A Conversation with Mark Thompson & Malcolm Boyd
Andrew Ramer, Dan Vera & Bo Young
are couples one thinks of as “power couples” in our history as gay people.
Not “power” in the political sense, but in the sense of depth of intellect,
influence, and the production of works of lasting value. Will Roscoe/Bradley
Rose, Harry Hay/John Burnside, Christopher Isherwood/Don Bachardy all
come to mind. The names Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson would have to join
them. Both accomplished authors in their own “write” well before they
met (indeed, Thompson met Boyd in the process of writing the second in
his “Gay trilogy,” Gay Soul), they have shared their lives for
the last twenty-one years.
The Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd is poet/writer-in-residence at Los
Angeles' Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul. Born in Manhattan in 1923, his
colorful and diverse career includes work in the motion picture industry
where he was a production partner of film legend Mary Pickford. He served
as president of the Television Producers Association of Hollywood. But
in 1951, Boyd left this brilliant success, this “Hollywood heyday” glamour
to enter seminary and was ordained a priest in 1955. He went on to serve
parishes and college chaplaincies throughout the country. Life magazine
selected him as one of the “100 Most Important Young Men and Women in
the United States” in 1962.
He came out ‘unofficially’ as a gay man in 1965 with his prayer “This
is a homosexual bar, Jesus” in the best-selling spiritual classic Are
You Running with Me, Jesus? Officially he came out in 1977 in an interview
in the Chicago Sun Times. A year later he wrote Take Off the Masks.
In 2005, he celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination as an Episcopal
priest and will be honored at the Union Theological Society in New York
City with the Unitas Award for “extraordinary leadership contributions
to the church, the academy, or to social justice organizations.” His thirtieth
book In Times Like These (New York: Seabury Press, 2005), on prayer,
was released this year.
Mark Thompson was born and raised on the Monterey Peninsula, California.
In 1973, Thompson helped found the Gay Students Coalition at San Francisco
State University, where he was a journalism student. He has worked for
gay causes ever since. He began his writing career at the national gay
and lesbian newsmagazine The Advocate in 1975, reporting on culture
and politics in Europe. He worked there for two decades in a number of
capacities—as a feature writer, photographer, and Senior Editor. In 1994,
he completed his tenure at the magazine by editing Long Road to Freedom:
The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, a massive volume
of half a million words and over seven hundred photographs documenting
the gay and lesbian struggle for civil rights. The book was nominated
for two Lambda Literary Awards. Thompson’s most influential contribution
to the canon, though, is, unquestionably, his trilogy: Gay Spirit Myth
& Meaning (Lethe Press/White Crane Spirituality Series), Gay Soul:
Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature and the very personal Gay
Body: A Journey through Shadow to Self (St. Martin’s Press).
Thompson holds a M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and,
until recently, worked as a psychotherapist with gay and lesbian youth
and people living with HIV. He also serves on the board of ONE Institute
& Archives, the largest gay and lesbian library in the world. This fascinating
couple sat down to a conversation with White Crane editors Bo Young, Dan
Vera and Andrew Ramer.
Bo Young: So much of what both of you are involved in is connected,
it seems: deeper spiritual connections in general, and specifically for
gay men. There isn't a gay man of my generation, at least, that wasn't
touched by Are You Running With Me Jesus? Between that and Mark's trilogy
you've practically written a canon of gay spirituality. This issue is
devoted to a contemplation of Our Bodies, Our Selves: the State of the
Gay Body...how would the two of you characterize "the state of the gay
community" now vs when your books first came out?
Malcolm Boyd: Are You Running with Me, Jesus? came out in
l965. I didn’t realize it at the time but I’d come out, too, with the
prayer “This is a homosexual bar, Jesus.” Time magazine didn’t review
the book but simply published that prayer. It spoke for itself. The prayer
concluded with these lines: “Quite a few of the men here belong to the
Church as well as to this bar. If they knew how, a number of them would
ask you to be with them in both places. Some of them wouldn’t, but won’t
you be with them, too, Jesus?”
