Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Queer Utopia: House of Refuge, Chapter 3

3 Arrowshot
Just ahead of me, Yarrow walked beside Brightsong the rest of the way to the banquet hall, my brother’s hand continuing to rest lightly on my son’s shoulder. At the door, he squeezed Brightsong’s arm gently. "We'll have more time to talk at home," I heard him say. I could feel Brightsong’s flustered excitement. He’s adored my brother since he was old enough to walk; and Yarrow has not only loved the boy but been in love with him since the summer before he went up country. I’ve seen their bond grow all the stronger over the last years for the briefness of their reunions when Yarrow has come down from the hills. It was clear to me since before Yarrow himself took Refuge that Brightsong would almost certainly go up country in his turn.
The din in the banquet hall swelled as the whole town poured in. I saw Yarrow take Brightsong by the hand to lead him toward our places at a table near the far side, threading his way among families gathered around their sons, and young men and women mooning over one another at the prospect of First Beddings soon to come. Bloodroot  already sat next to Rush, in the seat assigned him with our family now that their Bedding had been arranged. Next to Bloodroot in turn sat my wife Bracken. 
Yarrow parted from my son to find his place among his fellow Refugetakers, the brothers whose kinship had replaced the blood ties he’d left behind. In their midst sat Firesong as eldest among them, flanked by the others in order of their Refugetaking. As Yarrow settled in his seat, I saw Yellowwood lean to whisper in his ear, and the two of them breaking into grins.
I moved through the hall receiving the congratulations of neighbours and took the seat waiting for me between Bracken and Brightsong. She took my hand and leaned toward me. “You must be as exhausted as I was yesterday,” she said.
“It’s not as long as whatever you all get up to in the Roundhouse,” I said. “But I’m ready for a good night’s rest.”
“If either of us will be able to sleep for the noise in the street,” she said. “Last year it was nearly cockcrow before everyone settled down.” 
“It’s fewer new men this year,” I said.
“Don’t be too hopeful,” she answered. “ It’s the women teasing each other that will wake us past midnight.”
The servers came around with loaves and the first steaming bowls. She smiled and leaned in closer. “Next week won’t be much better, with Rush and Bloodroot likely awake till dawn in the next room.”
“It’s sweet to see them so excited about each other,” I said. “There are worse ways to be kept awake. Do you suppose they’ll stay so devoted?”
“I hope so,” she said. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather she was with.  And they’ll make beautiful children, if they get that far. As beautful as the ones we made,” she smiled.
“Are you sorry they’re grown so soon?” I asked. 
“Gods, no,” she laughed. “I’m ready for life without watching over them. As for Brightsong,” she went on,  leaning in yet closer to keep him from hearing  where he sat to my right, “if there were any doubts before today, seeing him with Yarrow ended them.” 
I felt a rush of warmth in my heart, and a stirring in my loins, at the thought of the love we’d seen budding for years between my son and my brother. 
“Will you take him up country with you at Full Moon?” Bracken asked, mischief in her eyes.
“Gladly, if he wants,” I said. 
“He’s his father’s son. Of course he’ll want to,” she grinned.
I grinned back. Not every man is blessed to have a wife who feels so little jealousy over his trips up country. In the nineteen years since our First Bedding, she’s never made a fuss about Full Moon. She’s kept the house and watched the children on her own without complaint--just as I’ve done when she’s gone up country to Women’s Haven at New Moon--not as often, but when Shekinah and Rhiannon have called to her. The love we felt for one another from the start has thrived for how lightly and open-handedly we’ve held it. Forbidden though it is to tell her any more about what happens at the Refuge than she can tell me about Women’s Haven, the hints we drop to each other have become a game that excites us both when the fire between us needs fuel.
She glanced across to the tables of the Refugetakers. “Firesong looks frail,” she said.
“You notice it more for not seeing him since he came down last year,” I said. “I’ve seen it month to month. But yes. This may be his last visit. He’s said as much.”
“He’s the last of my grandmother’s generation,” she said. “Saying goodbye tomorrow will be hard.”
“It probably doesn’t help much to tell you how happy he is. And what good care Ashroot takes of him.”
“It does, and doesn’t,” she said. “You know he taught me to climb trees? I adored him almost the way Brightsong adores Yarrow.”
“You’re still the first in town he comes to greet when he’s arrived,” I said. “And the first he asks after when I see him at Full Moon.”
“Sometimes I wonder why we can’t all just be together, all the time,” she said.
“Think about what it would be like, after a few months or years,” I said. “Think about how our own lives would have been different. Maybe like the story of the Six repeating itself.”
She sighed, brushed my cheek with a kiss, and turned to Rush and Bloodroot as they sat giggling together, and beginning to tease them about it.
As she turned, I felt Brightsong’s hand on my arm. My beautiful son. And, I was sure, a son of the Staghorn Lord, waiting to be twice-born. “I want to go up with you this month,” he said.
“I imagined you would,” I said and then hesitated a moment. “And I know how happy Yarrow will be to see you again so soon.”
“I think I’m the only one this year who will,” he said, and blushed.
“I’m willing to wager others will find their way up country eventually. At least once or twice.” I paused and then went on. The lad seemed to need the encouragement. “Every man goes when he hears the call, if he hears the call. Some never hear it. I’ve gone every Full Moon since before your were born, save just before you came and the three months after.”
He looked across the hall. “Yarrow heard it early, and strong,” I went on. “As did your grandfather.” 
It was time for him to hear. “Do your know your grandfather lived in Refuge for two years before Killian and Rashni called him back down across the river?”
The surprise in his face gave way to a broad smile. 

