Remembering Mark Thompson: Elder, Mentor, Inspirationby Raymond Rigoglioso on 08/23/16
I became acquainted with Mark Thompson at an inopportune time: Not long before his beloved husband, the episcopal priest and LGBT rights pioneer Malcolm Boyd, died. Mark's seminal books on gay spirituality--the Gay Spirit, Gay Soul, and Gay Body trilogy--had a huge impact on me and the Gay Men of Wisdom work.
His influence as senior editor at The Advocate for two decades, as author of multiple books, as a photographer and a therapist, has been well documented elsewhere, so I will not try to replicate it. Rather, I wish to share what Mark gave to me.
Toby Johnson, one of my book's editors, introduced me to Mark at my request. Mark graciously agreed to read a draft of Gay Men and The New Way Forward and provide a testimonial. Not long after I mailed him the book, Malcolm was rushed to the hospital. Mark remained in touch with me, and even at that difficult time, gave my book a glowing endorsement.
For a while, it seemed Malcolm was improving. One day in February 2015, while I was on a retreat creating the curriculum for Powerful U, I got a sudden sense that something had gone wrong. I wrote Mark asking how Malcolm was doing. He wrote back shortly afterward saying my hunch was right: Malcolm was dying, and they were preparing to disconnect his life support.
I didn't know Mark well enough to offer him much meaningful support after Malcolm died. I had not met him nor Malcolm in person. I gave what condolences I could. And yet, even in Mark's grief, he maintained a correspondence with me, going so far as to apologize for not being able to help me promote my book more.
When I planned my book tour to Los Angeles, he contacted the bookstore in Silver Lake, where he lived and gave readings for several of his books. Even with the pull of a luminary such as Mark, the bookstore turned down the request, stating how their readers would have limited interest in books such as mine.
On the one hand, this response helped me not take the rejections I had faced so personally. On the other, it was a sobering commentary about the current media environment and the state of LGBT culture.
I finally had the chance to meet Mark last October, when he came to my book reading and workshop in Palm Springs. After my workshop, he took me out to dinner. That evening changed the trajectory of my life.
"Who are you, and why are you doing this?" he quizzed me, with a curiosity that conveyed his admiration, yet contained caution. "I drove out here from Los Angeles to support you, and to understand who you are."
I fumbled to answer him. (How does one answer questions such as those?). "I just have to do it," I said. "I was curious to understand gay men's gifts. I feel absolutely compelled." It seemed I spent the next four hours trying to explain myself further.
Over our dinner Mark regaled me with stories of Malcolm, who had been a successful Hollywood actor before leaving that world to become a priest. He shared his own journey--the joys and pitfalls of advancing a set of ideas that were not always appreciated.
"Your book is excellent," he told me. "You have respected the elders and ancestors. You have incorporated our ideas generously. You are the one in your generation who is now doing this work."
His words stunned me.
Then he warned me of the challenges I will face. "Don't feel you have to do this forever," he cautioned. "When you decide it is time to stop," he said, "don't think you have failed."
We ended that evening with him pointing out the moon and the pink glow over Palm Springs. He would be moving to Palm Springs, he told me, to start over. I expected I would see him on my next trip there. I didn't know it would be the first and last time I saw him.
When I planned my trip to southern California, I thought I would be promoting my book. I had no idea I would receive a blessing from an elder--and that Mark would pass me the torch.
On the plane ride home I reflected on the gravity of that moment. Until that point I hadn't known what I would do after my book tour, but now I did: I would devote my full efforts to bringing about this vision. I would go forth with conviction and courage, knowing--really knowing this time--that I was on the right track.
My time with Mark Thompson may have been brief, but he gave me one of the most profound gifts I have ever received.
Rest in peace, Mark. May you and Malcolm be holding hands and smiling.