In the months that followed the book seemed to provoke a major quake in
a spiritual and cultural sense. Bishop John A .T. Robinson of England
wrote: “This is prayer in the raw, with the last varnish gone—human life,
in all its warmth and lovelessness laid bare before God.” The New York
Times said the book’s “eloquence” came from the personal struggle contained
in the prayers: “a struggle to believe, to keep going, a spiritual contest
that is agonized, courageous and not always won.”
I was still “officially” closeted, so the media uproar and huge controversy
surrounding the book provoked an extraordinary spiritual crisis in my
life. I felt a lot of anger. Hadn’t organized religion long persecuted
gay people, refusing to offer unconditional love? Indeed, was it possible
for me to pray through my pain and rage? Trying to be quite realistic,
could I offer unconditional love to the church? My self-esteem as a person
(a gift from God in creation) had been battered cruelly by the church’s
seeming rejection. Could I find a lifeline in prayer to discover healing
in Christ’s love?
“The state of the gay community” in l965 was so totally different from
that of today! Even calling the bar “homosexual” instead of “gay” somewhat
describes that situation. There were a handful of gay books then; now
there seem enough to fill libraries. “Homosexuality” was virtually unmentionable
in polite society except to describe a seeming form of leprosy; now gay
news is on the front page, the evening news, the Internet, and gay themes
surface in big movies and plays and top TV shows.
It’s funny. I had worked in Hollywood in the motion picture industry and
early TV before entering an Episcopal seminary in 1951. I knew a lot about
underground gay life in Hollywood and New York. But as soon as I enrolled
in the seminary in Berkeley, I met more gay men than I had ever met in
Tinseltown or Glamour Palace. This was a sudden, abrupt wake up call to
me. Yet through history gays have always dominated religious life and
churches. After all, there was only one other alternative: the military.
The latter, however, lacked gorgeous music, beautiful vestments, candlelit
altars in magnificent cathedrals, exquisite liturgies—and sensitive, soulful
Bo Young: Your comment about Gay life in the 50's...Dan reminded
me of Harry Hay's half-joking, half-serious comment that "We didn't have
community then...we had shrubbery!" Obviously we're moved out of the shrubbery
and into something more open and along with that openness, a whole new
set of problems. Who would ever have suspected that we would be arguing
about gay marriage? Or that this would be the rallying issue!? What do
you think is the greatest challenge, spiritually, for the gay community
now that we've managed to sort of stake out some territory politically?
Boyd: You're right, we've managed to stake out some territory politically—although
I think we've been extremely stupid both in regard to "Don't ask, don't
tell" and "gay marriage." I don't think we've gained ground on either
politically. Marriage per se is in chaos and rapidly changing. We want
certain inalienable rights pertaining to marriage, yes, but do we want
"marriage" itself? It's been so marked by patriarchy, possession, stereotypes,
perhaps Norman Rockwell-like clichés and expectations.
However, you ask: what is the greatest challenge, spiritually, for the
gay community? Possibly it's to be proactive instead of reactive. To feel
free to explore spirituality without engaging in the rearguard action
of sending loud negative "reactions" to organized religion, churches,
theology, morality, ethics et al. I'm aware how complex this is. Yet the
"answer" can only be found, in my opinion, in a both/and approach instead
of an either/or one. Looking for black/white separated "answers" is an
exercise in futility. Real answers need to be found in dialogue and interaction
and, yes, our shared human condition. This means being open to one another
instead of simply fighting to maintain a prescribed position.
Both politically and spiritually, it seems we've often staked out an absolutist,
even perfectionist-seeking position that is predicated on banning or fighting
what has been described as "morality" or "religion." Yet it's clear that
"Christianity" isn't "the enemy," in a simplistic sense; but "fundamentalist
Christianity" (or Judaism or Islam) appears to occupy trenches in no-man's-land.
