Spiritual Humanism & Gay Community: A Manifesto for Gay Liberation
In this article I invite the reader to a depth and breadth of philosophical reflection than is unusual for this forum. I hope that readers who accept the challenge of this invitation will be stimulated to think about themselves both as individuals and as a community in possibly new and transformative ways and thus be rewarded for the effort.
“For our own liberation and for the benefit of the world.”
We are all familiar with the term secular humanism, but far fewer people are familiar with spiritual humanism, a philosophy that acknowledges the common interests of human beings as important guidelines for understanding how we can best live together in this world (humanism), but at the same time affirms transpersonal levels of collective being and interconnectedness that provide a deeper rationale for ethical behavior. Spiritual humanism relies not on faith or doctrine but on direct spiritual experience as an important dimension of human potential. Spiritual humanism can open up transcendental possibilities for human development that can be generally termed enlightenment, liberation, or Self-realization.
So many in the gay community understandably reject religious authority. But in that context, what rationale remains for ethical behavior, for caring for one another rather than merely acquiring anything we desire by any means necessary? Why shouldn’t we fuck everyone we can, both literally and metaphorically, if we all just end up as dead meat anyway? Secular humanism and existentialism leave ethics up to individual choice, resulting in at best moral relativism that can easily devolve into rationalizing whatever we may want, consequences be damned.
Spiritual humanism, by contrast, provides a rationale for ethical behavior that secular humanism and existentialism do not. The metaphysical basis for mutual caring and morality is spiritual or essential Oneness that can be experienced directly as a fact through effective spiritual training.
Out of this revelation naturally flow the following two moral imperatives:
- Non-injury— the commitment to avoid intentional harm to anyone;
- Truthfulness—adherence to truth in thought, word, and deed as much as possible except when truthfulness violates the imperative of non-injury.
To injure another intentionally is ultimately is to injure oneself, which is an irrational choice that denies the deep reality of Oneness. Living truthfully means being grounded in reality. Truth=Beauty=God (or the Good) is an equation found in both South Asian and Greek philosophies, for Truth is the foundation of everything humans hold dear. Truthfulness is especially challenging for gay people because we often feel a need to hide our true gay identities to protect ourselves from derision and abuse by homophobes. A habit of hiding or lying about ourselves easily becomes a habit of lying to one another about HIV status or promising to call someone without ever meaning to do so. The virtues of truthfulness and non-injury are not achieved instantly, merely by willing them, but over time through self-discipline and practice, by making promises to ourselves and to others then actually keeping them. Sometimes the false personae we create to survive in a hostile world become so habitual, a person may require long-term psychotherapy or other deeply focused soul-searching to uncover the authentic self.
And equally important: What rationale do we gay-identified people have for forming or operating as a community? What specifically makes us a community? There are certainly those who deny that there is any such thing as a gay community except in name only, and I believe there is ample evidence that this is largely true. I think to answer these questions we have to consider more than just what being gay means, although this is an important consideration. We have to be ready to question the assumptions that underlie our entire civilization, the Protestant Puritan vision of human culture organized to encourage individuals to achieve as much financial success as possible while leaving others to fend for themselves. We need to question the assumptions about the role of individuals in society within a political system that has allowed millions in one of the richest nations in the world to suffer for want of adequate health care. We need to sensitize ourselves to the horrendous suffering powerful nation-states inflict on less powerful groups of people in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.” We need to consider not only our rights as individuals but also our responsibilities as members of a community.
I would like to suggest a rationale for gay community that encompasses the transnational, non-biological, spiritual nature of our kinship. Although being perceived as outsiders by mainstream society has disadvantages with which we are all aware to one degree or another, our outsider’s perspective confers some distinct advantages as well, enabling us more easily to think outside the box and challenge limiting assumptions that our het peers may not as easily perceive. Some have suggested that our outsider perspective accounts in part for our disproportional representation in creative and helping professions. Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, suggested that we belong to a “third gender,” not-man-not-woman but a bridge between the other two genders, possessing characteristics of both plus something that partakes of the qualities of both and thus remains distinct. We exist in two worlds, one the world of hets and the other our uniquely gay world, and we can move effortlessly between these worlds. If we embrace the mystery of our special ability to bridge different worlds, we can realize and appreciate that gay consciousness is an expanded consciousness, more encompassing and therefore more liberated than het consciousness that sees the world in stark, black-and-white dualities of “this or that, male or female, het or gay.” Our gay consciousness reveals the more accurate perception of a rainbow spectrum of human potential, “het, gay, bisexual, pansexual, and transgender; male, female, and intersex; this, that, and that, too.” Homophobia hurts everyone by suppressing through shame natural, healthy expressions of affection between men especially, het or gay. I suggest that the work of expanding consciousness, in ourselves and in society, and thus becoming increasingly liberated from limitations both intrapsychic and social, is a worthy rationale for us to form and operate as a worldwide community. Gay liberation in a larger sense can mean liberation of humanity, too.
As active, conscious members of this community, therefore, we have two main responsibilities. One is to develop our own spiritual and ethical natures to the highest degree possible because these form the foundation of strength of character. We need consciously to develop ever-deeper awareness of who and what we are, and simultaneously cultivate and practice the virtues of non-injury and truthfulness. For many of us this process is impeded by internalized homophobia that keeps us convinced that we are less-than our het peers. We need to employ effective means to overcome these false, negative self-messages and embrace the fullness of our gay being. The means to accomplish this include gay-centered psychotherapy, support groups, spiritual gatherings of gay folk, artistic expressions, scholarly studies, political activism, and spiritual practices such as meditation, mindfulness, etc. Our other main responsibility is to serve our community, to use whatever talents or abilities we possess to help alleviate suffering and promote the spiritual and material well being of our fellow beings. In particular we have a responsibility to work for greater self-acceptance and human rights for our worldwide gay family. If there is any message in our experience of being a despised minority it is to realize that we must overcome our own racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia so that we do not inflict on others the same abuse we have suffered. Our attitude in service should be to see self in the other, to make the whole world our own in accord with our own expanding consciousness that enables us to see common interests where the less enlightened see only ”others.“ Developing compassion is a natural product of expanding consciousness that grows organically from the deepest experiences of humankind, the experience of Oneness in diversity that prompts us to work to manifest the inner experience of Oneness in the outer world through the way we treat one another with respect, equality, and justice. I propose our motto to be, “For our own liberation and for the benefit of the world.”
Instead of thinking of ourselves as a despised minority, we can cultivate the awareness of the blessings of gay identity and discover that we can offer our het peers help in overcoming their own limited ways of understanding themselves and others. In other words, we can help them develop a gay consciousness, and in doing so we, too, grow in compassion and wisdom. But first we have to heal and strengthen our own community and ourselves.
What I have written here is merely an outline of what I call spiritual humanism applied to gay identity and gay community. The means to build such a community already exist, but what has been lacking is an overarching, unifying rationale, a purpose worthy of our highest aspirations and embracing our amazing diversity. We are not yet truly and fully a community, but we can become one and a powerful one at that, if we are willing to shoulder our responsibilities and keep expanding our awareness of who we are and of what is possible for humankind.