Breeding Devils in Chaos: Homosexuality & the Occult
by Phil Hine
- Sexual Magick
- The Sexual Fringe
- Breaking away from Polarity
- The "Demonisation" of Homosexuality
- Including the 'Other'
- Nature vs Nurture
- Beyond the label
"Thus the blasphemy of the homosexual formula, for it denies Babalon and breeds devils in chaos."- Kenneth Grant
Like any other arena of human exploration, occultism generates theories for explaining/understanding the myriad facets of human behaviour. For some, these theories are no more than signposts, concepts to be discarded as the individual's knowledge and insight develops. For others, the various theories become dogmas - fixed beliefs which become firmly entrenched in the individual's psyche as manifestations of prejudice: attitudes perpetuated by ignorance. Occult concepts of sexuality are no different to those from any other angle of society - they can be used to confirm prejudice, and elevate it to a 'spiritual' or 'traditional' plane of received wisdom. This becomes clear when one sees occultists attempting to 'explain' homosexuality. There is much invocation of chakra imbalances, reverse kundalini, feminine souls in male bodies, and so forth. The level of sophistication can range from the simplistic "it's not natural" to extremely in-depth discussions about chakras, kundalini, and damaged auras. A writer in a pagan magazine recently put it that "homosexuality is anathema to the symbolism and tradition of the Craft of the Wise, which is firmly based on the polarity of man (the Horned God) as a consort of woman (the Goddess). For two men to ignore the Goddess is a defilement of the earth herself!"
Homosexuality and magick have, since the beginning of the great occult revival of the last century, been uneasy bedfellows, and there have been few attempts to develop a gay approach to sex-magick with any thoroughness, at least, that are available in the public domain.
This is in part due to entrenched attitudes about the 'magical' nature of homosexuality. A great deal of occult memes (viral ideas) currently in circulation were spawned in the heyday of the Theosophical Society, for example the identification of Left Hand Path (=bad) & Right Hand Path (=good) stems from the Theosophist's rejection of sexuality and its active role in Tantra. When a leading member of the Theosophist movement was implicated in a sex-scandal involving pubescent boys, the resulting furore not only damaged the Theosophical movement as a whole, but also gave rise to the rumours that there existed groups of 'Black Magicians' who obtained occult power by psychically vampirizing young boys. Such rumours were given a substantial boost by Dion Fortune, who throughout the 'twenties & 'thirties alleged that there was a conspiracy of male occultists who used 'homosexual techniques' to build up what she called 'dark astral power'. She also blamed the decline of the Greek and Roman empires on those cultures' relaxed attitude to homosexuality. Although she never named any of these 'black adepts', it is clear that she was probably referring to C.W. Leadbeater, and perhaps, also Aleister Crowley.
Crowley's attitude to homosexuality is ambivalent, to say the least. An active and enthusiastic bisexual, he had several male lovers, the most notable of which was the poet Victor Neuburg, his partner in a series of homosexual sex-magick operations known as The Paris Working, where Neuburg & Crowley performed a series of invocations using anal intercourse as the means of achieving gnosis. The results of this series of magical operations demonstrated to Crowley the power of sexual magick as a means of obtaining results, and he wrote magical papers on the value of VIIIº (Autosexual) IXº (Heterosexual) and XIº (Homosexual) magick which were incorporated into his reworking of the Ordo Templis Orientis magical Order. Crowley also wrote a book of poems devoted to love between men, or more accurately, a man and a boy: Bagh-I-Muttar: The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz, published in 1910. Whilst a worthy addition to any collection of Crowley's work, the Bagh-I-Muttar is not a book of practical instruction. Exponents of Crowley's work such as Kenneth Grant and the late Israel Regardie have sought to 'excuse' his use of what Kenneth Grant delicately calls 'the homosexual formula'.
