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Being Gay at Ananda
July 24th, 2013

When the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases this March, Facebook surged with expressions of solidarity, some from Ananda folk. Rachel Andersen superimposed an equals sign over her profile picture, prompting me to say “thanks.”

“It just makes sense,” she said.

Bhagavati equated gay marriage with the civil rights movement.

“You don’t know how much that means to me,” I typed, “coming not just from a person of color, but from a fellow gurubai.”

“I’m sorry we’ve been so long in showing our support.”

“The real travesty,” I replied, “is when people feel forced to give up on a spiritual life due to short-sighted religious institutions.”

Nirmal Vadgama, a former karma yogi and “Living with Spirit” participant, saw what I wrote to Bhagavati:

“I’m intrigued to find out you’re gay,” he messaged. “Well, so am I. I haven’t made it publicly known yet, but I have told a few close friends. Regarding your comment, are you referring to Ananda or SRF, or to a previous religious affiliation? I’ve been interested in Yogananda from a young age. Seeing that he did not explicitly state his opinions on homosexuality, I have asked some Ananda ministers of their thoughts and was happy to receive a supportive response. I am curious to know what you may have personally experienced within the community.”

It’s a question I’m regularly asked.

Yesterday I posted on “Rainbow Hearts,” a Facebook group for Master’s gay devotees:

“As a long-time Ananda Village resident, I was pleased to learn that Ananda Seattle ministers are about to marry two same-sex couples, and that Jyotish Novak, Ananda’s Spiritual Director, gave it his blessings! All it would take for this to happen at Ananda Village, it seems, would be two people in love.”

“That sounds like a positive shift,” came the reply. “I’ve often heard Ananda had much more narrow views towards same-sex devotees in the past.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Ananda folk, though, are extremely good-hearted, the times have changed in general, and there’s a solid commitment to right action. In short, Ananda appears to have grown with the rest of the world.”

It’s been a long time coming.

In 1986, on the verge of my leaving Ananda (in which “leading a gay lifestyle,” played a prominent part), Swamiji questioned me on my friendship with men.

“Why does it have to be sexual?”

The gist of my reply was to wonder why sex was such an issue. In my closest relationships, it had long been superseded by something greater. I reflected on the previous seven years, when my inability to suppress the sexual urge (while living at Ananda) had meant a de facto double life: being “good” for long periods, then mixing with completely worldly people outside.

“I don’t know anyone like this,” I offered, “but if there was someone at Ananda, a fellow devotee, who wanted to grow together with me toward God, I would be willing to stand before the whole community and defend that relationship as a vast improvement over the status quo.”

“I hope you would talk to me first,” Swami said.

“And that would very likely be a good thing for the community,” Jyotish said later, adding, “I’ve always been neutral on this.” The problem, he explained, was that Ananda lacked consensus.

Fast-forward to gay couples being allowed to live at our centers, though not at the Village. Jump to 2004, when Swami, in a stunning reversal, quietly told our ministers that, for one thing, it was hypocritical of us to have two policies, and that, more importantly, Ananda was “interfering in their private lives,” meaning gay Ananda members, who would now be permitted at the Village to partner up. In that moment, a second, far more significant double standard was simultaneously resolved.

For Ananda is a practical place. From the outset, Swami recognized that, for most people, overcoming sex in one, fell swoop is not realistic. Thus he prescribed moderation, and a gradual weaning – to straight couples, that is. To me, he suggested chopping wood (or something similar) coupled with prayer, and intimated that Ananda might not be the place to be. Indeed, until 2004, life at Ananda Village for a gay person was not unlike the military’s (since-discarded) policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Moderation applies equally now to all.

The real question for a gay person wanting to come, not just to Ananda, but any spiritual community is: “To what extent are you a devotee first?” No longer is anyone going to insist you stop being gay before being spiritual, even if such a thing were possible. But is being gay your primary self-definition?

You would not be reading these words if it were. Indeed, what happens on the path, as one evolves, is that self-definitions of every sort drop away: man, woman, artist, architect. Being gay becomes an aspect of one’s nature – and valid – but no longer who one is.

Sexuality blurs. Men, guided generally by reason, get more in touch with their feelings. Women grow less emotional and more pragmatic. This is a problem for gay people (who are already in touch with their opposite side), because it makes it hard to tell the gays from the straights. And the straights might not understand why we care — unless perhaps we’re interested in them sexually. In this, they fail to appreciate the life-long bond gay people share.