I longed to protect him from the heartache he was likely bound for, learning what he had no way yet to know of the life up country. I couldn’t predict what he might feel when he saw for himself but could imagine pain and confusion, seeing the longing in his eyes as he gazed across the room toward Yarrow. But no way to avert it. It sent some men back down country, as eventually it had my father. “It’s in our line, Brightsong,” I said. “It’s your inheritance.”

The Mystery is Not Made Clearer repeating the question, nor is it bought with going to amazing places.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

House of Refuge: A Queer Utopia, Continued

2 Brightsong

We'd received our instruction by torchlight in the Longhouse, one night a month from dusk till dawn,  since before most of us had had his first seedflow. Our classmasters always started a lesson by asking what we knew. Only later would they gently correct what we'd often gotten comically wrong from swapping inaccuracies and half-truths with playmates as our bodies and those of our sisters changed, catching glimpses of adults coupling through doors left ajar, experimenting among ourselves.
One simple lesson a night always became a game we'd play till exhaustion got the better of boyish excitement and we'd all collapse like a pile of puppies on the cushions spread around the Lingam on the dais. Soon after the start of our instruction, the classmasters began by turning the simple fact of our hard stands into a game: who rose fastest and highest --taking the sting of possible defeat out of the exercise by almost always coming in behind us themselves; seeing who could hold the weight of an apple hung from a cord. Later on, we learned to breathe deeply when touching ourselves; the varied subtleties of shaft and foreskin, ridge and head, balls and sac; the experience of waking up in a puddle of seed when they set us the challenge of not milking it out of ourselves for a week; what it was like to touch our bungholes and work a finger into them; how to bring ourselves almost to the point we couldn't hold back from seedflow, then stop and feel the flow of heat up our spines.
A grown man knows his own body, our masters told us. Between your legs lies the exposed tip of your heart. When you sleep with a woman for the first time, you'll never give her pleasure wholeheartedly if you don't understand the pleasure you can feel within yourself, by your own hand. Don't try to fly before you can walk. The wonders of women's bodies and how to touch them came mostly in our last months  of instruction. Then ways for men and women to feel pleasure together and still not make a child before they wanted one. In between the lessons of the body, we learned the chants for the births, weddings and deaths of sons and brothers and fathers and friends. We learned the circle dances for Equinox and Solstice, the Cross Quarters and Full Moons.
The House of Refuge story was one of our last lessons. It wasn't the classmasters who taught us that night, just a month before our Coming-of-Age, but Firesong, the oldest man living in Refuge. He was my mother's mother's uncle; my father named me to honor him. He came down from the House to teach us leaning on the arm of the younger man who shared his table and sometimes, I knew, his bed.
 He settled himself into a chair in front of the Lingam and looked around the half circle we formed seated around him. His white hair was gathered back taut from his temples, bound at the back of his head with a scarlet ribbon. Gold bangles glinted on his left wrist in the candlelight, and a gold ring in his ear. He accepted a cup of water from his companion, set it down on a low table at his side, and began the tale.
“In the First Days, when Killian, his brother Cernunnos, and their sister Rhiannon rose out of the earth,  and Rashni, her sister Shekinah, and their brother Gil descended from the peak of the mountain, they met by the River. Rashni saw Killian and loved him at once, and the Six made their home together.
“Flowers sprang forth where Rashni walked along the banks. Wheat shot up overnight from the soil where Killian had crossed the fields. Their joy in one another made the land fertile. They built a house with room for them all, and for sixteen months, the Six lived their life in common.
“But as time passed,  Killian and Rashni’s joy in one another made theheart of Cernunnos unquiet. He had lost the companionship of his brother to Rashni--just as Shekinah had lost the companionship of Rashni. He lay awake, tormented by the sound of Killian’s lovemaking that nightly opened the wound of his loss. He rose, and by the light of the Full Moon he crossed the ford of the river and walked up the slope toward the hills.
“As he passed,  trees burst into flower, and flowers turned to fruit hanging from the branches in a single night, but he had eyes for none of this. His face downcast, he glanced neither to right nor left, and imagined himself alone in his grief. He saw neither his sister Rhiannon, nor Rashni’s brother Gil and sister Shekinah at a distance, each making their way by an isolated, winding path across the same rising terrain, unknown to the others. In the midst of a meadow, he sat down, huddled into himself, and wept. As his tears fell to the earth, fragrant herbs sprouted around his feet.
“He made his way again to the house in the first light of dawn. But as he crossed back over the river, the grief in his heart turned to stone, and crossing the threshold, the love he felt for Killian lay cloaked in resentment toward him and toward the woman who had stolen him away. So also, the bitterness of Shekinah for the loss of her sister Rashni, and the loneliness of Rhiannon and of Gil, crept into the house like a smoke that curls across the threshold and poisons the air inside. So too, Killian and Rashni grew impatient with the others, only half-comprehending the causes for the discord that had come into their life together.
