Friday, August 07, 2015

Erotic gay soul explored in two new illustrated books: "HomoEros" and "Internal Landscapes"

“The beauty of his face could raise the dead” by John Waiblinger from “HomoEros

Male beauty, same-sex eroticism and the archetypal gay soul are explored with holy authenticity in two new illustrated books: “HomoEros” by John Waiblinger and Chad Mitchell, and “Internal Landscapes” by John Ollom. The most direct Christian symbolism is expressed by Mitchell, whose poetry in “HomoEros” celebrates Christ the Bridegroom, the Sacred Heart, and the Son of Man. A full poem is posted at the end of this article to illustrate the quality of the writing and the book’s blissful tone.

Both books feature photography of semi-nude men and nature, prose steeped in Jungian psychology, and first-person poetry about gay love. Each transforms and transcends mainstream Christianity as well as standard gay/queer identity. They create enlightening, sometimes mystical visions for readers who seek LGBTQ-friendly intimacy and inspiration.

In “HomoEros,” Mitchell’s poems echo the rich tradition of mystical marriage in the medieval church the Biblical Song of Songs, where the Lover and Beloved are metaphors for God and Israel or Christ and the church. His verse can be read as worldly love songs or as prayers to the cosmic Christ. He also puts Christ in a broader context with references to various mythological figures such as Apollo and the Sky Father.

John Ollom carries Matthew Stone in a photo from “Internal Landscapes.” The scene comes from the “Men in Love… with each other” video art project. Photographer: Jim Sable. Art direction: Emma McCagg.

“Internal Landscapes” is more about un-learning what Ollom calls “Judeo-Christian body shame surrounding sexual expression.” But both books are religious in the sense that Mitchell eloquently defines in his introduction to “HomoEros”:

“The real meaning and real work of religion is the actual “re-linking” (or religio) of our individual conscious awareness to the immaterial reality of the greater truth.”

The two books come from first-time authors working independently on opposite coasts, with no knowledge of each other’s efforts. Yet both books state specifically that they seek to express man-to-man “love and longing,” giving artistic form to “internal” realities based on Jungian-inspired archetypes. They even have similar covers with a nude man in shadow against a black background.

“HomoEros: Meditations on Gay Love and Longing” is a collaboration between two Los Angeles artists: Writer Chad Mitchell has spent many years in Jungian-based dream analysis. The odes and lamentations in the book come from his personal journal, which he has kept since his early years of studying history and language at California State University, Northridge. His writing draws on the language and symbolism of his Catholic upbringing. Digital artist John Waiblinger has exhibited his work at galleries in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States and United Kingdom. He began his artistic endeavors in midlife after discovering digital tools that enabled him to translate his ideas into visual form. Mitchell is described in the book as a Sufi Christian and Waiblinger calls himself an atheist. “While I am in no sense religious, there are so many aspects of the Christ mythos that I find quite moving and beautiful” Waiblinger writes.

In contrast, John Ollom is a New York dancer, choreographer and dance teacher. Since 2002 he has served as artistic director of Ollom Movement Art/Prismatic Productions, Inc., a non-profit organization. Raised Christian, he received a master of fine arts degree in interdisciplinary art in 2014 from Goddard College in rural Vermont and a bachelor of fine arts degree in ballet in 1998 from Texas Christian University. His dancing has taken him across the United States and to Europe, Africa and China. He even performed at the Metropolitan Opera House with the Bolshoi Ballet. Ollom has also worked with LGBT venues: His “M.U.D. (Men Under Dirt)” piece was performed at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference in Florida and the Easton Mountain Retreat Center in upstate New York.

Each book takes a unique approach and will be discussed in separate sections here.

“HomoEros: Meditations on Gay Love and Longing”

HomoEros: Meditations on Gay Love and Longing” sexualizes the sacred and elevates eroticism to the realm of the divine.

At first glance Waiblinger’s pictures appear to be evocative, romanticized photos of conventionally handsome men, skillfully superimposed with flowers, leaves, planets, windows, and other images, mostly from nature. Reading his introductory remarks reveals that they come from his project “Art of Re-Envisioning Gay Pornography.”