Speaking for myself, my very integrity as a human being needs to include
my freedom to explore who I am both spiritually and sexually. Not just
to explore--but to practice. Then, in a real sense, both my spirituality
and my sexuality are "my own business" in that no one else has the right
to define them or regulate them or punish me for them or tell me what
to do. So, in my own way(s), I have developed a spirituality and a sexuality
that "work" for me and that I can share with others in both religion/church
and the gay community. (In other words, I am not operating in secret and
in the dark). Does this make sense to you? Does it seem valid to you?
Bo: Sure...and in the end, that it is valid to you is really all
that matters...but that would certainly be the raison d'etre for this
magazine. Boyd: What I'm saying, in effect, is that we need to open up
spirituality as we've opened up sexuality—and relate them. Let them be
related. Get out of old dungeons of guilt and shame, rage and blame. Welcome
a new world.
Mark Thompson: "Then and now" type questions are harder to answer
than one might think, especially when the topic concerns the evolution
of a community's inner life. Despite the speed bumps we've had to deal
with these past few years during our half century march for social justice,
enormous gains have obviously been made. I remember talking with Harvey
Milk in the early 1970s when he began campaigning for political office.
He persisted, and in 1977 became the first openly gay, elected official
in the United States. Today, there are dozens if not hundreds of gay and
lesbian public officials at nearly every level.
In 1987, when my first book, Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning was published,
it was unthinkable that an openly gay man would be ordained a Bishop.
But despite the controversy it has stirred in the Episcopal Church, Gene
Robinson stands proud and beloved by the parishioners who voted for him.
Naturally, there will continue to be negative reactions to such culture-bound
issues as gay marriage, military service, and child adoption, but truth
and justice will prevail in the end. I have only to look at the myriad
successes we've had during just the past 20 years to know that. Patience,
endurance, and hard work do pay off.
However, that is only an assessment of our public selves. Inwardly, I
think we're still very much like a ship at sea without a compass. Going
for the promised land of full equality under the law is all fine and well.
But what is going to happen when the last sodomy law is toppled and homophobia
no longer tolerated? Will we then be free? Free to be....what? I mean,
I believe there is something intrinsically queer about being gay, no matter
how much we try to normalize it. It is that queerness—and what is at the
root of it—that presents the big mystery question in our lives. It's not
something we can just check off a list and say, Okay we're all safely
out of the closet and now we are done with it. We simply can't stop being
curious about the myths and mysteries of same-sex attraction and love.
Those who do experience an inner death—or, at the very least, a lingering
malady of the soul. I am seeing a lot of that kind of morbidity and toxicity
in our community right now. It's like we've traded our sense of joy and
wonder for a few cheap laughs on a network sitcom, and the joke is on
us! What a disastrous tradeoff. Americans don't do very well with paradox;
we like our answers and solutions to be clean and easy and then done with.
But any questions concerning the inherent messiness of our inner lives—our
spiritual selves—are bound to be complex, riddled with paradoxical realities.
I can only hope that we, as members of a self-identified gay community,
haven't become to jaded or lazy. Historically, we know betrayal all too
well. Are we now collectively at a moment of profound self betrayal? It's
never too late to reinvest in curiosity and wonderment. These feed the
soul at a very deep level.
Dan Vera: It seems that the way that gay men today come together
is quite different than it was in the past. Younger gays I speak with
talk about the internet as their primary means of communication and courtship.
No bars, no gyms, no baths. How do we create community when there are
no places of mutual conversation?
Mark: The Internet obviously offers convenient new ways to connect
and communicate, but that is not the same thing as being in community
with one another. Time and space have to be actually shared, memory and
meaning created through mutual effort. There is a hollowness to an all
virtual reality. It can be a poignantly lonely place. Although it may
appear we are better in touch via cyber space, I believe we are more divided
and insular than ever before because of our over reliance on it. It is
not always comfortable or fun being in community with one another, so
the Internet allows people an easy avoidance of the hard work required
to build and sustain actual kinship. We learn and grow through lived relationship.
