MEDIA: “James Broughton Gave Me a Pearl Necklace”

The latest issue of RFD, the reader-written journal of the Radical Faerie community, is devoted to the late great poet and filmmaker James Broughton, the subject of recent documentary film by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade called BIG JOY. When I was younger and had a lot more hair, I had the pleasure of meeting Broughton in 1991 at the Gay Spirit Visions conference in North Carolina, and my brief remembrance of that occasion appears in RFD and below:

Joel Silver, James Broughton, and Don Shewey

Joel Silver, James Broughton, and Don Shewey

JAMES BROUGHTON GAVE ME A PEARL NECKLACE

I met James Broughton in September, 1991, when he graced the second annual Gay Spirit Visions conference in North Carolina as keynote speaker. Before that event, I knew he was a poet – his pithy, often humorous, often lightweight verses led some to consider him the contemporary gay incarnation of Rumi – and somehow I had absorbed the information that he had been married once upon a time to the legendary film critic Pauline Kael, of all people. But only in person did the full force of Broughton emerge.

He was elderly then, 77 and snowy-haired, a little frail but in pretty good health and attended by his loving companion Joel Silver. He was friendly and approachable, though of course he was also a showman. He knew how to attract and hold an audience, not so much by being loud and ostentatious but by radiating an amused intimacy and the elfin twinkle of someone who has marinated his epiphanies in joy rather than solemnity. He wore the mask of an airy-fairy gentle sprite, but when he opened his mouth to speak the hardcore metaphysical prankster revealed himself. Joseph Kramer, the visionary founder of the Body Electric School, also attended the conference as a guest speaker, and I vividly recall his rapturous attention as Broughton held forth on what he called “The Holy Trinity” – the phallus, the anus, and the perineum. Raven Wolfdancer, a beloved Atlanta faerie (later murdered on his doorstep by an unknown intruder, but that’s another story), introduced Broughton to the conference as “my bliss mentor, my ecstasy mentor. He taught me to parade my peculiar.”

For his keynote address, Broughton delivered a talk he had apparently given more than once, alternately titled “The Sexual Holiness of Men” and “The Sexuality of Spirit.” It was a kind of sermon, a dharma talk, a benediction dense with the distilled wisdom of a lifetime. You can find the verbatim text online, but in my diary I took notes, and looking at them now they contain one jewel after another. I realize that in the hour he was speaking I became a disciple, because the sentences that leapt out at me have stuck with me ever since.

Since this is a spiritual conference, I begin with a blessing: Hail Mary, quite contrary…

I’m a poet – do not expect reasoned argument.

I take my text from Novalis: “There is only one temple in the world, and that is the human body.” And the only proper activity in a temple is worship.

Churches exist to make you feel miserable.

Buddha is down on desire. Broughton is very up on desire.

Your brains have been washed with the detergent of guilt too long.

The penis is the exposed tip of the heart, the wand of the soul.

I was born to love my own kind, not compete with or acquire them.

Most communication is made of sneers and complaints. One of my mottoes is “Reach, touch, connect.”

At the baths, each cock was a bead in my rosary. Sexual loving is the true practice of religion. Put lovemaking before moneymaking and troublemaking. Teach it in schools. Holding hands, okay. Hug, yes, but with your whole body. I would add kissing. Practice this lifesaving on your neighbors. Love the living as much as the dying.

Stop thinking of yourselves as outcasts. You are meridians, raising consciousness, not babies. You can be and not beget. You may be outside of society’s mainstream but in the mainstream of wisdom.

I’d rather be kissed than stamped with approval.

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