A Letter of Encouragement

My college gave me a writing assignment. Yes, I graduated long ago, and it’s not for any college credits. It is meant to be kept in a binder in a resource center for the LGBTQ students, to represent the voices of alumni. Here is more about the request. This is what I came up with, and I thought I would share it here.


October 2015
Chicago, IL

Dear Student,

When I started at Macalester in 1987, it was a long time ago and the world was different for LGBTQ people. It was Reagan’s America, with its great cultural Conservative backlash. AIDS was still a virtual death sentence, with the earliest drug therapies just being approved and having imperfect and mixed results. And I had been teetering on the edge of coming out as gay through high school.

Macalester offered me a soft landing as I came out within months of arriving. There was a supportive and active group for LGB people at the time, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be there during that time of my own growth. For that I am forever grateful.

And I love what has happened since then in terms of the ongoing inclusiveness. I love that Queer, Trans and a whole range of different identities have emerged and been embraced by Macalester. I love that the faculty and staff members with LGBTQ identities are visible and part of the institution. I love that LGBTQ People of Color are more visible and their identities and stories are embraced.

Even though I have never seen one at work, I love the idea of the Identity Collectives, which seem to help people talk through challenges and be supportive of one another while they explore who they are, and especially who they are away from family and interacting with people of different backgrounds.

But with the wonderful things that Macalester can offer, it is still a relatively small community, and one filled with quirky and sometimes awkward personalities. Even on the most supportive campus, you are going to have drama, heartbreak, struggles to feel understood. This is part of the process of figuring out who you are becoming. And that is a beautiful thing.

As wonderful as Macalester can be, there is also the idea there is a Mac bubble and that out in the “real world”, people may not be as accepting. I did worry about that when I was there, and I’m sure many students may wonder about that, too. Maybe you’ve figured out your place at Mac, but what happens when you have to face life beyond that.

First, realize that Mac is real life, at least one version of it. And every place you go from now on will have a somewhat different version of real life, each just as real as the other. Gone are the days when everyone had to fit into a mold of getting a job, getting married, and having children to have a “real life”.

If you teach English in Vietnam or you write a novel while you have two part-time jobs to pay the rent, if you go to graduate school or start your own small business, if you work at Whole Foods or Dunn Brothers, if you become a stock broker or a school teacher – these are all “real life” and every one comes with certain advantages and certain challenges. Living on your own, living with a roommate, moving in with the love of your life – these can all be great and they can be a royal pain to deal with.

But my point is, as heavy as it may be after Macalester, you will be the one making the choices – where to live, where to work, what goals are important now, and which ones can wait. Those big decisions force a thousand other smaller ones.
Macalester experience will help you with the process of thinking certain things through. You will be able to recognize when friends or organizations are really committed to diversity or environmental responsibility and when they’re just giving these issues lip service. And hopefully, you will be able to find friends and colleagues who will recognize and support who you are and who you want to become. They are really out there, sometime in the most unexpected places.

When I was a student, I was sometimes socially awkward, often angry, and even went through a couple major depressive episodes. At times, I blamed Macalester for this, or perhaps for not helping me out more than they did. It certainly is true that the mental health resources that the students have today may have benefited me, and they were not in place back then.

Now, in my mid-forties, I consider myself to be in a good place. I have lived in Chicago for over 20 years now, and it wasn’t until I had been here almost 10 years that I found a group of friends as funky and smart, creative and open-minded as the people I knew at Macalester. Maybe I should have been better about holding onto those wonderful Macalester people, but I had to go and figure out parts of myself first before I really appreciated what I had there and what I left behind.

Macalester people may be really different from you, but for the most part, they will take the time to actually listen when you bring a perspective that is different. Appreciate that while you are there, and when you connect with Macalester people after you have moved on to your next place, because believe me, you will find that in many places in our society, people won’t take the time to really listen.

This was supposed to be a letter of encouragement. I hope that it works to encourage you, in some small way, to appreciate what you have at Macalester and to not be afraid of what comes next. My years since Macalester have been filled with things I never would have imagined when I was a student. My career, my main relationship, my friends, and my hobbies are not at all what I might have pictured, but on most days, I count myself happy and lucky.

All my best,

Pagan Spiritual Paths and Men Who Love Men – An Update

A while ago, I wrote a blog post called “Pagan Spiritual Paths and Men Who Love Men” and it has continued to get some slow but steady traffic over time. I looked at it again and figured it was time for an update, to refresh and expand the information provided there. I’m glad that people are finding this information and hope that it is a helpful, if brief, guide to some of the organizations available in this corner of the Pagan world.

In many cultures, there are religious traditions that incorporate deities and worship practices that involve same-sex attractions and relationships, gender-bending, gender switching and many other ideas that we would today label gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender. In ancient Greece and Rome, powerful gods had sexual appetites for conquests both female and male. Zeus/Jupiter was most famous for this, but this was also true of Apollo, Dionysos, and other gods. This, in itself, doesn’t tell us much. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered same-sex attraction a fairly normal appetite, and the gods reflected this.