“Nine months passed, and Rashni gave birth to the twins from whom in turn all the People spring by first begetting and first birth. As Killian and Rashni turned further  inward toward one another, and toward the children, their sisters and brothers wandered further afield. And in the light of yet another Full Moon, crossing the river and going up country once again, his heart aching for Killian, Cernunnos found Gil. Seeing one another anew in that light, their passion for each other was kindled, and their souls entwined to become one. The heart of Cernunnos softened once again, and the heart of Gil was came back to life.
“From the fire of their hearts and loins sprang all the pleasure that a man may feel within himself, and that men may feel with one another. Settling onto the grass, they embraced each other in the position of Not-One-and-Not-Two: Cernunnos sat with his right leg over Gil’s left, and Gil sat with his right leg over Cernunnos’ left. Pressed together from cock to forehead, they shared their seedflow for the first time.  From midnight until dawn, it ran in rivulets from where they sat, belonging to them singly no longer, but indistinguishably to both, and from it as it mingled and flowed, all around them sprang up a garden. Vines grew up the trunks of the trees and hung with sweet grapes. As they went on rutting for each other, from their foreheads grew the horns of stags.”
Firesong fell silent and looked slowly and deliberately around our gathering. Some of us looked down, unwilling to meet his eyes. Some returned his gaze with neither embarassment nor particular attention. Two boys smirked at each other and snickered, until they fell silent under his glare. And then his eyes met mine, and softened with a recognition surpassing the kinship that bound us together as family. Mercifully, he seemed not to notice that I had to lean forward and pull the fold of my lunghi up to conceal the stand I’d sprouted while listening to the tale.
At last, he went on.
“Of Shekinah and Rhiannon, our tale tells no more. Just as the tale of Women’s Haven tells nothing of the garden that sprang from the first great seedflow of Cernunnos and Gil. By the light of day, they fed on the fruits of their garden and began to build for themselves a hut from stone and branch. By the waning moonlight of each night, the joy surging from their bodies sustained the garden they had created. As the walls of that first House of Refuge rose, vines thickened over the stones, fixing them in place without mortar, and strengthening the roof.
“Descending at last once again to the house across the river, they saw in the eyes of Killian and Rashni alarm at their appearance.  As they entered the house, their staghorns knocked against the lintel. When they tried to put on fresh shirts, they snagged on the sharp tips. So they took to going naked from the waist up, until winter came on, when they wrapped themselves in loose shawls from shoulder to waist. By the next summer, the twins as they grew began reaching out to grasp their uncles by the horns, and squealing in delight to rise into the air as they held on while the two men spun around the room.
“But every Full Moon, Cernunnos and Gil would return to the House of Refuge they had built for themselves and one another, and to the garden that their passion had made, to nurture it again from dusk to dawn with the seed their joy in each other brought forth.
“And this was their undoing.  For under the Full Moon nearest Autumn Equinox, as they made their way along the winding trails that led up country, Killian had set out as well across the river with his bow in search of game. And as they approached the garden by their separate paths, Killian, mistaking Gil for a stag, pierced him through the breast with his arrow. Gil’s life ebbed away as Cernunnos held him in his arms, but not before he asked his beloved to bury him in the place where they had found their joy in one another.
“As Killian approached and saw what he had done, he threw down his bow and fell at the feet of his brother. Together  they wept over Gil’s body until it grew cold with the rising of the sun, and together they carried it to the midst of the garden, dug a grave with their bare hands, and as the sun sank again toward the west covered the body of Gil, who had descended from the peak of the mountains, with the earth from which Killian and Cernunnos had arisen. And from that day on, Cernunnos refused to return to the house where Killian and Rhiannon dwelt, though Killian came up country, and gradually the hearts of the two brothers opened to one another again, yet never again as they had before the slaying of Gil, before the love between Killian and Rasni had flourished.
“In this way many years passed, and still Killian came up country, and still Cernunnos declined to return, until at last his brother persuaded him to make a visit to the river house. As they set out to descend to the river, Killian was first to turn his face toward the trail down country. But sensing after a hundred paces that his brother had not followed, he turned again,to see that Cernunnos’ feet had taken root into the earth above the body of his beloved. By the time Killian ran back to embrace him, the white hair across his bare chest was thickening into bark, and leaves had sprouted from his stag horns, which now began to branch and lengthen.  His human face remained. As Killian gazed into his eyes, he saw that it was become at once the face of his brother, made young again, and the face of Gil whom he had slain, until the bark closed over it as well, and he planted a last kiss on what had been the lips of his brother and of Gil.
“From that day to our own, men who have felt the call of Cernunnos and Gil have gone up country at the Full Moon, to gather around the Great Tree, then going down again to the life of Killian and Rhiannon, or else to take Refuge and make their lives with the men who become their brothers in the Staghorn Lord of the Dance.”

