The birds start singing when it’s still dark, the stillness before dawn, when life is poised and light begins a tentative approach. I ponder my investments, none of them financial. I am like a child slowly drawing a smooth pebble across his lips, yet never opening up to pop it in the mouth. But I do consider. And I am afraid.
Where does the fear come from? Why is it that I cringe to ride mass transit, the only white face, into night and center city? Is it inherent in “minority,” our civilized veneers no deeper than the numbers involved in unspoken balances of power? Or is it the difference minority makes formal? Difference and distance, one step and a mile removed from my heart. Is it the distance that I fear?
Once my family vacationed on a remote island. Playing in the surf, I came up quickly streaming water, spurting, discovering the “fish” I’d felt brushing up against my legs were actually the hands of native children. They, too, were jumping with the oddity of touching my white skin. I remembered second grade, standing in line behind the only Negro, Charlie Scott. Only with the greatest discipline could I resist reaching out to feel his kinky hair. Instead I was polite and white. Eight years old, and already I had learned propriety meant not touching, not mentioning a difference. Propriety meant stifling the child’ s exploration, losing the chance for understanding. With the stifling came fear of breaking one of the rules, and I left Charlie Scott untouched.
Twenty-five years later I sat by my father’s side as cancer transformed him beyond my comprehension. I wandered one night down hospital halls looking for some food, but found instead a black family gathered for a vigil of their own. “Do you know where I can get some food?” The mother turned to her eldest boy, and said, “Show this woman where those machines are,” and the two of us left, my mind still with my father. For a moment I didn’t notice that the boy was staring up at me as it dawned on him, “You get hungry too, same as anyone.”
He made me laugh, “Yes, I get hungry too.”
It’s a child’s innocence, and an adult’s tragedy. For it is still as great a mystery to me as it was to him. “Yes, I get hungry too.” Finally the gap may close. His gentle emphasis, “same as anyone” placed that hunger in the heart.
The groups often considered “polar opposites” in our culture — men and women, gays and straights, blacks and whites — serve as mirrors for each other, giving each of us vital information. . . . Without mirrors, how well would any of us know ourselves? Although we grew up side by side with Indian children, there were huge gaps in the information we non-Indian children were given about our neighbors. And peculiarly, though we could “see” the real persons, of real Indians, the images we were given in school, on postcards in the tourist shops, and in the movies caused us gradually to superimpose a made-up Indian image over the person we knew or thought of when we said or heard the word Indian. In such ways do people “vanish,” do cultures go underground.
Judy Grahn, Another Mother Tongue
And in such ways we lose a part of ourselves. So much goes uncommunicated, so much gets subtly inculcated. The fear slips in quietly without our ever noticing. The fear comes in, and with it rules and ignorance, and we pay the price. We pay with our souls and a poverty of life. Whole cultures must go “underground.”
To the Indians what is natural depends on what a person’s visions and spirits tell him. Some tribes describe gayness as something that a person is born with, others say it comes from a vision, others that it is given by a spirit, others that it is won through ordeal. But for Grahn, there is a larger question and greater implication:
If gayness has cultural characteristics, then it exists as a separate entity, complete in itself, and not as a reaction to a heterosexual social model, not as a reaction to any social model, including sexism, patriarchy, the way men and women are treated by each other, the fact that families stay together or split up, that sexuality is open or closed, that the economy is flourishing or depressed. If gayness has a culture of its own, it exists in the midst of but is not caused by any of those conditions. . . .
Could it be that gay people play certain roles in society that are a necessary and natural part of socialized life?
Grahn, Another Mother Tongue
I believe there is a purpose. It has to do with fear. I have been appalled and then amazed by the discovery of the fear that I embody. The knowledge of best friends, even my own self-knowledge, could not withstand the blinding, irrational fear engendered in one word: “homosexual.” I could not understand.
But finally I found that I could stand-up as me. “It is only me. There is no one here to fear.” It was a little step, consisting of very little action with the legs, more the taking of a deep breath and slowly letting it out. Its impact seemed insignificant to grand schemes, and yet purpose enough for a lifetime. “Let them know me as innocuous.” But, such words were themselves too simple.
I thought of mothers and their children. I thought of my own mother. I felt so like a child, wanting only Mama, wanting love, wanting womb and safety once again, but most of all wanting just to please. That simple pride of childhood, “Look, Mama, what I made.” “Are you proud, are you pleased, do you love me so much more?”
Yes, look at what I’d made. My sense of failure threatened to swallow me alive. For a while I went around willing, it seemed, to go crazy rather than disappoint. Yet, in the end I discovered, deeper than mother-child, was the bond I had between myself and me.
I thought of my niece and nephews, recalled their faces, one by one, as, around the age of seven, suddenly they realized, “Hey, there is no man here.” One little fellow actually twisted all around, as if checking under tables, when the idea hit.
