Death of a Gay Spirit: Mark Thompson

Taken by Stephen Elson

Courtesy of Stephen Elson

One of the most important LGBT books published in the 1980s was Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning (St. Martin’s Press, 1987); and one of the most important LGBT writers of our time was its editor, Mark Thompson. Thompson, at the time cultural editor of the Advocate, collected some of his own articles and interviews from that paper with essays by other queer authors, philosophers and spiritual leaders. Published during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, Gay Spirit sought to define and explain gay spirit, what Thompson called “the psychic and creative energies generated by people we now call gay.” Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning also established Thompson as a major LGBT writer, editor and photographer, a career that ended when Thompson died on August 12. Thompson’s death followed that of his husband, the famous Episcopal priest and activist Malcolm Boyd (Gay Priest) by only 18 months.

Mark Thompson, who was 63 when he died, grew up in California and was a founding member of the Gay Students Coalition at San Francisco State University. According to Thompson’s 2009 memoir, Advocate Days & Other Stories, Thompson first found a copy of the Advocate in 1968, when Thompson was 14 and the newspaper was but a year old. Thompson began to write for the Advocate in 1975 and continued to do so for two decades, ending his career there in 1994 when he edited Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement (St. Martin’s Press). “The Advocate was fortunate to have Mark Thompson’s innate and studied spiritualism at the magazine while it was transitioning from community chronicler to national news platform,” Jeff Yarbrough, the paper’s former editor in chief, told “Thompson gave voice to a part of gay life and culture that no one else could.”

In January 2000 the Lambda Book Report named Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning one of “100 Lesbian and Gay Books That Changed Our Lives,” in a list compiled by someone named Jesse Monteagudo. Not one to sit on his laurels, Thompson followed Gay Spirit with an equally important anthology about kinky sex and the people who practice it: Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice (Alyson, 1991). In 1994 Thompson published Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature (Harper), for which he interviewed and photographed sixteen gay writers, healers, teachers and visionaries (including Malcolm Boyd). In 1997 Thompson finished his Gay Spirit/Gay Soul Trilogy with the autobiographical Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self (St. Martin’s Press). Thompson’s last anthology was 2011’s The Fire In Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries (White Crane Books/Lethe Press) where, as in Leatherfolk, he studied and honored a gay subculture that exists outside the norm.

Though Thompson happily married Boyd when it became legal in California (2013), he opposed LGBT assimilation and conformity: “Going for the promised land of full equality under the law is all fine and well,” Thompson said in an interview that appears in “But what is going to happen when the last sodomy law is toppled and homophobia no longer tolerated? Will we then be free? Free to be what?”

“I believe there is something intrinsically queer about being gay, no matter how much we try to normalize it,” Thompson continued. “It is that queerness – and what is at the root of it – that presents the big mystery question in our lives. It’s not something we can just check off a list and say, OK we’re all safely out of the closet and now we are done with it. We simply can’t stop being curious about the myths and mysteries of same-sex attraction and love.”

A long-time AIDS survivor, Thompson worked as a clinical psychologist with LGBT youth and people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2007, the Lambda Literary Foundation gave Thompson one of its Pioneer Awards and in 2009 the City of West Hollywood honored Thompson and Boyd with the Rainbow Key Award “for their outstanding contributions to the gay and lesbian community.” Though Thompson will no doubt get some posthumous kudos, his biggest monument are the series of books that he wrote or edited, books that continue to give us food for thought about the meaning of being gay.

Jesse’s Journal
by Jesse Monteagudo



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