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Excelling without Recognition

What was it like for Vincent Can Gogh?

Blooming Plum Tree, 1887

Blooming Plum Tree, 1887

The public hated his paintings. Critics abused him, gallery owners threw him out in the street.

At age 37 he killed himself. Today his paintings go for $100 million.

He’s only the most famous example of a common phenomenon, the unrecognized genius – and now, his story has become too easy for us. We pigeonhole him as a tragic figure and tell ourselves he just lived before his time, as if that’s all we need to know.

What we never say is, “If I’d seen his work back then, I’d have hated it too. He was crazy, the poor sot. No one cared when he died. I didn’t either.”

We’re as guilty of rejecting excellence now as people were back then.

Have you noticed that, when the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grants come out, you’ve never heard of any of them? Or do you have Benjamin Warf, Nancy Rabalais and David Finkel on your Friends’ list?

I don’t either. Nor Terry Plank, Junot Diaz or Claire Chase. Wouldn’t know them if they showed up on TV, which they don’t.

It’s a mystery how the MacArthur Foundation finds out about these folks. But I figure they employ specialists to scour the world looking for geniuses.

They’ve sure never knocked on my door, nor of anyone else I know. My friends do tend to excel, though; maybe not geniuses, but they’re all pretty darn good.

Clearly there’s a big gap between doing great work and being well-known. That’s surely true in every field of endeavor.

This guy is suddenly well-known:

Omar Borkan Al Gala has manufactured publicity by claiming he's too sexy for Saudi Arabia. However, he was supposedly one of four men kicked out of the country, and no one's seen the other three.

Omar Borkan Al Gala has manufactured publicity by claiming he’s too sexy for Saudi Arabia. However, he’s supposedly one of three men kicked out of the country, and no one’s seen the other two.

This guy isn’t much known, but should be:

John C. Bogle, father of index investing and founder of The Vanguard Group of mutual funds, has made more "nobodies" rich than anyone in the history of the world. That's an awful lot of grandparents. (Scott S. Hamrick)

John C. Bogle, father of index investing and founder of The Vanguard Group of mutual funds, has made more “nobodies” rich than anyone in the history of the world. That’s an awful lot of grandparents. (Scott S. Hamrick)

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples – a favorite actor or singer who never quite made it, an unknown writer whose sentences take your breath away, a social critic who’s so accurate that no one can hear her, the rabbi who liberated Buchenwald but got shunned in Jerusalem.

Some people are good at the publicity machine and some people aren’t. If Theo Van Gogh had had the internet, Vincent would have died rich at 92.

Mr. Bogle’s a good example; he’s a titan of the mutual fund industry, but Wall Street billionaires won’t even make eye contact with him. He’s onto their game. Fame doesn’t interest him, but investor education does.

For a rich guy, he doesn’t orient his life around greed, but around ethics. Which makes him a worthy subject for the Gay Spirit Diary.

He was interviewed recently for Frontline, the PBS documentary series. Turns out he doesn’t think money is God.

Here’s what prompts my musings: A little while ago I posted tomorrow’s Morning Prayer on my Daily Office site for the Eastern Hemisphere. It’s a fairly ordinary post, the kind of thing I do every day – but it’s great, if I do say so.

Sometimes a person excels quietly, just doing what they do every day, whether people notice or not. There’s a lot to be said for consistency.

This post, if you haven’t seen it yet, celebrates the Saint of the Day, a poet named Christina Rossetti; notices the death of former Congressman Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister and social action leader; features a Song of Creation written by my friend Maria L. Evans, praising God for the landscape and critters of northeast Missouri; asks for prayers for the Diocese of Nevada by showing a photo of a country church on the edge of Lake Tahoe; and ends with a hymn by Charles Wesley, sung at the Anglican cathedral of Portsmouth, which isn’t one of the prestigious cities in England.

All in all, the post is kind of ordinary and kind of brilliant. For those who get into that sort of thing, it will satisfy the soul.

I like doing that. I am happy with my life. And I’m good enough at it that my prayer sites have had 2 million visitors; I have almost a thousand members on Facebook.

These things make me a “success” on some level. They don’t make me a MacArthur genius, but I’m doing pretty good. I will die content.

Part of me knows that Vincent Van Gogh didn’t give a solitary crap whether anyone liked his stuff or not. And part of me knows that he really did.

I feel the same way, both sides of that duality. I care, and I don’t. After all, you’re reading this; thank you!

I don’t need anyone to read it but you.

On the other hand, the more the merrier, and I sure would like a few more donations from the people who are getting my fabulous prayers online. Money’s the only thing I worry about – and then I shrug, because you have to; it isn’t God.

This happened to me recently: I found out that someone read my new book, understood it and liked it. Five stars on Amazon – to go with my previous one-star review.

I’d quit looking, frankly; I don’t market my books, I just write them. I don’t know who this woman is, or how she found my book. I do know that she understood it, and that’s very gratifying. “Vincent sold a painting! Yay!”