Modern textbooks of sexual magick tend to either ignore male homosexuality, or take the position that the gender of partners makes no difference when it comes to raising energy. They do, however, tend to stress the importance of sexual magick taking place between an established couple, and there are no references to the areas of gay sexual culture that 'straight' society finds so hard to handle - group sex, S & M, or anonymous sex. Clearly, any writer able to overcome the general occult phobias over homosexuality (particularly male homosexuality - some occult sexual manuals say that Lesbianism is okay - after all, it's a turn-on, isn't it?) is valuable, compared to the 'blocked chakras' brigade, but by saying that 'the energies are essentially the same' and then going on to describe practices purely in heterosexual terms is missing out that there might possibly be something different about homosexual magick.
Probably the most available source for ideas and inspiration related to gay sexual magick is the work of the American writer, William Burroughs. Burroughs' fiction & non-fiction contains many references to homosexual acts for magical purposes, and an appraisal of these themes follows.
The subject of incubi and succubi and their visitations is rarely brought up by contempary magical writers, although they have been used time and time again by the varied hacks of the cheap horror genre, as a plot device upon which to hang the standard fare of blood and lust. Sex-Demons have been banished -either explained away as hallucination by psychlogists, or junked as just a manifestation of the antisexual masturbatory mythos. Christian priests of course, maintain that such encounters are visitations from the Devil.
Any occultists this side of the twentieth-century that do mention them, usually do so in the context of warning against having "traffick" with such entities, believing that loss of vitality or obsession is the inevitable result. Micheal Bertiaux for example, in a grade paper of "The Monastery of the Seven Rays" writes of the sexual vampires attracted by the release of Odic energy in orgasm, and recommends that a psychic barrier be erected (!) prior to engaging in any sexual magick, to prevent them from sucking on your orgones.
As regards sex-demons (as indeed many other subjects), western magick remains shot through with the anti-sexual frothings of the Theosophical Society, Christian Qabalah and other such organisations which call themselves "Right-Hand path". Basically, the RHP syndrome seems to attract those who have an extreme devotional bias to their world-view, are into "service" in a big way, also ideas such as cosmic sin or karma; divide mind, body and spirit and who reject sexuality at some level. On the other hand, the LHP-ers are definitely not into bending the knee, suspicious of service, and into getting bonked! In contrast to the prevailing mores, Burroughs has a much wider, objective approach to incubi and succubi:
"...an incubus or succubus can be harmless, or it can be destructive. Like any sexual situation, the danger depends on how you handle it. All sex is potentially dangerous...Our sexual feelings make us vunerable. How many people have been ruined by a sexual partner? Sex does provide a point of invasion and the incubi and succubi simply make us intensely aware of this." from A Report from the Bunker (V.Bockris)
In The Place of Dead Roads, protagonist Kim Carsons enjoys several encounters with sex-demons:
"He knew that the horror of these Demon Lovers was a gloomy Christian thing. In Japan there are phantom lovers known as 'fox maidens' who are highly prized, and the man can get his hands on a fox maiden is considered lucky. He felt sure that there were fox boys as well. Such creatures could assume the form of either sex."
According to Burroughs, people's attitudes towards these beings may change, but such visitations are probably more frequent than most people suppose. He classes them as a type of "familiar" (they certainly are!) and notes that, like animal or elemental familiars, they are dependant on a relationship with a human host for their own development. Similar ideas may be found in the Kaula school of Tantrika, and there are numerous rites for contacting such beings. The general idea is that you fuck them and they do you a favour in return. The negative aspect of such an encounter is basically that a succubus or incubus can be a good servant but a bad master, and repeated encounters with sex-demons can lead to the reduction of physical sexual encounters. Burroughs speculates on the possibilities of increased frequency of contact between humans and sex-demons:
"Sex is physics. If anyone could push a button and receive an incubus or succubus, I believe that most people would prefer a phantom partner than the all-too dreary real thing". - Report from the Bunker
Of particular interest is Burroughs' exploration of such contacts during dream-states. Vivid waking dreams, hypnogogic states and lucid dreams can all be a medium for contacting sex-demons (NB: the use of sigils before sleep can be particularly effective). He postulates that contacts with such beings in dream-states may be "training" for space travel.