Many cultures throughout the world have a phenomenon more like the example of Tiresias of the Greeks. Tiresias was the famed blind seer who switched from a man to a woman for 7 years. This gender-switching gave him a unique and powerful perspective: a power to see a more complete picture of the world and of humanity. The Greeks and Romans also had a transgender or, perhaps more accurately, intersex god called Hermaphroditos (Greek) or Hermaphroditus (Latin).

In cultures from the Americas and Africa, from the Ojibwe to the Dogon, gender non-conforming people were considered to have a sacred role, particularly when it came to their connection to the deities and to the other world. They often took seer or shaman-like roles. In Asia Minor and India, there are examples of male devotees dressing as women, sometimes even removing male genitals, all in order to bring their bodies and behavior in closer alignment with a worshipped goddess.

Christopher Penczak has an article here on “Gay Gods” and he recommends Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit. I have not yet had the chance to read this book, but it looks like a great resource on this topic. As an aside, he also has a book about LGBTQ people within Wicca called Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe.

I think it’s difficult to fit some of these beliefs and practices from different times and places into modern understandings of religion and gender. It’s very tricky to try imposing modern Euro/American cultural understandings of concepts like sexual and gender identity on cultures where the thinking on these subjects is so different. But LGBTQ people do find certain inspiration/reflection of paths that may be open to them.

As neo-paganism emerged in Europe and America in the 19th and 20th centuries, many paths creating new traditions such as Gardnerian Wicca were focused on fertility magic that revolves around strictly defined male and female roles. They can have a dualistic God/Goddess pantheon and women and men are assigned to enact only the deity corresponding to their gender in rituals. Same sex relationships were irrelevant at best and sometimes looked at with some hostility.

Since the 1970’s, a number of Pagan paths and groups have emerged with men who love men in mind. The Minoan Brotherhood emerged in the 1970’s as a deliberate reaction against the heterosexism in Paganism and Wicca. They follow a path for men loving men inspired by ancient Cretan traditions. They have expanded into chapters in a number of cities and also there is a Minoan Sisterhood, created as a related organization for women.

Brotherhood of the Phoenix is a Chicago-based neo-pagan order for men who love men. I have been initiated into the Outer Order as a Brother, and I have found incredible value from this group, both in their public rituals and education and with the deeper learning that continues after initiation. Like the Minoan Brotherhood, this group has formed to be a spiritually affirming force for gay, bisexual and transgender men.

The Unnamed Path is another path for men who love men that has emerged in the past few years. Founded by Hyperion, a charismatic leader steeped in Hoodoo and Santeria, this group continues his legacy and following the Shamanic path that he established. They are based in Southern California and host a gathering called Stone and Stang.

I just recently learned about a Thelemic order for gay and bisexual men based in Dayton Ohio called Ordo Aeternus Vovin. They are the hosts of a major festival called Coph Nia (see below).

Another interesting development has been the worship of Antinous, the “gay god”, reclaimed from Egyptian/Roman tradition. In life he was the lover and partner of the Emperor Hadrian, but due to the manner of his death (drowning in the Nile), he was deified. In the late Roman Empire, his worship spread throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa. The Ekklesia Antinoou or Via Antinoi has emerged as a revival of the worship of this god. A key figure in this revival has been P. Sufenus Virius Lupus. The group does not limit worshipers to men who love men (or even to men), but is open to all. That said, it is clearly another emerging tradition that affirms a men-loving-men perspective.

A big part of neopagan culture for the past couple decades, especially in the United States, is the festival culture. These festivals provide gathering places for people to come together to share rituals, learn from one another, listen to music, share stories and to generally be together in a place that is away from the mundane cares in their daily lives. A few of these festivals are geared toward pagan men who love men.

Between The Worlds is an annual gathering for men who love men in southern Ohio that started in 2002. It takes place in a campground for 5 days and embraces many different Pagan traditions.

Coph Nia is an annual mystical gathering for gay and bisexual men held in Pennsylvania. It is also a 5-day festival held in a campground that includes those from many different traditions within the Pagan community.

Gay Spirit Visions is an organization that encourages spiritual exploration for men who love men. They host several gatherings each year in North Carolina. They are pagan-inclusive, but not pagan identified.

Easton Mountain is a retreat center in rural New York state which hosts retreats and workshops for gay men (and others) often with spiritual themes. They are also pagan-inclusive, but not pagan identified.

Many other more recent neo-pagan traditions have become more welcoming to diverse sexual identities, especially those that emerged from the feminist spiritual movements of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Reclaiming tradition is certainly welcoming to diverse sexual identities and even Druidry and traditional Wicca have become more open around these issues. As Paganism can be particularly attractive to women who sought out an opportunity for representations of the divine feminine, so it is for LGBTQ people who seek a reflection of their own sexual and gender identities.

There are many great resources such as blogs and podcasts that are created and hosted by pagan identified men who love men (and of course, some that are well, you know… it’s the internet). Trying to create a list would be a huge project which is beyond the scope of this post. In the meantime, if you’re looking for that kind of resource, just reach out, I’m happy to recommend some.