Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 1997-1998

From Queer to Eternity: Spirituality in the Lives of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People, by Peter Sweasey

reviewed by Terry Sanderson

Peter Sweasey seeks to disarm his critics at the beginning of this book by admitting that orthodox religion is incompatible with self-respect as a gay person. He goes through the litany of injustice and insult that religions – from Islam to Christianity to Baha’i – have heaped, and continue to heap, on gay people.

We know they are wrong about homosexuality and therefore why should they be right about anything else, asks Sweasey. But, he says, once you’ve got the influences of oppressive organised religion (but not necessarily God) out of your life, what is left? The “gay community” with its flighty ways and superficial “lifestyle” cannot fill the void that is left in your life once you’ve dumped the church, synagogue, temple or whatever. What are you going to do with the “spiritual” insights you have gained on your journey to wholeness as a gay person?

Mr Sweasey says that gay people are special in that they have to examine their psyche and their motives in ways that heterosexuals do not. There are no maps for our lives as there are for heterosexuals, so we have to draw our own in our own way. Many gay people feel at odds with the rest of humanity, out of step with their peers, sometimes feeling as if they’ve been dumped into their family, cuckoo-style, by aliens from another planet.

On our journey of self-discovery, says Sweasey, we are likely to have all kinds of spiritual awakenings. He quotes many people who have shaken off the shackles of conventional religious thought and discarded the rules of authoritarian holy books because their sexuality could not be reconciled with them. But most of them still cling to the idea that there is “something else”. Some claim to have had “spiritual experiences” which have changed their lives, and others claim that they have “connected” with something “bigger” whether that something is “the universe” the “great spirit” or the rest of humanity.

All of them say that they have shaken off the shackles of patriarchal religions because such institutions were so hostile to their sexuality. They all say that it is better to make up the rules in accordance with your own experience and feelings.

This sounds remarkably like humanism to me. If you take away all the mumbo jumbo and the inflated language that “spiritual people” are so fond of, what we have here is situational ethics. Make it up as you go along according to the circumstances you find yourself in. Humanists have always known this, and so long as you obey the one Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you), you can improvise morality from day to day and from person to person. But how do we get over this business of “spirituality”? Why can’t people be happy with the life they’ve got and accept that it is complete in itself? Why has there got to be more? Is it simply human conceit that cannot believe that this is all there is, and that, in the end, we are unimportant specks in a vast, meaningless universe?

There is much soul-searching and breast-beating in this book. What does it all mean? they keep asking. Why am I here? What happens after I’m dead? People spend the precious life that they have maundering on about these unanswerable questions, instead of truly living and fully enjoying the senses that are only temporarily theirs.

Interestingly, the book fails to mention humanism. Our esteemed secretary, George Broadhead, has already revealed that he was interviewed by Mr Sweasey during the research for this book. George’s thoughts on living without either religion or spirituality are not included. One cannot help thinking that the exclusion is deliberate. At one stage Mr Sweasey mentions gay affirmation ceremonies and cites those provided by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Metropolitan Community Church and even pagan “handfasting” rituals of union. He does not mention the non-religious ceremonies offered by GALHA’s associated charity the Pink Triangle Trust – even though many are conducted every year.

I can see Mr Sweasey’s problem. If he had included humanism in his book there wouldn’t have been any need for the rest of the self-deluding nonsense that is espoused. Some of the people he quotes are living lives of ludicrous self-indulgence and excess and excusing them by claiming that this is their way of expressing their spirituality.

Although satanists are not mentioned in the book, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been out of place. “Satanic ritual abuse” (in which children are allegedly tortured and sacrificed to the devil) must surely be a legitimate way to “express your spirituality”, if anything really goes, as this book seems to suggest. After all, satanists claim to be true believers, don’t they? Sexual extremism is put forward as a way of worshipping God by one man; the book, and drug-induced hallucinations are claimed as genuine spiritual experiences by another.

One of Mr Sweasey’s points is that the “gay community” we have created cannot provide a fulfilling life for anyone, packed as it is with drug abuse, deadening music and compulsive, often meaningless, sexual activity. He says that once you’ve integrated your sexuality, been through the coming out process, how can you progress as a human being? You know you don’t belong in the mainstream, so where do you belong? His answer seems to be in a spiritual, neo-religious community of some sort.

My answer is that the world is a big, fascinating place, full of all kinds of people and all kinds of challenges. Instead of heading inward to contemplate ridiculous, unfathomable questions about eternity, we should embrace our potential for life and live it to the full. How you do that is up to you. Give out love and it will return. Give happiness to other people and you will find that you are happy.

If Old Compton Street seems like hell on earth, then go away and find something that feels like heaven on earth.

Because as sure as eggs is eggs, there ain’t no heaven anywhere else.

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