Burroughs' fiction is littered with elemental progeny -lizard and crab boys, winged youths, symbiotic plants, amphibian venusians and the "zimbu", Wild Boy clones produced by both technology and sexual rites. Just as some feminist writers are exploring the possibility of male redundancy as regards reproduction (for example, parthenogenesis by DNA splicing), Burroughs is generating fictional worlds of entirely male societies, where "the human artifact" can evolve:
"sex forms the matrix of a dualistic and therefore solid and real universe. It is possible (i.e.; sex between males) to resolve the dualistic conflict in a sex act where dualism does not exist."The Place Of Dead Roads
Burroughs does not appear to be an advocate of androgyny -the fusion of masculine and feminine qualities and energies - but proposes divergence between the sexes; separate biological evolution. He is not concerned with the recovery or maintainance of archetypes of the past, but in biological adaptations towards future living...."actual beings designed for space travel."
Another closely related theme is his usage of sex as a modus for time-travel. Burroughs protagonists often use some form of sexual shape-shifting to enter different time-space zones:
"Xolotl was explaining to me that only one body is left in the switch they were going to hang me and when I shot my load and died I would pass into his body."
The Soft Machine
Elsewhere, Burroughs notes that sexual conditioning is "...one of the most 'powerful' anchors for rooting one's ego in present time." Several of his disorienting cut-up sequences demonstrate methods of scrambling sexual images so as to "loosen" the individual from the addictive cyclicity of time.
A similar technique is the use of Astral Projection which he describes (following the work of Robert Munroe) as "sex in the second state." Two characters learn to have sex in the second state during one of the navy scenes in Cities of the Red Night:
"One twin lets out an eerie high-pitched wolf howl and turns bright red all over as the hairs on his head and body stand up and crackle. Then, as if struck by lightning, he falls to the floor in an erotic seizure ejaculating repeatedly in front of the appalled and salacious tars."
Astral projection, like dreaming, is another route into space, and again such journeys into the imagination are preparations for the real thing.
"We are the children of the underworld, the bitter venoms of the Gods." The Place of Dead Roads
In addition to the modes of psychic sexuality already discussed, several other uses of sexual magick crop up throughout Burroughs's work. For example, in The place of Dead Roads, Kim Carsons performs an act of magical masturbation to project a thought-form; he uses ecstacy to mould the astral light to his will, hurling the image of his desire at the moment of orgasm. Sexual magick is used to invoke various dark Gods such as Humwawa, the lord of Abominations. He describes the appropriate smell (incense designers take note!) as:
"...stale sweat, rectal mucus and adolescent genitals rubs out with musk and hyacinth and rose oil"The Place of Dead Roads
In Cities of the Red Night, private investigator Clem Snide and his assistant try some sex magick to help further investigation of a bizarre case. Using sexual magick they perform an invocation of Set:
"I bend over and Jim rubs the ointment up my ass and slides his cock in. A roaring sound in my ears as pictures and tapes swirl in my brain. Shadowy figures rise beyond the candlelight: the goddess Ix Tab, patroness of those who hang themselves.. a vista of gallows and burning cities from Bosch.. Set.. Osiris.. smell of the sea. Jerry hanging naked from the beam."
At a later point in the book, Jerry's spirit gets into Snide's assistant, and the aid of Jerry's ex-lover is enlisted to call the spirit out. Jerry's spirit must obey this boy, as he is the one who fucked him "the best". The description of these rites does not linger over the erotic aspects, but the images - visions, smells, sounds - desire projected in the flash-bulb of orgasm. Also in Cities of the Red Night, the link between sex and creativity is explored. Adolescent pirates design new explosive weapons by fucking half-grasped ideas into reality. In trying to struggle with a new concept, they are seized by spontaneous lust, the outcome of which is the new idea.