Yes, “HomoEros” takes the startling approach of mixing gay porn with phrases from the Roman Catholic Mass. The juxtaposition of extremes results in an effective effort to reconcile gay sexuality and spirituality.

Waiblinger’s artistic process begins with collecting photos of men from “hard porn” websites. In the introdction he describes how he crops each image and layers it with his own original photos to “capture an internal moment… and present the reality of how I see it in my mind’s eye.”

Mitchell’s poems in “HomoEros” began as entries in his journal, chronicling his struggle as a gay man to become a whole person. They express his belief that the gay spiritual journey is a quest for union with “an archetypal Soul Figure of the same gender.” While he was journaling he became involved in gay-centered depth psychology and studied Carl Jung’s treatise “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass,” which is included in the Jung collection “Psychology and Western Religion.” He also began attending Mass regularly at a traditional Catholic church in his neighborhood. There it dawned on Mitchell that gay-male love and sexual union are archetypal expressions of the union with Christ that is celebrated in the Eucharist. These profound insights shine through his poetry.

Most of the images and text in “HomoEros” were created before Waiblinger and Mitchell met, but their work blends together seamlessly. In their conclusion they described working together as a “magical process” in which “these images and words established their own connections and ordering in an almost self-directed manner, full of synchronicity and unexpected rhythm.”

The large, 8-1/2-by-11-inch book is elegantly designed with lavish use of white space, as shown in this example.


Iconography meets pornography in a satisfying synthesis with “HomoEros,” but it also raises moral questions about adapting photos from an industry associated with sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

“My intent is to re-imagine the performers in the original pornographic image in a way that romanticizes and humanizes them and transforms my original connection with the image in a highly emotional manner,” Waiblinger explained in a statement that he shared with the Jesus in Love Blog.

Most images in “HomoEros” do not look pornographic, at least to the uninitiated eye. There are some man-to-man embraces and only a few images with obvious frontal nudity, tastefully presented. As Waiblinger puts it, there is much more “kiss” than “cock.” His kind of “transformative” use of copyrighted images is legal under the “fair use” doctrine, even as it blurs the boundaries that divide sanctity from obscenity and outlaw sex.

“Whenever possible, when I've used such an image or snip, I have made a paid subscription to the site in question, and verified the statement on the site that the models are verified to be over 18 years of age. Not using images of minors, or using images that are exploitive in the sense that the performers did not agree to be so captured, is of critical importance to me,” his statement says.

Waiblinger’s stated aim is to “humanize” the men in his photos, and yet they remain nameless, cut off from any identifying details. Porn is re-envisioned, but perhaps not fully redeemed. What would the men in his photos say if they knew about this re-purposing of their sex work?

Such soul-searching questions may be addressed indirectly by considering what Mitchell says in his introduction about “felix culpa,” the Latin term for the concept that unfortunate events can lead to a happy outcome:

In Christian theology the felix culpa is the “happy fault” or the “happy fall” and refers to Adam’s sin and the fall from grace that leads to redemption. In the Easter Praeconium it states: O happy fault that won for us so loving and so mighty a Redeemer. In my opinion the fall from grace describes the human condition by which I would like to emphasize that I am not referring to the traditional concept of original sin. But, rather, I am referring to the existential crisis of being which is an inherent part of the human condition. Or, to put it in other words, we as human being do not live in the Unity of the Garden. Rather, we live in the disunity of a fallen, broken world full of conflicting dualities and, within that world of conflicting dualities, we cannot escape the questions posed by our own existence and out own conscious awareness.

“Internal Landscapes”

Internal Landscapes” is an interdisciplinary book that aims to “go beyond traditional queer models of man to man relationships… but find imperfection, love and longing.” Author John Ollom combines memoir, manifesto, poetry, photography, drawings and background documentation on his dance and choreography performances.

The book is spiritual in the broad sense, but it also addresses the process of healing from toxic religion:

“I was raised to be a good Christian. When I was a child, I was told about sin and my separation from god and I need a savior to save me. Consequently, the more I felt my callings of homosexuality, the more separate and alone I felt. Later in life I felt a profound shift in myself when I could embrace my shadow. For me it was my homosexuality,” he writes.