They don’t understand what it means to have fought, not just society, but oneself.

One wonders why we would choose such a thing. Yet I can honestly say that, while difficult, facing the discrimination that comes with being gay has been the greatest blessing, for it’s made me a kinder, more compassionate, less judgmental human being. And, if the broader karmic picture could be seen, it would not surprise me to learn that, in fact – in past lives – I have been the very bigot I’ve struggled so hard to overcome.

That is what the spiritual gay person discovers in the end, and it turns out all to have been worth the cost.

 

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17 Responses

  1. Eknath says:

    Well done, Jack!

    What is important — whether one be straight or gay or whatever — is not a definition, a concept, or a categorization… this is all Maya.

    I think everything comes down to love.

    People show ignorance when they confuse love for mere sexual expression.

    The purpose of true marriage is to support one another on the path to God. Why can’t loving same sex couple do the same successfully.

    Desire is the same in heterosexual and homosexual relationships… The goal is to go beyond limiting desire; and, not to go beyond meaningful fulfilling relationships.

    JAI GURUS!

    Eknath

  2. Puru says:

    Jack — your post is very a positive affirmation of Ananda’s progress. I’m very glad to read that Swami moderated his stance. I hadn’t known that he had done so. I wish he had done so more publically. In Joy, Puru

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! My Ananda family has never judged me and for that I am so grateful. When I first arrived
    I was drawn by the teachings of the Masters. I expected I would have to leave eventually when some Swami or Master denounced my lifestyle. To me it was only a balancing of my own female/male identities. I was grateful to see the writings about the soul having no gender. This finally has given me greater completion, self acceptance, and a realization that love knows no boundaries. Blessings, Linda from Seattle

  4. Thank you so much for bringing up the issue of being gay or lesbian at Ananda. It is such an important topic! I believe God made us all play different roles, so we can learn compassion, how to love unconditionally and tolerance. Why would God not want anyone to be who they are? Thanks for the history of your experience, you will help others who want to love God through Ananda’s spiritual path feel welcomed. God bless you for hanging in there!

  5. Dambara says:

    Thanks, Jack! Appreciate your genuine heart-sharing and “straight”-forwardness. :)

  6. Shankari says:

    Dear All,
    There is such good sense, divine love and joy in this!
    Thank you Jack!!
    Shankari

  7. Cindy Gottfried says:

    Jack, this blog post took a lot of courage to write. I admire you a lot for it.

    I think it is helpful to remember the part of Out of the Labyrinth where Swamiji points out, “To define is to confine.” He uses Thomas Aquinas’ definition of man/humanity as an illustration: “Man is a rational animal.” Then he goes on to point out how, while the definition is helpful in the context in which it arose, applying it universally can cause problems. He says, “by defining man as a ‘rational animal,’ and limiting our thinking of him to those terms, we may find the definition, in certain contexts, actually distorting the reality.”

    In the same way, some people get tripped up in their definition of gay people exclusively in terms of sexuality. Such a definition had its place in the context in which it arose – studies on sexuality – but to see your fellow human beings in such exclusive terms is really to not do justice.

    Fortunately Swamiji follows up with the answer to this in the same chapter: test your theories against reality, no matter how cherished those theories may be.

    For many years I struggled over whether to write to Swamiji about my trials and fears as a gay person at Ananda, but I was unable to do so without focusing on the pain, and thus on my ego. Finally I ended up writing an anguished letter asking for his prayers towards my not focusing on myself so much. If I was going to focus on my ego, might as well get to the heart of the matter: how can I get out of the way so I can have a clearer path to God? Over the nearly 20 years I’ve spent at Ananda, my response whenever I’ve found someone doubting my spiritual worthiness is to tell myself to not let this come between me and my search for God.

    When Swamiji passed, I felt no regret that I never brought up the subject to him, because I had peace in my heart. Later, when discussing our marriage plans, I found out that back when my partner and I became tyagis, Swamiji had given his blessing. And so I was pleased after the fact to learn that Swamiji had looked beyond the beautiful theory of the coming together of the cosmic male and female principles and into our hearts.

  8. Lindi says:

    Thank you Jack. I don’t know you, but I overheard a conversation in the cafeteria that caught my attention. I am here visiting Ananda for about my fifth trip. I am a lesbian, but that is not how I define myself. I have been interested by the teachings, and have wondered what the “take” on homosexuality was. I have not been quiet about my partner while here at Ananda, in fact just the opposite. I have told many people, and I usually do not advertise. I believe I was fishing just to see how the people of Ananda feel about the topic.

    Until a few years ago, I was active in a Christian church. When I finally acknowledged who I truly was, I made the decision to leave the church. I left the church, but I did not leave my God.

    I recently received quite a scathing letter from a christian friend who disowned me because they found out I was gay. So my radar is up!

    I was in a long term, dysfunctional, heterosexual marriage which I was in because I was in denial of my sexuality. The dysfunction was partially because I was not entirely available. My denial was unfair to my husband and unfair to myself.

    Since meeting my partner, I realize how loving and healthy a relationship can and should be. I have discovered who I really am and my spiritual life has flourished. We love each other, treat each other with respect and truly want the best for each other. She supports me in every way. She encourages me to grow in my spiritual path.

    I was inspired to comment on this blog, not because I have much to say, but because I want to support you Jack. I am so glad to hear that the people of Ananda really do the their talk.

    Thank you.

  9. matt stickney says:

    Jack,
    I’ve known many “gay” couples at Ananda both at the village and the centers over the past 30 years….And for me it’s always been , Are we putting God First in our lives…That to me is the true message of Ananda. We relate to each other as lovers of God…end of story…all the rest is just the baggage we carry with us… if we get that “lover of God part right…it all fits… thanks for posting this…Hard for me to imagine the abuse you must have had to put up with….Knowing some people that are gay and who haven’t ‘come out yet”. This is a wonderful article !!

    • Jack Wallace says:

      Thanks, Matt. By the way, there’s no need to put “gay” in quotes. That’s the correct word as is. And for those who may not be aware, referring to someone as a “homosexual” in 2013 is like calling a black person a “negro”: technically correct, but ignorant, given the subtle negativity the word has assumed.

  10. Thanks, Jack, for writing this. This is not the space for me to detail my own spiritual journey in the light of being a gay woman. Just suffice it to say that for many of us on the spiritual path – in or out of Ananda – there has been a lot of pain. I am thrilled that society as a whole is starting to accept us even if they don’t understand us. And I am very happy that Ananda has grown to the point of being accepting of gay people. In fact, Padma and Hriman McGilloway married my wife and I at our home July 20th. We have been together 25 years and wanted to celebrate it by actually getting legally married since we can now do that in the state of Washington. Although they have officiated at blessings of gay couples, we are their first gay wedding! They did a fabulous job and if you check out my Facebook page, you can see how happy the two of us were and are.

    No one can judge why any of us choose the bodies and peculiarities we do for any particular incarnation and it really isn’t anyone’s business! We are here walking our path back home to God and that takes various paths for various people. Our job is to love, honor, and respect one another as the siblings we are and I am glad that our Ananda community has moved to the position of supporting all of us.

    And, you are so right, it isn’t about sex anyway. No matter a person’s orientation, relationships are about love. Love transcends everything – gender, race,spirituality, etc…

    I hope if there are any transgendered folks at Ananda, they will also feel welcomed and included – they are as far as I am concerned!

    Joy to all!
    Krysta

    • Cindy Gottfried says:

      That’s wonderful – congratulations, Krysta! And I didn’t know that there have been other blessings of gay couples in this area. I thought you were the first. It’s really too bad that the opening up over the years hasn’t been more public, since so many remember the past assertions that we can’t be supported or guided. Definitely has been spiritual growing ground for all.

    • Jack Wallace says:

      Congratulations, Krysta & wife, on being Ananda’s first same-sex wedded couple. The next milestone will occur when Ananda Village hosts its first same-sex wedding — and when two men eventually tie the Ananda knot, the future will have officially arrived.

  11. Glenn Hill says:

    What a wonderful things to read, that Ananda is opening to this reality, that some of the devotees of Master were gay, and many are today, and that they should be welcomed to fully live their lives as married couples, openly, and with the full blessings of the community !!:-) Bravo !!!

  12. Darshan Jan Lotichius says:

    May you find God in this life time, just like James Collier did, according to Master’s prediction.

  13. Ashrai Yogini says:

    This makes me happy. I was told from a guest during my personal retreat that Ananda Village would not take kindly to a Couple of the same sex living at Ananda Village. I thought this was strange and it made my heart sad.

    I would love if my Female partner if given the blessing to live at Ananda :)

    I am happy to read these words.

    Ashrai

  14. Leonore Alaniz says:

    Your candor Jack contributes much to Ananda’s culture, and moreover: You are a man and writer of the Dwapara yuga!