The orgasm-death gimmick is probably the best-known of Burroughs's sexual themes. It has been described as a form of alchemy, in which the ego is transferred to another body at the moment of ejaculation. Hanging rituals take place again and again throughout Burroughs' work. The link between sex and death (Freud called orgasm "la petite mort" - the little death) is a well-known magical formula, and has inspired the title of the chaos magick order - the Illuminates of Thanateros - the sex and death gnosis. Orgasm-death transfer sequences occur throughout both The Soft Machine and Cities of the Red Night, where the elite "transmigrants" orchestrate careful orgasm-death rites so that their egos may be transferred into the bodies of the class known as the "receptacles". The technique is increasingly refined so that the spirit can be directly transferred into an adolescent receptacle, thus circumventing the process of birth and infancy.
According to Burroughs, our knowledge of sexuality and its possibilities for human evolution is very limited. This is mainly because sexuality is a powerful means of psychocontrol. We tend to regard the sexual aspect of our experience as the most private and intimate part of our lives, yet it is subject to immense interference and control from external agencies. In his fiction and non-fiction, Burroughs is exploring the ways in which sex may become an escape vehicle to pull free of the crushing, smothering embrace of the control-programs that maintain society. He explores the use of sexual magick for obtaining specific results, for projecting the will to create thought-forms, and for inspiration and dream control.
The Sexual Fringe
As the recent court case from the police's 'Operation Spanner' shows, there is a great deal of judicial unease over the implications of Sado-Masochistic sexual practices. Court rulings following the police's busting of an S&M ring imprisoned men who had consented to S&M practices - there was no coercion or under-age sex involved, yet S&M practices - including body piercings, were judged to constitute 'assault'. The question of S&M as a sexual practice has for a long time been a subject of heated debate within the Lesbian & Gay community. Advocates of S&M say that it is about enacting fantasies and is a good deal safer than penetrative sex, while its critics point to the symbolism of S&M gear - handcuffs, whips, chains etc., as perpetuating symbols of oppression. John Rechy, author of City of Night gives an example of this when he discusses the psychodynamics of S&M fantasies wherein Gay men dress up as policemen or soldiers. Doubtless the forging of a link between S&M and magical practices will upset some of the more orthodox magi, yet elements of bondage and flagellation can be discerned within many magical traditions, from the North American Indian 'Sundance' rite (where participants have leather thongs strung through the pectoral muscles and are suspended in mid-air in the full heat of the sun) to Revivalist Witchcraft, in which cords, knots, and 'ritual scourging' take place. Of course, we are informed that the latter is done for a 'spiritual' reason, rather than mere healthy hedonism, but pain and restraint are common forms of inducing an altered state of consciousness, particularly within shamanic cultures - a fact which the 'new-age' exponents of boil-in-a-bag shamanism have passed over, together with body piercing and scarification.
Part of the problem when trying to examine possible sources for developing a Gay approach to sexual magick is that there are not many options for Gay men who wish to become involved in occult practices - most magical paths (at least in the UK) are biased from the heterosexist viewpoint, and arguments against the spiritual validity of homosexual rites can be found in the writings of modern exponents of Wicca, Thelema, Qabalah, and the Western Esoteric Tradition in general. A possible exception to this general trend is the American-based 'Monastery of the Seven Rays' - a network of Voudoun groups led by Michael Bertiaux, in which special courses on magical practice for gay men are available.
However, it's not just a question of techniques and accepting the validity of gay sexual magick. We need to address the issue of magick and sexuality head-on. Above all, magick is a process of adaptation to changes in our environment. As the Nineties spin us faster into a new world, we are left, increasingly breathless with a sense of future shock. We've hardly begun to adapt ourselves to the facts of city-life, let alone the pluralistic sexuality which our post-industrial culture has thrown up. We need to understand sexuality, and how sexuality relates to the power-plays which twitch and gibber behind the facade of social reality. Sexual magick is dangerous, as it subverts the conditioned value that sex = procreation = nuclear family (where man owns woman, owns children). It subverts the conditioned value that good sex = x amount of orgasms wrung from the partner. Orgasm has become one more marketplace commodity to be bought, sold, and advertised. Sexual magick might offer the chance to find out that there is something beyond the walls. The magick is in our bodies and minds. Let's try and find it. A recent TV debate on censorship discussed the taboo of screening an erect penis. Why? It's vunerable. Someone might laugh at it.