Without that, we stagnate.
Bo: What do you think the essential thing is gay people have that
the rest of the world can’t do without? What do we have to offer as gay
people that is so valuable?
Mark: This is one of the most frequently asked questions, to which
I always reply with an unequivocal "Yes!" My opinion is informed by our
canonical texts—as set forth by Edward Carpenter, Harry Hay, Will Roscoe,
Toby Johnson, and many others—but mainly by the actual life experiences
told to me by hundreds of gay men around the world over the years. For
me, the truth about who we really are has been found in the telling! Through
reaction to my books—in the form of letters, shared stories, and confessions—and
in the more privileged form of a therapy office (which has been my central
vocation these past six years), I have learned a great deal more. There
are common threads stitched throughout all our stories, similarities found
in every generation. Mothers, fathers, families, societies in general,
do not tend to see us very well when we are young, and the wounding ranges
from narcissist injury to physical and emotional abuse. If you are born
gay (and every valid scientific inquiry into this matter suggests we are)
then you are bound to be scarred by it in some way. So there is a unifying
force right there.
But going deeper into psyche's constructs tells us even more. However,
I do need to preface my next remark by saying this sort of inquiry demands
much subtly and sophistication. Our archetypal reality is directly linked
to our inherited DNA, so there will naturally be a significant range in
feelings and response within a general behavioral pattern. We have to
see the differences as much as the similarities. In sum, we do exhibit
the pronounced tendencies of what I would call liminal or "threshold"
people. We are naturally gifted teachers, healers, visionaries, creators
of beauty and ritual. These attributes are usually in service to others—as
menders of broken families and individual souls, gatekeepers of culture,
past, present, and future. What society would not benefit from these necessary
functions? Part of the deep failure of American society right now is that
it's still not come fully to terms with the magnificent opportunity this
offers in our midst. It constitutes a tragic waste of near criminal neglect.
Malcolm: I think we are truly different from others. Have a unique
perspective and focus. Are out of sync with the settled, traditional,
and routine. This takes various shapes and forms—we are in "the arts,"
for example, are "creative" and have a different sensibility. Both the
words ‘homosexual’ and ‘gay’ have subversively obscured who we are in
cultural consciousness. ‘Queer,’ however, comes closest to accuracy. Our
essential differences from the norm are both huge and deeply offensive
to those among us who wish to be quietly integrated into society without
particular reference to our nature.
Taking this into the spiritual realm, I believe Jesus must be identified
as queer—not in sexual orientation but in life terms. He does not fit
into categories. His innate internal liberation is all-encompassing. He
embraced diversity in startling ways, cutting against the grain of social
norms. He could be the outraged prophet overturning tables of money-lenders
in the temple, yet he was as much himself in utterly sensitive, compassionate
moments with society's discards, both women and men, and in deep solitude
and prayer in the wilderness experience and Gethsemane. Jesus defies facile
description in conformist terms. As someone incredibly open to both the
ravages and epiphanies of life, he retains eternally an abiding sense
of overarching purpose and curious hiddenness in mystery. I find Jesus
my confidant and companion, brother and savior; our relationship is intimate,
vulnerable, demanding yet comfortable and reassuring.
Jesus is an example. We have other examples, including many of our ancestors
as role models who understood the inner meaning of our orientation. I
believe we are called to service in the world. That our sensitivity and
vulnerability are blessings. That in our earthly journey we are inevitably
queer—what a gift this is!
Bo: Queer Jesus…you’re sounding a lot like Will Roscoe, Father
Boyd. Have you read Jesus and the Shamanic Traditions of Same-Sex Love?
