Friday, January 30, 2015

St. Raphael as the Vanquisher of Gay Demons

In the Book of Tobit, there is an interesting description of the troubles caused by the demon Asmodeus: for, he has killed seven men betrothed to a beautiful woman named Sara daughter of Raguel; who is now promised to Tobit. In this instance, Asmodeus is taken with Sara, therefore, he quickly dispatches with every groom before consummation in order to keep her for himself. This creates a sort of twisted dynamic – akin to the contemporary phenomena of commitment-phobia, erectile dysfunction in young males, and homosexuality, where modern men mistrust women and purposefully avoid them. According to Aleister Crowley and other demonologists, Asmodeus is the protector male homosexuals. With regards to Tobit, fearing for his life, Tobit prays to God for assistance: in His mercy – the Father sends St. Raphael. With his guidance, Tobit and Sara are finally freed from demonic persecution.

The Novena Prayer to Saint Raphael (must be said for nine consecutive days)
Glorious Archangel Saint Raphael,
great prince of the heavenly court,
you are illustrious
for your gifts of wisdom and grace.
You are a guide of those who journey
by land or sea or air,
consoler of the afflicted,
and refuge of sinners.
I beg you,
assist me in all my needs
and in all the sufferings of this life,
as once you helped
the young Tobias on his travels.
Because you are the medicine of God,
I humbly pray you to heal the many infirmities
of my soul and the ills that afflict my body.
I especially ask of you the favor
(Make your request here...)
and the great grace of purity
to prepare me to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

St. Raphael,
of the glorious seven
who stand before the throne of Him
who lives and reigns,
Angel of health,
the Lord has filled your hand
with balm from heaven
to soothe or cure our pains.
Heal or cure the victim of disease.
And guide our steps when doubtful of our ways.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Gay in the 1980s: Growing Up Under the Shadow of AIDS and How Generation X Condemned the Future to Death

Growing up in the 1980s, as a boy thinking that you are gay, was often a day to day struggle with a vision of homosexuality that went from humorous and carefree, a flourishing in the 1970s Disco culture materialized in the well-muscled and tan boys of The Village People, that seemingly overnight went through a metamorphoses into the emaciated and sweaty Aidan Quinn in “An Early Frost.” Suddenly, it wasn’t hip or glamorous to be gay anymore; it was a death sentence. So, when I got to the Castro in 1988, I expected the place to be a ghost town. It wasn’t. Yet, it was a weird sort of submersion into a modern-day concentration camp: those that had been there the longest looked the worst: thin, sunken-faced, and spotted with sores; the relative newbies were nonetheless pumped from constant gym visits and still maintaining a sort of Tony Manero swagger that I recognized from my childhood idols. The younger boys, like me, were just plain scared. While we longed for a male embrace – we didn’t want to die for it. The overflowing bowls and boxes of free condoms, in every bar and bathhouse, gave a false but comforting feeling of safety. According to the CDC: “Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease, and the related acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), emerged as a leading cause of death among adults aged 25–44 in the United States in the 1980s, and the death rate for HIV disease among this age group increased steadily through the early 1990s. During the early years of HIV, there were few treatment options and mortality was high.” AIDS deaths peaked in 1995, when 43,115 people died. Yet, we partied on; we were like oblivious revelers boarding the Titanic after it was already at the bottom of the Atlantic.
As the 80s turned into the 90s, we all became rather tired of AIDS; and, we tried to make it go away in our own heads: with the reopening of numerous gay bathhouses around the City, after they were closed at the height of the crisis, and tried to force the collective conscious of the country to other inflated and pressing gay issues – for instance, the ridiculous replacement of the AIDS movie-of-the-week by the phenomena of weepy stories surrounding the tag-line “…I was thrown out of the military, because I am gay.” At near the height of the AIDS epidemic, when thousands of us were dying, all one heard was “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Later, when deaths dramatically declined, because of antiviral cocktails, AIDS slipped further back into the gay mind – becoming a sort of Dark Age epoch in the history of homosexual freedom – that ugly period between the triumphs of 60s and 70s accomplishments, epitomized by Stonewall and Harvey Milk, and this new era of renaissance freedom; for, they already had their eyes on the prize - and it was gay marriage. But, now, that the piles of body bags have been removed; what did we learn?
After the horror of the late-80s and early-90s, the gay community was in a very special place: a rare moment in history when everything could have changed. But, did we have the foresight, or the courage; or the humility. We could have admitted that the gay male experiment failed; that a world without women, a world of total and complete sexual freedom, was not possible. Only, we didn’t do that, still blinded – we forged ahead, never addressing the desperation and mania which caused the loss of so many. Now, according to the CDC: “Projections have shown that if current trends continue, half of all gay and bisexual men will be HIV-positive by age 50.” In addition: “While estimates show that men who have sex with men (MSM) comprise only about 2% of the U.S. population, this group accounts for most new HIV infections (63% in 2010). Between 2008 and 2010, annual new HIV infections increased 12% among MSM…Younger MSM (ages 13-24) are at particular risk. In 2010, this group accounted for 1 in 5 (19%) of all new HIV infections and 30% of new infections among all MSM.” This is what we left behind, the inherence of death. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Few Are Chosen: Why Those With Same Sex Attraction Should Remain Chaste…and Single 

