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 [Gay Body]

From Chapter One: Strange Kind of Paradise

By Mark Thompson

I am not without some satisfying recollections of my father. Our best moments together were those rare times alone. I remember him coming into my room at dawn, gently shaking me awake, telling me to dress while he finished loading the truck. With a thermos of strong coffee warming the cracked vinyl seat between us, we'd set off down Highway One, over the ridge that divides the Monterey Peninsula like an arched spine, past the stuccoed dome of an ancient mission church, through artichoke fields tilled near a windswept bay, and then, free of civilization, into the wild headlands of the Big Sur coast. There was a stillness that time of day which made conversation unnecessary. Only the creaks of the old Chevy and the surf's cyclic roar interrupted our calm.

We'd drive for an hour, the lifting fog making each turn along the ribbonlike highway a discovery. Few roads in the world are as improbable as the one carved out of the sheer cliffs of Big Sur. It could only be completed in the 1930s, when the New Deal commissioned a series of bridges over the narrow canyons splitting the coast. Men died making the concrete trestle resting high above Bixby Creek, my dad said, each time we crossed it. They had fallen into the foundations just as the cement was poured, he'd add with a wink, buried alive and entombed there still. I always thought about their ghosts prowling the majestic span.

We reached our destination soon after, an outcropping of rock where abalone was harvested at low tide. It took good balance on wet stones and a crowbar to pry the large oval-shaped shells from their roost but, within a couple of hours, our burlap sacks were filled. Brine encrusted, we'd then head home, the sun now high in a blue sky.

Despite such expeditions, my father knew I was not like the other boys and so, for a short while longer, he sought tougher remedy. We'd go pigeon hunting in the woods: Dad shooting, me scrabbling through the underbrush to retrieve the bloody, twitching birds. I would hurriedly stuff their corpses into a grimy canvas bag, horrified, but not wanting to disappoint. I was desperate to keep up my end of the bargain.

Years later, I wondered about the initiation rites of certain aboriginal tribes. Young boys, the same as Mark-the-bird-gather, were tested through fierce ritual, their coming-to-power inscribed on flesh. I had often imagined myself alone and naked in the forest, sharpened stick in hand, pursuing the shadow of a bigger man: the man I hoped I would grow up to be. Instead, I had been left with a sack of smelly pigeons.

As hard as my father tried, there was neither a rite of passage nor reciprocated romance. Soon after, I was abandoned to my own devices and never really saw him again -- as he did not see me -- until some decades later. We were strangers in the same house, passing by but never looking.

I retreated into an isolated world, my psyche fed more by fantastic words and pictures and less by physical doing. While nongay boys might translate such fuel for an active imagination into actual deed I stayed safely within the confines of my imaginal cocoon. Rebelling against and sending up the traditions of family and state, or flying to Mars and back, if even in one's head, might in some way aid in the resolution of the Oedipal dilemma; with that important separation from the ties of the womb done, boys are presumably free for manhood and its procreative responsibilities.

I dared not stray into a world fraught with the complexities of real relationships -- either with girls or boys -- but opted instead for the simplicity of what I could control in my own head. I chose to inhabit a denatured, pacified world; a place populated with Disney characters and soft television fictions, where any problem could be fixed by special effects and Mr. Spock was superior in his lack of emotion.

Precocious yet introverted, I could not risk letting the outside world in. Instead, I projected what was inside me on it. I'd take walks down by the ocean to a private place where I sat and watched the waves. There, against the tapestry of dark water and kelp, images would often form. Out of the sea arose visions of amphibious men, godlike and tacitly approving. Somewhere, from down deep in the oceans of my soul, I was seeing a split-off part of myself.

As the sole occupant of my no-man's land, what else was I to do but have these conversations with myself? Like all queer children of the world, I was orphaned: Adept with the mysteries and materialness of the maternal world, but not really of it, and divorced, too, from the place of my father. I was straddling a thin line perched on my lonely rock, facing neither past nor future, just vast present emptiness. Little did I know it would prove the most important lesson of all.

