Your June 1998 Issue, with the Readers Write on “Monogamy,” described a wide range of sexual ideas and behaviors. As an active member of a religious community and a committed monogamist, I might be expected to feel righteous indignation toward such views, but I respect those who choose open relationships, whether homosexual or heterosexual. I don’t think it works for most people, but as long as both parties are clear and honest about it, I say, More power to them.
I am deeply saddened and angered, on the other hand, by the anonymous Readers Write pieces about secret affairs. In most cases, this seems like nothing but betrayal. The person having the affair often hopes that the other secretly knows and approves — when, in fact, the other probably suspects but keeps quiet under a blanket of denial.
For months now, I have more or less shuddered at the arrival of The Sun. Some issues go unread, because I just can’t lower myself back into the pit with the junkies and winos (having spent a little time there myself).
But when the May issue came, I was delighted to see a story about Ram Dass [“One Hand Clapping,” by Sy Safransky]. He was an early teacher of mine, a guide on the long and winding road of spiritual seeking. That Ram Dass is able to maintain his humor and lightness after such a debilitating stroke is a teaching for us all. No matter what happens in his life, it seems, his purpose will always be to guide and inspire.
When I opened the May 1998 issue of The Sun and saw Ram Dass’s wonderful face, I got worried. Having heard about his stroke, I thought, What if he’s died and nobody has told me? I skipped to the end, just to see. Nope. He was still alive. So I went back and started from the beginning. I already knew all of Sy Safransky’s stories about Ram Dass, but it didn’t matter. With Ram Dass, somehow the old stories always seem new.
In the June 1998 issue, a very different photo caught my eye. Having berated The Sun in the past for publishing a photograph of a tiny infant about to be circumcised at a bris ceremony (as if it were OK to cut someone’s genitals without his permission), I was overjoyed to see the full-frontal shot of a gloriously intact nude man on the inside back cover.
The photographs mentioned above are available as PDFs only. Download the May 1998 issue here, June 1998 here, and January 1998 here.
Sy Safransky’s “One Hand Clapping” reminded me of the powerful influence that Ram Dass has had on my life. I would like to point out, however, that one significant aspect of Ram Dass’s life is often glossed over or not openly discussed: his sexuality. In Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature, by Mark Thompson, Ram Dass tells the author that it was not only his experiments with drugs that got him fired from Harvard, as Safransky says, but also his sexual encounters with young men:
Ram Dass: Harvard started to get so freaked about the drugs [Timothy Leary and I] were using that they asked us to stop doing any research using undergraduates . . . because it was too risky. But I had all these relationships with young men whom I really wanted to turn on with. And it had nothing to do with research; it was my personal life, so I went ahead. It turned out there was another student who was very jealous of this . . . and he created a huge exposé.
Mark Thompson: So it was gay eros and not LSD that got you thrown out of Harvard?
Ram Dass: It was a combination of all of those things. In a way, LSD had given me the license to be what I am . . . to say I didn’t want to hide anymore.
In no way does Ram Dass’s physically loving men detract from his remarkable spiritual journey.
I enjoyed “One Hand Clapping,” and was drawn along comfortably by the story — until I read that Ram Dass was bisexual. Whereas, in the past, I might have stopped reading, this time I thought about my “spiritual homework,” and, as if my hand were guided by some mysterious, uncontrollable force, I wrote a check to the Ram Dass Medical Fund.
Unlike the author Richard Marten, we are not using a pseudonym in replying to his interview with Judith Herman [“Out of the Ashes: Violence and Its Aftermath,” May 1998]. This is because we want to be known as two of the thousands of aging parents whose lives and families have been disrupted by the theories espoused by Herman and others of her ilk.
We refer to the notion of repressed memories, which Herman hides behind the euphemism “dissociation.” She may use semantic disguises, but she cannot cover up the harmful consequences of the repressed-memory theory and its grotesque offshoots, multiple-personality disorder and satanic ritual abuse. Nor can she silence the growing number of women who have been brutalized by incompetent, wrongheaded therapists.
Regression therapists have an extensive vocabulary of words such as dissociation, perpetrators, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What one doesn’t see are the words science and scientific. Little wonder that psychotherapy is now embroiled in a crisis that threatens to destroy it.
I expect healing from The Sun, but by printing the interview with Judith Herman you have contributed to a mass sociogenic illness. I believe history will show that psychotherapists who encourage their clients to recover “repressed memories” of abuse are, in fact, the true abusers.
Studies have shown that a person entering psychotherapy will typically reflect the expectations of the therapist. That is, if a therapist expects child abuse, the patient will find it. By the use of guided imagery and dream interpretation, therapists have caused thousands of adults to believe that those they formerly trusted and loved are, in fact, guilty of the worst-possible crimes.
Imagine the profound crisis a vulnerable and troubled person suffers when such deeply held beliefs as “my parents loved me and did the best they could” are challenged by contradictory yet convincing ones. When the contradictions come from a respected authority, like a therapist, desperate people often believe the unbelievable.
I have been accused by my son of abusing him when he was a child; of behavior so foreign to me it is incomprehensible. His world has been turned upside down, and so has mine. I can no longer see him or my grandson. I am unable to question his “memories,” which now seem more real to him than the memories he had when he entered therapy. I am heartbroken.
Rifts among family members are terribly painful for everyone involved. When grown children accuse their parents of having mistreated them in childhood, it is completely understandable that the parents will feel bewildered, indignant, and hurt. Unfortunately, some parents get stuck in their defensiveness. It is tempting to invoke some higher authority (like “science”) to prove that one is in the right. It is even more tempting to find an outsider (like me and “others of [my] ilk”) to demonize and blame. But giving in to these temptations does not make the problem go away; on the contrary, it only makes matters worse.
When adult children complain about the way their parents treated them in the past, they are usually hoping for better relationships in the future. This is much more likely to come about if the parents can take their grievances seriously, rather than ascribing them to some malign external influence. Parents do not need to confess to committing the “worst-possible crimes.” They do need to admit that something has gone terribly wrong and to examine the ways that they might have contributed to the problem. Parents who genuinely wish to repair relationships with estranged children are much more successful when they are willing to listen to what their children have to say, and can acknowledge that no one has a monopoly on the truth in disputes of this kind.
I identified with the experience Gillian Kendall describes in “Protection” [April 1998]. Twenty-three years ago, at fifteen, I was walking home from the bus stop when a man attacked me. I can still see myself walking, the attacker approaching. I am running, but not fast enough. I feel myself being struck from behind. I hit the pavement hard.
Some readers may have thought Kendall was being funny when she said that, under attack, she is a screamer and a thrower. Not me. I’m a screamer, too — and a clutcher. Lying on the ground, bloodied and screaming, I held tight to my paperback. Later, when it was over, I kept screaming despite the shotgun pointed at my face and his commands to “shut up, just shut up!” And I kept my book clutched firmly in my hand, as if it might have afforded some protection.
When I was younger and braver, or at least more idealistic, I’m sure I would have agreed with Kate Millett’s idea that anywhere a woman wants to walk is the right place, any time she wants to walk there. But now that I’ve experienced the speed, brutality, and viciousness of violent crime, I wonder.
Kendall did nothing on any level — metaphysical or otherwise — to warrant being attacked. No woman does, though countless women share such terrible experiences.
There is only one word to describe the Readers Write section of your magazine: riveting. Have you ever considered publishing a Readers Write anthology? My main disappointment with A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky was the relative shortage of material from this brilliant section. Please consider a Readers Write collection for those of us who arrived later in the day.