Part I – MEETING JAMES BROUGHTON
“Memory may forget a lot but it never forgets what should have occurred. All the events in this book are true, including those that did not happen.” – James Broughton, introduction to his memoir “Coming Unbuttoned”
James Broughton’s birthday was November 10, mine is November 8 and on November 9, 1991 (a palindromomic year) he was giving his annual Bay Area birthday reading at Small Press Traffic, a bookstore then located at 3599 24th Street at the corner of Guerrero, in San Francisco. That year he was turning 78, exactly twice the age I was turning, 39 – somehow all those coincidental numbers seemed terribly significant to me at the time, although I have no idea what significance they could possibly have held or could continue to hold. Maybe someone into numerology or some other esoteric form of divination could enlighten me.
Broughton was living in Port Townsend, Washington at the time, but had a long-established tradition of doing a poetry reading in the San Francisco Bay area each year for his birthday. This I presume went back to his days as a Bay Area resident. I was living in Humboldt County at the time and was down in the Bay Area to attend a Consumer Law/Small Claims seminar in San Rafael in connection with my job for the Small Claims Court adviser for Humboldt County. I was taking advantage of being there to visit with friends in San Francisco and Vallejo. I was also treating myself to a birthday binge, spending, as usual, too much money on books and recorded music.
I don’t remember if I knew about Broughton’s reading in advance or if I stumbled upon it when I got to The City. I would have made a stop at Small Press Traffic anyway, looking for rare, out of the mainstream publications by the obscure poets I have always favored. Ever since discovering them in their Noe Valley location, Small Press Traffic had become one of my favorite bookstores. They were unique, there was no one else like them specializing entirely in small press publications, many of which were in limited editions and the costs of which were always reasonable. In those pre-Internet days finding such a resource was invaluable, especially for someone living behind The Redwood Curtain in the chosen isolation of the Humboldt County coast. A trip to Small Press Traffic was always a highlight of any visit to The Bay Area.
I got there considerably early to allow myself time to pore over the racks and shelves of small press publications. To my great surprise and delight I found, among the racks of magazines, several copies of Taproot #17/18, which included one of my poems and three of my collages. I got an immense kick out of seeing it there, made me feel like a “real” writer to be able to walk into a bookstore and find something I had written on the shelf.
I also took advantage of the time to familiarize myself more with Broughton’s work. At that point I had read, and greatly enjoyed, “The Androgyne Journal” (1977) which I found highly intriguing. I had picked it up out of curiosity when I was living in the Swiss American Hotel in North Beach in the late 1970s. I had never read anything quite like it; imagine someone saying that “Shame is no longer possible” when I had been taught that there are so many things of which one could and should be ashamed. As a former catholic schoolboy I was well aware of most of them and dead-set on discovering the rest. James later sent me a copy of the 1991 revised and expanded edition of the Journal and on rereading it those many years later I was as delighted and intrigued as the first time.
However I was then less familiar with his poems, which I had only here-to-fore encountered piecemeal in magazines and anthologies. I had not yet had an opportunity to see any of his films but I had certainly read about them. I chose and purchased two books of his poetry, “Ecstasies” and “Graffiti For The Johns Of Heaven.” The clerk pointed out that he was due to be there for the reading very soon. He then looked at me and said, “So, are you a poet too?”
“Yes,” I replied, perhaps too enthusiastically, “in fact, you can see some of my work in that magazine right over there on your shelf.” I had, of course, been waiting for an opportunity to bring this to somebody’s attention. But the clerk was not terribly impressed. “Yeah,” he said, “other poets are about the only people who ever show up for poetry readings. So I figured you must be one.” Though somewhat deflating, I wasn’t going to let that not-terribly-original observation wilt my growing enthusiasm. I settled down in one of the folding chairs which the clerk had set up in preparation and began reading Broughton’s poems with great delight and increasing anticipation.
I was sitting in the first or second row and slowly people began meandering in and filling the remaining chairs until there were somewhere between 12-20 of us. Then James Broughton arrived with a few friends. He was, as so many people say about artists they admire, shorter than I expected him to be, but the ferocity of his gaze tempered by the kindness of his manner caused him to occupy a space much larger than his body.
There was a brief introduction and then James began reading. To say I was transported out of that room into a realm I’d never occupied before is putting it lightly – there was real magic in the air. Listening to James read his poetry was like being teleported into an unknown landscape in which one nonetheless felt completely comfortable, as though one were discovering a new home which had always been waiting for the right moment to reveal itself – this was that moment. I don’t remember how long he read, nor the specifics of what works he read, only the sound of his voice, the joyful power of his words resonating through my spirit. I recall wondering at one point why there were so few people here for such a remarkable event.
