or: Notes Towards a Truly Comprehensive Theory of Gayness
What is homosexuality? As with any question, the answer depends on your point of view. Three of the main perspectives on the question are traditional religion, the magical/mythic orientation, and postmodern pluralism. These perspectives each have a piece of the truth, but they miss the big picture.
In this blog post, I will sketch a preliminary picture of a theory of homosexuality. Please bear in mind this is a rough draft and subject to further clarification or amendment. First, I will suggest the limitations of three major and dominant perspectives on homosexuality. Second, I will propose an alternative model for understanding homosexuality based on a few ideas from integral thought. Third, I will offer some tentative reflections on the nature of homosexuality based on an integral perspective.
My conclusion, as you will see if you make it that far, is that it is possible to articulate a universal principle of reality itself that may be called something like "gayness." And I further suggest that this all-encompassing principle goes by many names and is known under many disguises and manifestations. I will argue that the principle of gayness is more or less the same as a principle that I call same-directed love, Mitch Walker calls the archetype of the Same, Ken Wilber calls self-immanence, and tradition has called Agape. At the most fundamental levels of reality, homosexuality is linked to the love of the Divine.
Religion, Magic & Myth
Ask traditional religious folks about the nature of homosexuality and they'll tell you homosexuality is nothing but behavior. Most of them also judge that behavior aberrant, but liberals in religious traditions (even gay liberals and some who call themselves "liberation theologians") think it's value-neutral at best. But they all agree that sex in general and homosexual sex in particular is strictly about actions performed, and nothing more. And they may also add that sex is about the farthest thing from God, and totally irrelevant to spirituality, if not an obstacle to it.
While I support the efforts by gays within religious traditions to reform their traditions from within, I reject the notion that the theology of any one religious tradition provides the needed holistic framework for truly understanding the connection between homosexuality and the Divine. Such traditions are too particularistic and exclusivistic to truly be of universal significance; they are part of the picture, not the whole picture.
Ask spiritual gays who are writing from a mythic/magical perspective. They'll tell you that there are mythic archetypes of special importance to gays such as The Keepers of Beauty, The Peacemakers, The Shamans, or The Androgynes. They say that homosexuality is simply a manifestation of various archetypal energies in the universe, one that some people happen to have more of an affinity for than others. Gay spirituality, they say, is about affirming and celebrating the differences between queers and others; we celebrate our queer uniqueness by reclaiming the energy of gay archetypes.
While I support the efforts by gay spiritual writers to reclaim magic and mythological archetypes (folks drawing on the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell), I reject the notion that reclaiming gay archetypes will provide the needed resource for understanding the connection between homosexuality and the Divine. Myth and magic can serve the role of connecting gays to our archaic roots, but as Ken Wilber persuasively argues in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (SES), Jungian archetypes are not the gateway to the highest forms of spirituality; rather, they are ways of connecting to the past (Jung understood archetypes as images close to our instincts).
To the extent that gays in homophobic cultures are more divorced from our instincts than others, reclaiming archetypal energies takes on a vital role, one that most be embraced by any holistic spiritual perspective. Connecting to repressed archetypes in the shadow can help us to reclaim our bodies, instincts, and the life force of Eros itself. However, archetypes are of limited use in helping us to connect to our future, or giving an overarching direction to the spiritual path. Mysticism--the direct apprehension of the Divine and the highest state of spiritual consciousness--simply isn't transmitted by embracing archetypes. Only when archetypes are fused with a concrete spiritual practice of contemplation (centering prayer, meditation, and so forth) is there the potential for mystical states.
Ask a postmodern queer theorist (and this is the dominant variety in academia) about homosexuality and they'll tell you there is no such thing--it's a social construct. They'll say there really isn't a point in asking about homosexuality anyways, because every answer you'll hear is just as good as any other. And in a pose of self-contradiction, they will likely turn around and assert acceptance and pluralism as universally valid values. They will urge the celebration of every social construction of the entire GLBTQITS spectrum, and all its subcultures and multicultural variations, because we are marginalized and oppressed sexual minorities who must be liberated from our victimhood.
Sometimes in the field of "gay spirituality," a postmodern, relativistic stance is combined with a spiritual bent on using magic and mythology. However, in an effort to embrace pluralistic values, spirituality is given no overarching goal; everyone's definition of spirituality and everyone's approach is just as good as anyone else's (and to suggest otherwise is seen as rank arrogance or even bigotry).