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Only Sane Option

Sometimes, the only sane option is giving up church for Lent.

For the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, much of what you’re likely to face in many congregations is a variation on “Daddy, we’re really sorry. Please turn back into the good parent.” Personally, I’d had enough of that by the age of five to last a lifetime, though I wasn’t healthy enough to recognize it till my late twenties.
It doesn’t have to be thus. The Ash Wednesday service can manifest a singular beauty and intimacy. Done well, it affirms that our mortality, seen through a different lens, is the gift that allows us to recognize our life as a fragile and infinitely precious treasure, not of our own making.
“Repentance” is a lousy translation of the Greek word metanoia, which ought to mean something more like a transformation of the mind. Every time I hear “repentance” as a gay man, I pick up the whiff of Jerry Falwell, the 700 Club, Westboro Baptist Church, Anita Bryant, and on and on. And on.
The Anglican church I attend in Toronto is a wonderfully inclusive place, in a well-meaning liberal kind of way.  A rainbow flag’s been draped out of the baptismal font with the best of intentions this Lent--though I confess my gut reaction is “Gee, that’s so straight of you.” But the language of the services for the last three Sundays has reverted to the rehearsal of a catalogue of our misdeeds.
I’m just not feeling it.
I knew this morning that I’d find my friend G, a smart, progressive former Roman Catholic priest, at the early service. I can always count on him to get it when I share my misgivings around the stock church language and ritual detail. I know his own struggles to stay connected with a flawed tradition resonate with mine. He’s the best of fellow travelers and a source of strength.  
I timed my arrival for the end of the service but walked into the middle of Communion, with most of the congregation spilling out randomly from around the altar and down the chancel steps into the middle of the sanctuary. I took a seat at the back, hoping to find G free on the spur of the moment for a late breakfast.  And then the last hymn started up, a West African song introduced by a wonderful riff of Nigerian highlife guitar twangs and accompanied by a bunch of eight-year-olds on tambourines.
Despite my conscious effort, I hadn’t missed out on the service. I’d arrived just in time for what I needed from it, after this group of seventy or eighty people--some of whom I’ve know for twenty years, some of whom I recognize by face, some of whom not--had celebrated Mass on my behalf.
I connected with G in the middle of the usual schmoozing vortex. We adjourned to the breakfast joint down the street and spent two hours commiserating, somehow shoring up each other’s conviction that being part of the frustrating mess of life in a congregation is still worth it. Comparing notes on movies we’ve seen recently, especially Call Me By Your Name. (Timothée Chalumet---OMG; Armie Hammer, hot, yes, in dude-bro mode, but what were the screenwriter and director thinking?) Mooning over the waiter,  back from two months away with new piercings. Agreeing with each other that the priest in charge of the parish would look great in a kilt. Talking about what a good Lent could look like, imagining ways to suggest something better for next year.
A pretty good Third Sunday in Lent, all told. I guess I don’t need to know how I’m going to handle next week for another seven days.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Queer Utopias, Continued: House of Refuge

Earlier in the winter, I serialized a novella that dreamed of a parallel world, not too far from our own, and celebrated intergenerational polyamory among differently abled men.

Here is the first chapter of a story about another world, farther from the one most of us live in. I hope you feel welcome in it, and that you come back next week for the second installment.

House of Refuge

1 Brightsong
"Today, you are a man," my father Arrowshot said, in a voice that carried through the whole Longhouse. He was bearing witness of it to nearly every man in the town, from the seventeen-year-olds who'd had their ceremony the year before, up to men older than my great-grandfather. I thought of my twin sister in the women's Roundhouse, hearing her Coming-of-Age declaration from our mother Bracken the afternoon before. My father's left hand rested on my shoulder, his right hand on my heart. His voice began to break as he spoke. My older brother stood in the inner circle of the assembly, along with the fathers and brothers of the year's other boys.

I remember my surprise at how short and simple the ceremony seemed for all the preparations of the previous year that went into it. Our fathers leading us by the hand, clockwise seven times around the Lingam on the dais above the Longhouse floor. Then, after I'd undone my lunghi to join the adult men in their nakedness, the officiant bowing to me, smudging me with smoke from the bowl of camphor he carried in his left hand, then with the fourth finger of his right daubing the vermillion powder on my forehead, heart, and the head of my cock, then bowing to me again before my father came forward to make his declaration. Afterwards, the whole assembly crowding in around the fifteen of us who'd come of age, arms around one other's shoulders as we all began to tone--the one detail of the ritual that fathers and elder brothers hadn't explained to us in advance.  A column of purer and purer sound rose above us, as though its solid mass could pierce the roof. I saw mirrored in the faces of some of the men crowded around us the unfamiliar sense of peace that stole over me as our voices died away. Here and there, heads rested on shoulders. Across the circle,my grandfather stood with his cheek pressed against my uncle Yarrow's.

I hadn't seen Yarrow for nearly six weeks, when he'd last come down from the House of Refuge in the hills beyond the river, staying with us overnight after he'd completed the House's business in the high street. Now he and the others had all arrived together for the Coming-of-Age, the only time in the year when the men of every family assembled, townsmen and Refugetakers together, and the community was one. So too, in the Roundhouse, amidst a ritual whose secret the women kept as closely from us as we our secret from them.

Again tonight as last night, women and men, dwellers in the hills and dwellers by the river, would all feast together. Tomorrow or the day after, our kin who'd gone up country would return to the lives they'd chosen, sending down to us the fruit they grew, the wine they made, the timber they cut, taking up with them  grain and cheese and meat, wool and flax to spin and weave. My heart leapt to think that now I was of age, I could join my father on the visit he'd pay my uncle in a few weeks, as he did at nearly every Full Moon. I still felt the pang of regret for the boyhood summer when I'd spent long, bright days with Yarrow downriver, fishing, gathering wild berries to take back at dusk to the family, learning to swim. That summer Solstice, he'd already declared that he'd go up country at the following autumn Equinox. I'd wept myself to sleep night after night when he left, just before my twelfth birthday.

Seeing him across the circle gathered around us, I felt a sweet ache in my heart to remember him wading into the river, inviting me to lean back into the water, promising to hold me up, and I felt his flat, firm chest against my ribs and his arm beneath my shoulders, then later beneath my chest when he asked me to try floating face down. At the thought, my cock begin to swell again--like many of us, I'd been hard when the officiant blessed me but had gone limp as the whole community gathered into itself to tone. The sweetness of the moment vanished into embarassment at the thought someone would see, or feel it pressing against him. Then my father whispered into my ear with a squeeze of my shoulder, "It's alright, Brightsong. Just take a deep breath, and remember it's how men are."