Of course I don’t compare to him; I only compare to me, though every publisher will tell you that all writers compare to everyone else in their “genre.” Amazon keeps track of these comparisons, it’s all numerical. I’m probably # 2,000,000 today; oh well.

Encouraged, I decided to check if any of my other books have reviews I hadn’t seen. Murder at Willow Slough, my first book which sold the best of the three, has 27 reviews – but look at this list of the headlines on them:

• Thoroughly unreadable
• Beautiful Gay Man meets Straight Cop
• Josh Is THE MAN
• A thrilling read
• Interesting plot, poor writing
• Great Thriller!
• Interesting plot, but could have been better
• Contemporary classic for the Hoosier State
• Stunning
• Compelling!

Keep in mind, Mark Twain gets mixed reviews on Amazon, and Shakespeare’s often called “overrated.” No one gets universal acclaim, and if they start to, there will be a backlash. I spent enough time in the newspaper business to know that the media builds you up one day, only to tear you down the next. Reporters have space to fill; that’s their job. And the public is fickle and mostly apathetic.

So I’ve learned not to expect much, though it does seem odd that I’m so polarizing to people. I get lots of love and a fair amount of hate. For every “thoroughly unreadable,” there will be an “OMG, this writing is perfect.” This is why I go months without reading reviews.

The worst, of course, is no reviews at all. If you want reviews, you have to work the publicity machine. And that takes a value set I just don’t have. (Mindset –> value set).

I look more like John Bogle than Al Gala! Though 30 years ago I was kinda cute. Didn’t take advantage of it; didn’t believe in it.

Recognition is important; it keeps an artist like Vincent alive. But at some point a real artist has to say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” Do what you do, keep at it, and maybe you’ll get recognized, and maybe you won’t.

Don’t kill yourself if you don’t.

IN CONCLUSION… I don’t really have a conclusion, except to take your comforts where you can. Be thankful for what you have, not regretful for what you don’t. However bad you’ve got it, somebody’s got it much worse; and similar clichés that are completely true. You have to be self-motivated; someday Al Gala will be admitted to Saudi Arabia without a second thought. What goes up must come down.

Make sure that what goes down, you bring back up.++

Luke loves me, whether you do or not!

Luke loves me, whether you do or not.

The Gospel According to Gay Guys

13th century Russian icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus; graphic design by Peter Schröder Studio, Amsterdam.

My third novel was published yesterday and is now on sale as an e-book at Amazon, in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

You can read it on all Kindle formats, iPhone and iPad, as well as desktop computers with a free downloadable Kindle app; link below.

Other formats will be rolled out soon, along with more stores.

My book’s as long as the Bible – but much more entertaining. It reads fast and has comedy too. At $6.99 it’s only a penny a page. (Although there’s really no such thing as a “page” in an e-book, since readers can change the text size to whatever they want.)

I’ll tell you a secret: it’s really a Gospel for Gay Guys. I stole “according to” from someone else’s work.

Three of the chapters are sexually explicit. My friend Leonardo is going to blush. He may even walk away from it for awhile, but I bet he comes back to find out what happens next.

It’s got four-letter words, because that’s how guys like us talk. I wrote it in the vernacular. Maybe it would sell better if I’d told Peter to label it “Vulgate Edition.”

But it’s good news for every Gay guy who ever loved God.

I have no idea what reaction I’ll get from women. They were 50% of the audience for Murder at Willow Slough (2001), the book that introduced these characters, Jamie and Kent. Women loved that book; some of them will like this too, but it is a grown-up story. Slough contained no sex; this book makes up for lost time.

Here’s the official pitch from the Amazon sales page:

Kent is a cop, Jamie is a reporter; they fell in love three months ago while working on a serial murder case, and now they’ve come to the end of their first date. They want to make sure their relationship lasts, but they are babes in the woods and the forest is scary. They have to face their dangers and fears, separately and together.

Their challenges range from a drive-by shooting in Murder City USA to a seductive waiter at a resort hotel, but their worst difficulties are close to home: family expectations, health issues, money concerns, sexual styles. And “what are you going to do about kids, anyway?”

Jamie keeps getting attacked by creatures out to kill him, and Kent’s never around when he needs him. They move into a weird old mansion and suddenly a 10-year-old boy disappears.

They treat each other tenderly, but what they don’t say matters as much as what they do.

The Gospel According to Gay Guys is a romance, a murder mystery, an epic family history. It’s the story of one man coming to faith, and two men making a marriage.

Does God love Gay guys? Absolutely – including, and within, their sexuality.

The Church has always taught that within marriage, sex is sacramental. So the book’s got a couple of communion times in it.

Last month the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage rites. It’s local option, so they won’t take place all over the country right at first, but in marriage equality states, local priests will be able to sign our civil licenses, the same as they do for Straight couples.

The Episcopal Church has given GLBT Christians everything we want: our own bishops and priests, marriage, non-discrimination, full respect. That’s great news.

Sure, it took a long time, about 40 years, but as God measures time, this was an eye-blink.

