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The Hero’s Journey

I’d like to present a guest post by David Gormong.

This is very profound and an excellent allegory.

 

THE HERO’S JOURNEY

The heroes of myth and legend have so much to teach us gay men. We too are called to the hero’s journey.

Consider the story of Hercules, for instance. The ancient Greeks loved the tale of Hercules, or Heracles, as they called him. And well they should have. His is a tale of intrigue, adventure, agony, and triumph. It is a classic example of the monomyth, the hero’s journey, made famous by Joseph Campbell.

The heart of the story, the Twelve Labors, begins with Hercules enjoying life with his wife and children. But all is not well. Hera, the wife of Zeus, is dripping with spite for Hercules because he is the son of her husband and a human woman. She means to do him in, and spares nothing to torment and kill this half-breed. She drives him mad. In his derangement, Hercules murders his children, and in some tellings, his wife. Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

When he regains his wits, he exiles himself to recover his decency. He puts himself at the mercy of the Oracle of Delphi, the great Pythia, priestess of Apollo. Hera whispers in the Pythia’s ear: Send him to King Eurystheus of Mycenea, she says, for whom Hercules must accomplish ten impossible feats. The punishment is particularly humiliating because Mycenea should have been Hercules’ kingdom, had not Hera intervened to install her little bully on the throne.

One by one Hercules accomplishes the ten feats to the fearful astonishment of Eurystheus. The king refuses to count two of them, however. So he requires Hercules to accomplish twelve labors in all. The twelfth mission sends Hercules to Hades to capture the three-headed monster Cerberus. Descending to the realm of the dead, Hercules wrestles the malformed creature with his bare hands, and ultimately prevails. He brings it back to Eurystheus, who tremulously begs him please to take it back. Having accomplished this final feat, Hercules is at long last released from his humiliation, and allowed to return home.

I tell the story here not because I suspect Hercules of being gay. Far from it. He was surely as straight as a loon’s leg. I tell it as a way of understanding my journey as a gay man.

Guilty of filicide, Hercules somehow knows in his gut that redemption lies in exiling himself. Of his own will, he walks outside the walls of his hometown and begins his hero’s journey. As gay men, we are given no such choice. We are cast outside the gates of straight society from our birth, maybe even from our conception. We are transgressive, not because of anything we have done, but for who we are.

Like Hercules, our transgression is the doing of the gods. We have no conscious choice in the matter. We are different from the start, boys who bear the mark of some goddess who has imprinted herself on our psyches. We are feminine of soul, and therein lies our sin against the collective.

We begin our exile not as full-grown men, having once enjoyed the comforts of being at home among kinsmen. No, we come as aliens into a straight world. As children, not yet skilled with sword or club, we begin our exile. We become keenly aware of it just as we are feeling the adolescent compulsion to fit in. It’s a lot for a boy to bear.

Having not yet consented to a sexual act, we are nonetheless guilty of what Michel Foucault called “the arrogance of sex,” what Jamake Highwater so poignantly described in The Mythology of Transgression. We have transgressed — etymologically, gone across — across the threshold of straight society, out into the wilderness where bane and beast await.

How we long to be taken back inside the gates. Oh how I longed. This longing held me fast till I was forty-nine. Seven times seven years. There must be some mythical meaning to that number. I twisted myself into a straightjacket of heterosexual marriage. I became a pastor in a conservative denomination, of all things. I refused to read pro-gay theology, fearing it might actually be convincing. I could pass as straight. More’s the pity.

“Often in actual life,” writes Joseph Campbell, “and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered.” The result is that one’s life becomes “a wasteland of dry bones… life feels meaningless” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces). I know that feeling. As I passed beyond middle age, I was slowly dying. My life was rotting from the inside out.

I resisted the call for all the right reasons. I loved my wife. I loved my family. I loved my church. I loved my God. But I did not love myself. I was living someone else’s life. I was scared. I was like Frodo Baggins, another classic hero, who did not wish to bear the ring. His aversion was well-meaning. He did not want to succumb to its power, to become possessed by it like his Uncle Bilbo. No matter. All of Middle Earth would have fallen into shadow had he not borne it into the fire of Mount Doom. We refuse the call not to our own peril alone, but also to that of our friends and family. They need the balance of masculine and feminine that we carry within us.