Malcolm: Will's book deserves the widest possible reading by members
of Christian churches, gay and non-gay alike. I applaud the whole embracing
spirit of the work. It questions—and creatively combats—a largely defensive
and negative response by persons who simply refuse to inspect its sources
or engage in a discussion of its insights. Will asks the poignant and
increasingly obvious question: When will the churches catch up with the
rest of society in encountering gays? Will speaks prophetically when he
says: "Suspension of the law means we no longer live in a world of moral
certainty. Jesus' teachings show us how to live in a culturally relative
world, whether that of first-century Palestine or today." I find Will
objective, eminently fair, hot as a piston and coolly precise. I wish
he were invited to speak to students on dozens of campuses, mainstream
parishes of all theological stripes, and—why not?—the theocratic Bush
Clearly, the time has come for spiritually seeking queers (ranging from
agnostics to bishops) to engage in serious theological study, stop simply
defending the status quo, and open up to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit.
Entrenched scriptural literalism is, in my opinion, completely out of
touch with reality. In fact, a major reason I'm a global Anglican and
a U.S. Episcopalian is my understanding that, within our tradition, there
is a coherence of scripture, tradition AND REASON/EXPERIENCE as basic
tenets of belief. I deeply appreciate this melding of church and world,
sacred and secular, soul and body, sophistication and simplicity, seriousness
and nonchalance, holiness and ordinariness—all rooted in the incarnation
Bo: Who among our ancestors do you acknowledge as role models who
understood the inner meaning of our orientation?
Malcolm: I don't have a lot to add here, but these might include
Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter—and someone I was privileged to know, Harry
Hay. Harry certainly comes to mind.
Andrew Ramer: When Bo invited me to be a part of this conversation,
I remembered an afternoon with you in your beautiful, cozy home. The steps
up through trees and plants, the warm filtered light through windows,
the ease I felt being with you, and the sweet way that you were together.
“What would you ask first of these two gay elders?” Bo asked me, “to illuminate
this issue the way that Our Bodies, Our Selves did for women.” A question
immediately popped into my head, which I tried to push away and replace
with another. But it won’t go away so I’ll ask: The two of you are elders
in our tribe, embodied elders. As personal as it is, this seems to me
a fundamental question, about the most bodily of bodily processes, especially
when I recall that the word “fundamental” comes from the Latin fundus,
which means base, bottom, butt. “Do you shit in each other’s company?
Have you always? Are you comfortable with each other’s farts and smells,
the sounds of a loud shit, of diarrhea?”
Mark: (laughter) Of course, we are comfortable with all aspects
of close proximity. It is a crucial element of successful, ongoing domesticity.
As for the "Big D"—diarrhea—one had better be used to it if you expect
to be close to a person living with AIDS, which I have been these past
these past 23 years!
Andrew: So, after all these years together, as your bodies change
and age, what are you learning about each other’s physicality, and how
does it inform your own physical life?”
Mark: First, that growing old is not easy. And then, go gentle
into each and every night.
Andrew: Could you elaborate?
Mark: Malcolm and I have both discovered that vital engagement
is the secret to growing old with grace. Find meaningful work, contribute
to your community, staying curious to possibility in all things; these
may sound like shopworn clichés, but they are essential elements for staying
young inside. Cynicism is like cheap wine: you may get quite a bang for
your buck during the first few sips, but the after effects are just miserable.
A lot of gay men hit a wall around age 40 and lose their way, replacing
enormous potentiality with bitter cynicism and vacuous despair. I've found
my forties and fifties to be the best decades ever. And in Malcolm, at
age 82, I see a fantastic role model of the gay elder within.
Bo: There's a fine line between "cynicism" and "skepticism." I
hold on to the latter for dear life and try to keep the former at bay.
Mark: Good for you! I adore fine lines, and being a skeptic is honest
Malcolm: At 82, the big shock has come with the realization I no
longer have the body of Brad Pitt. Nor can I find my photo of physical
fitness within the pages of Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest girlie magazine.
Seriously, however, I learn a lot about my physical life in the aging
and changing of my body. I have osteoarthritis, which especially affects
my knees. I have glaucoma, so use eye drops both morning and night. Also
I have a form of sleep apnea, which leads to feelings of fatigue the next
day. But generally I am fine with a capital F; probably in extraordinary
shape for a man of my age. Five days a week I drive from our home to the
Episcopal Cathedral Center of Los Angeles where I have an office, my computer,
and a wonderful sense of community—especially nurtured by the presence
of several younger gay men and women who are good friends. Also, I walk
and hike in several different nearby parks near our home several early
mornings a week.