“That’s right, I live alone.” What’s more I have no children. I am not like the other woman that they love. Suddenly they conceive of a different model, and don’t know what to make of it. Eric asked my sister if I were still a kid, and everyone who heard the story laughed. But the children were concerned. Would I be all right, in this living with no man? I tried to reassure, but there always seemed some awkwardness. If I could explain, what would their mothers say?
It was a horror to discover. Perhaps I do pervert by simply being. Could a memory of me later tip the scales if one of them were so inclined, debating in their minds? Can I, standing in my kitchen, lead a mother’s child away from all her hopes? What must a mother feel? How could she not hate? Models have more influence than we might suspect. I knew the truth about myself the moment that I saw that gay is just ordinary people loving, same as anyone — the moment that I saw the image in their mirror as my own. Denied that knowledge, I denied myself, and denied my heart. I saw so much wasted life — years, and loves, and opportunities — in myself and others.
It was a horror to discover. Perhaps I do pervert by simply being. Could a memory of me later tip the scales if one of them were so inclined, debating in their minds? Can I, standing in my kitchen, lead a mother’s child away from all her hopes? What must a mother feel? How could she not hate?
I saw how words and labels cover up the real people standing across from me, standing in my shoes, standing in my soul. I saw how much is going on in silence, how much I had to learn, how much I now might grow. I began to know the power of simplicity, the power of simply being. Call it knowledge; it can transform. Call it innocence; it’s also known as grace. But simply being me? I never knew it personally, the power of this “me.” That is, not consciously.
Subconsciously, there was never any doubt, and fear began to scream. I hallucinated that, transformed into a beast, I would devour babies. “Mothers, snatch your young from the front yard, I am coming down the street.” I knew it to be totally irrational. I also knew it to be real. Where did the fear come from? How did these images arise? I learned that other women worried too that they might corrupt. Somewhere along the way we must have heard a story. Just where, we could not say. But we knew we were afraid, for ourselves and of ourselves, afraid for those we loved, our families, and children whom we hardly knew. We could laugh at or curse Anita Bryant, and the bumper stickers, “Kill a Queer for Christ.” But such aboveboard threats didn’t really seem to justify the deep and largely silent fear we felt. Silently, irrationally, the prejudice is set. Silently and powerfully we begin to fear, never comprehending the true source.
Finally, I recognized my beast as wolf, the companion of Artemis.
Artemis is a woman who loves women . . . and the meaning of her love is to show that in loving women we are loving the woman in ourselves. . . . She reminds us that the sexual may be surrogate for a more profound affirmation of one another and of our shared womanliness than we quite know how to express, an evasion of a spiritual connection more fearful than the physical one. She gives herself to her own passion, for “all passion means fundamentally a search for self” . . . and again and again I discover She Who Slays, she who comes from afar, she who is other . . . and the birth into the rest of my life which she midwifes still feels incredibly painful.
Christine Downing, The Goddess
The sexual is surrogate for a more profound affirmation than we can tolerate, an affirmation of the universal within us. The mythic awakens and with it comes fear.
Packs of wolves descended upon me, snarling, snapping, devouring. Mommas saved their babies, but could I save myself? Twisting not only thoughts and heart, but actually my eyes, fear did its work, even as I learned that deep within the gods and goddesses still live, my story an echo of their own. The issue isn’t sex, but creation of new life. The issue isn’t prejudice but finding courage for following the path.
A genuine initiation accompanies the training of shamans, both gay and straight, in the tribal world. They prepare to enter domains other people never go near, to be able to take bodies and personae of plants and animals, to walk under the ocean or behind the moon . . . permitted to probe all hidden things, to seek knowledge of all mysteries, in order that they may be revealed to those who have remained mortal.
Underworlds of all kinds have long been a part of gay life. Coming out from one world into another is a gay cultural attribute, and fear probably always accompanies it. In tribal shamanic life, the fear is brought about by wolves’ teeth. . . . In modern life it is brought about in an environment consisting almost entirely of other people, and they have teeth, teeth of harsh judgement and storms of fury and brutality.
Grahn, Another Mother Tongue
I knew that all along, same as anyone. Somewhere deep inside are simple, demanding truths calling us to look inside and find greater possibilities — so great we feel miniscule and hide as the rising sun of consciousness casts shadows darker than the night.
It’s said our impulse to war comes from the projection of our own dark nature onto a foreign power. The Russians are so evil. But, in reality they are simply, and paradoxically, our own polar opposite as our mirror image, our own worst fears embodied.