I am more persuaded than ever that the subjectivism and relativism of contemporary gay discourse around spirituality and religion must be countered. What's needed is more of a post-post-modernism, and that fortunately has been emerging in the past decade or so under the rubric of "integral thought." Intellectuals in many diverse disciplines of knowledge have begun to sew together their squares of knowledge into a more comprehensive quilt.
There is most definitely great value in acknowledging and celebrating diversity, but the relativism of pluralistic postmodernism is spiritual poison. When you attempt to deny all universals, you deny reality to Spirit (which is nothing if not a universal). Fortunately, the relativism and timidity of academic discourse around gay spirituality has been countered in the past twenty years or so thanks to writers who have been willing to cut against the grain and begin to find ways to talk about homosexuality in generalizing, or universalistic, ways.
For example, you can see such bravery in writers such as Toby Johnson (and books such as Gay Perspective). Johnson sees a need to see homosexuality reflected in God and in nature, and he uses the image of the Mobius strip as an example of non-dualistic thinking. Here thinkers are cutting against the grain of relativism to seek to articulate a uniquely gay perspective on spiritual matters such as God and nature.
Nevertheless, writing in the field of gay spirituality probably hasn't reached a truly integral level yet; there are the beginnings of an integral perspective, but still too much relativism. Often, in the attempt to deny dualistic thinking that privileges heterosexuality over homosexuality, there is also the attempt to deny the reality of deep universal structures behind the surface appearances of sexuality. In our desire to stay humble and sensitive and not step on anyone's toes and honor every religion as equal (except religions that preach intolerance because they are very, very bad), we wind up missing the big picture.
An Integral Approach
An integral approach to homosexuality honors the truth in all perspectives (including its own), up to a point, then shows their limitations. This approach honors the contributions of psychology, biology, cultural studies, and spirituality alike in helping us to grow in understanding homosexuality. It is concerned with homosexuality in its intentional (subjective), behavioral (objective), cultural (intersubjective), and social (interobjective) manifestations. An integral approach is never a final, Absolutely True, perfect system of knowledge; knowledge itself is recognized as incomplete at any one point in time. While acknowledging the lack of finality or knowledge, it resists the fallacy of relativists who confuse that lack of finality with the notion that all perspectives are therefore equal.
Ken Wilber's integral philosophy is a great step in this direction. (For an easy-to-read introduction to an integral perspective, see this article by Wilber at BeliefNet.) Integral thought an exciting project that shows how the spirit of evolution works through the world and history. In this view, no theory of homosexuality is complete unless it can acknowledge the roles of body, mind, soul, and spirit in self, culture, nature, and Spirit.
Homosexuality and Same-Directed Love
Follow me if you will on a line of thinking that is at a very high level of abstraction. It's going somewhere interesting, I promise.
Wilber presents the idea in SES that reality consists not in things or processes or elements or atoms, but holons. A holon is simply another name for a whole/part, something that is both a part and a whole. For example, an atom (part of a molecule), or a word (part of a sentence), or a child (part of a family).
Saying that all reality is holonic is better than saying all reality is comprised of quarks, because it's a term that doesn't reduce reality to one level (in the case of quarks, material and physical). Drawing on vast research in many diverse disciplines of knowledge, Wilber argues that all holons are characterized by twenty tenets, or universal principles that govern their behavior.
Four of those principles may be seen as the primal drives of all holons. Everything in existence, natural and cultural, individual and social, is governed by these four drives. Those drives are agency, communion, self-transcendence, and self-immanence (originally mischaracterized as strictly self-dissolution but later corrected to encompass a wider meaning).
According to the work of integral thinkers such as David Deida, human sexuality is also rooted in basic universal drives. Deida speaks of universally valid sexual essences, masculine (yang) and feminine (yin). And, I am theorizing, another valid way of talking about self-transcendence and self-immanence is to say that they are the two universal, archetypal directions for love: other-directed and same-directed.
All persons manifest these two sexual essences and two primal directions in their psychosexual/spiritual natures. By and large, most men have a masculine sexual essence and most women have a feminine sexual essence, but this isn't universally so. Both straight and gay men may have a predominantly feminine or masculine essence. And all persons may have a balanced sexual essence too, not just androgynes.
And, I maintain, all persons manifest the two universal directions of love. By and large, most straights have an other-directed sex drive, and most gays have a same-directed drive. But this isn't universally so. All persons may have a balanced direction to their sexual drive, not just bisexuals.
