Many people realise that they are Queer from quite an early age. In my case it was less something I knew innately and more something that my world told me I was.
I was probably 6 when my Dad returned from a trip to Scotland where he had been working as a bricklayer. He had returned with gifts: a big yellow digger for me and a Scottish dancing doll for my younger sister. I remember clearly the moment when, after receiving our presents, my sister and I looked across at each other and simply swapped!
As I recollect my early years and adolescence, there were a number of such occasions when it became all too apparent that I was out of step. Maleness in my world came with some fairly fixed markers of success and I as far as I could tell I wasn’t doing so well. I didn’t even know what a “poof” was, but I could guess from the mockery with which it was spat that it was probably something to hide.
It can be easy to get shut down by shame. While I am certainly aware of situations and groups of people that I avoided due to their perception that my gender expression and sexuality didn’t fit with their norms, thankfully this was not the whole of the story. While the question of whether magicians are born or made is open to debate, I personally managed to find conduits for letting my Queer magic flow.
I have already spoken of the impact that Hatha yoga practice had on not only shaping my metaphysical outlook but also my relationship to my body. I liked Billy Elliott’s answer to the question that he was asked at his Ballet school audition “what do you feel when you are dancing?” Billy answers that he forgets himself and feels like electricity. This made sense to me as the opening extension of the asanas allowed me to more fully inhabit my physical self and contact the possibility of the sensual. The discipline and demands of the postures often blurred the boundary between pleasure and pain and provided my adolescent bodymind with new tools for making connection.
If yoga touched my body, then it was music that allowed me to access my creative, emotional self. I remember flicking through a friend’s record collection and seeing Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” and some of the early Devo albums. Yes the music moved me, but much more than that, these strange New Wave icons seemed to inhabit a sexless space in which gender seemed endlessly plastic and subject to mutation. Bowie’s make-up and hair unsettled and inspired me in equal measure as the alien persona of Major Tom strutted through my increasingly rich internal world.
Back then I didn’t possess a word to capture that strange blurring of male and female, all I knew was that I liked what I saw and that it acted as a mirror in which to see something that I knew was deeply real about myself. The concepts of androgyny and Queerness were to come much later, but in having my imagination captured by the gender ambiguity of the New Wave and the New Romantic, it felt as though internal radar had been activated than sensitised me to those presentations that challenged the binary norm. I offer these reflections with a deep bow of gratitude to early Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and orange buzz-cut of Annie Lennox!
My adolescent exposure to androgynous imagery was not only limited to my musical world, it was spiritual as well. Having spent most of my teenage years wandering around the Gold Coast area in Australia I had been exposed to all sorts of religious weirdness. I remember the hours spent moving between music shops and the Hare Krishna restaurant at which I was able to acquire free books and magazines that fuelled my yogic imagination. In addition to discovering the joys of mantra meditation, these magazines contained some beautiful depictions of the 16th century Vaishnava saint Lord Caitanya.
Caitanya was a bhakti yoga mystic whose intensity of love for Krishna took him into some decidedly Queer territory. In seeking to express the degree of his love for his Lord, he often dressed as Krishna’s divine partner Radha. This act of sacred cross-dressing typified the ecstatic longing that Caitanya was able to direct in helping reform Vaishnava spirituality. Some view him as an incarnation of Krishna and if we at least entertain that notion, we are presented with a deeply tantric manifestation whereby the power of devotion allows for both partners of a divine coupling to be held within one being.
If it was the beautifully ambiguous portraits of Caitanya that drew me to him, my relationship with Jesus came more through words and story. Having not grown up in a religious home, apart from the Lord’s prayer I was largely unaware of the Gospel stories. This was to change dramatically during my mid-teens, as the certainties of Evangelical Christianity were to provide a ready conduit through which to pour my adolescent longing for identity.
The depiction of Jesus in the Gospels provided me with a model of masculinity that accommodated both a sense of gentleness and emotional openness that I found liberating. The Christ to which I became devoted both cleared the Temple in righteous indignation and went compassionately seeking for the one lost sheep. For me it was his ability to hold both these dimensions together that proved so attractive and inspiring.
As I look back now 30 years later, I am struck by the homoerotic edge that seemed to pervade so much of my spiritual devotion at that time. The Church at which I worshipped was decidedly conservative in terms of it theology and views on homosexuality, but seemed quite comfortable with hours being spent in writhing ecstasy before the throne of a Messiah who in my mind’s eye was a beautiful, bearded 33 year old male who was deeply in love with me! One might be forgiven for getting confused.
Such paradoxes permeated the Charismatic/Pentecostal form of worship that I engaged in. On the one hand they adopted an attitude towards sexual pleasure that was quite severe and repressive (sex outside of marriage being wrong and masturbation being viewed as morally dubious), and yet theirs’ was an embodied ecstasy where God as Holy Spirit induced dance, fainting, glossolalia and all manner of strange “signs and wonders”.
While I can now see this radical sublimation as being harmful to many, I remain uncertain whether it was entirely so for me. As a person who finds comfort in the blurry self-descriptors of gender fluidity and grey asexuality, this location of spiritual experience within the physical body allowed me to access a more polymorphous type of sensuality that seemed far less located in genital sexuality and inherited scripts and expectations regarding the erotic activity I should be engaged in to prove my normality.
Although my current spiritual path is evidence that this form of belief failed to meet my needs, I can see direct parallels between that past and my current use of dance, music and other body transforming practices. Even if the certainties of adolescent belief no longer feel authentic, the day-to-day practice that informs my on-going spiritual explorations, I still feel the powerful pull of devotion and a desire to experience an ecstasy in the body that blurs the lines between Agape and Eros. Even with my conscious embrace of theological uncertainty, I dance, shake, drum and burst forth with strange tongues as I walk the tight-rope liminal zone that my life asks me to inhabit.