From the Introduction to Gay Body
By Mark Thompson
This is the story of one crazy family and how a disembodied soul, hurtling through time and space, came crashing into its nucleus. All the rest has been about recovery from that. This is the story, too, of others like me: How a mangled tissue of deceit and lies, stretching over generations, has impacted upon our selves. But, ultimately, this is my tale: one who survived the wreckage of splintered lives, who is tending to his wounded body -- his gay body -- saw what had happened to his soul.
Somewhere inside every gay man there's a wounded boy who stopped growing. Who simply gave up and shut down. He was not seen for who he really was, as pernicious an abuse as any devised. If ever he did reveal his shining inner self, it was humiliated, mocked, and scorned. And so the boy took whatever of himself he could save and hit it, burying it in that twilight zone between knowing and not knowing.
This book is an attempt to name this place, in both a personal and collective way -- a phenomenon I call the Gay Shadow. "The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness," explains psychologist Robert A. Johnson. "It is the despised quarter of our being .... The shadow gone autonomous is a terrible monster in our psychic house."
The point is, gay men like myself have much tending of our psychic houses to do. One hundred years after the invention of the term homosexuality in the modern west, and a quarter of a century past rebelling against its stupefying effects, we're either dazed from sorting out fact from too much fiction or are lost in the woods with no moral compass. Some live in denial, a kind of willful deep sleep induced by sex, drugs, or lack of reflection, while others have abdicated caring altogether, riding along on the wrong bus.
As deeply feeling men who have been robbed of feelings, we have no choice now but to know ourselves completely. Where is our joy? Our rage? Where are the stories and myths that will lead us back to where our true self lies? Asking these questions is the better act of survival.
Answers lie coiled in our bodies beneath the skin of what we think we know, and in that repository of all we don't: shadow. The shadow contains the inferior parts of ourself we wish to deny, the shameful and neglected aspects of personality. Every person has a shadow, for it is an integral part of one's psyche. But when left unclaimed, it becomes a dangerous thing: the repression, primitiveness, and hostility it contains invariably seeps out to contaminate others and our own being. Much of what escapes and confounds us in waking life, or disturbs us in our sleep, can be found in shadow. It is slippery, buried, frightening, and thus difficult to own.
This is a book about one gay man's quest for his lost power, his true selfhood, what I refer to here as my "queer masculinity." And how I've come to believe there is no other way to claim this elusive power that through a passionate and empathetic relationship to that hidden place called shadow.
Before there is a queer masculinity, there is a lie. Named or not, we know it well. When I was a boy, people would sometimes step away and gaze nervously into my eyes, as if to retrieve me. I seem to be no longer there, having fled the moment to a private refuge where solitude was kept, like secret wisdom, as an answer to living. My distance from others was revealed only by these incidents of accidental confession. I had learned to hide myself well. And because of this I could detect others who were hiding like me.
No matter what tactic we use to protect ourselves -- covering up, acting out, or fitting in -- to be gay is strange. How could it be otherwise? Our lives are portioned by the very terms of estrangement. We are strangers to those who should know us best, and thus are kept strangers from ourselves. The boy inside remains unknown to the man -- the priest, the letter carrier, the lover -- he becomes. And so each, in his way, continues to suffer a separate hell.
In the twenty-five years since my coming out, I've roamed and prowled, documented and assessed, nearly every stage the gay and lesbian liberation movement has demonstrated itself on. I've been peripatetic, to say the least, in my eagerness to grasp as much of the story as possible while at the same time having my own say in it. Yet I've remained distanced enough to know that the drama itself -- this sprawling saga of queer uprising, resistance, and cultural entrenchment -- is the most important thing. In fact, I believe there has never been any story quite like it.
We've rightly demanded that our history be told to the world, but it is acceptance >from others that has mostly defined the struggle. That is why what the world thinks of us is only half the story, and perhaps the lesser half. For in whatever ways we've grown resilient against the tyranny of crude laws and moral sanctions, we remain hostage to a crueler enemy: our own self-doubt and destructive urges.
Now it's time for a new way to claim gay reality, to re-envision and heal it from within. As always, we need to deconstruct and expunge the negating myth of homosexuality, a myth largely created by what the novelist Christopher Isherwood called "the heterosexual dictatorship." More important, we must invent new myths -- an ontology generated from the depths of our own being rather than adapted from the values of those who oppress us.
In so doing, we must ask: Who are we? Where have we come from? What are we for? As both professional journalist and spiritual seeker, I've kept these fundamental questions in mind as my search for meaning has led me ever inward to where my own truth resides.
In this book, I weave two stories -- the outer and inner -- like intertwining threads. Archetypal images, historical reportage, and personal memories connect the two and show how -- if one goes deep enough--the contents of one's unconscious find revelations through universal forms.
Copyright © l998, Mark Thompson.
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