St. Josemaria Escriva, the greatest 20th Century commentator on the joys and sorrows of the modern Christian, once said this: “Marriage is for the soldiers and not for the General Staff of Christ’s army.” What did he mean? Those who are called to be closest to Christ have always been those who are unmarried. For example, when the Apostles ran and hid; who remained at the Cross? The widowed Blessed Virgin, the reformed party-girl and single-lady St. Mary Magdalene, and the unsullied and chaste St. John. For, those that Christ wanted nearest to Him, even during those humiliating last hours on the Cross – were not only invited to share in his limitless anguish and sorrow, and ultimate triumphant Resurrection, but also in His most intimate suffering. This is supremely evidenced in their lives, after the Death of Christ, of the three lone sentinels at the Cross: the Mother of God spending the rest of her days in relative solitude at Ephesus; Mary Magdalene retiring as a hermitess in France, and John surviving persecution, failed executions, and eventual imprisonment. It is my contention, that those who have experienced same-sex attraction are called to this same life of chastity, suffering, and sorrow. When I left the gay lifestyle and pornography, I very much took this to heart, although, in my case, I did nothing in those days according to what I knew or read, as I was completely ignorant as to all things concerning the Faith - I worked primarily by instinct: by some Grace from God that I never knew I had. Consequently, only a few months after appearing in my last porn film - I sat huddled inside a small cell at a remote French monastery. I prayed and I cried - I was shell-shocked, but, I kept saying to myself …I was alive; …I was alive. And, as I knew all too well - so many others were not. 
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, there is an overall emphasis on the necessity and inevitability of “blessed mourning” or penthos. In the Western Church we have a somewhat analogous custom mainly seen in devotions: The Stations of the Cross, The Precious Blood, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, and the Seven Dolores; and in our own time with the fervor for Christ as Divine Mercy. Yet, from the earliest days of the Church, even before the Great Schism, there was a profound appreciation of the redemptive power in Sorrow; for instance St. Maximus wrote: “Tears do not ask for pardon, but rather earn it.” The later spiritual writer Francisco De Osuna, the predecessor of the great Spanish mystics of the Counter-Reformation, found that: “It may even be that sadness caused by his [God‘s] absence pleases the Lord even more than happiness, for our grief at lack of something reveals our great love for it. If we were quickly consoled for a loss, that would be a sign that our love was slight, but intense sadness is evidence of intense love, as in the case of the Magdalen who in her weeping said repeatedly: ‘They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have placed him.’” St. John of the Cross would follow with much the same sort of thinking, but specifically pointing to why this sadness overwhelms the penitent: “It will happen that the soul’s greatest suffering will be caused by the knowledge of its own miseries.” As the former libertine Mary Magdalene embraced the Christian life, she too sought a sorrowful path towards ultimate redemption. For, in her suffering, and in that longing to be fulfilled through Christ, she showed her overwhelming perseverance and boundless dedication. I too wanted to be like the Magdelene, so, during my stay in France - I wad a pilgrimage to her relics at Vezelay. There, I wept - for myself; for all the sins I has so willfully and stupidly committed; for those who could not be there - for the forgotten; and all those who had been butchered and betrayed. For them, and for my sanity, I had made this journey. 