Ollom writes with rare honesty about how he and his students have used the method to address homosexuality, rape and survival through trauma. He is especially compelling when he writes about his own personal journey to face his “shadow” and move beyond the gender binary that splits male from female. The book serves practical purposes for dance and theater practitioners, but it is also an inspirational resource for general readers.

The author states that he no longer believes in the need for an external savior.  But he helps others find saving grace by using movement to get in touch with their inner selves, sometimes in connection with talk therapy. The book describes the “Internal Landscapes” methodology that Ollom developed through 14 years of research, teaching and personal introspection. His method helps people turn emotions into dance and “archetypal movement.” Instead of letting an external source choreograph their movements, they are guided by their own “internal landscape” to move in ways that are artistic -- but also deeply healing.

“Internal Landscapes” includes many artistic photos of nature and (sometimes nude) dance performances organized by Ollom, but unlike “HomoEros,” the photos are all original and there are no speical digital effects. The poetry is written by Ollom and his students, including a memorable poem by theater professor Robert Gross about a man’s divine same-sex erotic encounters with various Greek gods.

Ultimately both “Internal Landscapes” and “HomoEros” grow out of the gay liberation movement’s Radical Faery branch, which sees gay people as members of a distinct culture with a unique anti-authoritarian spirituality that respects the earth and unites spirit-body and male-female dualities. One of the founders of the Radical Faeries is psychologist Mitch Walker, whom Mitchell credits in “HomoEros” as the first to propose that homoerotic love is its own archetype. Walker introduced the idea to a wide audience in his groundbreaking 1977 classic “Men Loving Men: A Gay Sex Guide and Consciousness Book.” The synchronicity of both “HomoEros” and “Internal Landscapes” emerging at the same time in spring 2015 points toward ongoing evolution of gay consciousness.

The beauty of his face
 could raise the dead
from “HomoEros”

The beauty of his face
could raise the dead
and his agony cause stones to bleed
the greatest mystery is he
shaped by mysteries upon mysteries
to look at him is a conversion of faith
to caress his cheek, one becomes betrothed
to kiss his lips, to know the unknown
the warmth of his beard, the comfort of home
his eyes reflect rapture and sacrifice
mirror pools where forever
does the dreamer dream of love
this mystic marriage of two men
the Lover and the Beloved in union again
the heavens open and the angels descend
upon the Son of Man and, us, the sons of men
so is our love a saving grace
that elevates us to the company of saints
“beneath the veil of earthly things”
our love for the beloved
we do Celebrate

Related links on the Jesus in Love Blog:
Sacred gay union with Christ evoked by music of New-Age “Passion of Mark”

Patrick Cheng: Erotic Christ / Rethinking sin and grace for LGBT people

Hunter Flournoy: Teacher says we are the erotic body of Christ

Eric Hays-Strom: An Erotic Encounter with the Divine

Richard Stott: Gay artist paints “Intimacy with Christ” and reflects on sensual spirituality

This post is part of the Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


Stephen Mead said...

I could be wrong, but I think it is worth noting that to find a publishing venue for these sort of worthwhile explorations is nearly Herculean in task. Aside from Bruno Grumnder (which mainly publishes the tried-and-true themes of idealized male beauty and homo-erotica), artist/photographers/writers of the caliber mentioned in your article really only have small independent presses and self-publishing/P.O.D. distribution by which to have their work seen/read, outside of a vacuum. Larger, more financially-solvent, publishing houses could be expanding their potential LGBT and non, readership if they did their share to promote artists/writers/photographers engaged in the larger exploration of spirituality meets sensuality, not envisioning an audience and market who seek something more emotionally fulfilling than the idea that beauty is just skin-deep. We have blogs like Jesus in Love to thank for getting the word out regarding the artists/writers/photographers who work on a deeper level of belief in the reader's heart and intelligence.

Jendi said...

Thanks for spreading the word about John Ollom's work. He has been a role model for me in integrating sexuality and spirituality. I also appreciate your balanced treatment of the issue of pornography. While erotic images can be important to show LGBT people a positive image of their sexuality, we shouldn't celebrate them uncritically, without concern for possible exploitation of sex workers.