When he had given us all that he could James brought the reading to a close. As people were applauding they were already moving forward to meet him and congratulate him on both his birthday and the fine reading. Soon there were people clustered around him and I was certain I would never get a chance to speak with him myself. I was still sitting, clutching the two books I’d bought, and wondering what I could possibly do after that reading when James moved through the people surrounding him and approached me.
I have no idea what prompted him to do that, perhaps I looked lost sitting there by myself, but the gesture both frightened and excited me. I stood up to take his offered hand and he began talking to me. He asked questions, which I tried to answer without sounding like an idiot. I wish I’d been able to tape record these moments because I cannot now remember exactly what we spoke about. I do remember explaining to him the mathematics of our meeting which he seemed to find amusing. He spoke with me for about 20 min. while most of the rest of the audience slowly dissipated into the warm afternoon. A few other people were waiting to talk to him and one of his friends reminded him that they had to leave soon.
James Broughton’s autograph in my copy of “Ecstasies” – 11/09/1991
Before we parted I asked him to autograph my fresh-bought copy of “Ecstasies.” When he asked my name I explaining that my real name was Michael but everyone calls me Joe. To which James responded, “Then I will use your real name” and he addressed the autograph to Michael.
As I left the bookstore I could swear I was walking at least 2 feet off the ground. This was the only time I met James in person and I will never forget it. There was no further contact between us until 1995.
Part II – CORRESPONDENCE
In the spring of 1992 I became involved with an organization called The Billy Club and through that organization met a man named Bill Blackburn, who remains my friend today. I was reading poetry at Billy Club gatherings and doing some poetry workshops. Bill said he had met James Broughton and would be glad to send him some of my poems for comment, if that was okay with me. It was more than okay with me, and I got a collection of poems together for him. He sent them to James and I then received the following letter:
jb to mja – 06/20/1995 (typed)
Mr Arcangelini, sir,
Someone named Bill Blackburn has sent me a sheaf of your poems and asked me if I could do something about them. There are not enough publishers to serve the hundreds of unpublished poets longing for print. You are the 3rd poet within the past month who has asked me if I could help in this regard. The irony: I am myself engaged in a quest for the same thing.
It has been the same story ever since my first book in 1949. And that one existed only because I printed it myself. Again in desperation in 1982 I self published another book, after rejections by 9 editors. So I could say to you: Don’t wait to be discovered, get into print so you can be discovered. There must be a printing press somewhere near you, a small magazine, a house organ, et al. with a sympathetic cohort or two in the wings.
Plainly you are no neophyte. There is maturity, force, felicity of phrase, tenderness of feeling, in your work. Claim your inevitability. Marry your fate no matter how fatal. I enclose some offprints from my most recent book. Maybe you will find some solace or cheer in them. I wish you well. I wish you much. May blessings attend you.
(signed) James Broughton
Five months later I responded as follows:
mja to jb – 11/18/95
Dear Mr Broughton:
I can’t believe it has been nearly 5 months since I received your letter. Life keeps moving and I keep running trying to catch up with it. I should probably remind you of who I am. My friend, and your acquaintance, Bill Blackburn sent to you a selection of my work and you were kind enough to respond to me with a most encouraging and thoughtful letter.
Many times have I set down to write a thank you and not quite had the words, or the proper frame of mind. Also I felt perhaps I should not bother you further.
I do however have a reason to write now, and a most pleasant one. I have become editor of a gay men’s literary journal. It is called, or will be called BILLY’S JOURNAL. It is published by the Billy Club of Northern California, a group of gay men dedicated to building community and a support system among the scattered gay folk of the rural counties. We mount 4 or 5 gatherings per year in different locations (we are just now preparing for a 6 day gathering over New Years at Heartwood Institute in southern Humboldt County), administer a fund Hiv positive folks may access to help pay bills or for nontraditional methods of healing, and we have a lot of dreams about building and nurturing a community of gay men, their friends and families.
The magazine has been published as BILLY’S NEWS for over three years but we have recently split it in two: BILLY’S TIMES is for newsy, time sensitive information & BILLY’S JOURNAL will be the literary, creative publication. I have enclosed several copies of it for you to review and I hope enjoy. We are pretty proud of it. Thus, as the new editor, I am writing to ask if you might have something we could publish. We would be most honored to print poem or essay, memoir or rumination, something perhaps which has not quite found the right home yet. We can maybe give it a home.
Your work has long been inspiration for myself and many of us in the Billy Club. I read your poem “ODE TO GAIETY” at the opening circle of our gathering over the Labor Day weekend. It set just the right mood for the weekend and besides, it is so enjoyable to read – to say those words the way they tumble all together and out of my mouth is wonderful.
