“Gays and lesbians in the West are often very spiritual, but they have been taken away from their connection with spirit. My feeling is that without that outlet or that role in the culture, they have to find other ways of defining themselves. This could be one of the reasons why they would want to get married or make themselves look as though they do not have a unique purpose.”
Her husband, Malidoma Some, who taught in the West from the 1990s, said in an interview:
“The gay person is looked at primarily as a "gatekeeper." The Earth is looked at, from my tribal perspective, as a very, very delicate machine or consciousness, with high vibrational points, which certain people must be guardians of in order for the tribe to keep its continuity with the gods and with the spirits that dwell there. Spirits of this world and spirits of the other worlds. Any person who is at this link between this world and the other world experiences a state of vibrational consciousness which is far higher, and far different, from the one that a normal person would experience. This is what makes a gay person gay.
“So to then limit gay people to simple sexual orientation is really the worst harm that can be done to a person. That all he or she is is a sexual person. And, personally, because of the fact that my knowledge of indigenous medicine, ritual, comes from gatekeepers, it’s hard for me to take this position that gay people are the negative breed of a society. No! In a society that is profoundly dysfunctional, what happens is that peoples’ life purposes are taken away, and what is left is this kind of sexual orientation which, in turn, is disturbing to the very society that created it.
“I think this is again victimization by a Christian establishment that is looking at a gay person as a disempowered person, a person who has lost his job from birth onward, and now society just wants to fire him out of life. This is not justice. It’s not justice. It is a terrible harm done to an energy that could save the world, that could save us. If, today, we are suffering from a gradual ecological waste, this is simply because the gatekeepers have been fired from their job.”
In North America the Two-Spirit movement is a visible example of queer people reclaiming their spiritual history and roles. The Hijra of India are a surviving example of what was once a global phenomenon of queer priestcraft. The history of the relationship of same-sex love, gender fluidity and the sacred is becoming more well known.
At Queer Spirit Festival in the UK we invite several hundred queers to explore spirituality, healing and community building, to come together to celebrate Queer Magic as a global force of healing and reconnection...
QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL was birthed in 2016 to expand the conversation about LGBTQ+ spirituality and to create a space where all sections of the Queer Tribe come together to celebrate our magic, our creativity, our spirit. We had group ceremonies, dozens of experiential workshops, healing area, sacred sexuality temple, performance, fire circles, djs and much more... Planning for the 4th QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL, to take place in Devon in AUGUST 2023, is underway. The 3rd Queer Spirit in 2019 was a life-enhancing, dimension-busting, transformational joy-ride, as can be seen from the testimonials page.
Queer Spirit is about LGBTQ+ people dropping the limiting labels put on us in the past and redefining ourselves as we discover who we are.
Queer Spirit is about RECLAIMING QUEER NATURE.