The Greek gods, now existing as archetypes, had both a light and dark side. The most ancient of them all, the White Goddess, embodies the polarities. She is the nurturer who devours. In her world, creation and destruction, feast and famine, are two phases of a never-ending cycle. She is goddess of fertility, also goddess of the underworld and death. To die is to return to receptive mother. Her earth becomes a womb, death a prelude to rebirth, rebirth a metamorphosis. Death and new vision become intertwined. The goddess gives both dreams and omens. She is the source of vision and of lunacy, the poppy and the grain. She is Gaia, Mother Earth, from whose name, Grahn claims, we derive the word gay. Perhaps it’s natural that we fear. So much power is involved when the mythic wakes, as our dreams and nightmares come to life.
A dreamer is surprised, even threatened, by his dream, not knowing what it means . . . opened to the universal myth, the gods in vision descend to the dreamer returning as aspects of himself . . . revelations of the actual fears, desires, aims, and values by which one’s life is subliminally ordered.
Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image
Full self-knowledge demands living out our dreams, locating the universal in the specific, facing both the light and dark. Yet, new age boosters, for all their love of yin and yang, the integration of the opposites, often seem to twist and turn trying to ignore a view that acknowledges the dark. Their meditations progress in light, and I have to wonder at the ultimate imbalance of this lopsided emphasis. I picture a blaze of glory swooshing devotees off the planet, sucking earth out of her orbit, right out of this universe. But I thought the goal was to integrate spirit into matter, rather than a sublimating poof. Light does not need us. It is these bodies that need to call it down. Spirituality demands attention to the material, acknowledging the darkness, as we walk through it to the light, acknowledging the fear that comes spontaneously when we intuit that deep inside there is a vastness, unexplored.
We hear the call, the silent voice of self, or God, or mirror image, and a strange panic begins to grip us. In a world guided by the rational, no intellect is really prepared to understand. Perhaps this is the first step of our journey. We learn that truest paths are found by following the heart, and that often that first step takes us off a cliff headlong into free fall where we may fathom faith. We discover a life lived upon the cusp, life lived open to self and mirror image. Life lived open to honesty and change.
New age boosters, for all their love of yin and yang, the integration of the opposites, often seem to twist and turn trying to ignore a view that acknowledges the dark. Their meditations progress in light, and I have to wonder at the ultimate imbalance of this lopsided emphasis. I picture a blaze of glory swooshing devotees off the planet, sucking earth out of her orbit, right out of this universe. But I thought the goal was to integrate spirit into matter. . . .
We may turn our eyes away, but feelings are not laid aside. They percolate deep down, causing the surface of our consciousness to roll, though it rarely breaks into those distinct splashes that we call conscious thought. Instead we feel a hate or disapproval, anger or a wave of nausea, insist we are too tired to discuss, or simply that we’re bored. While in truth we know that we have seen there in the mirror more than we wish to recognize.
We see and fear a self which we have thrown away, projected outside into “other,” and then tried to kill. We know that “coming home” means “coming out,” for we all live closeted; to gain our true expanse we have to throw the door wide open. Closets rarely have enough air to sustain life for long. We’ve come to call the closet a prison, when originally it meant a small, private room for meditation. Herein lies a lesson, anciently enunciated by Krishna to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Life. “Established in Being, perform action.” It is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita’s wisdom, that once the true self is fathomed one must step forward into action. The closet door must be thrown wide. It is a warrior’s duty, and the mechanics of enlightenment.
But I, like anyone, must wonder, what will this duty cost? Will I be weak? Will I be strong? Will I be loved? Will I be hated? Will I be hurt? Will I be changed? How will I ever find my way, if all the rules are changed?
Homosexuality becomes an issue for all homo sapiens, an illustration of the fact that what we have thrown out onto gays, or blacks, or Russians; lives within ourselves. “Other” is myself, and Russian wolfhounds begin to chase. The wolf, the hound, the enemy — the wild, the tame, the self, combine to hunt us down. And who of us can outrun his shadow?
How much of me is “same as anyone”? What have I thrown away? How much have I lost to ignorance and fear? Only when I acknowledge the continuum, described sexually or spiritually, can I be satisfied that what I call me is indeed myself.
Gays are revolutionists, perverters simply as they breathe. As any of their friends can testify, their air is purchased with very human pain. This is the fear they light. Fear of pain, fear of change, fear of deep integrity.
Each homosexual serves as a human lightning rod, a person whose mere existing draws down electrifying demands: “Acknowledge who I am. Discover who you are.” We are challenged to explore our souls, to learn humanity’s full range, to find our place within that span, to feel so deep that fear dissolves and in its place healing and wholeness grow.
We can survive embracing of the dark, and resurface into light. We can discover a new perspective in which the queer, the oddity, is also supreme curiosity. “Look here, and look within,” we’re told. Free falling into the self we learn to let go of fear. We learn to float and then to soar; we master weightlessness and synchronicity. Existence is freed from rigid, gravimetric definitions of masculine and feminine, the one way right and wrong, the ignorance of who we are. Life becomes open to a flowing universe and illumined self, as we come to understand that all along we only fled the power that we hold within.