You and I did meet once, in San Francisco, following a reading you gave at Small Press Traffic. According to my journal it was Sunday, 11/09/1991. I remember the intensity of your talk, your enthusiasm and your encouragement.
If you should decide to send something for the Journal, please send it to me at:
P.O. Box 307
Fields Landing, CA 95537
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for considering our invitation.
Within a week I received his response:
jb to mja – 11/25/1995 (Typed)
Little Archangel of the Billys, greetings, Herewith I send to you the naughtiest poem I have on hand [Everybody Out], never published anywhere.
Along with it goes the transcript of a keynote speech [The Holiness of Sexuality] I presented in North Carolina for a group called Gay Spirit Visions. It was printed in their flyer for a subsequent gathering.
You are free to use either of these items if you so desire. With my blessings.
Joy to you.
(signed) James Broughton
(handwritten underneath) I have extra copies of the 1991 edition of my Androgyne Journal. Want one?
James also sent me a copy of the CD “The Broughton Songs” by Ludar. With the CD, hand written on a copy of the poem “What Matters” was the following note:
Poem & Drawing by James Broughton with handwritten note
The First thing I have to send you is this marvelous recording, which should be widely known.
The singer was a soul mate.
He died of AIDS in May
mja to jb – 12/02/1995
Dear Mr Broughton:
I have received both of your packages. Thank you very much.
I am most pleased to print EVERY BODY OUT and THE HOLINESS OF SEXUALITY (scroll to bottom of letters to read this wonderful essay) in this upcoming issue of BILLY’S JOURNAL.
I find HOLINESS to be an important piece of work which needs to get out into our community – it makes me wish that BILLY’S JOURNAL had a larger circulation. As gay men we are so often told to be ashamed of our sexuality and that shame can be so ingrown and established inside us that we may mistake it for some kind of truth – but it is not. What you have written is truth, I know because when I read it I feel assent rising from the very core of me. I still wrestle with many of these issues of shame around my body and my sexuality. I’ll enclose a recent piece of mine which is about this very topic – “Ben’s Whips.” [included in my book “With Fingers at the Tips of my Words”]
Thank you also for the Ludar CD – it is most enjoyable. I find him to have a strong confident voice, good to listen to, good to take inside of one. The settings of your poems are spare and in most cases simple and to the point, giving words, music and performers all plenty of room to stretch and have their moment. Having myself read some of your poems aloud I understand the pleasure the words give to the mouth, and were I a musician I’m sure the temptation to set them would be there. Ludar has done good work with these songs – letting words and music serve each other – “The Song of The Bed” is like a gentle jazzy reduction of your film.
I would like to include this CD in a review of several recent releases I’ll be writing for this upcoming issue. As such I would like to have some additional information – most importantly where I should send people to get copies. But also perhaps, some brief biographical information.
Thank you for the offer of a copy of the 1991 edition of the Androgyne Journal – yes, I would like one. I have the 1977 edition. It was the first book of your’s that I read. I found it when I was living in San Francisco in 1979. Again, as above, I was struck by the total lack of shame around the body and how it works which you expressed in that book.
It is taking me a long time to work through those issues – I stayed closeted until 1990. But I have good friends around me and with their support and patience and work like yours for inspiration and guide I’m moving along quite nicely – slow but steady.
So thank you again.
Here’s to it! Take care,
jb to mja – 12/09/1995 (typed)
9 Dec 95
To Arcangelini of the Billys,
I received your letter, with its Ben enclosure. That story of the whips shook me as I resonated to your agonies of guilt and atonement. What a story, what a crippling life you have to free your self from. Did you read my memoir, COMING UNBUTTONED? How blest I was to free my shackles early on.
Splendid if you will give the Ludar CD a plug. Cost is only $12. Plus $2 for shipping. Orders
should be addressed to: Joel Singer, Box 1330, Port Townsend WA 98368, and checks should be made out to him.
There isn’t much additional information I can give you about Ludar that is not included in the CD.
He was a popular supper club singer in Los Angeles who discovered my book SPECIAL DELIVERIES and fell in love with the poems. He composed over 20 settings of my verses. He died of AIDS last May. He was, up to the last, the most vibrant and merry friend.
I am glad you are going to print my holiness piece. I hope it inspires the Billy boys with daring and joy.
Blessings to you,
(signed) James Broughton
mja to jb – 04/01/1996
Dear Mr. Broughton:
Enclosed please find two copies of the April issue of the GALA NEWS, the newsletter of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance of Humboldt. There is a review of LUDAR: THE BROUGHTON SONGS*. there will also be a review of the Ludar CD in the next BILLY’S JOURNAL.
