Whether you like this collection of essays or not probably will depend on your affinity for the realms of the spirit. If you think the spiritual world is a fraud, you may be tempted not even to read the book, but it's a provocative and lively one. Most Americans have never heard the ideas of Harry Hay, Gerald Heard, Will Roscoe, Don Kilhefner, Jim Kepner, Aaron Shurin, Edward Carpenter, Mitch Walker or James Broughton, et al, expressed anywhere else before.
Even those who believe in the spirit, especially the religiously orthodox, will have difficulty believing the radical message that comes through here: "I think gay people have to reinstate themselves as a kind of tribe, heal themselves deep within it, and then proceed with the work we're obviously being called to do."
"Gay Spirit" is no less than an attempt to redefine what's normal, what's good, what's spiritual, what belongs to the divine, who's religious and who isn't, and what can and should be done to find fulfillment. The answer is homosexuals. Especially homosexuals as Faeries.
The answer is homosexuals as Faeries? Those creatures most people think of as disgusting perverts? Weirdos, to the liberal. Needless to say, this book has a California emphasis, and most of the essays first appeared in the 1970s. But it's a proud, not a defensive, California consciousness, and the '70s are looking better all the time, the more we live in the '80s.
Not too many people think of drag queens as spiritual beings--even drag queens, no doubt. But this book plants that unruly idea in the mind. And surely most folks haven't thought of clergymen as those whose "cross-gender practice survives in Western culture as the skirt worn by Roman Catholic priests." Father Maloney as a drag queen?
Reading "Gay Spirit," one feels how diverse and rich and exciting every unusual sex act could be. When the parts about Gay Faeries appear, most people will laugh, but should they? Maybe gay men really do have a special "magical . . . perspective." Why not? Just about every other thing you can think of has been said about them. But magical perspective certainly hasn't been said very often.
Editor/contributor Mark Thompson wants very much to substitute pre-Christian myths about male-femaleness for the prevailing anti-gay myths of our society. The book's exciting challenge to conventional thinking is that it's not merely time for society to tolerate but time to cherish its intermediate sexual types.
Thompson does not think gays are just like straights except for what they do in bed. Instead, he wants the world to seek them out for what they are--healing, blessed kooks, as "blossoms" on the tree of life.
Now, the Gays Are Normal Contingent will not like this one bit, because much of the modern gay liberation movement has been a strenuous effort to convince at least some people that gays are not odd and feminine and confined to professions where compassion and such are central.
Is this book wise or preposterous? Probably both. When one reads that "all authoritarianism--of course--would vanish" in this Faerie-enfused world, one can't help but be skeptical. Some human beings have a way of creating nostalgic myths because the everyday world is impossible to bear, so they project fantasies into the future or into the past. At the same time, "Gay Spirit" is so terrific at making the reader feel there might be something more wondrous, more miraculous to life, and maybe, just maybe, one shouldn't use his bug-zapper on those Faeries dancing at the bottom of his garden.
If the reader is daring and wants a book that invests non-traditional sex acts with vast importance, if the reader wants a book that reveals the tremendous hurt of homosexuals and a cry from the heart for the world to make a place for them, then get "Gay Spirit." It is by no means a run-of-of-the-mill mind-number, and it won't be a TV series soon.