When psychologists like Mitch Walker talk about the connection between gay soul and the archetype of the Same, they are pointing us in the right direction. In Mark Thompson's book Gay Soul, Walker says:
[The archetype of the Same is] an image of reflecting selfness, but a paradox of similarities and differences together in an erotically yearning, intense way that's hard for us to talk about, especially if we're raised in male/female ways of thinking. There are many facets of duality. One alternative tradition to the man/woman, king/queen duality is that of the two brothers, which can be found in ancient myths like the Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu and Egyptian legends about Horus and Seth.
If I understand Walker correctly, he understands Sameness as a Jungian archetype residing in the collective unconscious. Whether or not that's true about the Same, we can say something about Sameness that goes beyond the level of talking about archetypes. I believe the Same is not a mythic archetype residing in the collective unconscious, but a universal drive of virtually all things (holons). You may picture the most fundamental level of reality as a cross: left to right, Yin and Yang; top to bottom, Other and Same.
To sum up: what is homosexuality? It is an expression of something more universal and fundamental to life than most heterosexuals have ever dared to imagine (or even many gays). It is an expression in the realm of sexuality of same-directed love, homophilia. To put it rather unpoetically, at its most fundamental level, it is an expression of the universal drive of every holon towards self-immanence, manifested in both masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) forms throughout nearly all reality on all levels. Homosexuality, as opposed to homophilia, is also an expression of the drive towards self-transcendence (yet it's the self-immanence part of the picture that's really interesting).
I believe it is appropriate to speak of heterophilia not as a synonym for heterosexual love, but as an expression of the universal drive towards other-directed love. Similarly, we can speak of homophilia not as equal to gay, but as an expression of the universal drive towards same-directed love.
Same-Directed Love and Agape
If something like this theory is correct, and homophilia is indeed a manifestation of a universal principle, then it is possible to make a rather startling and fascinating connection. In ages past, poets and philosophers and theologians have called the principle of self-immanence Agape, the love of God for humanity. (And other-directed or self-transcending love? That's Eros.) In truth, Agape is a particular manifestation of a universal quality of every thing (holon) in the universe, sacred and natural, the love of like for like, or the love of a self for a part of the self.
That which Mitch Walker calls the Same is the principle of all holons that Ken Wilber calls self-immanence, tradition has called Agape, and that I am calling same-directed love. It is the path of descent to matter. If there were to be a principle of something that we could agree to call "gayness," this is it.
Same-directed love is not the same as narcissism, which is simply seeing everything in the universe as revolving around the self. Same-directed love is the love of a whole for a part. It is like the "love" of a molecule for an atom, of a word for a letter, of a flower for a petal, or of water for hydrogen. Theologians called the principle of same-directed love "Agape," because they had no better word to explain God's love for humanity and nature.
Agape is traditionally seen as opposed to Eros, and posited in hierarchical and traditionalist thinking of the past as superior to the inferior Eros. This sort of hierarchy creates a false distinction; agape and eros are both equal and universal principles of every thing in reality, natural and transcendental. They are the two fundamental directions of life. In Eros, reality reaches out to the Divine; in Agape, the Divine descends upon all of Creation in an enfolding and transforming unity of presence.
I am not proposing to manufacture a new category of love specifically for homosexuals; I am suggesting that homosexuality teaches us about a particular variation on love that is a universal attribute of all reality. Just as men do not "own" yang and women do not "own" yin, nobody has a monopoly on Agape.
It's my belief that the repression or denial of exactly how the principle of gayness is rooted in reality itself is a symptom of humanity's limited growth in spiritual awareness. Because humanity has been "in denial," or "in the closet," about the value and worth of the Divine Love itself, people have attacked and misunderstood homosexuals.
In an ironic twist of fate that will surely displease homophobes everywhere, it turns out that it isn't homosexuality, but homophobia and heterosexism, that run counter to the order of nature itself, properly conceived. I believe homophobia cannot endure the course of evolution, the nearing presence of Spirit. Yet evolution is not something that simply happens to us; we must actively participate in its unfolding.
Homophobia and heterosexism cannot persist indefinitely. In the course of evolution, humanity is evolving in spiritual awareness and coming to recognize the true nature of gayness: rooted in nature, anchored in the Divine, present in all beings, everywhere in self, culture, nature, and Spirit. Let's keep asking the question, "What is homosexuality?" with open hearts and minds, and in doing so, stand ready to peel back the masks of the Divine.