Publication of BILLY’S JOURNAL has been delayed just a bit. The Billy Club, like many organizations runs on volunteer power. Volunteers from time to time reach burn-out stage and need to take a break. Several of the folks involved with the Billy Journal hit that stage just about the time the main lay-out and typing chores needed to be done. However, enough of us have recovered sufficiently now that next weekend we will be starting up the process again. I hope to see the issue out by the end of May.
I am still very excited by this project and by all the wonderful work that we’ll be printing.
I hope the review generates some sales of the CD, it is something that should be heard and enjoyed by more than just a few people
So thank you again for everything.
Here’s to it!
PS: I hear that you have some recordings of your readings available. If so I would like to purchase some. Please let me know the details, the who, what, where, & how much of it. Thanks.
jb to mja – 04/04/1996
Dear Joe of Billyland,
Thank you for the copies of Gala News.
And especially for the splendid plug for my Ludar songs. You are a dear one.
There are 4 recordings of my readings, on tapes only.
They are packaged as a set: $25 for- the 4, plus $2 shipping. Individual csssettes are $7.
GRAFFITI FOR THE JOHNS OF HEAVEN
SONGS FROM A LONG UNDRESSING
TRUE & FALSE UNICORN & Other Poems
In June I expect to record more recent work.
I don’t know at this point if or how it will be available publicly.
Blessings. Yours fondly, (signed) James
mja to jb – 04/11/1996
Dear Mr. Broughton: Enclosed please find my check in the amount of $27.00 for a set of the 4 recordings of your readings. I have warm memories of the reading I attended at Small Press Traffic in S.F., I’m sure these recordings will bring that afternoon back even stronger.
I’m working on getting a computer online at home so I can be on the Internet and get e-mail. Robin White, a Billy friend, a fine writer and a real sweetheart, gave the computer to me so I can get “online.” The billies have set up a Bill-E-Mail system of some sort. I don’t fully understand these things but I’m going to try again and figure my way around anyhow. This system will ease work on the JOURNAL as well. I met w/my fellow JOURNALers last weekend and we’ve now got things rolling really good. Heading to the Bay Area this weekend to pick up some work & information from the former editor. I am getting excited.
I’ve also been working on putting together my first collection of poetry for possible publication. The manuscript is now in the hands of a much more experienced friend who is editing/shaping it into a BOOK – something I very much appreciate as it is hard for me to look at the poems that way. in any case there is a possibility of publication soon so I am kind of excited, although I’m trying not to count on it too much because there are never any guarantees about these things. If this doesn’t work out though I may just take your advice and, since I’ll have a book already, look into self-publication. We’ll see.
So thank you again, for everything. I’m looking forward to hearing the tapes.
Take care, (signed) Joe
mja to jb – 05/17/1997
Dear Mr. Broughton: It’s been quite some time since I’ve written. I hope you are doing well. Life has certainly kept me busy enough and then some. My friend Bruce Cameron told me of meeting you and Joel Singer in Hawaii. He was very excited and from his description it sounded very much like I felt the one time you and I met in 1991 or so. I remember talking with you for around 20 min. after your reading and then leaving and realizing that I was walking about 2 feet above the ground – thank you for that experience.
Have you seen the BETWEEN THE CRACKS anthology yet? It took a while but I did receive contributor’s copies eventually. Is quite a rush for me to have a poem on the same page following one of yours. Gavin placed me in such good company.
By the time you get this letter you should have already received your contributor’s copies of the BILLY JOURNAL with your poem and essay. Thank you again for those contributions, they bring honor to our publication. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the essay. [A] number of guys have picked out the same line that struck me as being so incredibly beautiful: “the penis is the exposed tip of the heart.” Oh, yeah – yes indeed.
I worked on that issue for over a year and then had to back away from it for personal reasons, mostly having to do with volunteer burnout and the weird complexities and tasks life throws in our way. It was then picked up and completed by two other Billys (David Gilmour & Charlie Seltzer) who have done a wonderful job with it: it looks beautiful. They have truly done justice to the wonderful work of the men who contributed.
It would be hard to miss the manuscript enclosed with this letter, so I suppose I should explain it. Back in’ 95, the first time you wrote to me (after receiving some of my poems from Bill Blackburn) you urged me to pursue publication. Well, it’s taken a while but with the continued goosing of friends I have finally prepared a manuscript and will be shopping it around to publishers. A friend has provided an introduction to a New York agent (is that like a Philadelphia lawyer?) And another friend, Pat Califia, has written a Forward.
I am sending a copy of the manuscript to you in the hope that you might be able to read it and perhaps, if you are moved to do so, you might write a brief “jacket blurb” type thing which I could show to prospective publishers. Please consider this request to be made ONLY if you do have the time and you are feeling able to deal with it. I do not wish to impose on your kindness. I will understand completely if you are unable or disinclined to do this and it’s O.K. This is, after all, an unsolicited request and you are a busy man.
