âI have spent my entire life looking for the way out of pain.â Few people would publicly make such a stark statement about themselves, yet itâs probably true to varying degrees for all of us. Itâs also the first sentence of a remarkably honest and courageous new book by New York freelance journalist Christopher Nutter, called The Way Out. This book is both a memoir of his personal emotional and spiritual growth and a self-help guide for other gay men who are looking for a way out of pain âno matter if youâre in denial, closeted, half in, half out, just out or been around the block.â
Nutter grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham Alabama in the â70âs and â80âs, where he battled with severe depression because âI was riddled with imperfectionsâI wasnnât beautiful; I wasnât rich; I wasnât masculine; I wasnât confident; I wasnât athleticâ and especially because of a âfatal flawââhis homosexuality. After years of struggling in secrecy, he came out in a public way, by writing an article about being gay forÂ Details magazine. By the time he was 27 years old, he had âarrived:â He was a bartender at a popular gay bar in New York, a nightlife columnist for a gay magazine, and a well-known party boy in New York and Miami Beach. Soon, though, the parties and the compulsive sexual conquests were leaving him feeling increasingly empty and unfulfilled. He began to realize that there is a big difference between pleasure and happiness, and that he knew very little about the latter.
Then ââŠone misty April Sunday eveningâŠI was walking down 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues when I was suddenly awash in something I can only describe as extreme clarity of awareness. I was then hit by a tidal wave of bliss that was so consuming and brought such tears and convulsions that I could barely walk (though I held it together enough to cross the street to avoid people, who surely would have called 911 had they seen me up close). Though at first I didnât understand what was happening, slowly as I made my way home I realized that I had become connected to who I truly am, which is pure consciousness. At that moment I was infused with the very antidote to feeling bereft.
That one moment of realization was enough to change me forever.â
Nutterâs experience is an archetypal experience of awakening described in remarkably similar words in all times and cultures. Compare his description, for instance, with Eckhart Tolleâs account of his awakening in his modern spiritual classic The Power of Now:Â ââŠmy mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energyâŠthis false, suffering self immediately collapsed, just as if a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What was left then was my true nature as the ever-present I am: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.â
Nutterâs experience taught him that, âWe are, like everyone on the planet, spiritual beings on a physical quest to realize our true nature. And the only way to the realization of this truth is through the process of letting go of everything you think you know, of every limit you are sure exists, of every fear that has gone unquestioned; for letting go is the only way to make room in you mind for something new.â His life since his awakening has been about bringing his life into alignment with his vision of the truth. In studying spiritual literature from a number of traditions, he discovered that almost all of them are completely silent on the gay experience. The purpose of his book is to discuss the gay experience from a spiritual perspective.
His chapter on gay sexuality is titled âGay Men are Not Dogs,â which is one of the few assertions with which many gay men and right-wing fundamentalists will unite in adamantly disagreeing. Like the book as a whole, this chapter is largely autobiographical, detailing the authorâs journey from sexual self-destructiveness to a sexuality that expresses his human dignity. Our sexuality, he believes, is largely a hunger of the mind, not of the body. It expresses many unconscious needs and ideasâthe dubious equation that sexual approval equals love and acceptance; the need to feel powerful; the drive to anesthetize our pain; and, sometimes, the desire to connect with another human being. For many of us, our sexuality cannot lead to freedom or fulfillment becauseÂ ââŠit is almost totally founded in reaction to the leashâŠto sexual repression and the judgment of sex, especially gay sex, as wrong and bad.â As long as weâre unconscious of what drives our sexuality, our sexuality will drive us. Only a thorough process of self-examination can bring it into alignment with our deeper selves.
Today, Christopher Nutter still lives on 8th and 21st in Chelsea, âyet I now live in a fundamentally different universe.â His book expresses the newness and adventure of a man who is finding his soul, and who has the courage to say publicly what heâs learning.