On the left, a Shoshone berdache from the 1800’s. On the right, a young Rupaul, contemporary drag queen and star of the hit show Rupaul’s Drag Race on Logo TV.

After generations of persecution, gay people are achieving equality with remarkable speed in the developed world. Yet there was a time when gender variant people were not only equal but were honored and respected members inside their larger tribal societies (such as the berdache in Native American culture). Raymond Rigoglioso, author of Gay Men and the New Way Forward, says it’s time again for gay men to recognize, and be recognized for, the special contributions they make to society.

“Gay men, as a group, contribute to the human family and serve an evolutionary function,” Ray tells Jeff. “We play special roles that contribute to the welfare and vitality of humans, and to the expansion of consciousness.”

Ray puts these contributions into three basic categories: 1) re-inventing manhood, 2) serving and healing humanity, and 3) freeing and enriching the human spirit.

Excerpt | The evolution of gay men in a straight world

One of the “foundational gifts” that Ray talks about in his book is the ability to flow back and forth between the polarities of masculinity and femininity with ease, which naturally creates a fuller range of human expression. And as gay men (and women) become more accepted, we can also see gender expression shifting in the larger culture. The way that our great grandparents expressed masculinity and femininity is very different than now, says Jeff. “Men and women in general are integrating the gifts of the opposite pole.”

We love our masculine and feminine. We use both with aplomb, and we celebrate them. ~Raymond Rigoglioso

Many gay men think the distinguishing characteristic of their identity is sexual orientation, but Ray explains that they also have a different social orientation—an orientation towards service. You can see it in the roles of tribal ancestors—shamans, healers, visionaries, and artisans—and you can see it today, with the contemporary shamans in music and dance, the arts, spiritual leadership. And let’s not forget sexual leadership; after all, gay men have been enjoying “friends with benefits” for decades!

In the podcast, Jeff and Ray take us on a quick tour of the cultural climate for gays at each stage of human development. In the last few decades, postmodern values have allowed sexual minorities to claim some dignity and equality in the culture and in the eyes of the law. So what’s next? Where does gay culture go from here?  Is there even such a thing as gay culture going forward? “I believe so,” says Ray, “if we expand what it means to be gay from just having a different sexual orientation to our larger role in society. We have a future if we claim the social roles that we play.”