Any comments or advice you might have about the poems would also be appreciated but again – ONLY IF YOU FEEL ABLE AND SO INCLINED. This whole idea of publishing is so weird. I’ve been writing for 34 years without ever really feeling the necessity to publish. Now my friends are all urging me to do this and it seems to be falling into place so it must be the right time. It is a bit frightening however, to put one’s self out there in that way – it is scary. But I’ll get over it. Bill Blackburn has told me that “fear is just excitement without oxygen” O.K., breathe.
Since I last wrote I’ve read COMING UNBUTTONED and the revised/expanded ANDROGYNE JOURNAL, which you had sent to me. My only complaint is that the delightful memoirs stop too soon! Might there be a second volume at some point?
The original edition [of] ANDROGYNE JOURNAL was the first book of yours that I read and it had a profound effect on me. Having the excuse of revisions and additions to reread it was wonderful. Much of it that went over my head or was simply beyond my ability to accept when I first read it made so much more sense now.
jb to mja – 06/01/1997 (handwritten)
dear angelic poet
Your OMNIVOROUS*** swallowed me whole.
I had no notion of the extent of your poem-making and of its firm, consistent quality. Overwhelming. Which is generous. Better than skimpy. Inevitably some pieces are sturdier than others. For a final manuscript you may choose to select more ruthlessly. (My motto: When in doubt, cut.) But I honor the desire to collect into print all one’s early work. It leaves one unburdened with the past, primed for fresh leaps.
A blurb? Possible at some future juncture.
When I have digested this buffet of yours.
To gather my wits these days requires special effort since I am slowly recovering from a stroke which rendered me immobilized and incompetent; among other irritations my handwriting has shrunk to [dinky?]# and invisible.
I am aware of your [valor?]# and talent, and of the necessity for a responsible publisher to appreciate them.
The Billy Journal is admired and [powerful?]#.
I will look among my files for anything new you might want to print.
Salutations and affection,
(enc. were 4 poems: “Elegy, With Bird,” “What Matters,” “Sweet Delusion,” & “Twin Flames” all of which appeared in the second Billy Journal, Summer 1999)
mja to jb – Sunday, January 24, 1999
Dear Mr. Broughton:
Again it has been a long time since I have written. I hope this letter finds you well and in high spirits.
I just wanted to let you know that the next issue of the BILLY JOURNAL really is finally moving ahead. As I’m sure I’ve explained before it is an all-volunteer publication so it becomes easy for the events of each person’s life to take the fore from time to time. But now I have found a collaborator who has knowledge of those aspects of pulling together a literary journal of which I am wholly ignorant. Thus my friend Erin Stevenson has stepped up to handle the actual mechanics of publishing, leaving me the joy of editing and focusing the work that has come in.
We still have the 4 poems you sent and plan to use them in this issue. With a little bit of luck your contributors copies will be showing up by late spring. I hope we can make something as wonderful as the last issue.
I was pleased to see the publication of PACKING UP FOR PARADISE by Black Sparrow Press! It is a wonderful collection which lays out the full breadth of your poeticizing in one place for all to find and enjoy. I was especially pleased to discover “A Laud for a Brother” which I had not read before. William Everson’s work had a great influence on this 15 year old boy when I first found it back in 1967. His narrative drive and intense connection to the land helped to ground me at a time when I was just beginning to discover the range of poetic possibilities. Everson then led me to Jeffers and betwixt the two they showed me a way of anchoring to the earth while reaching for the sky. It took quite some time for that lesson to get into this thick head, but it is there now. In a way, the great sorrows of their poetry helped prepare me to recognize and accept the joy in yours and to be more able to embrace it.
This year to open the New Year’s Eve Billy Gathering I read your “Ode to Gaiety” to the 80 or 90 men and women gathered there. It always feels so good to turn those words over with my tongue and feel them coming out of my body. Thank you.
Your friend William Stewart was with us this New Year’s Eve, as he is most years. I hadn’t realized the two of you were friends until he spoke with me after I’d read the “Ode.” He is a very sweet man & I wish he didn’t live so far away. But he does manage to make it here to the west coast for one or two gatherings each year since he moved.
I’m still working slowly on getting a book published but it’s not something that worries me. It is the composition and then the performance of poetry that most occupies me. Publication is certainly nice, but not as important for me as the direct connections with the poem and with listeners. I have taken your advice and am trimming the manuscript down some. Of course it is so old now that I’ve written another big book’s worth of newer stuff. I’ll enclose a couple new pieces to share with you. [enc.: “County Faire,” “Roshi,” “Crabs” & some haiku.]
Well I think I have taken enough of your time here. Thank you again for the poems for the Journal, I hope we do justice to them.