Going back to the earliest Church Fathers, St. John Climacus, who lived in near isolation at then one of the most remote locations on Earth – Mt. Sinai, he wrote: “When our soul leaves this world we shall not be blamed for not having worked miracles, or for not having been theologians, or not having been rapt in divine visions. But we shall certainly have to give an account to God of why we have not ceaselessly mourned.” Around 1,400 years later, the Lord revealed the fruits of this mournful weeping to a simple and innocent Polish nun, He said: “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through teachings and sermons alone.” Yet, how does this come about? He continued: “You must be annihilated, destroyed, living as if you were dead in the most secret depths of your being.” Soon after abandoning my self-imposed exile in France, and subsequent to drifting about a few other religious communities here in the US, I was handed “The Dairy of Divine Mercy.” Then, I knew that I was called to be a “missionary” of the interior life. For, as men and women, who have experienced same sex attraction, oftentimes from the depths of our earliest memories – we have known pain, confusion, and isolation. We have searched our hearts to understand these feelings, and this longing to comprehend occasionally drew a few of us closer to God; and, turned the rest against Him. For, we sympathized with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, as we too had felt forsaken and alone; this is all intensified when we are among those who walked away from Him; because, when we return – we are like Peter, coming back to Christ where we weep bitterly (Matt 26:75). Yet, we are also much akin to Paul: “For I would that all men were even as myself: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I.” (1 Cor. 7:7-8). And, for those who suffer from same-sex attraction, herein are the two great lessons and directives from God: to spend our lives in reparation stripped of all artifice and deceptive hopes that linked us with our enslavement to homosexuality, and to serve wholeheartedly without encumbrance from the world.
Like those brave men and women who pray and sacrifice unceasingly behind the secluded walls of monasteries and convents, this is not an undemanding vocation, but our lot is even more difficult as we are destined to remain in the world, but also separate from it: watching the pain and sorrow of those still trapped in the gay lifestyle, feeling their anguish all over again – and, making amends for those “who do not believe…and do not hope.” For, if we do not pray for these poor souls; Who will? So it must be us; as we have been predestined to join an inner cloister of the one; there our lives must be dedicated to prayer. Then, and only then, do our lives make sense - as the past with its failures, the promise of hope in the present, and our power to change the future through sacrifice and prayer, will finally come together and redeem all. As Our Lady at Fatima said: “Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.” Now, as single men and women consecrated to Our Lord in chastity – we who have struggled and suffered with same-sex attraction are uniquely called and qualified to do this: as we have known the agony of homosexuality, have experienced its loneliness and felt the desolation and false allure of the gay lifestyle, survived to return to Our Lord, and then to dedicate the years we have left to personal sanctification, reparation for sins, and, most importantly, praying for those still lost. And, lastly to weep for those who are forgotten: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