I observe changes, of course, in Mark's face and body. Twenty-one years
have passed since we began our journey together. Observing him, or being
close to him, I feel contentment, reassurance, courage, a passion for
life, and the best expression of love in the world.
Bo: Tell us about your new book, Malcolm…this is your 30th.
Malcolm: It's a book about prayer that I've co-edited with Bishop
Jon Bruno of Los Angeles called In Times Like These (New York: Seabury
Press, 2005.) We have 50 contributors including Norman Mailer. It's a
very good book, but maybe not in particular sync with this conversation,
I think. It has definite gay identity, including pieces from Mark and
Felice Picano among others.
I mentioned earlier to you that my "favorite" gay writing is in Look
Back in Joy—which, incidentally, I would love to see republished;
I think it has a certain classic quality and is altogether unique, especially
coming from "a priest."
Maybe I should say that my best gay writing has been—in my view—gay rather
than straight. Along this line, do you have the book Sundays at Seven:
Choice Words from a Different Light's Gay Writer Series [ed. by Rondo
Mieczkowski]? If so, look up my piece entitled "Kiss" on pages 67-70. I
think you might enjoy reading it in the context of all the other things
we're talking about. Also, it's a kind of writing I've not done elsewhere
and, in a sense, relates to Look Back in Joy.
Bo: I loved Look Back in Joy. I’m not sure I understand what you
mean when you say “My best gay writing has been gay rather than straight.”
Malcolm: I was playing with words and having a little fun. But,
there was also substance in it. I meant that I am "better" in writing
when my communication is poetic in style rather than "straight"—not meaning
non-gay but meaning formal or academic or proper or, well, straight. My
title at the Cathedral Center is, in fact, poet/writer-in-residence. I
feel that I communicate best when I am not deliberately being linear.
Along this same line, I feel some of the best sermons I've ever heard
were in the theatre rather than the pulpit—as, for example, in the Theatre
of the Absurd. I saw some wonderful plays in this genre. Also I was terribly
moved—and deeply influenced by—Death of a Salesman (which I saw in the
original run with Lee J. Cobb), Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie,
Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, and, of course, A Long Day's
Journey into Night where the mother speaks, "None of us can help the
things that life has done to us. They're done before you realize it, and
on ice they're done. They make you do other things until at last everything
comes between you and what you'd like to be, and you've lost your true
We have become such literalists! Yet God (and people like ourselves, too)
works mysteriously. I found an interesting analogy to this in photography. Richard
Avedon, one of the great photographers, said, "I began trying to create
an out-of-focus world—a heightened reality better than real, that suggests,
rather than tells you. Maybe the fact I'm myopic had something to do with
it. When I take off my glasses, especially on rainy nights, I get a far
more beautiful view of the world than twenty-twenty people get. I wanted
to reproduce this more poetic image that I was privately enjoying." I
love this. It has influenced me greatly in my writing to "take off my
glasses" and let a poetic image come in.
Along this line something happened to me in the early 60s that influenced
my life and work. I was invited to join Langston Hughes in Cleveland where
we participated in a public reading of our work. That night I read from
the galleys of Are You Running with Me, Jesus? that was about to
be published. Langston called my prayers "poems." That's what they were
for him. I was deeply affected by this. Ever since I have sought the poetic
quality (rather than any other) in my prayers. This is, incidentally,
why I am called "poet/writer in residence" at the L.A. Cathedral Center. It's
because some of my work is essentially poetic—as in my prayers—and other
parts of my writing are simply "non-fiction" and professional and narrative
(but not poetic). Langston loved my prayers as poems, and I will be eternally
grateful to him.
