'What does it mean to be gay?' A seemingly simple question, but one that's not often asked. With Los Angeles Gay Pride starting this Friday, various gay folks give us their answers in a weeklong series.

Toby Johnson is author of the Lammy-winning Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Consciousness and other books. He was a student and friend of Joseph Campbell, the renowned comparative religions scholar known for his aphorism “Follow Your Bliss.” He shares his extraordinary thoughts and wisdom:

On the surface, what being gay means has to do with whom one has sex with or, at least, is physically attracted to. But this phenomenon is like the iceberg: what we see on the surface is only a fraction of what's there.

For me, being gay is something akin to psychological aptitude or even religious vocation. And for the human race, it is something that has evolved integrally with consciousness and intelligence.

There's a reason we're gay, and it stretches back in time to the beginnings of primate evolution and outward in the “spirit-field” to the nature of reality itself.

Homosexuality must be an evolutionarily selected trait, otherwise we wouldn't still be here after two hundred thousand years of natural selection. As human beings developed consciousness and complex intelligence, the presence of extra adults in the family to act as surrogate parents provided greater stimulation for children.

Homosexual uncles and lesbian aunts may have given offspring in the tribe a richer experience and better education. It's because such extra parents were available, perhaps, that humans evolved intelligence. Gay people may exist primarily to be teachers and guides.

In modern human society, gay men and lesbians demonstrate that people don't have to reproduce and raise children to lead fulfilled and contributing lives and that the blending of masculine and feminine traits can result in more pleasing personalities and cooperative characteristics than the division of traits.

Being gay/queer imbues us with a talent for seeing life and culture, as an outsider, from over and above.

There is a transformation in our own times in the evolution of consciousness of Planet Earth that includes understanding religion as myth and symbol about the nature of consciousness, and this understanding is achieved (and caused) by observing religion from over and above; hence, being gay potentially gives us a “higher consciousness” of the nature of religion and “God” on the “cutting edge of evolution.”

This higher perception of what religion is really about is what the “wise old man” of my own personal spiritual journey, Joseph Campbell, hypothesized as “the new myth.”

Because gay people — at least archetypally — are not attracted across the gender polarity, we are less concerned with polarization and, potentially, can experience the world more non-dually.

In our homosexuality we can find clues and training in thinking “both/and” in contrast to “either/or” and so are less concerned with dichotomies like “right and wrong,” “good and evil,” “licit and illicit,” “clean and dirty,” (even “here and there” and “now and then”), “samsara and nirvana,” “time and eternity,” “heaven and earth,” “us and them,” “male and female.”

This is a kind of enlightenment.

Homosexuality is a manifestation of consciousness aware of itself. Both practically and metaphorically homosexuality is self-reflexive. It is about the unity of the cosmos, rather than the duality.

Heterosexuality manifests the duality. Heterosexuals can be “unconscious” of being heterosexual, because they experience their sexual feelings as normal, automatic, and invariable. Homosexuals cannot help but be conscious of being homosexual.

That homosexual orientation exists at all tells us something about the metaphysics of the universe and the nature of consciousness. Hermetic philosophy and metaphysical thought has long considered the universe in terms of what's called “The One and the Many.” “From One come Two, and from Two come the Many” is a traditional formula.

Here is a simple aphoristic explanation of sexual orientation in the style of that ancient Hermetic terminology. This is the answer to what I think it means to be gay.

The One divides into the Many

in order to experience the Many as the One.

Heterosexual attraction manifests the delight

the Many experience in its variety.

Heterosexual union propagates the Many,

from Two making many more.

Homosexual attraction manifests the delight

the One experiences in its Oneness.

Homosexual love witnesses to the One's desire to return to Itself and

to experience the multiplicity of the Many

as a reflection of the Self of the One.

As we move through the world, doing our jobs, running errands, looking for ways to have fun, hoping to find love, maybe specifically seeking sexual adventure, our being gay is about who among the people we pass look pretty to us, who “glow” in our eyes, who, perhaps, look back and smile.

As we turn inward, in disciplined meditation or just personal reverie, I think, our being gay is about who and what “God” is and how, as teachers and guides, we can help the world evolve and develop more beauty and harmony and, especially, more love — and so, of course, more smiles back.

Toby Johnson is now a literary editor with the gay publisher Lethe Press. He and Kip Dollar, partners for 26 years, now live in central Texas.

Read essays by Robert V. Taylor, Michael Weinstein, Tim Sullivan, Vincent Jones, and Robin McGehee.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

LA Weekly