At first blush when talking about favorite holidays I would have to say Thanksgiving would be mine. I have enjoyed many wonderful Thanksgivings. Two in particular stick out and those were in northern New Mexico at a B&B in the middle of the San Juan Pueblo right up against the Rio Grande River, in 1992 and 1993. This was a wonderful compound we discovered in the early 1980’s thanks to Harry Hay and John Burnside.
Harry Hay considered by some to be the founder of the modern gay movement, and if that is overstating it a bit, he was certainly the spark that started the Mattachine Society in 1950 and a vibrant, uncompromising life-long gay activist. We first met in 1978 through a connection at the Gay Community Center here in Denver located in a non-descript brown duplex on Lafayette Street; a stone throw away from The Center’s current location today.
It was Harry and John’s interview in the movie The Word is Out that led me to inquire about them and begin a relationship that would last into the new millennium up until their deaths, Harry in 2002 and John in 2008. One of the many things I became aware of through my relationship with Harry and John was the magic that is Northern New Mexico and the northern Pueblos in particular. Their segment in The Word is Out was filmed at an old multi-dwelling adobe compound nestled in the San Juan Pueblo just a bit north of Espanola. Espanola is located on the low road between Taos and Santa Fe. They actually lived in one of several buildings on what was originally the Kent Compound having moved there in 1970 from Los Angeles. Dorothy Kent was an artist of some renown who lived on the compound bearing her name where she had relocated from back east.
I can’t recall that I ever spent a Thanksgiving with Harry and John. Harry in particular was very fond of Christmas, particularly its pre-Christian roots. If you go to a great web site willsworld.org, Will Roscoe has posted a twenty-minute video of Harry talking about his favorite holiday. There are several nuggets from Harry as usual in this video but one I found particularly interesting was his talking about carols: “A carol, in old English, means a sun dance. So, consequently, you don’t sing a carol, you dance a carol. And so you dance a carol around the tree singing and calling back the sun.”
But back to Thanksgiving and particularly the two celebrated in New Mexico at the compound named Chinguage surrounded by the San Juan Pueblo. The years again were 1992 and 1993 the absolute peak of the AIDS nightmare for me both professionally and personally. There was something comforting I suppose in going back to this very ancient and peaceful place Harry had introduced us to try and soothe our souls. There were eight of us all very close friends and several of us had been gay activists if you will since the mid seventies.
If there were dark nights of the soul at that time they probably involved wrestling with the obviously lifestyle related-reality that was AIDS and our strong beliefs in the righteousness of being openly gay men. Was this really God’s punishment for a life of sin?
Though not exactly returning to the scene of the crime many of the lessons I learned from Harry about the uniqueness of gay difference and our potential contributions to society as a result of those differences took place in New Mexico. Oh and of course the many conversations in my kitchen in Denver into the wee hours of the morning.
That first Thanksgiving in 1992 was so healing for us that we returned the following year. That would be the last though since key members of the group would die in 1994 and 1995.
All of us were so very out of the closet for so long by this time that we had probably turned inside out more than once. It was though the nurturing in the form of cooking, sharing food, laughing, loving, hugging and gossiping endlessly that validated our strong beliefs in the power of loving companions. Though we may not have realized consciously at the time these short Thanksgiving retreats renewed and validated our sense of purpose as gay men in loving community.
The concept of men in loving companionship in service to the greater community at large is actually quite revolutionary. Men in community itself, without the loving component, often don’t cut it. I might offer as examples of shall we say, “challenged” male only communities football locker rooms or male Catholic clerical hierarchy.
Harry was always a strong proponent of gay men getting their own shit together amongst themselves before venturing forth to the broader queer and straight communities. He fervently believed that we had a unique set of gifts to first discover then cultivate and share with society at large.
I would say that Christian de la Huerta in his book Coming Out Spiritually has started to distill what these unique gifts might be. He has done this by describing ten different roles that queer people have fulfilled, though I would add frequently been thwarted in performing, for millennia. I would revise, tweak and add a bit here and there but will let his original thinking on this stand. His roles are:
- Catalytic transformers: A taste for revolution.
- Outsiders: mirroring society.
- Consciousness scouts: Going first and taking risks
- Sacred Clowns and Eternal Youth: A Gay, Young Spirit
- Keepers of Beauty: reaching for the sacred
- Caregivers: Taking care of Each other
- Mediators: The In-Between People.
- Shamans and Priests; sacred Functionaries
- The Divine Androgyne: An Evolutionary Role?
- Gatekeepers: Guardians of the gates.
Page Seven, Coming Out Spiritually.1999.
For the sake of conversation I would say that our baptism of fire to prepare us for these sacred roles is our own individual coming out process. So I would encourage all of us to be our true queer beings this holiday season no matter where we find our selves.
Let me close by accentuating the importance I put on being out, especially on holidays with a quote from the socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”