(signed) Joe Arcangelini
1. There is no need to return the manuscript – I’ve made many copies.
2. I almost forgot, I’ve begun gathering material for the next issue of the BILLY JOURNAL and would more than welcome something from you to publish in it. If you have something we could print please send it to me. This issue should be out sooner than the last one since we’ve done it once now and have a better idea of what we’re doing.
Thanks again for taking the time for this wholly unsolicited letter.
jb to mja – 02/02/1999
My last communication from James, handwritten on the back of a plain, Post Office postcard, was dated 02/02/1999:
Postcard, last communication from James Broughton before he died.
Little Angel –
Thank you for your fine and fond letter and for the sheaf of excellent poems.
Your praises cheer my weakness of age.
Bouquets of Blessings,
(signed) James Broughton
James Broughton died on May 17, 1999. His life partner, Joel Singer, sent me an invitation to the San Francisco memorial held on Saturday, June 6, 1999. This was an act of kind thoughtfulness for which I remain grateful, even though I was unable to attend.
* You may hear this album on You-Tube in three parts at:
** “Between The Cracks: The Daedalus Anthology of Kinky Verse” edited and with photos by Gavin Dillard – Daedalus Publishing Company, `1996 can be purchased on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Between-Cracks-Daedalus-Anthology-Kinky/dp/1881943100/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353362758&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Between+The+Cracks%3A+The+Daedalus+Anthology+of+Kinky+Verse%C2%94
*** The manuscript titled “Omnivorous” went through many changes and was eventually published as “With Fingers at the Tips of my Words” by Beautiful Dreamer Press in 2002 – copies may be purchased on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Fingers-Tips-My-Words-Poems/dp/097083103X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353363037&sr=1-1&keywords=With+Fingers+At+The+Tips+Of+My+Words
# These words in brackets with question marks are ones I am uncertain of. This letter was handwritten after James’ stroke and while his handwriting, even after that, was better than mine is now, my transcriptions of these three words remain questionable.
Memoir and transcriptions begun 01/27/2008
Draft completed 11/21/2012
06/16/2013 – So many folks asked how they could find a copy of this essay, referenced in the above correspondence, that I have added it to this memoir. With the gracious permission of Joel Singer, here are James’ own magic words:
The Holiness of Sexuality
by James Broughton
I am here as a spokesman for gaiety of spirit and glory of the flesh. My text for this happy sermon is a statement from Novalis: There is only one temple in the world, and that is the human body. Persuade yourself of this truth and let it radiate through you. Dissuade yourself of any notion that Spirit is something fuzzy flitting over your head. Recognize that your body is a divinity you inhabit.
I am not here to convert you to any body of doctrine. I am here to convince you of the holiness in your own body. The moral religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – have insisted that this precious and beautiful world we inhabit is the domain of Satan. Therefore, its sensual pleasures must he avoided so that one will not end up in damnation. To the orthodox the body is a sewer, not a temple. To them the wondrous natural activities of the body – eating, farting, shitting, fucking, even spitting and yawning and dancing, to say nothing of gambling and gamboling – are disgusting and unacceptable to the Holy Spirit.
I harp on the curse of church doctrine because its inheritance permeates the thinking of our entire society: our laws, education, government and social attitudes. Churches exist to make you feel miserable. And ashamed. And unacceptable to the tyrannies of conformity. This prompts repressive measures, fundamentalist fear of the body and homophobia. Historically the church has denounced pleasure seekers of all kinds: not only lovers but artists, performers, magicians, and mystics. Even orthodox Buddhism is unfriendly toward human pleasure. Buddha himself insisted that life is suffering and that in order not to suffer everyone should get rid of desire. Broughton is very up on desire.
Zen and Taoism are practical philosophies, not religions. They assert the matter of fact as true enlightenment. No gods, no theology. Zen says Everything is. Tao says Everything flows. Only Hinduism beholds the world sensually, seeing everything as divine, praising the sexual organs, celebrating sexual desire as an impulse of the gods, striving toward what is called the Great Light. Let fundamentalism feel threatened by any manifestation of naked joy. To a gay spirit pleasure is a great moral good. Life is happy valley as well as a vale of tears. Life is a densely mixed blessing: a painful joy, a dance of opposites, a warring peace, and ecstatic agony. It is the playing field of the Divine. So let us live fully in our temples with respect for their wonders.
I ask you now to experience your body as a sacred place. A temple is a place to sing hymns of praise. From your tiptoe to your topknot you are throbbingly alive. Feel your glow. Feel it sing. Know that you partake of the divine, that you are lived by the divine, that you are divine. You embody the mystery of life. For a moment place both hands over your genitals. Not to conceal them, but to cherish, and to praise. This is the creative core of your god body, the place of instinct, impulse and transformation. Concentrate on your phallic glory. The penis is the exposed tip of the heart. The penis is a wand of the soul. Whatever its shape, size, or shame, it is your holy birthright. Praise it. Give thanks for its awesome powers. Its energies permeate every corner of your temple, connect all the chakras, the highest to the lowest. Phallus, perineum, and anus form the trinity at the root of your torso’s experience. I use the Latin terms to dignify these centers, to make them sound like Roman gods.
In the holy balls in our scrotum the treasure of your semen is kept. This is the monstrance for the consecrated Host of your temple. Did you know that the one part of you that never grows old is your semen? An anatomist told me. You can lose your mind, have heart failure, suffer intestinal collapse: your semen will remain forever young. Doesn’t that suggest that you will possess plenty of spirit to the end of your days?
When it comes to spiritual enlightenment, it would be better if you’d lose your mind. The mind is a secondary organ that thinks it is smarter than all the rest of you. It is stuffed with critical opinions and inherited prejudices. For instance, don’t let your mind try to castrate you because of some misguided feminist notion that your maleness is something shameful, some kind of despoiling weapon. Genital aggression for intimidation and dominance is perversion that desecrates the temple. Perverse greed for power is the mind’s ugly doing. The mind is the worst pervert in the world. Your sexuality in its natural force does not destroy you. It proliferates.
You don’t have to renounce anything in order to be spiritual. Renounce only your continuing misery. Renounce making judgments and putting up barriers. Be kind to your instincts. In the goddess sanctuaries of antiquity, her priests castrated themselves as acts of total surrender. But that is ultimate submission to the Great Mother. Becoming a eunuch will not solve your erotic problems, your heartache, or your loneliness. On the contrary, let sexual enthusiasm radiate throughout your body – through your bloodstream, your guts, your heartbeat. Always take hold of your sex with love. The proper activity in a temple is worship. Share your holiness. Visit one another’s temples.
I was born a lover. I was born to love my fellow men. I don’t wish to compete with them, outmaneuver them, trick them, trip or trounce them. I don’t think of them as objects to acquire. They are shining substance of my own Godbody flesh. I am not interested in their armors, nor the games of their egos. I am not eager to ridicule or stab them in the back. For this affectionate attitude I endured humiliating punishments. But in the end I am proud to assert my natural nature and my dedication to loving mankind. Reach/Touch/Connect is one of my mottoes. I have difficulty keeping my hands off my fellow men. The beauty of man is my hope and my sorrow. I long to embrace and caress, lie close, share my words and my songs, confide the secrets of my longing.
Perhaps I was naive in the dear old days of the Turkish Baths. I moved fondly past cubicles and entered each one just to touch and to kiss the holy icon of each body on each cot. I would be astonished when a body would jump up, slam the door and try to rape me. That was not my idea at all. I was simply performing my holy rounds, my Stations of the Cross. Each cock was a bead of my rosary. Now place your left hand on your phallus and your right hand over your left breast. You are touching the Opposites in your Body: your masculine phallus and your feminine breast which holds your heart inside it. This is a way to affirm the wholeness of your being. Inner unity is the wedding of these opposites, creating the Divine Androgyne, the hermaphro-deity you were born with. Your birthright was double-sexed: half from the mother, half from the father. Don’t create other divisions, this one is sufficient.
And from this vantage point you can open your temple to love. If you love your Godbody well, you are better able to love others. To paraphrase a great poet and lover of men who was born in Bethlehem: All that you need to know in life is to love yourself so that you love those around you. Love the Godbody in them with all your heart and soul and mind. On these two principles hang all the meanings of religion. So, share your holiness. Reach out to your neighbor and go together into the kingdom.
In the sauna I was sweating among the sweat of others and the sweat was weeping from the deep ache in those bodies. It wept from their armpits, from their groins, from their brows weeping of unspoken desire, the desire for love seeping from their hearts in mutual sweat. Be not shy of the love you share with other men. Be unafraid of its splendor. It marries Hermes to Aphrodite within you, takes you on a quest with a Twin Hero. Fear of love is fear of the sublime. Deny it at your peril. Love is the only remedy for the plagues of the world. Love is a radiant energy wave. You occupy love as you occupy space. You breathe love as you breathe air. Its force operates the universe. Love one another! Is this too difficult for intelligence to allow? To love is the major goal of life. To be a lover is to practice the major art of life.
Said the wonderful Chinese sage, Lao-Tzu:
Men are by nature born soft and supple.
Dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant.
Dead they are brittle and dry.
Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
The hard and the stiff will be broken, and the soft and the supple will prevail.