The message of the book is this: we’re free to come back to church now. The Episcopal Church Welcomes Us.

Episcopalians aren’t being trendy, they’re being faithful. God wants LGBTs in church, so Episcopalians have thrown the doors open.

There are other good, welcoming churches of all denominations, on every continent. Whatever church you grew up in or used to go to, you can probably find an accepting community.

I make a case that the Episcopal Church is ideal for Gay people because it’s both Protestant and Catholic, but also that no one should tell you how to think. Go where you’re comfortable; go where you find God in the church’s midst.

My biggest target audience is GLBT Christians raised in the faith, who left because of Pat Robertson and the Pope. Churches have been full of anti-Gay hatred for as long as most of us have been alive. I left too; I don’t blame you.

But times are changing, and churches are, too.

Find yourself a good faith community, test it and join it. It’s much easier to encounter God with other people around. Yes, you can worship on a mountaintop or in the woods, but let’s face it, you don’t do that very often. The community has a purpose: mutual teaching, mutual support.

And it welcomes people with no religious background at all. When we first meet Kent Kessler, his faith is as vague as can be. He doesn’t know much, he’s never examined the claims Christians make for Jesus, and his life is okay without asking about him. He goes to church because his family does, but he just never thought much about it.

I hope Gay guys can still listen when God calls.

But the book doesn’t preach, it tells a story: here’s what happened after these guys fell in love.

Genuine romance changes lives. So does real friendship. We’re never the same. We’re better off for knowing someone and trusting them with our inner selves, the way we really are.

I’ve loved several Gay guys, and they’ve loved me. So this is what I’ve learned from them; God is there inside our love.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally – in every way, God is right there.

I’ll end now with a final observation. Maybe you already know God loves you. I hope you do; it means you’re one of his.

But few of us perceive the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us. It includes all the things about yourself you hate.

Gay guys have been taught to hate ourselves, and nearly all of us still do, deep down inside. The most homophobic people on the planet aren’t Christians, but Gay guys. “Religious people” have taught us how to do this, but we’re the ones who absorbed the lessons down to the core of our being, where our sexuality is located.

But The Gospel According to Gay Guys argues that Gay liberation began with Jesus Christ. There were these two guys living together, see…

You heard it here first. The idea isn’t original with me, but nobody tells the story like I do.

It takes a Gay guy to tell it; someone who isn’t academic, and whose job doesn’t depend on pleasing anyone else. Chances are your parish priest could tell it, but s/he doesn’t.

I’m the one who’s free to go for broke. So in this book, I do.

If that isn’t worth $6.99, go to the movies or buy yourself another drink. All I can do is tell you the truth; from here on it’s up to you.

You can download it here.

Whatever mistakes are in the book I’m responsible for. Whatever’s true about it the Holy Spirit wrote.++

Tom of Finland. I so wanted this for my cover art, but the Peter Schröder Studio had a better idea; saints first, studs second.

 

 

Terror Time: O, Have Mercy on Me Lord!

“Oh, the humanity!”

A few minutes ago I downloaded a free 30-day trial of Microsoft Word for Mac.

I’m not scared of the program; I’ve used it before. But the download means I’m now committed to publishing The Gospel According to Gay Guys, my third novel, on Kindle within a month.

Kindle requires Microsoft files. Seems odd to me, given that most creative people use Macs, but the rules are the rules. I have to have the whole thing done – reformatted (every damn page, according to still more rules) and uploaded to Amazon.

From here, there’s no turning back.

I have, of course, been pushing myself to get to this day for weeks, months, years – ever since I published my first book and then wondered, “What happens on the driveway?” So the driveway is where the sequel begins.

But now the day has finally come. And I’m a bit scared.

I’ve been in spiritual direction with a counselor so this day would come. (Curiously, Marcia and I don’t have an appointment this month.) Publishing the book has been my #1 spiritual goal/thing to work on, because I believe God calls me to do it, because it’s something only I could have written.

Therefore to become myself, I have to do it. And now, the spacelaunch begins.

Who wouldn’t be a little scared?

This morning I wrote myself a sign, which is on my desktop:

I worry that the book will go nowhere.
And rather than find that out, I don’t publish it.
7.9.12

But:

(Cobbed from Facebook months ago.)

I also have a picture of (ahem) a nekkid man on my desktop, to go with these images, as motivation to do the work. I won’t post the full pic here, but I decided years ago that my character Kent looks like a Colt model from years ago named “Terry DeLong.” Nice looking guy; he has deep-set black eyes, and I decided to make that an inherited trait of his family, many of whom are also characters in the book.

Ya gotta have somethin’ to hang your hat on. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

The book is a love story, among other things. It’s a hybrid romance-mystery-historical novel. Of course I love it to death. But will anyone else?

Probably not. And that’s very scary, because my “whole life” is bound up in the success of this book. Or so I think.

It isn’t really; I’ll survive either way.

“It’s a big smash hit!” Or “Nobody noticed.”

Here’s what I would not survive: failing to see the project through to completion. Failing to be my best self.