Blessedly, the gods will not relent. In another Greek myth, Apollo pursues the fleeing Daphne, “I who pursue you am no enemy,” he cries after her. “You know not whom you flee.” When we gay men hide from our calling, we are not fleeing an enemy. We are refusing the gift of our own lives. We are refusing the very gift we have to give the world. We can offer no other service than the giving of our selves.

A long-delayed coming out is not the only way we refuse the hero’s journey. The push for gay rights is about many things. It is about justice. It is about owning our identity. It is about affirming our humanity. As brightly as those ideals shine, they also cast a shadow. The gay rights movement is also, dare we admit it, about denying our difference. “One love,” we sing. “Same same,” we say. It is only half the truth. And the fundamentalists of all faiths are only too ready to remind us of the other half.

Jungian psychologist Mitch Walker has long warned that gay rights cannot be our ultimate aim. Sometimes he has sounded shrill. In 1976 he wrote, “The Homophile Movement for Equality is a dead thing: dead to the vision, anti-magickal [sic], counter-revolutionary. Its spokespeople and theorists shun the roots (the radical, [which is the] source of nurturance and understanding) in favor of surface values: the social norm, success, integration, acceptance, assimilation. Its shallow reality suffocates the vision in us, co-opting gay people and vitiating the creativity and potential of the Gay Movement” (Visionary Love). Was that too strong? Of course. But he had a point.

Today he writes more temperately. “Reconciling to one’s same-sex-loving orientation and forging a ‘healthy gay identity’ which is socially successful,” he writes, is not enough. Yes, they are “absolutely pivotal steps in appropriate self-empowerment.” But they do not heal all the damage of “growing up alone in a hateful, alien world.” Nor do they heal the constant abrasion of having to prove our worth to “a social universe which is still vastly inhumanely biased against” our homosexuality (Gay Liberation at a Psychological Crossroads). We gays can get caught up in pursuit of money, fame, and power just to prove that we matter. But the real value we bring to society is not that. It is something far richer and deeper.

In other words, guys, we’ve got work to do. Psychological work. Spiritual work. We have labors we are called to complete. We must go down deep into the psyche. We have to get in there with our bare hands and our bare hearts and our bare guts. We need to wrestle malformed monsters, the monsters of our personal histories, the monsters of our social collective. We must wrestle till we can rescue all the parts of ourselves that we and our society have consigned to Hades.

Being exiled is not our choice. Taking the hero’s journey is.

“Nice” Christians

It’s always bugged me. Even when I was a pentecostal bible basher.

“Nice” Christians. 

You know the type…
Always smiling, always have an encouraging “word” for you, and ignoring everything “bad” in the world and only trying to think “good” thoughts.
Plastic, is one word that comes to mind, or shallow. They are out there in their millions.

Most live happy lives and I guess that’s OK. But it’s not OK when you interact with them on anything other than how lovely the pastors wife looks, or discussing how your latest sponsor child in Africa is going.

I had a run-in online with an old acquaintance from my pente church in the 80s. She was commenting on the upcoming vote in Australia on gay marriage and was posting articles as to why we should vote no. I was quick to jump on them and point out the many flaws in the facts and research they stated. They were highly inaccurate and offensive for those who actually know what they are talking about.

The comments were all “oh, dear, how terrible, yes we must vote no!”. But I had the guts to point out the flaws. It didn’t go down well. But here’s the rub. You see, she’s a “nice” christian, so wouldn’t dream of confronting me with her real feelings, so proceeded with patronising comments that had that “I’m being firm but loving” attitude, and it was wrong of me to confront her and make assumptions about her views etc, and then finished off with “God bless”, and the unfriended me.

I’m inclined to think these types are far worse than the Westbro psychopaths. At least with Westbro you know exactly where you stand – there’s no fake mask, no pretence, what you see is what you get. (Yes, I’m generalising)

But the “nice” ones are insidious. They hide in their little isolated worlds and even when they “go out into the world”, it’s to do good deeds and help those poor 3rd world people and the “underpriveliged” (a very apt word). Of course, they may bring practical help but it’s always with an agenda of getting them saved and making them into “nice” acceptable western Christians, just like them.