The great knot of men gathered around us began slowly to undo itself. Neighbours came up to congratulate me and my father, and to greet Yarrow, whom my grandfather finally released from his embrace. We all spilled out into the light of a bright May afternoon. A shout went up from mothers and sisters and wives, three hundred girls and women clapping rhythmically, five against seven, seven against five, to welcome us, as we'd all done for them the day before when they'd emerged from the Roundhouse.

My sister Rush jumped up and down in excitement, but I knew it wasn't for me as much as it was for Bloodroot, who walked just ahead of me. He waved, then dashed forward to hug her. They'd been talking about sleeping together for weeks. Bloodroot asked his mother to settle it with our mother a week before the ceremonies. He would come to our house a few days just after her next time of the month and stay with us three nights, then go back home.  We all looked forward to his coming. Everyone loved Bloodroot. "He's a sweet young man," our mother told Rush. "I couldn't be happier he's going to be your first." If their affection continued, he'd visit again the next month, staying a day or two later. So it would go until they decided there were others they wanted to be with--or else until they eventually made a child.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see Yarrow smiling down at me.

"Here you are," he said. "Strong and handsome and all grown up."

I could feel myself blush. I smiled stupidly and couldn't think of anything to say to him. He must have sensed my embarrassment, because he pushed on to ease the awkward silence. "Every time I've come down from the Refuge,  I keep asking myself, this can't be the boy I remember, can he? I'm really proud of you, Brightsong. We all are."

"I'm glad you're proud of me," I managed to stammer. "Are you going to stay past tomorrow?

"I have to get back," he said. "We've got seedlings to put in all this week." He smiled. "Did you want me to stay longer?"

"I always want you to stay longer," I blurted out. He was so handsome. His blue eyes shone below the long copper hair that fell across his forehead. He hadn't shaved for three or four days, and the rusty stubble showed thick on his chin.

"You can visit me now," he said. "Your father can bring you this month, if you want to come up." He turned toward me and stopped where we stood in the street, halfway between the Longhouse and the banquet hall on the square. "You know why we have a House of Refuge, don't you? Firesong explained it to you when you were preparing for today?"

My tongue went numb in my mouth again. I lowered my eyes and nodded. He went on looking into my face until I met his gaze. "Men come up to visit friends and kin," he said. "Or because they need the Refuge themselves, just for a little while, to put their life down here back in balance. We welcome them all and then bid them farewell. The men who take Refuge become our own kin as surely as the families we've left."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Should I jump on the wagon at this point? Is it a good time to announce publicly that forty-five years ago, when I was seventeen, the Rev. NAME HERE, the pastor of SPECIFY CONGREGATION Lutheran Church in Indiana, father of four, capped off nine months of “counselling” by jacking me off in the front seat of his car, and encouraging me to reciprocate--though I was too petrified to do more than grope him hesitantly without opening his fly, when he took my hand and planted it on his crotch?

No. Maybe not. (Though, of course, I nearly just did.)
Revelations of heinous abuse and harrassment now feature as nearly a staple of the daily news--a sports doctor abusing literally hundreds of girls and young women; the media hack who is now, unbelievably, President of the United States bragging that as a television star he could grab women "by the pussy" when so inclined; serial-abusing Roman Catholic priests still given the benefit of the doubt, in 2018, for fuck’s sake, by the Vatican.
Lumped together with these stories, as though without distinction, come the disclosures of more ambiguous encounters, often long past: trysts followed by continued flirtatious correspondence; encounters between high-profile photographers and male models who now, years later, are shocked--retroactively shocked--that photo shoots for ad campaigns built around ripped, oiled abs exposed down to within millimeters of genitalia had anything to do with ambient sexual tension between model and photographer.  One of the most progressive members of the U.S. Senate pushed to resign by his Democratic colleagues mostly over some jokes made in admittedly bad taste.
A few years ago, I took a seminary course on theories of sex and gender applied to pastoral practice. It reminded me that, as sexually disenfranchised as cisgendered queer white men often are, we can still sometimes benefit from enormous social and cultural privilege. As we struggle to claim a place in the world, it’s easy for us to think of sexual expression as instrinsically liberatory. We don’t always remember that for much of the human race, it’s a regime of control and repression.
Still, here goes. I’m worried about how our innate and probably irreduceable ambivalence toward our sexuality is getting projected onto an Other. I worry about how genuinely progressive activism that promotes agency and empowerment is getting eclipsed, as we focus more and more on granting retribution to victims and survivors. I worry very deeply about how heterosexist the discourse is becoming--even when the scandal du jour occasionally features a prominent man hitting on men. In short, I’m afraid that #MeToo runs a risk of turning out badly for sexual minorities.
Sex is messy and confusing. It involves layers of ourselves way beyond our conscious awareness. It can throw us off balance, which makes it a powerful force in our lives--and when it goes well, transformational in a positive sense; but potentially, and for disempowered individuals and groups all too often, very negatively as well. Most of us feel at least a little ambivalent about the choices we’ve made. Consent is often ambiguous, because we’re almost never wholly present to ourselves in sex, much less wholly capable of representing ourselves to each other. More people remain uneasy with their own sexuality than the supposed permissiveness of our culture would ever let on. In the current moment, what stands between us and an ever-receding ideal of unproblematic, no-fault, no-regrets sex is the figure of the perp onto whom we project our anxieties and rage.
Queers have been here before: this is where we came in.
I heard decades ago that my perp had died of a heart attack. Amazingly, he’s left no trail on the internet. I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenage boy he “counselled.” I wish I could ask him, “What were you thinking? Did you actually imagine you acted in good faith?” I suspect that if he could answer honestly, I’d encounter a confused, frustrated man whose interactions with me were riddled by self-delusions understandable enough in someone who’d gone through seminary in the late 1950’s, and who surely suffered his own entrapment in a world not of his making. I’d tell him about the insidious resemblance of what I needed from him to what he offered. It wasn’t the sex but the muddled deception that did most of the damage.
My first sexual experience with another man was tainted by betrayal and confusion. Yet I felt little or no conscious guilt over it--amazingly enough, since at the time humping my mattress was enough to send me into spasms of remorse. You could say I dissociated. It took me years afterwards to trust my own desire enough to have sex again without spiralling into self-doubt. But I suspect that however my first time might have unfolded, and with whom, it wouldn’t have gone well.
Was I a helpless victim? No. I was a hugely repressed gay teenager in a conservative Midwestern city who desperately needed to have sex with another man. I couldn’t possibly have admitted that to myself at the time. But I’d already spent two years mooning over Pastor’s compact, muscular build and curly black hair-- hanging around the door of his office every Sunday, borrowing books in hope of attracting his special attention. Like the protagonist of Call Me By Your Name, I knew what I was doing, and had no idea what I was doing. I had a considerable degree of agency. I wish I’d exercised it differently, but I didn’t, and I wish the Rev. Mr. Perp hadn’t taken advantage of my vulnerability.
I wasn’t permanently scarred. It was a bad start, but not a cataclysm that divided my life into Before Abuse and After Abuse. It took years to sort it out. It left me with a lifelong suspicion of the claims of religious leaders to authority. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. It impressed on me the self-deception people are capable of, in exploiting others while claiming (and perhaps imagining) they’re acting for someone’s good, That left me resolved always to examine my own motives as a teacher and a spiritual companion. I’m absolutely positive that that’s a good thing.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The StoneSong Hermitage

