Born Edwin Clark Johnson in 1945 in San Antonio, Texas, Johnson attended Catholic parochial school and then the college prep school associated with St. Mary's University, both run by the Brothers of Mary. A writing teacher at Central Catholic, Martin McMurtrey, inspired Johnson as well as such students as novelist Whitley Strieber, college president Larry Goodwin, and Henry Cisneros. Johnson entered religious life after high school, first as a Marianist and then as a Servite, where he was in the first class of students at the Catholic Theological Union, Johnson studied under the influential Scripture scholars Barnabas Ahern, C.P. and John Dominic Crossan, both of whom changed how the modern world perceived sacred writings. After a year in Chicago, Johnson worked in a Hospital Chaplaincy summer training at Metropolitan State Psychiatric Hospital in southern Los Angeles; that summer, he came out as a gay man. Johnson viewed this summer of 1969 an auspicious one because of the Stonewall riot events which sparked the modern LGBT social movements.
Toby Johnson is a novelist and writer in the field of gay spirituality. In 1981, Johnson returned to his hometown where he practiced as an openly gay therapist and served as co-chair of the San Antonio Gay Alliance. Toby and Kip Dollar organized Gay Pride celebrations, worked with fledgling AIDS Foundations, & helped found gay business societies in both San Antonio and Austin. From 1988 to 1994, Johnson and Dollar ran Liberty Books, the lesbian and gay community bookstore in Austin at the time. Their anniversary is on March 16.
Johnson did not return to C.T.U., but remained in Southern California at the Servite novitiate in Riverside. As told in his first book, The Myth of the Great Secret, Johnson experienced a dramatic kind of modern "mystical enlightenment" that year.
After leaving seminary in 1970, Johnson moved to San Francisco and lived in the Bay Area throughout the 1970s. While a student at the California Institute of Asian Studies (later renamed the California Institute of Integral Studies), from which he received a graduate degree in Comparative Religion and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology, Johnson was on staff at the Mann Ranch Seminars, a Jungian-oriented summer retreat program. There he befriended religion scholar Joseph Campbell and came to regard himself "an apostle of Campbell's vision to the gay community."
First as a peer-counselor and then licensed professional, Johnson worked as a gay-oriented psychotherapist in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. As a member of the D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance ("Dykes And Faggots Organized to Defeat Institutionalized Liberalism") and spokesperson for the Gay Mental Health Task Force of San Francisco's Health Department, Johnson was instrumental in the adoption of a Gay Client's Bill of Rights, guaranteeing access to gay or gay-sensitive health care providers—a notion that, subsequently, had major effects in AIDS-related services.
In the late-1970s, he teamed with Harvard-trained sociologist Toby Marotta in producing Marotta's books, The Politics of Homosexuality and Sons of Harvard: Gay Men in the Class of '67, and in working in a federally-funded ethnographic study of gay teenage prostitution.
Johnson is author of three autobiographical accounts of spiritual development: The Myth of the Great Secret: A Search for Meaning in the Face of Emptiness about his discovering a modern understanding of religion; In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld about his experiences—and interpretation of events as a religion scholar—in the study of teenage prostitution; and The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell which added substantial anecdotal material about his mentor.
Johnson authored three novels: Plague: A Novel About Healing, Secret Matter, and Getting Life in Perspective. Plague, produced by small gay-interest publisher Alyson Publications, was one of the first novels to treat AIDS through fiction. Secret Matter, a speculative, romantic comedy about truth-telling and gay identity featuring a retelling of the Genesis myth with a gay-positive outcome, won a Lambda Literary Award in 1990 and in 1999 was a nominee to the Gay Lesbian Science-Fiction Hall of Fame, the first year of the award. He collaborated with historian, anthropologist Walter L. Williams on the novel Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo. And co-edited, with Steve Berman, publisher of Lethe Press, an anthology of gay-positive stories, Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling.
He is also author of Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness and Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe, which explains how homosexuality can lead to a re-evaluation of people's role in the universe.
Johnson's central idea is that as outsiders with non-gender-polarized perspective homosexuals play an integral role in the evolution of consciousness—especially regarding the understanding of religion as myth and metaphor—and that for many homosexuals gay identity is a transformative ecological, spiritual, and even mystical vocation.
From 1996 to 2003, Johnson was editor/publisher of White Crane, a periodical focusing on gay men's spirituality. As of 2012, he worked as a literary editor with Lethe Press.
Johnson and Dollar currently reside in central Texas.
His papers are held at the Happy Foundation, San Antonio, Texas.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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