Printed in the Spring 2013 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Christensen, David. "Gay and Lesbian Love" Quest 101. 2 (Spring 2013): pg. 59 - 61.
By David Christensen
To sit down and write an article on love is a daunting task. With so many authors and great books providing interpretations of love and all that goes with it, who am Ito presume I can add to such a bibliography? Well, I'm a gay man who has experienced same-sex love.
I am also a man who has had meaningful, nonsexual, loving relationships with people of both genders. As I see it, love is love and can exist with or without sex. But this article is about exploring love in the gay and lesbian community, so let me address this directly.
To begin with, let's review some familiar terms. Gay is a word that has become synonymous with homosexual (to the annoyance of some) and is often used for both sexes. However, many female homosexuals prefer the word lesbian, so in this article I use both terms. Although gays and lesbians as groups each have some unique issues, I'm not going to address those here, because I feel the basic subject of homosexual love applies to both gays and lesbians.
Out, as in being out or coming out, refers to being open about one's gay or lesbian sexuality—to oneself, to a person, or to a group.
Being closeted or in the closet refers to hiding one's gay or lesbian sexuality.
Homophobia refers to a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuals, such as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, irrational fear, and hatred.
For a general perspective on homosexuality, let's look at these facts. The American Community Survey of the 2000 U.S. census estimated that in the top ten U.S. metropolitan areas ranked by population, 5.8 to 15.4 percent of the population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Of course, making such an estimate is particularly challenging with this population, since many people are not comfortable with their sexuality and so wouldn't admit they were homosexual when asked, even if they were out to themselves. Taking an average of 10 percent, this would mean there are about 30 million in the United States. Just to bring these statistics closer to home, in the Theosophical Society worldwide there would be perhaps 2600 (given an estimated membership of 26,000).
So homosexuals are obviously a minority, but a different kind of minority—one that's often unseen. If as a gay man I choose to hide my gayness, I can usually do that. This choice makes being gay or lesbian quite different from being African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. Of course, there are homosexuals who are also members of racial minorities, and these people undoubtedly face a double whammy at times.
On the scientific front, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the World Health Organization have all stated that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. It's generally accepted that homosexuality is not a learned behavior. One can't be recruited. Furthermore, curing homosexuality doesn't work because there is nothing to cure. It would be akin to curing left-handedness.
Throughout history, homosexuals have been discriminated against in various ways: shunning, depriving them of their human rights, outright verbal and physical abuse, imprisonment, and even death. The Nazis considered homosexuals to be worse than Jews, forcing them to wear a pink triangle, which has since become a symbol for the gay/lesbian community. Today hate crimes still occur, but at least now they are usually tracked and prosecuted in most Western countries.
By far the most important source of such discriminatory treatment is religious doctrine. Many sects of Islam and Judaism as well as some Christian faiths condemn homosexuality, and in Buddhism and Hinduism there seem to be mixed feelings toward same-sex relationships. So imagine being brought up in a religious environment where you are taught that same-sex relationships are a sin, an abomination, even perhaps a capital crime—and then coming to the realization that you are one of them!
Because of homophobia and discrimination, homosexuals can have a particularly hard time acknowledging their sexuality. It's impossible to grow up without recognizing that being gay or lesbian presents, at the least, unique problems.
It became clear to me early on in my coming out process that coming out did not just take place in a moment in time. I used to think that the answer to the question `Are you out?" was either yes or no. But coming out is a lifelong process. I still find myself in situations where I have to decide if it's important to be out as a gay man.
The first step in a homosexual's coming out process is coming out to oneself. Depending on the individual there can be a period of denial, where one might say to oneself, "Oh, all I need to do is find the right woman" (or man for a lesbian) or "Maybe I'll grow out of this." In some cases this may be true, but for most homosexuals that won't happen. Then comes the recognition that "It's true ... I'm gay (or lesbian)," and this admission can be traumatic, often leading to self-hate.
While for some it is hard, the goal of coming out to oneself is to be able to say "It's OK to be gay or lesbian" and believe it.
Of course the next step, revealing yourself to family, friends, and others, often brings you right up against an environment that rejects homosexuality. I worked at a Seattle human service agency whose mission was helping high-risk youth— street kids. There was a high percentage of gay/lesbian-identified kids in this group. Most arrived on the street because of rejection in their home environment, in their school, or in their church. It was not uncommon to work with a kid whose parents had kicked their child out of their home because of his or her sexuality. I ran across more than one case where the parents actually drove their kids downtown and made them get out of the car.
Finally, we come to the matter of dating and finding a love partner. An important step in this quest is to be comfortable with your own sexuality. But beyond that, just finding someone to love can be difficult, particularly if one lives in area where there isn't a defined gay or lesbian community.
There is a level of risk in exploring a relationship. Before you even come to the potentials for rejection found in straight dating, there is the potential of rejection right up front that isn't found in a more traditional coupling. It's the question "Is he (or she) gay (or lesbian)?" From my experience and the experiences of many gay and lesbian friends, this question is very difficult. With it you're coining out to this person, and if the person is straight, the response could be pretty ugly, even homophobic. This question is sometimes so troublesome that it keeps a homosexual single. While being single is not necessarily a bad thing, it is bad if the singleness persists because the person cannot get around this question.
Fortunately, in recent years more options have become available for meeting a same-sex partner. Gay and lesbian bars are still very much around, and it larger cities there are gay/lesbian social groups and events, many alcohol- and drug-free. Some religious denominations, like the Quakers and the Unitarians offer gay/lesbian activities. It's perhaps hard for straight person to imagine the feeling of walking into a gay or lesbian activity and realizing that this "Are you gay?" question is suddenly redundant. For me it amazing!