As we have each of the last two summers, this coming June 5-10 Frank Dunn and I will facilitate an extraordinary group of spiritual and erotic explorers. Together, these men will commit as brothers to an experiment in intentional community--a covenant of peace, authentic presence, and depth.

Why are we calling it a “hermitage”? For thousands of years, men--and women--have withdrawn into the quiet of the natural world, removed from the distractions of ordinary society, to give their souls time and space to flourish.
Such seekers have been called hermits. Often they live alone. But in our communal hermitage, we’ll live together for five sweet days in safe, sacred erotic space. Free to be fully ourselves. Free to undo the toxic effects of shame. Free to become some of the change in the world that we want to see. Free to dream, believe, and want another way of being together as men. Free to support and affirm one another, even as we ourselves are supported and affirmed. Free to dedicate our time together to the repair of our souls and the healing of the world. Empowered to carry back out into our lives the riches we gain by slowing down, sinking deep, and finding treasure.
We’ll do all this through a daily practice of heart circles, times of private reflection, and personal spiritual practices built out of the deepest longings of our hearts. We’ll create communal rituals that draw us together. We’ll engage in manual labor in service to the protected land where we’ll gather, the StoneSong Nature and Awareness Center in the highlands of western Maryland. We’ll play and chill, alone and together, in a spirit of freedom that’s possible when we open our hearts to give and receive the gift of becoming home for one another.


The cost of the retreat is US$ 850, including five nights’ accommodation in a comfortable rustic setting and all meals. You can access more information and the registration form here.

Monday, January 29, 2018

My Great Experiment in Love: A Guest Post by MB

MB keeps a blog about his solosexual experience that includes some of the most articulate (and sexiest) writing I've read about autoerotic masculinity--something nearly all men have a stake in, whatever other threads run through their sexual experience and desire. I'm very glad to welcome him here.

Sometime in the Spring of 2016, I became my own lover.  

I committed myself to exploring whether I alone could take care of all the needs-- emotional, sexual, physical--that I had always relied on others to fulfill. Could I offer myself the intimacy, support and loving surprises that people say are the hallmarks of a strong relationship? My experiment had an unexpected result.  

I have been a masturbator for twenty-five years. The School Bully took a shine to me and taught me how on my twelfth birthday. Thereafter, I gravitated to masturbating in the mirror over my own reflection. This arousal at my own arousal was formative. I believe it was the closest I have ever been to the fully actualized me in all the years since 

My subsequent sexual journey saw me split off from that self-actualization, traverse sexual encounters, and align with an identity as a gay man because it was expected of me. Coming out, fighting homophobia, advocating for rights – I did all this! In happily succeeding, I was still flummoxed to find myself ultimately unsatisfied. Something felt unrealized. 

The painful breakup of my life’s most significant relationship compelled me to take complete charge of myself. Depending on no one was easier than I thought. I took control of all my physical needs easily. I changed my diet. I grew crops. I secured fulfilling work which made me happy. I overthrew any shame associated with solosexuality and dedicated myself to my body, my orgasm and having some damn good sex. I spent great swaths of time alone, and it puzzled me why I did not feel lonely. I was so happy! And in the past when I was happy, I yearned to share that with another, as if that validated the legitimacy of it. I refused to do this. Instead I acknowledged my own happiness, and it made me beam. It sowed the seed for this further question: could I date myself and become my own lover? 

Eschewing the need for romantic partners might seem novel. It has been ridiculed as a byproduct of millennial narcissism. The idea of going against a paradigm of partnering is not new, however. It goes back to Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, who in 300 B.C. laid a roadmap for happiness that rejected romantic partnerships. He even appears to reject depending on others for sexual gratification. To him, relationships brought pain along with pleasure, and anything bringing pain should be questioned. He instead promoted the importance of community and friendships and recognizing that what you have is enough. Needing brings pain. Having is no solution. Being in this moment now, at peace with yourself, and connected to nature, is all you need for happiness. 

