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.

Advertisements

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Cruising and Choosing

Is it possible to choose what thoughts you think? I’m not sure you can choose what thoughts float through your mind any more than you can choose what you’re feeling at any given moment. If you could, we’d choose to be happy all the time, right? I do believe, though, that you can choose what thoughts you give weight to. That’s probably the biggest benefit of learning to meditate – getting quiet and still enough to notice the obsessive/brutal/anxious thoughts that occupy your monkey mind and to practice turning down the volume or replacing them with thoughts that create serenity rather than suffering.

Is it possible to choose what kind of people you find attractive? That’s the tougher question that came up today in my therapy session with Roger (not his real name). He’s a fit, perky, reasonably attractive middle-aged guy whose consulting job requires him to spend a lot of time on conference calls. The other day he met in person someone he’d only previously encountered as a disembodied voice. Matthew turns out to be an extraordinarily handsome young guy in his early thirties, and Roger’s crushing out on him already.

cruising choosing collage
We had an interesting conversation about the rules of attraction and what body types gay men are trained to idealize. Roger tends to prize men who are young and handsome, and when it comes to dating, he tends to rule out men who are older and heavier than he is. I know that many gay men of a certain age were socialized to have that specific taste in men, which I consider somewhat tragic – tragic because 1) most people aren’t young and handsome, 2) the ones who are don’t stay that way very long, and 3) if you’re only turned on by young, pretty guys, the pickings get slimmer as time goes by. Maybe I’m a bit of a pervert (“Maybe?” I can hear my friends saying) but I never bought into the classic gay stereotype of drooling over hairless skinny young twinks or muscle-bound guys with six-pack abs. A pot belly and a receding hairline have always been more likely to turn my head, and I think I’m far from alone in that predilection.

We talked about how gay culture has expanded over the years to acknowledge a wider spectrum of physical attractiveness and a richer diversity of erotic affinity groups – daddies and daddy-hunters (noting that “Daddy” no longer connotes “Sugar Daddy” who pays for everything), white guys and men of color who are drawn to each other, bears and their various sub-subcultures, the many flavors of kink. We talked about Bob Bergeron, the New York City-based psychotherapist who wrote a book about gay men aging gracefully — and then committed suicide on the eve of its publication, a victim of the toxic belief that you have to “stay young and beautiful if you want to be loved.” And by contrast we talked about the great gay poet James Broughton, the subject of the new documentary film Big Joy, who lived to be a juicy old man. We talked about how one of the roles for elders in any community is listening carefully to and bestowing blessings on younger people, and how challenging it is to give blessings when you don’t feel that you have received as many as you would have liked.

We cycled back to Roger and his thoughts about Matthew, which vacillated between “He’s so handsome – I wish I were that handsome – I’ll never be that handsome” and “He’s so handsome – I wish I had a partner that handsome – I’ll never have a partner that handsome.” Neither of these trains of thought left Roger feeling very happy. I proposed an alternative: “He’s so handsome.” Period. Bestow a silent blessing. What happens if you give weight to that thought?

Choosing what has meaning to you and choosing where you want to put your energy and awareness is also the subject of a famous commencement speech given by novelist David Foster Wallace (another suicide, for what that’s worth) to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. Check it out and let me know what you think. What thoughts plague you, and what other choices are available to you?