The Beatrice Interview

Mark Thompson

"Everywhere I go, gay men want a spiritual connection..."

interviewed by Ron Hogan

Mark Thompson is the author and editor of several books about gay men's lives. He lives with his partner, author and priest Malcolm Boyd, in Los Angeles, where I met with him in late December.

RH: This book seems like the third part of a trilogy beginning with Gay Spirit and Gay Soul.

MT: It's a very loose trilogy, one that I more or less had in my mind all along. Gay Spirit was an anthology, about a third of which was my own writing. I wanted, in addition to producing an anthology, to tell a story, to trace the development of gay male consciousness around issues of spirituality from the days of Walt Whitman to contemporary times. In my former career with the Advocate, when I was working as an activist, a critic, and a reporter, I was getting a sense of what we had, but also of what we didn't have, and I concentrated on that in my work: looking at the margins of gay life, those things that aren't necessarily seen by outsiders or even at times by ourselves. Spirituality became a focus for me to identify the issues we needed to look at if we were going to further this great social experiment to any more fruitful degree.

RH: Because of the cultural marginality of being gay, gay spirituality often necessitates looking beyond conventional spiritual methods and exploring new areas.

MT: I've always deeply felt that spirituality permeates every cell of our being, and therefore has a sensual and erotic element to it. Spirit, soul, and body have to be integrated as one. I think that gay people are... less clueless about that than most. I'm not saying that we've got that synthesis, but we are closer in achieving it. That synthesis will be achieved, I believe, on a widespread basis in the twenty-first century, and if gay men can get our act together, we can realize that we're carriers of that wisdom, that way of being.

Everywhere I go, gay men want a spiritual connection, they want love in their life, and they want to be able to form self-love. And that's spiritual. In connecting with the deepest parts of ourselves we connect with the divine.

RH: But just as many gay men hide their gayness from the straight world, some gay men feel compelled to hide their spirituality from other gays.

MT: I think that most gay men, even if they don't want to admit it to themselves, have deep spiritual feelings. Look at the vast numbers of gay men in the helping and teaching professions, or the number of priests and other members of the religious community. I haven't met a church organist yet who isn't gay. (chuckles) I think there's something deep within us that calls us to a life of service to others, a life connection with God, as a way to form self- love.

RH: And gay men are also forming their own spiritual communities, such as the radical fairies and certain elements of the leather community.

MT: Certain elements, sure. The leather community's a wide community, with many different strains. I don't identify myself as a leatherperson, but because I lived in San Francisco in the '70s, a very "anything goes" environment, and because I was attracted to dark eros, I took part in that community, and it became a wonderful, healing part of my life. I was pretty careful in how I chose to pursue those experiences, and I had some very good teachers.

RH: You write about those experiences, and other experiences in your life, particulary your adolescense, with a frankness and candor that might surprise many who are used to spiritual books filled with 'affirmative' vagueness.

MT: How can one write about spirituality without candor? Although I didn't tell everything. I still have a ton of stories left over. I didn't write much about my career at the Advocate, where I met and talked with just about everybody. It's not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about the spiritual journey, and I wanted to write about more than my story. That's why I combined the intellectual framework with the personal storytelling. It's two books in one, really, a very Jungian model, and astute Jungian readers will pick up on some of the book's other structural elements.

RH: This is your fifth book in ten years. Do you find it easier as a gay man now to publish and reach a larger audience?

MT: Sure. I remember when there were hardly any books to review in the Advocate, and now there's too many, and it's all happened so quickly. But the bloom is off the rose of the gay publishing experience. Gay books are definitely here, but I think it's hard for the industry back east to see the market for them. I've heard that a gay bestseller is considered to be 10,000 copies. I've been fortunate in that most of my books are pushing 20,000 in sales figures. So I'm a good midlist author, my books sell and they sell over time. But as a gay activist, I make my books because I feel that these books are what's needed and what will be useful to the community.

RH: You discuss in the book some occurrences that might loosely be called "supernatural" spiritual experiences.

MT: I'm not a spiritualist in that sense, and I'm not superstitious, but there are things that happen for which there are no easy explanations. Life on this planet is fantastically interwoven with things known and unknown, and there are many layers to what we'd call reality. That's all I can say about it, really.

RH: Any last thoughts?

MT: Writing the book was an act of passion, and ultimately an act of therapy for me. I hope it encourages other people to tell their stories. The coming out process is a multilayered one. You don't just come out of one closet and that's it. You keep coming out throughout your life.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Jill Nagle | Kate Bornstein

All materials copyright © 1997 Ron Hogan