I believe there is something radical about being a masturbator in modern society. This act, which costs nothing and earns nothing, redefines values in our hyper-masculine, hyper-capitalist and consumerist times. Capitalism, by its definition, has many painful byproducts. Consumerism too. To devote a day to masturbating is to step outside a system which values capital as its core value. It therefore becomes profoundly ethical to masturbate. Masturbators embrace and fill our idleness with pleasure and defy pressure to spend or earn. There is no painful byproduct. We thumb our noses at masculine values to hunt and gather.  

Masturbators are at the forefront of redefining what it is to be masculine. There is a competitive, toxic strain of masculinity that has done the rounds, of which we are seeing a rightful interrogation  in society and the media right now. This is not an emasculating moment. Those who believe it is are brainwashed by the toxic paradigm. What this moment calls for is a welcome and timely redefinition of what it is to be a man and how it is we use our penises for ethical pleasure. I believe that within the ideal man, as within the ideal woman, is a coming together of characteristics of both genders. In no segment of society can I see that better epitomized than in the solosexual movement. 

Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey is held up by his aficionados as a universal paradigm uniquely giving meaning to life.  In that myth, a hero is called upon to fix the ills of his world. The hero reluctantly sets out to battle the demons and in doing so finds the elixir which will heal everything. The only way for the hero to achieve this is by facing some flaw within himself. This epic journey is inherently tied up in masculine ideals of bravery, hunting, fighting, winning, and becoming King (albeit it with a tiny amount of sensitive self-reflection). 

Maureen Murdock, Campbell's student, saw missing elements from a feminine perspective and found scope to revise it as The Heroine's Journey. In her journey to be a hero, the woman must split from her true feminine identity in order to pursue masculine ideals. The heroine finds that winning the elixir is the beginning, not the end point in itself, of her journey. This moment proves unsatisfying because she has fractured her true identity, and so she must devote herself to reconnecting with the inner goddess in order to fully actualize as a heroine. I see many parallels between the solosexual experience and Murdock's paradigm. I certainly see my journey more within Murdock’s paradigm than Campbell’s.  

I believe I was born solosexual. When I masturbated in the mirror as a teenager, this was my true self. Everything that came after has been a layering of my character, a test and deepening of who I am. Now when I look in the mirror, I see a man who is curious about life, a sensualist, a man committed to living a humble, ethical and profound life. A man who takes care of his body because he is hoping to have it for as long as possible for the pleasure receptor that it is. I find these values sexy, and I find myself physically sexy.  

You may wonder what is it like to be my own lover. To grow myself and drink from my own nectar. Key to my experience is the concept of having enough. I yearn for nothing else, whether flesh or material. I yearn to make pleasure for myself. I constantly seek surprises or sensations that will magnify my happiness in this moment. I am thankful to receive it too. It may be food or an experience. It may be the joy of planning a weekend away solo. It may be a dirty promise of sexual pleasure or the sight, smell or touch of me. I wake in the night, my hands gripping lovingly around myself or stroking my chest hair. I feel secure. I feel loved. I reach out to touch my penis, hard or soft, and I am electrified to give and receive sex. I make love to myself, and afterwards I bask, and flirt that I am the hottest lover I have ever encountered. 

I’d be lying to you if I said it was the easiest relationship. It requires as much work and dedication as any. When I set out to date myself, I had the same misgivings and foolish hope as I might have attributed to dating another. Would this work? Should this work? Will this be forever? But it has worked and there’s no reason why it should not continue doing so. 

Ultimately the end result of my great experiment in love is love.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Manifesto

If you’ve never read the work of Fenton Johnson, start now.

Geography of the Heart, Johnson’s chronicle of his three-year relationship with a beloved who succumbed in the health crisis, is one of the finest AIDS memoirs ever written: passionate, wise, enraged but shot through with  a faith that love is stronger than death, and grief ultimately more fundamental to our lives, and to our getting of wisdom, than anger.

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey is part reminiscence of growing up Catholic in eastern Kentucky--quite literally over the back fence from Thomas Merton’s Gethsemane Abbey--and part comparative exploration of the Christian and Buddhist monastic traditions.

But while you’re waiting for copies of these to arrive--if you don’t simply download the e-books--you can read “The Future of Queer: A Manifesto” in the current January issue of Harper’s.
It’s a cri de coeur for what we lost (and what we desperately need to find again) when we as queer men settled for a place at the table of Business as Usual, in a materialistic society obsessed with advancing the small, isolated selves that we misrecognize as the essence of our life. It’s a call to value friendship over the conventions of marriage. It’s a call to say no to late capitalism’s rape of the planet and cooption of our souls.  It’s an uncompromising assertion that the one best hope for the earth, and for a society that doesn’t consume itself in untrammeled greed and mutual suspicion, is for us to reject  the comfort of the mainstream and to become more truly queer. Queer in the sense that the Buddha was queer, leaving his family behind in his search for the Noble Truths of our existence. Queer in the sense that Jesus was queer, setting aside the ties of blood relations to embrace the poor and the marginalized as his true family.
It’s an exhortation to dream, believe in, and desire a world that’s not yet made. And you need to read it.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Radical Drag of the Soul

I recently published this essay in the current issue of RFD, "Finding Center," which takes as its theme the need to engage evolving standards of inclusivity while honoring long-held core values. It touches on themes I've written about before, but it offers a new take on a ritual practice dear to me heart. 

