of the Nommo, androgynous ancestors of the Dogon people of West
Dogon of Africa believe that every child is born with both a male
and a female soul. At puberty, one soul is chosen and the other is
cut away with cliterodectomy or circumcision. Without this violent
excision, no one would develop the inclination for procreation.
Androgyne is a symbol of wholeness, an original innocence from which
we are wrenched away by the requirements of gender, culture and
maturity. In Western culture, at least, learning the requirements of
sexuality is equivalent to the paring away of capacities. Boys forgo
sensitivity, receptivity and inwardness to assume the perks of
manhood. Girls learn to denigrate and fear their power and
independence to become acceptable women. These psychic excisions are
violent and painful mutilations. Often the wounds refuse to heal.
are called away from the carnage, back to the carefree joys of an
ideal childhood. Like Peter Pan, we say “I won’t grow up,” and
it gives us wings. We refuse the weight and obligations of so-called
maturity. With irritating acumen, people keep calling us “boys”
and “girls” no matter how old we become. So long as we avoid the
tasks and wounds of adult male and female sexual identities, we are
identified with the archetype of innocence.
van Gloeden, Untitled photograph, c. 1900
writes, “I would define gay people as possessing a luminous quality of being, a differentness that accentuates the
gifts of compassion, empathy, healing, interpretation and enabling.
I see gay people as in-between-ones;
uniting opposing forces as one.” Ostensibly opposing forces
organize thought as they organize life. Masculine / feminine is one
such duality. Bound together like a pair of mules headed in opposite
directions, male / female is going nowhere and getting exhausted.
Gay and lesbian people slip between binaries, building bridges or
creating strategies of resistance. Thompson continues, “For me,
gay people represent the archetype of innocence, a shaman’s tool
that allows access to a more primal world, one where his / her work
With this notion of innocence as a “shaman’s tool,” Thompson
suggests a way through another ostensible opposition – that between initiation and innocence. Lesbian and gay innocence is not
constituted in denial, withholding, and fear of life experience. It
is a way of meeting inner and outer worlds with optimism and trust –
opening like a flower, bending towards the light, responding to the
the movies, on the street, in the news, and in the popular
imagination, homosexuality is linked with crime and violence.
Priests rape altar boys. A lesbian becomes a serial killer. In
Littleton, Colorado, young boys called “faggots” murder fourteen
classmates, then themselves. These characters may have nothing to do
with the great adventure of being gay, but they have much to do with
the presence of homosexuality in the general culture. Occasionally
homosexuality is not so obviously an aspect of the crime or the
criminal, but it is always an aspect of the punishment. Every cop
show, news report, and sociological study restates the threat,
usually without quite saying the words –
no one gets out of prison without some kind of (unwanted) homosexual
may be tempted to counter all this association of homosexuality with
crime and violence by self-righteously proclaiming our innocence.
Donning a public mask of wide-eyed innocence is nothing like using
innocence as a “shaman’s tool.”
As a mask and a posture, innocence invites wounding and
mortification. We talk about the effeminate boy, born gay, bullied
into suicide. We talk about the lesbian mother, who realizes her
true self, only to lose custody of her beloved children. Innocence
segues into pain and loss, inviting pity, beseeching forgiveness. If
we are guilty of being gay, it’s
not our fault. Blame genetics, blame mom and dad, blame the
society that oppresses us. They can accept us – or perhaps more to the point, we can accept
ourselves, when we are innocent and therefore victims.
Northwest Coast double phallus, 13”, believed to be used in
the adventure of homosexuality, we can lift this mask of innocence.
Cruelty, aggression, promiscuity and violence can surely be
acknowledged without subsuming our souls. Depravity claims space. It
can occupy us as the polar opposite of false innocence, expressed in
pathologies and exorcised with self-righteousness. Or depravity can
find subtle expressions and finally-articulated niches, in costume,
erotic play, art, philosophy, sexual cultures. “The inner world is
a place of blood and fire, tears and mud,” Mark Thompson writes
Our worst nightmares lead us deep inside. Given time and attention,
they feed culture and nourish the soul.
include both wide-eyed innocence and genuine depravity. Accepting
this, we can use innocence as a “shaman’s tool,” instead of a
brittle mask. We can honor the polymorphous perversity that
curiously belongs to the deepest innocence. Deepening our innocence
with initiation, we learn to invite pleasure over mortification.
Purity of heart, playfulness, trust and openness are pathways to
defilement, self-acceptance, and integration of the Shadow.
is a child like this: androgynous, pre-pubescent, mischievous. The
mingling of Eros and Chaos begins the world. Certainly, Eros and
Chaos create us. Often
with surprising reversals and a chaotic re-ordering of values and
expectations, love invents gay and lesbian lives. We are perverted
by desire –
turned around and connected with a primal order, a cosmogonic
love for one another can be profoundly innocent –
playful, open-hearted, trusting. It can be limitless, passionate,
and chaotic. In one another’s arms, we hold an awful mystery, a
terrible pain, an incomprehensible depravity. And we hold on.
Following the innocent heart of desire, we learn to love each other
Mark Thompson, 1987, (xvi).
Mark Thompson, ed., 1991, (xviii).