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The Double - Men Loving Men

One of the many sad legacies of patriarchy is the taboo put by Western society and churches on mens' love for other men whether genital or not. For a man to become whole a close, intimate friendship with another man is important for reflecting his deep maleness back to himself.

By Edward C. Sellner
My father died suddenly in July 1991, a week after his 74th birthday. A bartender and tavern owner for most of his adult life, he spent a great deal of time listening patiently to people's stories. He once told me, with more weariness than pride, that he probably heard more confessions than the parish priest. I was too young at the time to pay much attention to the remark. Only when he died did I begin to appreciate what a gift Dad had with all sorts of people what a good listener he was. For so many years, there had been a great silence between us, a silence I interpreted as disapproval, rejection, lack of love. I didn't realise that he was listening. While I was waiting for him to open up to me, he was waiting for me to share my story with him.

In the months following his death, I discovered that the conflicts and antagonisms I experienced with my father were not unique. Journaling and talking with friends helped clarify dimensions of my grief, and even my dreams seemed to suggest some sort of healing. One dream took me back to the hospital room where my father had died. In the dream, when I fled from the room, overcome with emotion, I distinctly heard the lines from a World War II song that was a favourite of Dad's: "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places". Besides these resources of the soul, inviting me to re-examine my past, I turned to books and other writings to help me better understand myself, my father, and my own sons. In doing so, I found myself reflecting upon a little-known archetype the Double that shed much light upon the dynamics among men, the fountain of grief from which all of us drink, and the arena of eros in which every male struggles.

The Double is a psychic pattern of male relatedness that exists in the history of humankind and lies within the soul of every man. (Since archetypes are blueprints of basic human drives and qualities that we all share, this archetype of same-sex love exists in women as well.) It is reflected in a man's eros, that inner drive for connection, for giving and receiving love. I believe that not only are those who call themselves "gay" in search of a Double, but all men need to find the Double within themselves and to express that inner figure in friendships and mentoring.
When we love another of our own gender, we are getting in touch with an unconscious spiritual reality, the Devine within us that can teach us undersatanding and compassion. I first came across a reference to the Double in the late 1980s. At the time I was doing research in Oxford, England, on the Celtic tradition of the anam cara, that friend of the soul who acts as a spiritual guide, teacher, confessor, or mentor, and who, in the history of Christian spirituality, is associated with personal transformation. As I was reading Peter Brown's book The Making of Late Antiquity, I found that the ancient Greeks also had an appreciation of the guide or companion of the soul, "a powerful invisible being entrusted with the personal care of the individual and conceived of, very largely, as an upward extension of the individual." Such figures were referred to as "heavenly twins", and according to Brown, it was the ancients' belief that "these protectors were as personal to them as their own souls." Not only did they direct conduct, but through their numinous qualities they also provided access to the Divine.

A few years later, I was drawn to an article by Jungian analyst Mitch Walker, entitled "The Double: An Archetypal configuration". Walker describes the Double as "a soul figure with all the erotic and spiritual significance" attached to those inner figures whom Jung calls anima (the inner feminine side of man) and animus (the inner masculine side of woman). However, the Double is not of the opposite but of the same sex. According to Walker, every man and woman carries within his or her soul this psychic pattern, expressed in the need for same-sex relationships of love, tenderness, intimacy, and joy. For the male, this archetype contains, according to Walker, those of father, son, brother, and lover. Referring to mythological and biblical pairs of heroes, such as Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroklos, and David and Jonathan, Walker says that the Double works like a mirror, reflecting back to us and drawing out of us our own beauty, strength, and wisdom.

Walker's article helped me understand that behind men's longing for genuine community, behind my own hunger for acceptance and affirmation from my father and other males, is this same sex archetype. It lies behind males bonding intellectually, emotionally, and at times physically with other males, and is responsible for any collaborative efforts among them. The archetype is particularly significant in education, expressing itself in those friendships that frequently occur between younger and older men, students and teachers, protégés and mentors.

Every male needs to find a Double, a soul mate or soul friend with whom he can communicate openly, with warmth, affection, and love. While the gay movement recognizes this need in its affirmation of passionate, creative, and caring relationships among males, the archetype is not limited to those who call themselves homosexual. Rather, it is at the foundation of every man's innate desire for intimacy with other males, starting with his own father. When we love another of our own gender, we are getting in touch with an unconscious spiritual reality, the Divine within us that can teach us understanding and compassion.

The problem in our Western culture is that a man's desire for union or communion with other males is the source of much suspicion. While other societies acknowledge this need,Western culture with its patriarchal values that emphasize competition among men (and women), strength over tenderness, the rational over the intuitive, logos over eros is fearful, if not outrightly condemnatory, of it. Emphasis is consistently placed on male-female relating, and on the belief that male-female relationships should act as containers of all eros. While obviously important for the propagation of the human race as well as for personal transformation and social harmony, such expectations of intimate exclusivity can lead to marital conflicts and breakdowns. No one relationship can contain everything.