Bo: So what is prayer? Voltaire called prayer “the poetry of the
soul”…sounds like a synonym to me.
Malcolm: Langston wasn't—in my view—commenting on either the intention
or the context of my prayer itself, but rather its style. We were guests
in Cleveland of the Karamu Playhouse, an interracial cultural center,
in l964, and participated in other events in the city. I feel he was speaking
not as an explicitly religious person, but as a deeply spiritual poet.
A reading of his poems attests to this; his sense of justice cut deep;
he had suffered under intense personal and political attack. By my definition,
prayer is consciously hanging out with God. Being with God in a deliberate
way. However one might pray—in any verbal way or completely without words—is
unimportant to God. What matters is the heart's intent. In the final analysis,
Langston was commending my poetic instinct and expression in my written,
verbal prayers. In effect, he regarded certain written prayers as a form
of good literature. This meant a great deal to me as a creative writer,
not just as an Episcopal priest.
Let me point out another contribution from Langston to my growth and understanding. In
his life and work he became a "bridge" person who somehow connected a
number of people separated by a cultural gulf between spirituality and
religion. This, manifesting itself in misunderstanding, conflict and even
wounding. So, stereotypes emerge along with battle scars. Langston, in
the inherent poignancy and truth of his poems, points toward possibilities
of mutual perception. He is not either/or in terms of spirituality or
religion; his vision includes both/and. He was inclusive in every sense
of the word, but never dogmatic or into separateness. A point of mutuality
between us was his blackness and my intense participation in the racial-civil
rights struggle, so we sometimes shared a single focus on this. He was
an absolutely remarkable human being: a complex man committed to simplicity,
utterly serious, terribly funny, sensitive, vulnerable, and immensely
courageous. Without formal adherence to traditional concepts of prayer,
he understood prayer near-perfectly—and, in my view, hung out with God
in a wonderfully natural way. I find him a role model.
Andrew: Mark, White Crane is putting out a new edition of
Gay Spirit, which is such good news. I believe you've written a
new introduction for it. Looking back on Gay Body, if you were
to write a new introduction for that book, what would you say? Is there
anything you've learned since the book came out that you'd add to it?
Are there things that look different to you now, that you might not include
if you were doing the book today?
Mark: I appreciate this question. Because though Gay Body
has been controversial in some quarters, it represents the best I have
to offer as a writer. The book is also a testament to the time in which
it was written—1994 through 1996—so I would not change a word. Those years
were the nadir of the epidemic, in terms of the wholesale dying that had
occurred the previous decade and right before the introduction of the
medical miracles that keep scores of us still alive. The book begins by
telling the story of my younger brother's death from AIDS and concludes
with a recitation of the various ways in which many other gay brothers
met a similar end. The book is a serious read, but not morbid, in my view,
as it really is an affirmation of life as interpreted through the experiences
of a body—my own body—that was seen as "gay" from almost day one. The
book is a very personal account, for sure, but also speaks for the collective
journey we gay men must take through a homophobic society.
To adjust and survive, and then to emotionally grow, means that we have
all had to face certain moments of horror. Critics of the work usually
cite the episode in which I am looking at a mirror, face smeared with
my blood. It sounds shocking, but for me it was a beatific scene, signifying
an inner awakening, a rebirth, if you will. Women readers have always
been more receptive to the meaning of this, based on their own experiences
of child birth and menstruation. The truly horrific has always been those
things, and in some cases actual entire lives, that remain perpetually
closeted away. Apathy, disregard for self and others, and lack of curiosity,
are the terrors that inevitably do us in. In this particular accounting,
I wrote about the shame, warped self image, and addictive attractions
that not only threatened the sanctity of my body, but the bodies of countless
others. I am a much healthier person for having written Gay Body.
Aside from that, I believe it will endure as an accurate and loving witness
to those who have not only survived—but thrive—then and now.
Please read an exclusive excerpt from Malcolm Boyd's Look
Back In Joy.
Please read an exclusive excerpt from Mark Thompson's Gay
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