In daily life, they avoid conflict, and if it arises, they default to bible verses, spoken in love of course. If that doesn’t work they may gently rebuke you with a smile and claim they still love you, but not your actions. They think that being “nice” is all they have to do to be “Christlike”.

The truth is, they are just like the Pharisees. Pretending they are wise and caring. Pretending they know best and we should just all be nice like them and get along. We must follow their doctrines and only allow questions that are within the constraints of their bible study guidelines. They are gutless, controlling, patronising, arrogant and everything Jesus stood against.

If you try to interact with these folks, you’ll come away feeling like you are the one with the problem. They may trigger all your issues of religious abuse, and then quietly, and oh so politely, point out that you are the one who has reacted badly. They may suggest a good Christian counsellor, or if you really get up their noses, they may snub you and remove you from their circle of niceness.

These are the ones I really struggle with, and I now realise it’s ok to call them out on it. It’s ok to challenge them. We don’t have to be “nice”. We have to be loving and compassionate but also real, honest, exposing bigotry and injustice – just like Jesus did!

Love yourself!

A wonderful friend (Ru Gof) posted this pic today, which reminded me that this is the greatest and most powerful truth we can embrace.

We may THINK we feel love for others – we may become overwhelmed by emotion for others and feel a huge heart response to them.

We may genuinely put others first and try to meet their needs. We might do everything that looks like love – but it isn’t. It’s a subconscious construct that we adopt to hide our own lack of self love. Its a deflection from the need to look at our own self loathing and fear. Our lack of self love/worth colours every single thought, emotion and action.

Self love is THE only way to truly love others, no matter how you justify it, no matter what your emotions might say, or how loving your actions look. It’s not real.

Love yourself first. Only then will the love your experience and express for others be pure and untainted by our own needs.

This is a hard reality – very hard!! Because there are so many beautiful people who do incredibly loving selfless actions, based on their emotional perceptions and responses. They are genuine and do amazing things for so many, and they can be incredibly empathetic and compassionate as well!

But it’s not real love!

This can be horrific for those fragile ones amongst us to recognise, mostly because it means they have to confront their inner demon of self hatred, which often masks itself as “sacrificial” love, and “empathy”. It can be a large can of worms, especially for abuse victims – which includes religious abuse (and even just devotion to standard christian doctrines!), as well as physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Self love is the key to freedom, no matter what any religion or philosophy tells you. It’s not pride or arrogance. It’s not narcissism. It’s a true evaluation of the uniquely beautiful and perfect you.

Be brave – live loved!!

I was a chronic liar!

Lying.

We hate liars. We are taught from day one that its absolutely wrong to lie, and when we catch people lying it destroys trust and credibility.

But we all tell little lies every so often. We twist the truth a little, tell “white lies”, you know the story. It’s even justifiable if the truth could do more damage than a careful lie!

But I lied all my life. I lied about who I was. I lied to myself every day. I lied to my family and friends. I lied to everyone.

I felt like I had no choice, but it ate me up from the inside out. “Coming out” as gay was inconceivable. Confiding in friends wasn’t even an option – even those who I had some sort of “same sex” relationship with wouldn’t talk about it. We just “did it”. We had to lie.

Lying is so incredibly destructive. Obviously to those around us, but even more so to ourselves. It causes us to slowly build a false reality, a dual reality. It splits us, creating cognitive dissonance. It begins the process of mental illness and for some this can end in death.

I lied to my wife (both of them). I lied to my family. It was the only thing I could do to survive. But it nearly killed me.

This is why personal integrity is so important to me now. I ached to be “integral” all my life. You can’t imagine what a relief it is to have nothing to hide any more!

When I say I’m free, I really mean I’m finally living whole and with integrity. I am who I am, open and transparent. Perhaps too open sometimes, but I don’t care. It’s such a massive relief to tell the world that I no longer have anything to hide. I’m not lying to you any more! No more skeletons in the closet. No more fear. No more self hatred.

I’m free! Yeah, it’s all relative, and I know there are still many parts of my identity and “being” I don’t understand. I’m still influenced by the deep scars of the lies, and my emotions betray that far too often. But I’m free of the need to lie – about anything actually.

Life is good!!