Boys are taught to be stiff and hard, brittle and dry. Taught to be cruel, ruthless, unfeeling. Example: the boot camps for Marines in the movie Full Metal Jacket. Instead of being trained to kill one another, instead of bashing one another on a football field, couldn’t boys he taught to dance together? Instead of going out and making trouble, devote one hour a day to making love. It’s a ravishing form of meditation. Put lovemaking in every school. Make loving a national endeavor. Install Love Officers Training Corps in high schools. Instruct youth in every aspect of making love. Clasp, kiss, and connect. Relish differences and similarities. Rub against fellow creatures of all stripes, shapes, scents and sweats, all textures, tints and tastes. How else will we end the civil wars of the world?
You must love even if it hurts. It will hurt more if you don’t love. Can you make a holy habit of sexual love? Can you make a sexual habit of holy love? Can you dump your qualms and excuses, your taboos and allergies? Think of it: if you devoted to the practice of love as much energy as you expend on trivialities and cruel schemes, you might change the world. To make connection – shaking or holding a hand is a start. But let’s go farther. Leo Buscaglia campaigns for hugging, which affirms trust and respect. When you hug, put your whole body into it. I would add kissing. Kissing is head-on connecting. It is life restoring. It resuscitates. Besides, it tastes interesting. Practice life-saving on your neighbors. At San Francisco State University I started kissing all my colleagues in the Creative Arts Department as a regular daily greeting. It seemed to cheer them up.
But what about much deeper connecting? What about fully loving your neighbor as yourself, and affirming mutual divinity? Whatever happened to friendship? Keats said: Friendship is the holy emotion. In an earlier age the highest expression of civilization was the supreme tenderness one man could manifest for another. In that chivalric time these devotions contained intense emotional feeling. Their deep commitment obliged a man to bat for his bosom friend, no matter what the risk, as well as share his friend’s achievement as his own. In Shakespeare, we often observe these noble sharings and their declarations of valorous love. The sturdiest feeling in Hamlet’s life is for Horatio. Michel Foucault has pointed out how, in the 17th and 18th centuries, these heroic passions began to be criticized. When personal friendships triumph, bureaucracies and political constructs do not function well. In education, in religious orders, in the armed forces, group ethos is more valued than individual loyalties. In order to subjugate fraternity of feeling, the justice system in the 18th century make deep friendship unacceptable, declaring love between men to be sexual perversion. Thus, natural affection and mutual devotion turned into social problem and political crime.
To patriotic ears, E.M. Forster’s vow during World War I sounds traitorous: If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the strength to betray my country. That puts the emphasis on human values rather than on the abstraction of the body politic wherein one is expected to function without feeling. Nowadays a friend is someone you can use to get ahead or borrow money from, someone to drive you to the airport or the hospital. You don’t set off together like knights errant to explore a new land, found a city, bring back a boon to enrich the souls of your fellow men. Nowadays the therapist, the lawyer, the doctor, the stockbroker become those you rely upon. However, you have to pay for their sympathetic aid and can merely hope the investment will prove worth the expense.
Love is the meaning of life, the only meaning it has. A soldier’s hands are wasted cocking guns. Love is the only solution to every problem, the only salvation that has never been implemented. It has been talked about, but never tried. The truth always ends up being Love, and nothing really works well without it. Love is the only scientific philosophy. An unlovable attitude is bad business. Even vultures exercise tenderness in springtime. Could I persuade you to become passionate missionaries? Would you take on the mission of spreading love? I do not see you as an isolated, self-centered clan. I behold you as propagators of the Faith, faith in the loving aspects of man’s nature.
You have shown sterling compassion in tending to the doomed and the dying. Do not forget to tend the living, those who need desperately to be wakened to life before they too begin to perish. Souls are sick all around us in these crass and violent times. Bring them love. Massage their hearts. Become ministers of compassion and wisdom, like many affectionate Dalai Lamas. Could you become a secret order, devoted to spreading the love of mankind, like Jesus and his band of camaradas? They were outside the mainstream of society, because they were in the mainstream of wisdom. They were thought of as lunatic fringe, an annoying minority. But they were actually at the heart of the matter. They believed in the Eros that could be aroused in every man.
Stop thinking of yourselves as outcasts. You are meridian persons at the core of truth. You are not slaves to the breeding machinery. You are not swallowed by the consumer collective. You are raising consciousness, not babies. You are advocates of divine merriment. You could be innovators of a new way of life. Buddha said, The world is on fire, and every solution short of liberation is like trying to whitewash a burning house.
Let yourself be believed by your angels. Open your orifices to dominions and powers. Pledge your valor and irradiate your temple. The holiness of sexuality gives every man his chance to be a genius.
“The Holiness of Sexuality” can also be found here: http://gayspiritvisions.org/resources/Visionary-1995/gsv_vis_1995_01.pdf