This emerging conviction of mine was confirmed when I came across certain works of Robert Johnson, another Jungian analyst. In Lying with the Heavenly Woman, Johnson describes how different India and other Eastern countries are in their acceptance of same-sex relationships, and how much male friendships contribute to the happiness of both women and men. Johnson, who lived in India as a young man, writes that it is taken for granted among people there that every male will have at least one close male friend, an intimate relationship that sometimes begins in childhood and that can last a lifetime. This bonding, Johnson says, is honoured by the community, who consider it normal that a youth be "married" at least twice in his life, "first to his buddy, then to his wife". He continues, "I was often astonished at seeing how much safety and security there is in a Hindu life when one is strengthened by both sides of one's nature."

There can be a specific exchange of feeling between two men with unique characteristics not found in any other relationships, yet our culture is wary of any such displays."Feeling between men is mostly disguised under towel snapping, rough talk, bravado, showing off, and casualness", Johnson writes. But, he concludes, "all people have the native capacity for homoerotic relationship, and we have been missing a rich aspect of life in our Western world."

This warm and strengthening exchange among men reflects a pattern of psychic energy that has both a positive and a negative side, as all archetypes do. On its positive side, it is
manifest in men's need for affirmation from other males, their fathers, sons, brothers, friends. In classical times, in fact, a male friend was so valued that he was described as a "second self", someone with whom one could share both joy and suffering, through whom one was led to wisdom and truth. In more recent literature, some of the greatest, sometimes highly conflicted, yet most enduring male friendships have been explored in such books as Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund, D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love, and Irvin Yalom's When Nietzsche Wept.
(There is) the darker side of anonymous and unsafe sex - caused largely ... by our society and churches that refuse to endorse commited, long-term relationships between men. On the negative side, the Double can be projected onto other males in destructive ways and, rather than being claimed interiorly or in a non-possessive fashion, can be sought, sometimes obsessively, outside oneself. This "possession"by the Double lies behind all sorts of self-destructive behaviours. It can cause one to think, as they say, "only with one's dick" or to be caught up in sexual addiction. Frank Browning, in The Culture of Desire: Paradox and Perversion in Gay Lives Today, speaks of the "ambiguity of desire" and of its "trickster" elements. Bruce Bawer, in A Place at the Table, while lauding friendships and eros among men, also alludes to the darker side of anonymous and unsafe sex caused largely, he says, by our society and churches that refuse to endorse committed, long-term relationships between men. There can be narcissistic tendencies in male friendships when, for example, one projects the archetype outward onto other males and treats them as clones of oneself rather than as individuals with their own experiences, talents and goals. And, of course, sexual abuse and lack of respect for younger males' integrity and vulnerability, especially among the clergy, is a phenomenon that has been in the news for some time. One of the most famous depictions of an older man's infatuation with a younger male that becomes destructive is found in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.

As Robert Bly acknowledges, the primary reason adult men get stuck in the dark side, the shadow, is that they never had older men who "held them in their hearts", who helped them find a nurturing spirituality in the context of masculine identity. There is a tremendous need today for older men to become elders, to realize how important it is to their own spiritual development and to that of younger men who are desperately searching for approval, genuine caring, and a blessing.

The search for the Double is directly related to the desire to achieve unity of being. Anyone who studies non-Western cultures, with their fluid gender categories and flexible sex roles, will begin to wonder about the rigidity and repression of our own culture and religious traditions, and whether our myths truly serve to develop the full masculine and feminine capacities in men and women.
Our culture needs to create a new man, a new humanity ... Old theories of sexuality, with their emphasis on the dominance of one sex and their suspicion of men loving other men, have brought about an imbalance in society. Much of homoerotic attraction and experimentation today is probably part of a swing of the pendulum away from patriarchy, with its strict definitions of what constitutes masculinity, toward the development of one's full humanity. Yet because of centuries of homophobic indoctrination, there exists a great anxiety and even hatred in a man's capacity to love other men not only within men themselves but also in the women who love them.

Men in our culture need to become more conscious of their innate capacity and need to love deeply and tenderly other males. Rather than being filled with shame and self-hatred, or directing confusion about their feelings outward in distancing themselves from friends or in homophobic acts of violence, it would be so much more beneficial if they could find resources for healing splits within their own psyches and for reconciling conflicts with others.

By focusing on the same-sex archetype in their souls and befriending the Double (however he is manifest), men, regardless of their sexual orientation, will come to value those relationships between fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and lovers. It might allow them to say to one another, without shame, "I love you" something that my father had so much difficulty articulating to me.

By examining and claiming the Double archetype in human history and our own psyches, all of us can come to see that eros and our attraction to beauty, both physical and spiritual, are gifts, and that we are much more complex sexual beings than our society and churches let us acknowledge. All of us need to touch and be touched; all of us need to give and receive love. Wherever we find genuine love, and whatever physical form its object takes, it becomes an epiphany, a revelation, a numinous experience that changes us profoundly. Our culture needs to create a new man, a new humanity, one more fully conscious of and in harmony with the gift of same-sex love, more open to drawing upon eros for creativity, for companionship, for transformation of oneself and the world in which we live .

Edward C. Sellner, Ph.D., is a professor of theology and spirituality at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including, Father and Son: Time Lost, Love Recovered (1995, Ave Maria Press), Mentoring: the Ministry of Spiritual Kinship (1990), Soul-Making: the Telling of a Spiritual Journey (1991), and Wisdom of the Celtic Saints (1993).

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