Being in a same-sex relationship doesn't remove the risk of homophobia. You're always aware that so people will have very negative reactions to a same sex couple. Coming out to your group of friends, your workplace, your church or synagogue, your Theosophical lodge—each of these presents a risk. Even walking into a restaurant in Middle America with your same sex partner can be scary. I guarantee you that my partner and I will act very differently going into a cafÃ© in Seattle than into a restaurant in rural America. I was recently traveling in rural South Dakota, and though I was alone, I was very much aware that I had to watch myself and not display any gay flags as I went into diner for lunch.
How do you talk about your relationship, say at work? You may not be out as a gay/lesbian there, so how do you talk about the most important person in your life or respond when everyone else talks about their traditional relationships? And how do your parents react to all this? There are many sad stories of parents who reject their child's same-sex partner.
Fortunately, as I found in Seattle, there are support groups, particularly in larger cities. Some church are now very accepting of same-sex couples. Some performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. Same-sex marriage has also become a political issue. Some states have or are close to having laws that allow same-sex marriage, and President Obama has voiced his support of these laws.
What role did Theosophy play in helping me t accept my sexuality? I was raised in a Theosophical family. I learned, more by osmosis than by book study, the basic principles and concepts of Theosophy, such as brotherhood, the oneness of all life, the evolutionary journey of the soul, reincarnation, karma, and the multidimensional nature of the human being.
But I got next to no spiritual guidance about emotions and bodily desires. Although my parents were idealistic and loving, I think they were just bound by societal taboos against talking about sex as other parents of my generation. I don't recall any conversations about sex education at home or indeed discussions about sexuality of any sort with Theosophists. So as I was becoming aware of my sexuality I looked for answers everywhere. I can remember going to the high school library and looking at all the books that had citations on homosexuality. I didn't find much. I searched my Theosophical background to see if there were clues there. I didn't find any except what I considered to be a flip comment: "Well, maybe you were a woman in your last life." And while in some cases that could be true, my response to that was, "No, you don't get it. I'm a guy who likes guys."
I had and have true friends in Seattle—many Theosophists as well as people I met at the Theosophical Camp Indralaya on Orcas Island, Washington. One would think that such people would be relatively easy to come out to.
Not for me. Why? Because I couldn't yet see among them any support for me as a gay man, despite their relative lack of homophobia. So I found an open gay support and discussion group. There I made Mends with guys who had some sense of spirituality. I finally was able to date. It was still some time, though, before I could start the coming out process with my family and my longtime friends in the TS and at Camp Indralaya.
I remember one night at the Indralaya campfire when I was going to sing a love song I had written with same-sex lyrics. I usually sang the song in its straight version at camp. With the encouragement of a friend to whom I was out, I finally had the nerve to sing it with the gay lyrics. What happened? Well, not much. I think most listeners didn't notice, but some did and came up afterward and gave me a very accepting hug. I was finally able to take my then-partner up to Indralaya, and we could be there as an openly gay couple. It may not sound like a big deal, but it sure was to me.
Although I felt that my Theosophical background hadn't given me much guidance or understanding in terms of coming out, later I found it was extremely helpful when living through the AIDS crisis. It didn't explain to me why this was happening, but I could look at the events with a broader perspective that included reincarnation and karma. My Indralaya contacts with Dora Kunz and her teachings of Therapeutic Touch were particularly meaningful. Learning to channel the healing energy from a spiritual source rather than using my own energy was also useful and valuable. In 1991 I wrote an article titled "Living with AIDS" for The American Theosophist about my experiences in this crisis.
How can or should the Theosophical Society deal with the issue of homosexuality? Indralaya and many lodges are accepting of gays and lesbians. But that acceptance is of gays and lesbians who are out. I think the TS must be willing to discuss homosexuality and be openly supportive of gays and lesbians. This would show even closeted gays or lesbians that they are in a safe place, a place where they can come out to an accepting and supportive group of people. I think that for most TS members this would not be difficult, though I've been told that the Esoteric School of Theosophy is quite uncomfortable with the subject. But as I've come out to my Theosophical friends, with very few exceptions, I have felt complete acceptance.
There might be a case for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the First Object of the Society, which speaks of a "universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color." While it would be interesting to see how the membership would respond to such a suggestion, the time is probably not right for this. But I do think it would be appropriate for individual lodges to have discussions on how Theosophy and Theosophists can support their gay/lesbian members. This could be a time of acceptance as well as a time of self-searching to see how we feel about this minority. I think it would be a time of discovery.
Lastly, I return to my overarching topic of love and ask the question, do all the issues I discussed above make the love in a same-sex couple different? No, I truly believe that a gay/lesbian love relationship is fundamentally the same as love between a man and a woman. There are all the joys, excitement, anxieties, tragedies, sadness, and spiritual ties in gay/lesbian love that are found in straight love. And in gay/lesbian literature the love stories are being written.
I don't think there's a gay Romeo and Juliet yet that will compete with Shakespeare's, but perhaps in time...
DAVID CHRISTENSEN joined the Theosophical Society in 1944. His family lived at Olcott in "the little white house on the corner" (of Main and Cole Street) from 1937 to 1950. In the '50s he went to the newly opened Happy Valley School, now called Besant Hill School, in Ojai, California, and to the TS Camp Indralaya on Orcas Island in Washington state, where he fell in love with the Northwest. He served two six-year terms on the board of the camp. He has been active in the gay community and has been an AIDS activist. He served for three years as a commissioner for the city of Seattle working with its gay/lesbian affairs office. He currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington,