What Is Queer Spirit?
Queer Spirit is a process of reflection of who and what we are as people loving on many levels including and incorporating our spirituality.
Many queer people (including gay men, lesbians, bi-sexual, transsexuals as well as straight folks) have spent most of our lives marginalized by conservative politics, government policies, and most directly by religion (and often as queer people invest into the marginalized concepts of the mainstream of society).
In my observation, many queer people shun religion and spirituality because of the traumas, fears, rejection and abuses toward our identity.
In my observation, many queer people shun religion and spirituality because of the traumas, fears, rejection and abuses toward our identity. Many incorporate this rejection in developing a warped sense of identity often shrouded in shame and guilt. Queer folks buy into heterosexual norms for our homosexual selves. We demand political equality without fully embracing ourselves as equally valued parts of society. Our identity then becomes attached to sexual behavior in bed and shrug off a sense of “I am just like everyone else except for what I do in bed” mentality. Or, being gay is “a small part of who I am”. It is my assessment that this mentality cripples our capacity to fully embrace all that life and spirit has to offer us as a fully realized queer individual.
Spirituality is often neglected in the balance and identity of who we are as queer people, we write it off because perhaps the exploration might lead to disappointments and more abuse.
Queer Spirit— in the context of the Queer Spirit Retreat that we facilitate— is to go back to the roots and soul of who we are and incorporate our spirituality, in particular it is an understanding and a philosophy that is reflective of what we might find in indigenous beliefs that suggest a unique and profound place for queer people, full of potential, culture, and unique magic that is specific to our perspectives and life experiences.
This is not a new concept for indigenous cultures, such as Native Americans, Celtics and other traditions connected to the earth. These tribal groups have long embraced queer as an intricate part of Life and communal existence. It is Christianity that has demonized Homosexuality. They labeled Gay and Lesbian people as being sinful and unworthy of a relationship with God.
Within the concept of Queer Spirituality there is an exploration and an understanding of the magical content and context of spirituality for Gay and Lesbian people, that there is an intricate place in the Wheel of Life and that the pursuit of this relationship within the Wheel of Life is critical to the balance and harmony of our world. I would suggest that this understanding is critical in our development. In order for queer folks to gain a more profound level of understanding and sense of spirit will require us to sit, share, dialogue and process between ourselves the questions of who and what we are, what do we offer each other and what do we offer the world at large? To do this we must explore in discussion, ritual, ceremony and celebration the joy and essence of that relationship with Spirit. Communities worldwide are embracing this process and are holding circles, rituals and celebrations in the joy of being queer.
Queer Spirituality within the context of this retreat is about creating dialog and discussion around who we are as Queers and what our relationship is with the world, and connection with each other. How do we want spirituality to look in our lives? In many instances this is about acknowledging and examining “old stories” whose roots are often embedded within the context of christian, fear and shame based messages. Consider how Utah Gay Mormon’s struggle with the worthiness issues of their lives. They may come “out”, but often the underscore of many problems in their life is the belief that— “because I am not what was defined for me I am less than worthy for what I might dream for myself.” “I might offend others to be open and confident in who I am” “I’m not as legitimate or worthy as my heterosexual family members.” The Mormon often creates a story that denies opportunities to self-define and liberate the authentic self, to have the life that is wanted. Subconsciously, what is created is the story that someone else defined for us; repeated failed relationships, addictions and other behaviors that promote the failed story reveal themselves until we believe that this is the same story for everyone, or worse yet, we define the problem as being gay as opposed to how we have defined our lives. We invest in the lies and struggle with the outcome.
Through Queer Spirit and the Retreat we detangle the web of our lies and faulty stories we tell ourselves, we work through the stories that limit our potential. We use ritual, ancient teachings, and ceremony to access the authentic story of our lives. We rewrite the stories and strategize for success because the core story promotes all things perfect. We do this with the support and love of our queer brothers and sisters who often share in these stories and we come to embrace a story that is more loving, understanding and nurturing, with each other and more importantly with ourselves.
How do I step into my own authentic story? What I mean by “stepping into” I refer to the magical place of peace, celebration, joy and magical purpose. To step into means to step out of the old stories and deliberately create that sense of wholeness that is ours to begin with, we incorporate a balanced perspective in our lives and dance in the celebration of a communal experience of authentic living. I am the deliberate creator of my own life experiences.
Queer Spirit uses and incorporates tradition, ancient wisdom, ceremony, ritual and discussion to unleash and expand a sense of purpose. We learn to appreciate ourselves, leave behind judgements and embrace authentic love and truth for ourselves. We have fun, play, laugh, chat, dialogue, work, and come to a new place!
Why Understanding Queer Spirituality is Important
By understanding who we are on an emotional, physical and spiritual plane, we allow ourselves many opportunities to define and refine who we are. We allow room for many expressions. We eliminate shame and promote confidence, pride, fabulous and beautiful existence in the concept of who we are and how we celebrate, and how we connect with life around us.
What is the story around Queer Spirituality as we are seeing it today
For the last ten plus years, I have had the privilege and opportunity to learn from many Shamans and Medicine Teachers from many indigenous and cultural backgrounds. As part of this journey I was introduced to the radical faerie culture as co-created by the Queer Elder Harry Hay, who in the early 70′s conceptualized a movement of queer men realizing a deeper meaning and expression of who they are. Many of his concepts were based on his experiences with Native American Teachings around the story of the Berdache.
The history of the Berdache, which is a European term to describe what the early explorers discovered among Native Americans, was that there were men and women who embraced opposite gender roles from those that they were assigned by biology. In many instances they took this on in the form of dress and responsibilities within the tribe. Sexuality was not defined as most anglo societies defined it. This was very curious for the explorers. What I learned from many resources including a book called Spirit and the Flesh, is that these (what we now call gay) Native Americans held a traditional role within the community of which they belonged. Many Native American tribes approach life from the concept of the circle. Within that circle is an understanding that all life is honored and respected and has a place, unlike Christianity which seeks to ostracize and demonize the Gay and Lesbian individual. Within the Circle of Life in the Native context, all life is embraced, all life is understood and has a place.
This concept of the Berdache, or “Two Spirited” as later defined by the gay movement in the 70’s, greatly influenced Harry Hay’s work in developing the Radical Faerie movement. The Radical Faerie movement brought together Gay Men who could have the freedom to explore, express and relate with their own unique magic, medicine and beauty. They could learn to understand, embrace and have pride around their unique gifts, talents and relationships as defined by the culture of queerdom as opposed to heterosexual norms. The Radical Faerie movement now has retreat sites and communal living places around the country.
In my brief experience in meeting Harry Hay, shortly before his death, I was impressed upon his passion and desire for queer men to connect to this sense of self-knowing and expression. He desired for gay men to know the beauty, camaraderie, brotherhood and the freedom of expression to be who and exactly what they are.
In my own studies I am impressed with the work of Miguel Ruiz, author of the The Four Agreements, Voice of Knowledge and The Mastery of Love. Ruiz’ message: How easily we (humanity) embrace domestication/lies into accepting roles and identities that are not authentic to who and what we are. The work of Harry Hay is very similar for Gay Men in that the faerie sanctuaries allow a place for freedom of expression, ritual, ceremony, finding and touching the expression of who we are.
In my early exposure to the faeries, I was constantly touched and amazed at what a profound impact this influence could have in the lives of Queer People in Utah in particular considering the intensity of religious abuse in this particular culture. Although Queer Spirit Retreats are not limited to Utah participants, the magic of these retreats could have an incredible impact in the lives of Utah Queers.
Queer Spirit today is a reflection of that dream and vision of bringing a piece of this freedom to be who and what we are to Utah. It starts with a weekend and becomes a philosophy and influence for life. We stimulate a circle in the retreat that allows for continued exploration.
History of Queer Spirit in Salt Lake City
One of my explorations about nine years ago involved a retreat/ceremony at Wolf Creek Oregon at a faerie Sanctuary called Nomenus. This circle involved 120 gay men, including many Faeries. I had the privilege to meet many profound and amazing gay men: Clyde Hall, a native American Elder from Idaho, is one such individual (who has been published in several books such as Gay Soul etc.) Also Harry Hay, Bo Young (Co-Founder of the White Crane Institute, and Publisher and Editorial Director of White Crane Journal) Wolf Martinez from New Mexico, and many other men who have embraced a concept of Two-Spirited Eldership and Leadership.
Because of my involvement with these people and many others, I have been taught, mentored and encouraged in many of these traditions that have had a profound influence in who and what I am today. This influence has encouraged me to develop Pride Counseling as a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Mental Health resource in Salt Lake City, UT, in the belief that when we get queer people together and talk the overall outcome is a collective understanding and appreciation of our lives.
Queer Spirit Retreats becomes an extension of my experience with the faeries, an extension of my opportunity to have been mentored and taught in traditional ways around spiritual relationships, concepts, ideas and philosophies. I am encouraged at what I have seen so far. The men attending the QS Retreats are hungry and desiring to discover some aspect of themselves that they have so neatly and politely wrapped away so as to “not offend anyone.” As they unravel these truths about themselves they begin to tap into an incredible awareness about the potential and the power that is inherent with who they are, the unraveling of the old stories and dry bones to bring forth the new experience. My vision for Queer Spirit is to see this movement grow and to expand in a profound manner. That individuals will come, participate and begin to create a circle and a community of magic, mind expanding and vision seeking folks. That those attending will change the world by doing their own work and embracing their own kind in love.
What might I experience from Queer Spirit Retreat and participating in this Retreat??
I will experience fun, dancing, ecstatic sensations and excitement about who and what I am. I will experience magical moments, the opportunity of being introspective and contemplative and profoundly moved in my silence. I will find camaraderie, friendship, and joy. I will find a fuller expression of what it means to be Gay, Queer, Two-Spirited and free. I will think outside of the box of my own sex and sexuality and embrace a comprehensive perspective of who I am. I will participate in ritual and ceremony that will shift my thinking to creative purposes. I will find exactly what I am looking for and I will celebrate in joy with the friends that I create. I will leave the retreat with acquaintances, friendships and brotherhood.
In the more practical sense our typical experience has been, thus far, to facilitate a process of fun as well as processing of new information. We will come together, get to know each other, introduce ourselves. We will have discussion and dialogue about what we are looking for in seeking to bring out of this experience. We will participate in discussions and movement. We will be led in Yoga to open and to move places within our body that will open new conduits of understanding. We will engage in meditation and guided visualizations. We will commune and relate to the environment around us, hiking and horseback riding. We will release “old stories” in the bonfire. This bonfire that facilitates releasing and letting go of stories that no long serve us, creates a conduit and space for new experiences. We will eventually approach the lodge, which is a ritual that allows us to release and to speak our truth and to bring about new visions. We will come together in our final circle to share, to plan for the future, to anticipate future gatherings and opportunities to expand upon the process that we initiated on this retreat. Currently, monthly circles of participants gather to continue the process initiated in the retreat, expanding the circle of brotherhood and companionship by our sharing and upgrading our personal stories is what this about.
This is not mental health therapy! Although the facilitators are mental health therapists by profession the aim of this weekend is about creating community, a container that allows for sharing and support, the facilitators are also doing their own work in this context. Freedom to explore and the opening of a new experience of identity and understanding does not require a therapist, it requires mutual respect and freedom.
I believe the process outlined above is critical for anyone and everyone! Queer Spirit now seeks to include everyone interested in these events to participate. Some events/retreats may be specific to one community and then other events and retreats will be open to all participants.