“For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins. Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of first fruits before thee, That we may find thy mercy: nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted. As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee.” (Dan. 3: 37-40)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Conflicted and Sad Gay World of Keith Haring

I recently attended the Keith Haring respective show in San Francisco. Besides the tragedy of his death at age 31 from AIDS, the entire exhibition was overlaid with an unavoidable air of sadness. Although his figures have no faces, therefore no facial expression, Haring’s line drawn characters are often crouching, cowering, and weeping. They reminded me of the therapeutic drawings done for psychologists by traumatically abused children. Yet, even more striking is his use of the most famous image he created: the crawling baby or “Radiant Baby” which Haring described as the “purest and most positive experience of human existence.” It’s the hurt little boy inside every gay man; the troubled and the reeling; constantly seeking out solace. For Haring, this was clearly his own self portrait. Oftentimes, the baby was being lifted a loft by a caring father, or cradled in a pair of huge loving manly arms. Inexplicably, in other works, I shocking saw the same figure being sodomized and copulated. 
Haring said of his early days in New York City and in the gay lifestyle: “I was here at the peak of the sexual promiscuity in New York. I arrived, fresh from coming out of the closet, at the time and place where everyone was just wild. I was major into experimenting. If I didn’t get it, no one would. So I knew. It was just a matter of time.” When the inevitable happened, Haring was rather philosophical with regards to his own fate and to the AIDS crisis in general: “One thing that’s amazing is to watch people’s parents come to them. They haven’t been that close, maybe, because in a lot of cases homosexual men don’t have a particularly good relationship with their parents, especially their fathers. Maybe their fathers had totally rejected them. But then they came to them in the end and for the first time really opened up to them and showed them love.” Everywhere with Haring, you see this progression of complete immersion in perversity, eventual disease, and then restoration with the past through death. It’s an awful way to mend fences, by dying at 31. 

Author’s note: I have a rather unorthodox interpretation of a famous Haring work: from 1982, the figure breaking a stick under the images of a heart and cross. Here Haring demonstrates his inability to conform homosexuality to the Christianity of his youth; homosexuality represented by the heart and Christianity by the cross; but, he is unable to do so and then dramatically smashes them apart once and for all. Again, it’s a sad piece, as you witness a man trying to make sense of himself and his homosexuality. He never really does; one of his last major works: the enormous pink cross - is megalithic; covered with muted figures covering their mouths. The Radiant Baby is still freaking out. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Gay Male/HIV/Mental Health Connection

Gay and bisexual men have a higher chance of acquiring HIV if they have mental health problems according to a new study from the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. For the study, published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, the researchers looked at how five conditions — depression, alcohol abuse, stimulant use, multi-drug abuse and exposure to childhood sexual violence — affect men’s risk of acquiring HIV. They analyzed data on 4,295 men who reported having sex with men within the previous year. The participants were asked about depressive symptoms, heavy alcohol and drug use and childhood sexual abuse; the participants did not have HIV when they entered the study between 1999 and 2001; they then completed a behavioral survey and HIV test every six months for four years. Overall, 680 men completed the study. Those who reported the most mental health issues were the most likely to become HIV positive by the end of the study. They were also most likely to report unprotected anal sex and unprotected anal sex with a person who has HIV.

Author’s note: According to the CDC 1 in 5 American gay and bisexual men are HIV+. From this study, we can extrapolate that most of those who are living with HIV, have significant mental health issues; therefore, the rate of mental illness in the gay male population is abnormally high; according to Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., M.F.T., a psychologist specializing in trauma and depression; adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse exhibit symptoms that can extend far into adulthood and include: suicidality, substance abuse, reenactment of the traumatic event, hyper-sexualized or sexually reactive behavior, and or issues with promiscuity. And, this problem of promiscuity is not exclusive to those who eventually become infected with HIV; as the CDC reports: between 2012 and 2013, the number of reported P&S syphilis cases increased 10.9%. In 2013, 75% of the reported P&S syphilis cases were among men who have sex with men (MSM); in addition, men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men. Therefore, what the gay male community is dealing with is a serious and untreated problem of sexual abuse survivors trying to cope with the trauma of their past; from the medical (specifically the mental health) community – they receive no help; in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). As a result, those who were sexually abused as children, usually by males - 94% of the perpetrators of sexual abuse against boys are men – hold fairly steady to a classic pattern of: gender identity disorder brought on by trauma, sexual confusion, confirmation by society into a homosexual orientation, exploration, and promiscuity resulting in the curious phenomena of rampant clinical depression; followed by sexually transmitted diseases.

For more information on male victims of sexual abuse, see: