Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 26 January 1998


By Mark Thompson

Book Review by Willis Bivins

GAY BODY: A Journey Through Shadow to Self by Mark Thompson, St. Martin's Press, 1998, 276 pages, $24.95

For openers let me state unequivocally that no ordinary or deeply defined spiritual analysis can do justice to Mark Thompson's remarkable autobiography. Perhaps this is an account of one man's life unlike any other that you will ever read or that will ever be written.

Why? Because Mr. Thompson gently commands that we enter a mysterious area of the sublime subconscious known as "shadow."

The "shadow" that he refers to is that deep, dark recess where human behavior—intensely individualistic—is churned out and sets us apart from every other sentient being. O.K., that's the part that is universal, regardless of one's sexual identity. He then asks us to make a few quantum leaps beyond that universal condition—leaps that are difficult for even the most enlightened ones:

A cursory knowledge of Jungian philosophical thought as it relates to gay male homosexuality.

An acceptance of the most extreme fringe of sado-masochism within the gay matrix, with emphasis on the cathartic, soul-purging nature of extreme inflicted pain.

The acceptability of gay incest with a brother sibling in an acutely dysfunctional traumatized family setting; and the most difficult of all: transforming our wounded inner selves beyond the sexist, patriarchal, internalized homophobia that living in western society has imposed upon us all—straight and gay alike. "No people are as homophobic as gay people themselves, or as oblivious to the struggles of others, as we often are for this very reason."

GAY BODY begins with Mark's very moving bedside vigil with his older brother Kirk's last days before making his transition due to AIDS complications. Its setting is the lovely lush Monterey Peninsula of Northern California, where they grew up together in the aforementioned turbulent family situation. The poignancy of the opening sequence is meant to personify the universality of the gay male experience in the time of plague.

The closing sequence requires a greater leap of faith—one which I'm not certain most gay men can make: The Sundance ritual, wherein –among certain tribes—the body is subjected to extreme pain after being hoisted aloft—a scene Mark recounts as pins are attached to his chest. The excruciating pain is said to cleanse the soul so that the participant can see his life more clearly. Who am I to question?

If any criticism can be mounted of this riveting autobiography, it might be that Thompson tends to pigeon-hole gay men sometimes beyond my own personal comfort level. His own paradigms such as the "trickster" are over-simplified in spite of a brilliant comparison to the legendary archetype Dionysus in Greek mythology. This archetype is embodied in the prototype of the "queen", who is "fated to traverse the world of paradox." Well, I've certainly known a lot of queens in my time but I think that even "queens" are more complex than Mr. Thompson's characterization.

In my opinion, a very important companion to GAY BODY is the pioneering anthropological work of Will Roscoe, whose research into the life-affirming role of the berdache in Native American tribes set the record straight on positive gay roles, albeit in an essentially matriarchal social setting.

I see the very wonderful message in all this as follows: that as gay male souls we ARE different; these differences go to the very core of our being as human beings, but are not differences to be reviled. On the contrary, they are differences to be celebrated and embellished.

Mark Thompson is not calling for separateness from the rest of humanity but rather connectedness through the understanding that it is the differences in which we are all enriched and edified.

About Mark Thompson:

Mark Thompson, a journalist, essayist and editor for more than twenty years, is the author of several books, including Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning; Leatherfolk: RadicalSex, People Politics and Practice; Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature; and Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement

Thompson lives in Los Angeles with his longtime life partner, Episcopal priest and author Malcolm Boyd.

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