I enjoy a loose but ongoing connection with a gay men’s organization that I admire, respect, and hold in great affection. I remember years ago coming into the main assembly room at one of its gatherings to find silhouette symbols of major world religions hanging in the windows.
Notably because uniquely missing was the Cross. The Sanskrit calligraphy for the sacred syllable Aum was mounted upside down. I’m guessing there were no Hindus in the room to point that out. And then there’s the frequency with which gay spiritual gatherings get scheduled smack in the middle of the Jewish High Holidays. As for calling the directions--well, what overwhelmingly Euro-American New Age gay group hasn’t appropriated that particular ceremony from Native American spiritual practice?
I totally get the toxicity of Christianity for those who’ve suffered the homophobic, anti-erotic pronouncements that so often poison its well. And I’m the last person to fault queer men for piecing together ritual patterns and spiritual expressions we can live with from as many traditions as we find available. It’s our genius as faggots to deck our deepest selves out in borrowed fashions, our radical drag of the soul. We found something wonderful at the back of Aunty’s closet. She may not be too happy about what we’ve done with her Dior gown, but we know we look fabulous in it. Angels in America is as brilliant an example of that as you’ll find, but hardly the only one.
Still, I agonize a lot about appropriation and exclusion, twin moral perils of life as a privileged, white, cisgendered gay man. The more so when I officiate at a ritual I first created seven years ago and have been leading since--a Lingam Puja that borrows its name from Hindu practice, but strays about as far from authentic Hindu ritual as Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral parts company with a Passover Seder. Instead of the smooth, abstract cylinder that stands as the focal point in a Shiva temple, the Lingam we gather around is a very recognizable sculpture of an erect cock. Then too, I’ve developed parts of the ceremony straight out of a high Episcopalian Eucharist--though no one who doesn’t make the connection for himself needs to know that. Sometimes I include readings from contemporary Buddhist teachers, or from Rumi and Hafiz. I am, after all is said, a slut who will pray with anybody.


My fellow devotees and I are risking the alienation of established spiritual communities left and right in this ritual. But the centrality of an anatomically accurate Lingam isn’t potentially an offense only to Hindus who see us ripping off a venerable tradition that doesn’t properly belong to us--a formerly colonized one, at that. A twenty-inch wooden dick on the altar makes it pretty clear that this ritual addresses humans who have a penis and have gathered to own and honor the Divine’s presence in the wondrous bit of flesh that hangs between our legs--“the exposed tip of the heart, the wand of the soul,” as our Prophet St. James Broughton put it.
 I’ve spent the last sixty years falling deeper into the truth that the Sacred is in this body, in all of this body. In the specifics of this body. This heart. These hands. This cock.
I’ve spent decades striving to claim fully my desire for the tribe of those who experience a similar truth. My tribe. The tribe of penis-bearing humans who love other penis-bearing humans. Who through our experience of jacking alone and with friends, of frotting and sucking and fucking with each other, are diving deeper into how living in a body with a penis shapes our relation to the world, and our relationship to the Sacred.
None of this is unconditioned truth. It’s not the working out of some universal archetype. It’s a result of living in this body, in these bodies, with these bodies’ histories. It’s my embodied truth, not identical with, but akin to, the embodied truth of my comrades. To live out this truth in their company is the deep desire of my heart and soul. My cock is a key to the inner temple, and I long to gather with others whose cocks are keys to the inner temple. There are other keys to the inner temple. There is conceivably a point when the inner temple is opened so wide that keys are no longer relevant. But I need the companionship of those who know, from deep, embodied experience, how this key fits into the lock. Who know the feel of this key turning in the lock, the sound of this key opening the lock.
I don’t believe any of this this has to be viewed as an attempt at exclusion. I know some people will say this is a dodge. But I still insist on owning my experience and staying true to it. I’d be deeply uncomfortable with the idea of shutting others out of the circle--cisgendered and trans women, trans men, cisgendered men whose erotic lives aren’t focused on cock. But there’s no denying that the ritual I lead isn’t focused on them and their experience of the world. Instead, I’m open to welcoming such fellow humans into the circle as visitors, much as I might welcome a Hindu friend attending Mass as a visitor, much as a Muslim friend might welcome me to his mosque, much as the rabbi of the shul my partner attends in the summer would tell me, I’m pretty sure, that no matter how many times I come to services, no matter how many times I put on my prayer shawl, no matter how glad she is I’ve come, I’m still a visitor, and not a Jew.
People I respect have asked whether I’m not really perpetuating imperialist attitudes to world cultures by drawing on them. They’ve asked whether I’m not perpetuating patriarchy by encouraging cisgendered men to gather in celebration of the beauty and holiness of the Lingam. But imperialist patriarchy hasn’t flourished because white cisgendered men are comfortable with our bodies and bond successfully with other men. Patriarchal privilege and misogyny are founded, paradoxically, on the insistence that cisgendered men deny our own vulnerably embodied experience. Patriarchy demands that we pretend our unpredictable, permeable, changeable, leaky bodies are irrelevant to our privileged place in the world. Patriarchy wants us to see other men as rivals who either pose potential threats or can be dominated. I borrow from the wisdom and practice of as many traditions as I have access to. I reject the homophobic crap that virtually no tradition is innocent of. I claim my experience of God in my faggot body as my own and forge a community out of what I share with my fellow travelers. This is as anti-patriarchal as I know how to be.