Breaking Away from Polarity
Musing over this brings me to look at the whole subject of 'Polarity'. I worked for a few years with an Alexandrian Coven, where polarity was an important issue. You know, all the stuff about male female, positive negative, bright dark, low high active passive. The male female bit was especially strong, and every Priestess had to have her Priest, and vice versa. Men reflect the Horned One, and Women reflect the Triune Goddess and any suggestion that things could be otherwise, well it just wasn't done.
So I learned to work with the Goddesses; being in a Wiccan coven meant having a 'magical partner' to work with a Priestess. Slowly the subversive little thought crept in "Why can't men work with the Goddesses directly, and women invoke the Horned (or any other God) upon themselves? Okay, so I was naive at the time, but we tried it no problems. By that time I'd read all the Jung I ever wanted to and was well into his concept of male & female natures within. The High Priestesses said that men needed to get in touch with their 'feminine' natures, so this was okay.
In the midst of working through a cycle of Devotional Magicks to different Goddesses (Kali, Isis, Eris, Babalon, Ma'at) I started to have trouble with the whole concept of polarity. Okay, so we have 'masculine' and 'feminine' qualities. Men are logical, women are intuitive, men are intellectual, women are emotional. Says who? Patriarchy, that's who (yes, I'd learnt a new word and begun to grasp a new politics). Our social conditioning sets up these distinctions. Try and grow away from our conditioning, and we might learn that logic, intuition, intellect, and emotions are qualities that we can all share, no matter what our gender orientation is. And so another occult 'law' comes tumbling down.
So too I began to question the Jungian concept of Anima & Animus. If we don't need to polarise qualities and traits into 'masculine' and 'feminine', then do we need to have Anima & Animus within? Jung's theories have been ably trashed by others, over the years, and I don't feel the need to do it here.
The 'Demonization' of Homosexuality
If some occultists find Homosexuality problematic, we should not be surprised, since our culture as a whole has difficulty with same sex relations. This is a part of the cultural heritage of Christianity, which remains as the root of much of our conditioning, although this might not be apparent on the surface, and is as prevalent within occult circles as it is everywhere else. There are quite a few parallels between 'coming out' as lesbian, gay or bisexual and becoming an occultist, particularly because the core Christian attitude to both groups is to stigmatise them as deviant.
Although Jesus had nothing to say about Homosexuality, his followers made their views quite clear:
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers. nor the effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind ... shall inherit the Kingdom of God.
St. Paul, Corinthians
St. Paul's views on sex were that celibacy is best, and if not that, then heterosexual marriage. All other forms of sex are illicit. Sex, according to Christian teaching, was given to man solely for the purposes of reproduction, and therefore any kind of non reproductive sexual behaviour was a sin against nature. Sex for pleasure and fun forget it!
Christian views of sexuality were to some extent fashioned as a rejection of the moral values of the Pagan Ancients, where attitudes to sexuality were culturally determined, rather than being moral absolutes. The early Church fathers developed the comprehensive code of sexual ethics which Christ himself did not provide. Clement, Jerome, Origen and Augustine laid down the principle that sex for any other purpose than procreation was a sin against nature. Such views were enforced in the Roman Empire once Christianity was adopted as the official religion. The emperor Justinian took the literal view that violations of nature caused nature to retaliate, and that sodomy therefore caused famines, earthquakes, and pestilence. This link between unnatural sex and plague remained popular in the Middle Ages, and was taken as evidence of righteousness by the Spanish in their conquest of the aboriginal Indians. For the Spanish, the Indian's acceptance of homosexual behaviour provided a major justification for their conquest and subjugation of the New World. When the Indians began to die from the microbes brought over by the invaders, the Spanish saw this as confirmation from God of the inherent virtue of their acts. Of course, nowadays we hear that AIDS is God's punishment upon the Queers and the increasing incidence of AIDS amongst heterosexuals is their fault too and the fault of Bisexuals, of course.
The Church's attitude to homosexuality in the early Middle Ages can been found in the Penitentials, the handbooks for confessors. One of the most influential of these works was the "Decretum" of Burchard of Worms. Here the penalties for homosexual sodomy were:
If the penitent were single seven years of fasting & abstinence
If the penitent were married 10 years penance
If the offence was habitual 15 years penance
If the offender was a youth 100 days on bread and water.
Homosexual sodomy was rated as the most serious offence. Other homosexual acts however, were seen as far less serious. Mutual masturbation, for example, carried a penance of thirty days the same as challenging someone to a drinking bout or having sex with the wife during Lent.
Three groups were regularly said to be involved in homosexual activity the nobility, the clergy, and students.
The Thirteenth Century marked the beginnings of the Church equating homosexual acts with demonic impulse. Homosexuality was not seen as something innate to individuals, but rather as a habit deliberately taken up as an act of wickedness. It was declared that Homosexuality led to leprosy and insanity, and was linked to paganism and idolatry. Inevitably, homosexual acts became linked to accusations of heresy and witchcraft, of which the most spectacular case was probably the Knights Templars who were accused of devil worship, heresy and sodomy. By the 13th Century, both England and France had followed the Emperor Justinian's punishment of homosexuality death by burning (hence the word 'faggots').
Here we can see the basic Christian control mechanism for dealing with individuals or ideas which are unusual or atypical within society they are stigmatised and perceived as a threat. Difference threatens order and control, and so is demonized. From the Middle Ages, the predominant Christian image of the 'Other' has been the Devil, inspiring minorities to seek to encompass the destruction of God's order.
Christianity presents us with a strongly dualistic view of experience - categories become rigid and one either belongs to one or the other: Faithful-Heretic, Normal - Deviant, etc. The basic reaction to the threat of disorder is fear, and the cultural pattern for coping with disorder is to create stereotypes, which perpetuate a needed difference between self and other. While the tendency to create stereotypes is natural enough, there is also a tendency to elevate such labels into absolute statements.
In 1869 the term "Homosexual" was coined, and the concept and category of "the Homosexual" came into being. By the end of the Nineteenth Century there were two 'identities' based on Gender preference - two categories of person: Heterosexual (normal) and Homosexual (Deviant). These became mutually exclusive absolutes one was either normal, or not, in these terms.
Now as a great deal of what passes for modern occult literature emerged at the end of the Nineteenth Century, it's really of no surprise that occult writers took on board the prevailing social mores of their age, especially when it came to regarding attitudes to sexuality.
The problem, as I see it, is that as our culture continues to develop, becoming increasingly complex and fluid, our categories for making sense of it all become woefully inadequate.
From the day we are born we are given a set of labels, set up as dichotomies, through which we create our sense of identity; race and class, which cast us either as oppressors or oppressed, nationality or ethnicity; which gives us a specific language and paints us with stereotypes before we even know who we are; and gender, which affects every aspect of our socialisation. By the time we are old enough to have a sense of our own sexual identity, it is very difficult to kick the habit of labelling.
I recall an article submitted to Pagan News a while back which begged the question "What is a Pagan?" this being prompted by a discussion between the writer and a High Priestess of Wicca, who held forth that the author could not be a 'true' pagan because he used the 'Golden Dawn' banishing ritual he, in her view, was 'only' an occultist. There seems to be a significant number of people within the occult community who wish to keep their own paths rigidly defined and enshrined invoking that old god, 'tradition' if necessary, to keep everything else at bay.
On the Gay scene, there is an obvious parallel wherein certain individuals come up with a definition of what is 'politically correct' or 'right on' behaviour, and then seek to exclude anyone who doesn't' fit' within those narrow parameters: Leather, S&M, Cottaging, bisexuality, etc.
Including the 'Other'
Underlying this kind of behaviour in both cases is the Christian rooted reaction to stigmatise and reject any manifestations of 'Otherness', and at the same time, reinforce one's own sense of self by exclusion of difference. This reaction to the different or atypical is very much a product of Christian based culture. In other cultures, however, those who are different are sometimes seen as especially gifted. Take for example the attitude to gender variance in the American Indian religions.
One of the core principles of American Indian religions is that all things in the universe are related. All things that exist are seen as having a counterpart: sky and earth; plant and animal; water and fire. In all polarities there exist mediators, the role of which is to hold the polarities together. The most important category in Amerindian society is gender. Women are gatherers and farmers (earth) whilst men are hunters (sky). the mediator between man and woman is the role which combines elements of both genders - the Berdache; a morphological male who has a non-masculine character, and can be characterised as Gynandrous. Berdaches have a clearly recognised & accepted social status, often based on a secure place within tribal myth. Berdaches may have distinct ceremonial roles and important status within their family kinship networks. They serve a mediating role between Women and Men because their character is seen as distinct from either sex. They are not seen as men, yet they are not seen as women, either.
In Amerindian cultures, gender classification is rooted in an individual's spirit - their personal desire, rather than physical biology. This is a sharp contrast to our own Christian derived approach, where atypical individuals are demonized. Many tribes associate the assumption of the Berdache role with dreams or gifts from spirits. The Lakota, for example, understand that Berdaches are guided by spirits, and so are not bound to the usual rules of conduct. Their unusualness is thus a reflection of their sacredness, and, they are seen as offering advantages to society precisely because they see beyond the restrictions of the normal.
Nature vs Nurture
In the West, the debate between exponents of sexuality as innate predisposition and those of sexuality as learned experience has polarised into the Social Constructionist and Essentialist positions. In the early years of the Gay Liberation Movement, Lesbians & Gay Men took up an ethnic model of oppression and counterculture. Here, Lesbians & Gay men defined themselves as an ethnic minority with sexuality as the determining factor, and homophobia as the oppression. Lesbian & Gay activists took the insight of experiencing sexuality as 'beyond choice' that there are people who are 'essentially' heterosexual or 'essentially' homosexual. Thus, for an Essentialist, a woman who comes out at 40 would be perceived as being a Lesbian 'All along' who had not been in touch with her 'true' sexuality. The occult equivalent of this would be a Christian woman who, upon joining a coven, declares that she was a 'witch' in her past life.
In opposition to the Essentialist argument arose the Social Constructionist view that the categories for defining sexuality are socially constructed, rather than discovered, and that our enculturation & socialisation affects us tremendously, including the way in which we think that 'nature' shapes us. They argue that sexual orientation is learned, relational, contingent, and unpredictable, that different sexual scripts appear within different societies and that there are variations within those scripts within different societies.
Needless to say, the Constructionist paradigm, with its implication of fluidity and choice over sexual preferences, threatened some Lesbian & Gay activists as soon as it appeared. It called into question the "oppressed ethnic minority" approach by arguing that sexuality was not a constant, and could therefore not be compared on the same level as skin colour. The reaction to this was not favourable those claiming social rights on the basis of group identity do not, on the whole, appreciate being told that identity is a social construct.
Beyond the label
The sense of identity in our postmodern culture is becoming increasingly fragile and all the indications, as far as I can see, are that this trend will continue. Increasingly, people are recognising that whatever labels they use to define themselves, that those labels are inadequate and incomplete, yet necessary for political action. The range of any individuals' chosen sexual repertoire can be much wider than any accepted stereotypes, creating a bewildering array of terms:
"gay married men, heterodykes, swingers, lesbians with toy boys, lesbians & gay men who 'sports fuck' with the opposite sex, men who have sex with men (who don't identify as Bi or Gay), Bisexual identified Lesbians & Gays, etc."
Rigid definitions of sexuality & gender variance are becoming increasingly inadaquate to deal with our experiences. Which neatly brings us to Chaos Magic. Some of the uneasiness which other Pagans & Occultists view the Chaos approach is, in part in my experience, due to the absence of any rigid parameters and the emphasis on individual freedom of choice in any sphere of activity. We are beginning to discover that we all too easily chain ourselves into limitations by internalising restrictive concepts. So too, we are discovering that sexual expression chafes at being restricted. From looking at other cultures we discover that attitudes to gender variance are often more relaxed that sexuality is conceptualised as pleasurable and choice centered, rather than 'sinful' and beyond choice.
The problem with the Essentialist position is for me, twofold. The first is that it accepts the gender dichotomies which have already been established in our culture. Since at the root of this dichotomy, Homosexuality is perceived to be 'deviant', then attempts to change the social status of Homosexuals are already at a disadvantage. The 'ghettoisation' of Lesbian & Gay subculture is already well advanced. Personally, quoting the band Toxic Shock "I don't want to live in an alternative ghetto, I want to live in an alternative world". Again, this is a very complex issue, so I won't go into it at length. Accepting the Hetero-Homo dualism also means that those who don't feel themselves as secure in either category, for example, bisexuals & trans-gendered people, have to struggle even harder to establish their identity. The Gay subculture can be as oppressive to bisexuals and others as the mainstream culture can be to homosexuals perpetuating the cycle of demonization. My other argument against the Essentialist position is - going back to the 40 year old woman who comes out as a Lesbian. If she is only now fulfilling her 'true' sexuality, this devalues her previous sexual experiences, as they were not 'true'. Personally, before coming out as Gay, I had several happy and fulfilling relationships with women. In fact, some of my partners greatly encouraged me to explore my sexual preferences, and were it not for them, I might not have explored the other facets of my sexuality. In no way do I feel that my present sexual orientation* invalidates my past experiences. In the same way, I have met Gay men who, after a sexual encounter with a woman (from mere 'fancying' to sexual intercourse) feel their entire identity to be under threat, and terrified that their friends would find out, and ostracise them for 'sleeping with the ‘other.' A key way to understand the social tensions involved in maintaining identity can be found in Irving Goffmann's book, 'Asylums', that:
"Our sense of being a person can come from being drawn into a wider social unit; our sense of selfhood can arise through the little ways in which we resist the pull. Our status is backed by the solid buildings of the world, while our sense of personal identity resides in the cracks."
The Quantum revolution dealt a death blow to the dualistic perception of the universe, and Chaos Physics will more or less finish it off (eventually). We know that the Universe is much too complex (and wonderful) to be neatly labelled into opposites, and how we too easily chain ourselves into limitation by taking on board restrictive concepts. Anything might be possible, if we allow ourselves new possibilities. Take sexuality for instance. For safety's sake we define our sexuality according to labels, images, roles, politics, etc. But increasingly, we are discovering that sexuality chafes at being trapped in one mould. Which isn't to say that we are all androgynous or bisexual. Just that those who feel able can explore aspects of their sexuality that goes beyond their immediate perception of their orientation. Last night I read a book called Macho Sluts, a collection of Lesbian S&M erotica. It didn't do anything for me, as it were, but I was extremely impressed by the writer's ability to be honest and truthful about her fantasies - refusing to censor herself just because it wasn't 'politically correct' to have such images in her head. The best kind of magick, I find, is the magick that liberates us from the chains of oppression, be they ideas, feelings, conditioning, or the very real oppression of being made to feel powerless and unimportant.
* This essay was written in 1991 as part of a presentation for the Talking Stick discussion forum in London - at the time I was identifying as being Gay, and have since settled on identifying as Bisexual.