Going in, I already know what the criticism of it will be – the same as the criticism of my first novel, that this story continues on the driveway. “It’s too sweet. They’re too nice, they’re too perfect. The writing is juvenile. It’s incoherent. It’s grandiose. He’s in love with his characters” – which is true, that last one. Maybe the grandiosity too, but I’ve never lacked for ambition.

It will rise or fall on its title, which I hope is an eye-grabber.

But::: You don’t set out to write a Gospel unless you’re an evangelist – and I am, commissioned 1977 by the Bishop of Indianapolis. And::: You can’t write a Gospel unless it’s full of Good News – which it is.

Good news is sweet, nice and it’s perfect. (When it’s not being jaw-droppingly difficult. “Pluck out your eye and cast it away,” anyone?)

These characters are morally good, but they’re not perfect. Jamie’s got brain damage and a mental illness, and Kent can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

But they’re good to each other, and that is something I want to talk to Gay men about.

We’re often not very good to each other, which I think is usually the result of internalized shame about being Gay.

Even in this day and age it’s still the #1 problem we face. If you want to collect the most homophobic people in the world, convene a big gathering of Gay people.

I am very, very high on the ethical and moral worth of LGBTs. But we often believe the absolute worst about each other. You can see that in almost every Gay video ever made, pornographic or entertainment-oriented – and you can readily hear it at any bar or cocktail party in five minutes after two people have struck up a genuine conversation.

Watch documentaries about us, though, and you’ll see heroes and heroines from start to finish.

So I wrote a book about two heroes; you could even call them two saints. They’re imperfect mortals, but they consistently do their best, just like you do.

They do not contain the seeds of their destruction within themselves, a fatal flaw that will kill them. That is the way of classical mythology, but it’s inadequate as an explanation of why good people die.

They do, that’s all; they’re mortals. And unlike classical mythology, becoming gods isn’t an option for us. So I don’t mess with any of that.

There is indeed some violence, destruction and evil in this book, but those originate outside my main couple.

So: here I go. No turning back. Thirty days, all formatting perfect; all spelling, all thoughts, every word.

Will it be perfect? Nah, I can’t do perfect. Will it sell? Not if it’s never published!

I really need it to sell. But even more, I need it to exist, to be available for discovery.

When no one else can do it but you, you have to do it.

The one who does it is a hero.++

Those eyes.

2200 Miles Later, My Magnum Opus Is Done; Now What?

Tom of Finland

After ten years of following my fictional characters Jamie and Kent around, taking down their every thought, word and deed – looking in on their sex lives, picking over corpses’ bones with them, being lobbied to omit Jamie’s occasional culinary failures – I am at last coming to the end of my latest and best novel.

The final rewrite of The Gospel According to Gay Guys is done. I’ve transferred the text from a blog to document format, and now have only two more steps to go before it’s published as an e-book: downloading a word processing program and formatting correctly, then uploading it to the publisher.

I feel like a hiker who’s traversed the entire length of the Appalachian Trail; it’s exhilarating to climb the final mountain and look over my tiny, magnificent triumph. But soon it’s time to descend again and go home, wondering what to do with the rest of my life.

I’m glad I hiked. My head is full of memories; not just magnificent views, but delightful or frightening wildlife, hunger, thirst, illness, danger, confusion. Why did I go on such a lengthy quest? Just to say afterward, “I did it”?

Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? I think once is enough.

How did it change me? And how do I know which changes came from hiking and which from living an extra decade?

I woke up this morning with one question on my mind: should I keep the explicit sex in a book that calls itself the Gospel? Sex no longer interests me the way it once did. I seldom look at porn anymore; this is a very recent change and it comes as quite a surprise. I’ve devoted my entire adult life to the liberation of oppressed Gay people, as if I were Elizabeth Cady Stanton – so “sex” has been at the center of my work. I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done; not just in politics, community organizing, religion or even writing. I think I’ve come up with rare or even original ideas about Gay men and sex.

But I’m starting to think that my waning interest is like a lot of other former hobbies I’ve had; is it gone for good?

It’s very odd, watching obsessions gradually disperse. I was 34 when I quit dancing in Gay bars, because Jack didn’t dance and I was in love with Jack. So one day I just stopped. Then over the years I quit watching TV, going to movies, wearing leather, even following Purdue basketball. This spring for the first time I didn’t watch the NCAA Tournament. And now even sex leaves me shrugging. I’m not bored or burned out, I’m just refining mind, body and soul perhaps.

Mind you, I’ve slept with “Kent Kessler” every night since 1994. I doubt I stop that, but I didn’t think I’d ever stop being turned on sexually, even though I’ve pretty much given up the act.

I can tell how I’ve changed by the clothes in my closet; all my leather gear is shoved in the back. I don’t like wearing the Wrangler jeans I bought five years ago on my trip out West; those jeans are too tight now. I bought them to be tight (and I haven’t gotten bigger), but now I don’t want tight anymore. I no longer buy anything from International Male.

Some of this is just being 60, but some of it may represent spiritual growth, too.

If so, should I keep the explicit sex?

If it’s true that I have some sexual insights in the book, they should stay – even if my potential fans are turned off. Mrs. Cady Stanton caused an uproar in 1906 when she published The Women’s Bible; it was so controversial the National American Women’s Suffrage Association repudiated her, though she was their founder! The thing is, now we know she was right. If her book was published today it wouldn’t be the huge bestseller it was a century ago. It would still be denounced by fundamentalists, but it wouldn’t have the same cultural impact today. Millions of Christians address God as female now; I do too, including on my prayer sites with their 2 million hits. Yesterday’s revolution is today’s wisdom.

So what insights do I think I have?

• Monogamy, for one; it isn’t the most important issue in sexual relating, but Gay guys shouldn’t reject it out of hand, no matter what pressure we get from peers, pornographers and queer theorists. Some guys have always believed in it, because monogamy can lead to greater intimacy. Do I think it should be enforced? No. Do I think it should be respected? Very much.

• Masculinity is at the heart of Gay male sexuality. I didn’t write a single bitchy queen in any of my thousand chapters, or even a queen with a heart of gold, simply because I don’t write queens at all. I’m not against them; I just don’t really understand them. (They’re born that way, so I don’t oppress them either.) I attempt to illustrate a “new masculinity,” though it’s very familiar to every Gay guy; it isn’t Straight masculinity, but it’s definitely active, decisive, courageous, tender sometimes, aggressive at others. Masculine is what most of us are.

It’s morally wrong to oppress Gay guys who aren’t masculine or don’t identify with the term, but even they want a lover who’s very butch. Quentin Crisp was right in saying we all want “a big dark man,” but he was completely wrong in saying that man doesn’t exist. Crisp was profoundly homophobic, which was only natural given his era, but that homophobia is why he became unpopular again at the end of his life, at the very time he was celebrated for his longevity and courage. If the only desirable man is a Straight one – and that’s exactly what he believed, and what many of us still believe – we’re doomed.

I say we’re not doomed, and that Gay men are more desirable partners for us in every way.

“Homosexuals” exist on a spectrum that probably corresponds to biological differences within our group. We’re all a bit different. But we do cluster – almost unanimously – in our turnons, so a Gay author’s job is to illustrate that and to celebrate it. My character Kent is an athlete, a cop and a hunter; he also cries when he’s overwhelmed with grief. My character Jamie is terrified of bugs and other critters who “invade” his house, but he’s clearly an outstanding leader.

If anything I’ve overdone my descriptions of them as butch guys to overcome the stereotypes. But I like lifting up positive images of our masculinity. Most Gay guys are not so much “Straight-acting” as male-acting. I think our books should say so.

• I have aimed to lift up the sexualizing of power, which is very desirable (it’s what that whole macho-turnon thing is about), but stop short of sadomasochism, which I’m increasingly convinced is an abuse of power – less physically abusive than emotionally so. We’re only two generations past Stonewall, and we still have a lot of internalized shame about sucking dick. SM, I’ve come to believe, acts out that secret shame and is destructive.

Get this, I’m a former member of the Windy City Bondage Club; I will always wish leathermen well. I’ve been impressed many times by their intelligence and sensitivity, and I believe organized BDSM clubs provide a real public service for the sexually adventurous by emphasizing safety, responsibility and accountability.

But the bottom line is that sadism isn’t worthy of respect, and neither is masochism. They both sound, look and smell like internalized homophobia; look at all the degradation in fetish porn. Considering SM’s popularity, you’d think the Stonewall generation didn’t accomplish much at all; we’re still punishing ourselves and each other for being cocksuckers.

That’s not healthy. That’s not being liberated in the least.

Of course there’s a difference between fantasy and reality; it is good to recognize and express sexual fantasies in safe ways. But as I’ve explored these questions with real leather tops and bottoms – intelligent, mature men who know what they’re doing and are careful to stay physically and emotionally safe – what I’ve found is that the sadistic impulse in tops is real; they like the idea of hurting someone, and I don’t respect that. The masochist feels deeply unworthy, deserving of punishment. He may act out only symbolically, but his feelings are real and so are those bruises; I find it tragic, because in truth he’s as worthy as anyone else to walk this earth, and often more so. Masochists are very good boys.

So the sexual turnon I give Kent and Jamie is dominance and submission. I make them be explicit about turning on to power. One gives sexual orders and the other is happy to take them. But I also wrote a scene in which too much is too much, so they are forced by their mutual love to rebalance. Sometimes the only way to learn is by making mistakes.

Power’s a very masculine thing (and of course women have it too). But it has to be controlled, and it should never be Gay-hating at its core, or we’re simply parodies of Straight guys (many of whom are smarter than their stereotypes). One of my favorite lines in the book is Kent’s to Jamie: “What you Gay guys have going here’s a cult of masculinity.”

That elevates Gay guys; abuse does not. Gay men have been abused for thousands of years all over the world, and still are abused in many, many places, so I don’t think we ought to be re-enacting it, much less calling it love.

In order to illustrate these things I think I know, I’ve laid them out explicitly in the book. Will this help or hurt sales? I don’t know. At least I’m expressing my truths, whether right or wrong, well-expressed or not.

• My overarching belief about Gay men’s liberation is that we can only achieve it psychologically by achieving it sexually; that sex is the way to get to wholeness. Maybe that sounds simple enough, but it’s difficult to do, considering it involves one or more flawed human beings.

As long as we are acting out the scripts of other people – pornographers, Gay politicians, scientists and doctors and therapists, leather theorists, bar owners, writers and the entire array of homophobes and ignoramuses, religious and otherwise – we are failing to be true to ourselves.

The journey is personal. The healing is sexual. This book is me on the Appalachian Trail.

I have tried to describe an ideal relationship, and the personal qualities a man must bring to it to be fulfilled and fully human. My characters are young, handsome and rich, but those qualities aren’t necessary; they’re also honest, and that quality is.

A lot of times I see my people being dishonest, sexually and in other ways. It doesn’t help, fellas. We can’t be lovers if we’re not honest friends.

But love is more than friendship; it is a state, a condition, an ongoing reality, a decision that I will put you first. And I can’t do it for a lifetime if you’re not also putting me first.

This is why monogamy really helps.

Love doesn’t require continuous self-sacrifice; a lot of times it’s mutually beneficial. I like you, you like me, let’s have a party!

The chief thing we have to learn, I think, is the difference between sex and making love. During sex a man is primarily concerned with his own orgasm. In making love he’s primarily concerned with his partner’s. It’s a fundamental difference. Tricking with a stranger may be good or bad, but lovemaking is clearly the best.

A lovemaker turns on by turning his partner on, until they both can’t help but come. (Yippee!)

Orgasm is the result of losing control, which is why a dominant/submissive relationship, which is about control in its structure, can be such a hot idea between two men. It fits our fantasies to a T: Gay guys like dick. We like having one and we like getting one. The percent of times we give and/or get will vary, but sexually it’s all about the dick.

Where Religion Comes In

As a Christian I have two additional beliefs; one, that sex is sacramental, that it reveals God to us. Two, that our lover isn’t and never will be God, but God is and always will be our lover.

I cannot stress enough that God loves us as Gay guys in our fucking; he delights in our lovemaking. That’s when we are closest to him, when he’s excited with us and feeling close. (Of course this means doing it right, and Dr. Pittenger said there is good, better and best.)

Learning to do it right, unlike my young fictional characters, takes every step and footfall on that 2200-mile trail through the mountains. By the time we get to “right,” we may be 60 freaking years old. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, all our fur’s rubbed off; we’ve lost an eye and our nose has been sewn back on a dozen times. We never will be new again, but that’s okay, it’s great.

If we’re lucky we live so long that we learn from love what God is like. He gave us sex to teach us how to love each other.

God is love; we all know and agree on that. Where preachers quote Bible verses, I’ve tried to draw a picture in words. I’ve tried to tell a story worth reading; I’ve tried to say what I have learned.

And if the telling of sex galore now means I’m pretty much done with the doing of it, I think I’m all right with that. I think it might mean, in my post-Trail world, that I’m starting to be ready for the life of the spirit.

There isn’t a contradiction between the life of the body and the spirit, far from it, but almost all of us choose the life of the body first. Fewer of us get to the life of the spirit afterward, or ever.

I don’t presume that I will never love a man again, but I may be more ready to love God than ever from having walked this trail for so long.

I hope I’ve written it well; I hope I give my readers food for thought, love and prayer. The sex is staying in the book, despite my second thoughts.

This is what I’m convinced of: God is an irresistible magnet, because of his perfection. He draws us to him in a way that’s inexorable, yet joyful and full of personality – ours! Mine. Yours, just the way you are.

This overwhelming attraction of divine love is what I see in Leonardo Ricardo’s art; he paints and builds within cultural frameworks, yet his work is madly exuberant. You can’t take your eyes off it. I see the same divine spark in pictures of his dogs, his garden and when he writes about his friends. This man loves what he’s doing! He just explodes with it like a volcano.

That’s what happens to every soul in love with God. Our final destination is a place of ecstasy, such that orgasm is a foretaste.

Heaven is where, when you finally arrive at the top of the mountain after all that time and work, all those steps over 2200 miles, a miracle happens; you don’t have to climb down and go home. Your new mountaintop becomes your home. You get to stay and enjoy all the scenery that teems with life.

I think it’s time to get The Gay Man’s Bible into print.++

Mt. Katahdin, Baxter State Park, Maine, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Write It Tight

I’m beginning the final edit and rewrite of my third novel, “The Gospel According to Gay Guys,” before publishing it as an e-book for Kindle. I’m finding this a difficult task, though I have every possible motivation to finish it. Financial. Creative. Evangelical even, though that’s the worst possible word to use in front of Gay men.

If you’ve got good news you want to tell somebody; that’s all it means.

God wants me to publish this thing if only to get me off his back. He gets tired of hearing me whine. How many years did he have to put up with me till I got sober? This book’s been churning almost as long.

I thought, when I got stuck a minute ago, I would post something on Facebook about it (as if they want to read my whines any more than God does). But I thought better. I am someone who benefits from accountability, self-disclosure; it helps when I admit my problems – but a thousand people on Facebook know me as Josh the Daily Office guy, Mr. Prayer kinda, not as Josh the subversive Gay writer, even if they know I’m Gay. They’re certainly not expecting me to let loose a string of four-letter words in public.

So, I thought, maybe I should pray instead. So I wrote a little prayer:

Lord, help me edit this book well. I need it to be really successful financially, so I can stay in my house and keep feeding my dog.

I also need it to succeed spiritually, so I convey Good News to Gay Guys. If others like it, so much the better.

Help me to be a good evangelist of everything I know. Help me also to edit as tight as Jamie’s ass.

Thank you for giving me this book. Thank you for giving me my life.

Josh

I mean, that’s what I sound like in real life; that’s how I talk. I’m Gay; we don’t feel a need to please the neighbors. If they’re homophobic there’s nothing we could possibly do to please them in the first place, so why the hell bother?

The book starts out, against all possible advice, with a steamy scene that goes from romantic and spiritual in Chapter 1 to down and dirty in Chapter 2. You should never start out a book this way; it makes people think sex is all you’ve got. But it’s what the characters demanded, because in my first book I made them keep their pants on – for 529 pages – so in this one they can’t wait to get naked.

Once that’s done, then more of the Gospel comes in – because who is it that teaches us more about God than the one we love the most?

These two characters do love each other, I’ll give them that. The whole book is kind of an explication of how guys can love each other.

There has to be sex in it, so why not start it out with a bang? 🙂

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that Gay liberation is ultimately sexual. We can usually live under political repression, but we can’t be liberated in our souls without good sex. So that’s what I write about, in part. I think it’s good news.

Not only that, I can’t reach Gay guys with Good News unless we go through sex first, because without it they’re going to demand their $5.99 back.

And I do have Good News; Jesus loves us. God’s been on our side this entire time.

I believe she wants us to have sex well (that is, make love, not just fuck) in a committed relationship; but that she’s also grown up enough to know from the moment of Creation that we’d stick it wherever we could, until we learned how to do it right.

The book is what I’ve learned on the way to doing it right. That’s all, but of course I go on and on for hundreds of pages. Life is more than sex, even for us, and the book is more than sex too.

How do we learn to be equal to each other? Honest, open? Never telling a lie and always being faithful? I’m sure we have the means within us, but it isn’t easy, of course.

How do we keep the sexual spark alive? I’ve got some ideas.

They won’t be yours, but then, you can always write for Kindle too. Tell us what you know.

(Oh, now my muffin timer’s going off. Oatmeal-raisin with buttermilk, the kind of thing Jamie makes for Kent all the time.)

(They didn’t stick to the pan!)

It seems to me important, both for Gay men and the Church, that we learn to integrate sex, love and faith. That’s what Christian marriage is supposed to be about. The Church does a miserable job of teaching heterosexuals how to put these things together, so we can’t expect a bit of help from them – but we can teach each other the way Gay friends have always talked things through, casually yet intimately, with four-letter words. I bet you have some friends you can say anything to; there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing in a book.

We do have to pick our friends well, though, and develop trust in them over time; the wrong friends can hurt us.

But I don’t want to write about that; I write about the right lover and their good friends.

Stories are about conflicts, and Jamie and Kent go through their share, but not so much with each other; with the outside world instead. Sort of like that old Helen Reddy song. That’s how we really live, You and Me Against the World.

The feminist icon Helen Reddy in 2011. She didn't just sing "I Am Woman," she wrote it.

The muffins turned out great; there’s a reason Kent loves that boy. Now it’s back to edit-and-rewrite, tighter than a hot little ass.++

Fear of Falling

Tom of Finland (excerpt)

A strange attitude problem has taken me over lately regarding my novel in progress. I don’t understand my thoughts, but they’ve persisted for several days now, so I’ll get them out here to see if I can make any sense of them.

After a writing hiatus that lasted seven months since last June, and a marvelous healing experience right around Christmastime, I am composing and posting chapters again on a blog dedicated to that purpose. I’ve written five chapters in the past three weeks. Yippee!

Except I’m also kind of pissed, because no one’s noticed, left a comment, written me an e-mail. How dare these people not give me some encouragement!

(Mind you, the only people this applies to are 3-4 personal friends, not the general public. Any blog that goes dark for three days is given up for dead, so I certainly don’t blame a casual visitor for not stumbling through the door.)

But where are my friends, I wonder? The ones I have in mind all subscribe to the blog, so they know about my recent activity.

And it’s not like I expect them all to pat me on the back for the greatest writing since Tolstoy, or even Keith Olbermann; I’d be as happy for feedback as for praise.

