Escaping God's Closet: The Revelations of a Queer Priest

Bernard Duncan Mayes, Author University of Virginia Press $30 (301p) ISBN 978-0-8139-2004-7
Halfway through his memoir, Mayes picks up a young man on the street in San Francisco and only barely escapes being murdered: ""I did not thank God. His role in this was clearly ambivalent and my rage grew. Why should natural acts of flirting and sexual ecstasy... always be under the threat of violent death?"" But the occasional homophobic violence Mayes encountered in his quest for a life that fulfilled his spiritual and erotic needs is small measure next to his growth as a person and in his ministry. Born in Britain in 1929 and drafted into the army at age 20, Mayes studied to be an Anglo-Catholic priest although he knew he was attracted to men. Committed to social justice work and a member of the worker-priest movement, he also began writing for the BBC as a religious and social commentator. After being offered a job with the celebrated Judson Church in Greenwich Village in 1958, Mayes relocated and within two years moved again to San Francisco, where in 1961 he created the first suicide hotline in the United States, and where he continues to be a BBC commentator on U.S. culture. San Francisco also offered a whole new sexual world. Mayes writes movingly of his erotic adventures at the baths, of the S&M and drag cultures and of his newly forming theology of sexuality: ""The principle of unity is no where better expressed than in passions of sexual intercourse."" Honest, forthright and written with a literary bent that does not sidestep the more difficult questions of sexuality, theology, sin and personal redemption, Mayes's memoir is an important addition to the literature of gay liberation and religion as well as frank look into contemporary San Francisco's gay history and mores. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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