My urge to go beneath the surface of things was hastened the day I finally saw my homosexuality possessed its own immutable truth, an inner reality existing beyond any outside reason. It was as if a great hole had opened beneath my feet, and down I went screaming. After all, declaring one's otherness requires a death, a real submission to the fact that nothing in your life with ever be the same. Believing otherwise is a lie.

Perhaps what those apparitions I spied in the waves were really saying was good-bye: Farewell to falsity and fake illusions; now it's time to go find real values to fill the void. But, as I soon enough discovered, no amount of earnest ideals or crafted theory will satisfy the appetite for knowing if what we claim as truth is simply not so. Grafting made-up meaning to our homosexuality is not necessary; love, after all, needs no justification.

Yet I persist in my belief that queer eros holds multiple purpose in our lives -- pedagogic, religious, creative, even altruistic -- beyond the near-meaningless context it's been assigned. No matter how it's dealt with, being gay must certainly encompass more than whom we choose to have sex with. We're not different because of what we do in bed. The difference comes from what's happening under our skins, not the sheets.

A psyche-based paradigm of gay nature puts homosexuality in a new light. To be gay, as currently defined, gives us a limited place to stand in the world and a lever with which to somewhat move it. But an understanding of our lives stemming >from psychological mindfulness permits a much better view of society's queer men as potential healers, soul guides, and culture makers for all people.

There is a wealth of archetypal forces residing within us; as many, one might say, as there are gods in the heavens. Some archetypes can be literally imagined, such as the Questing Hero or the Wise Old Man. (In Western culture, major archetypes are seen in the personae of ancient deities, on tarot cards, or in the image of certain pop icons.) But others are representational of more abstract images and ideas, like Self or Individuation, which are known as archetypes of transformation.

Some archetypes are widely experienced in Western culture (the Senex, or Judging Father, is one). But other archetypes are more acutely felt, for reasons of biological or social inheritance, within individual minds. But other archetypes are more acutely felt, for reasons of biological or social inheritance, within individual minds. Archetypes of the Same or Double, the Wounded Healer, Divine Child, Lunar Phallos, and Trickster are especially ascendant and at work in the psyches of gay men today. I believe the fundamental basis of being queer is an archetypal matrix, or inner constellation, characteristic of those who have been so labeled. This biologically determined psychic structure is further organized according to the vicissitudes of one's personal and collective upbringing.

Because these archetypes contain energetic forces vital to challenge and change -- necessary to the discovery of new ideas and modes of being, but revolutionary in that they upset the established order -- individuals acting out the contents of these archetypes are shunned and suppressed. Recognizing this helps us to see how certain capacities of the soul could be assigned as "gay" throughout their time; their value, adaptation, and even survival contingent on the specific cultural milieu in which they're perceived.

Seen from this vantage, being gay is more about what we do -- our social role and function -- than about what and how we've been sexually labeled. It is a subjective, multidimensional view of same-sex love, not a further justification. After all the damage that's been done, what recourse do we have but sublimity?

In ways both covert and blatant, a large percentage of us are soul-wounded early in life. We know this hurt better than any lover. And so we wonder: Are we damaged due to too much love from one parent and not enough from the other? Despite the rhetoric of gay pride, maybe there really is something "abnormal" about being homosexual. Then again, perhaps there's nothing wrong at all except for society's prejudice. Whatever the reason for rejection, is our wounding a curse or a spiritual occasion? Maybe it's an opportunity to take the road less traveled.

Because a false self and its sensibility of shame has been implanted in our souls, not many have been able to see clear enough to answer these questions. Our culture's legacy to its queer folk is decidedly poisonous. That is why striving to create an autonomous awareness is not only called for, but crucial. What choice do we have but to become literate of ourselves?

As someone who assiduously tended to the wounds of his own soul, some of Jung's insights about same-sex love hold value for us today. For it was he who finally grasped, better than any of his peers, the one truth essential to any gay person: Our homosexuality has a meaning peculiar to us, and us alone. Taking the downward tumble into our own depths demands that we come conscious of that meaning.

Copyright © l998, Mark Thompson.

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