But not to notice, ooh, that’s rough. If you really want to hurt someone, be indifferent to them.

Meanwhile this is what keeps me from whining. The rational part of my brain recognizes that this emotion I’m having, that wants to blame my friends, is really an indirect expression of something else in me. It’s not about my friends at all, but some unknown discomfort I’m having with me.

Forget what Peter might say; do *I* not like what I’ve written lately? Is that why I’m needing reassurance and attention?

Actually I do rather like these five recent chapters, at least insofar as the plot is concerned. I feel like I’m focusing fairly well. The action is moving along for once. But I’ve rather lost control of where it’s going, and that can be scary. The other day a plot device started writing itself, while I sat here taking dictation.

Any writer will tell you that a story that starts writing itself might turn out to be worth reading; I’ve had that experience myself, especially with the “University” series. It can be a joyful thing when the characters start telling the writer what they’re up to. All the writer can do is grab his hat and take off behind them.

But it’s been years since that happened to me, and now I’m scared. It all started with a two-by-four, a block of wood; now it’s shown up three more times, including this afternoon.

I am thankful, with this novel, for anything that helps me pick up the pace. The story is “about” the making of a Gay Christian marriage, which is a process, not a plot. A couple gets together and has experiences; okay, fine, but what actually happens, and how does that help them be together (or not)?

The characters, a cop and a reporter, are favorites of mine, and I am so interested in seeing them learn to be together that this book has always threatened to turn into the Blob That Ate L.A., an amorphous monster that consumes everything in its meandering path. When it comes to suburban sprawl, I’ve got whole neighborhoods laid out. If this were a toy train set there’d be tracks and trestles, barns and bridges in every room in my house. But where is this train going?

Well, the cop’s going to solve a murder case, and he’s actually getting there faster than I thought he would. This time his buddy, who was so prominent in their debut novel, is forced to take a back seat. He gets the action started, but ends up as a stay-at-home boyfriend most of the time. He thinks he doesn’t like that, but it turns out he does; as an author I have no problem with the two of them taking turns and being versatile. Another thing I like is that by The End, they both end up being people of substance; Ward and June Cleaver they’re not.

For the book to be at all successful, the crime has to be solved as far as possible, and the reader has to believe that these two men belong together, that they have a reasonable chance of making a longterm relationship—including a spiritual basis that grounds them, that they can build on.

“The Centurion’s Boy” is a Josh Thomas book because I can write uniquely on this theme. Getting the book finished, polished and produced is a job God calls me to, part of my vocation.

So I can’t be spending my time getting drunk every night, because then I don’t write—the book sprawls, it eats L.A., the train doesn’t go anywhere. It goes everywhere but nowhere in particular. The temporal, temporary gift of my sobriety means I’m spending a lot of time, in the time I have left, working on this vocation. I don’t want to have to face God and say I didn’t get it done.

In the meantime, five new chapters in three weeks, and I’m scared of it, in the same way I suppose that sobriety is scary, changing old habits is. I feel like a fledgling again. I can fly a little but it sure feels good going back to the nest of my old thoughts.

Peter, Leonardo and Bob are not responsible for what I’m going through; I guess I just need somebody to blame for my panic.

I’m really enjoying being sober, by the way; flying is fun. I don’t obsess about alcohol; I know I’ve done the forgiving I needed to do, to let go of my self-destructive impulse as a mental concentration camp survivor. Alcohol seems really boring these days, and I’ve gotten into cooking (and eating) again. Tomorrow I’m going to a symphony concert with my friends.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years about spirituality, Gay and otherwise, is that we really have to pay attention to where we are now. It’s not enough to be “on a path” if we don’t watch our own steps every day. Our path, which the earliest ones called The Way, may take us through some rough terrain; it will surely be scary at least as often as it’s joyful and easy. We may want to frolic in the meadow all the time, but even that can get tiresome whether we’re guzzling vodka or not. Sooner rather than later it’s time to hit the rocks and start climbing again. And of course it helps not to be alone, but all hikers get separated every now and then before meeting up again. Robert, Lenny and Peter are probably waiting for me just around the bend, and no, they’re not responsible for my little detour. I took that on my own.

I feel good about what I’ve written, even if they don’t say much. I’m not always there for them when they get scared either.

Meanwhile it’s important to me to finish up this book. First draft or twentieth, I want, when the time comes, to hand the Admissions Office a bound volume and say, “This was my vision of what it can be like when guys love each other in Jesus’ name.”

I know this much, my Admissions Committee will not be staffed by literary critics, but by angels who ask, “Is it authentic? Is it real? Is it Joshua? Is it faithful? Could it help someone?”—not “did it,” but “could it.” And “Is it the best he could do at that time?”

As long as you don’t get your foot stuck, like I did for the past seven months, climbing rocks can be fun, even when you’re all by yourself. What if my friends aren’t ahead of me but behind me, watching where I’m going, making their own decisions about the best way forward, and Ready to Catch Me Should I Fall?++

I've never read Neil Bartlett's novel, but I've never forgotten that wonderful title.