Edwin Clark (Toby) Johnson, Ph.D., Catholic monk turned activist, psychotherapist and spiritual writer, was born in 1945 in San Antonio, Texas. Johnson has been partners with Clifton D. (Kip) Dollar since 1984. Kip, born in San Antonio in 1959, is younger than Toby by 14 years, a number that's been significant and "magical" for both of them; the age difference, both believe, has kept their relationship strong, varied, and vital. Together they operated the gay and lesbian community bookstore in Austin, Texas, a gay bed & breakfast in Conifer, Colorado, called The House at Peregrine's Perspective, and a second B & B in Wimberley Texas, called Casa Peregrino. They have been champions of long-term relationships. Kip and Toby were among the couples featured in Merle Yost's When Love Lasts Forever: Male Couples Celebrate Commitment and in Elisa Rolle’s Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time.
Toby Johnson entered religious life after high school, first as a Marianist and then as a Servite. After leaving seminary in 1970, he moved to San Francisco and lived in the Bay Area throughout the 1970s. While a student at the California Institute of Integral Studies from which he received a master's 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 as "Joseph Campbell's apostle 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-70s. 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, he 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-70s, 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, known as the URSA Study for the San Francisco-based consulting firm, Urban and Rural Systems Associates, which oversaw the project.
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 partner Kip Dollar organized Gay Pride celebrations, worked with fledgling AIDS Foundations, and 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. They were the first male couple registered as domestic partners in Travis County, Texas. In 2018, they were legally married on the date of their 34th anniversary. The official witness for the marriage was Jim Fouratt, one of the original founders of the Gay Liberation Front after Stonewall.
Johnson is author of four 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: revised edition) which added substantial anecdotal material about his mentor. In 2017, at age 72, Johnson released an updated autobiography titled Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III.
Toby Johnson is author of four gay novels with spiritual themes: The Fourth Quill (originally published as Plague: A Novel About Healing) about AIDS, the nature of evil and attitudinal healing; Secret Matter, a sci-fi, romantic comedy about truth-telling and gay identity featuring a retelling of the Genesis myth with a gay-positive outcome; and Getting Life in Perspective, a Twilight Zone-like romance set in a fictional gay utopian colony modeled on that of Edward Carpenter. Secret Matter 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. Johnson was co-author with Walter L. Williams of the historical romance novel about Native American two-spirit tradition and Navajo mysticism titled Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, he is co-editor of the anthology of short tales, reminiscences and essays Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling.
He is also author of Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness and Gay Perspective: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe, both of which apply Joseph Campbell’s comparative religions approach to modern gay culture and the evolution of religion. From 1996 to 2003, he was Editor and Publisher of White Crane: A Quarterly Journal of Gay Men's Spirituality, 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 2005 to 2015, Johnson and Dollar both worked with the gay small publishing venture Lethe Press—Dollar as bookkeeper, Johnson as book designer, editor and manager of the Lethe Press Gay Spirituality Series. Though retired from Lethe Press, Johnson still assists authors to “self-publish” through modern Print-on-Demand technology.
The Myth of the Great Secret: A Search for Meaning in the Face of Emptiness (Morrow, 1982)
In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld (Morrow, 1983)
The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell (second edition, Celestial Arts, 1992)
The Fourth Quill (originally titled: Plague: A Novel About Healing (Alyson, 1987, Lethe Press, 2012, Peregrine Ventures, 2018)
Secret Matter (Lavender Press, 1990, Lethe Press, 2005, Peregrine Ventures, 2018)
Getting Life in Perspective (Lavender Press, 1991, Lethe Press, 2008, Peregrine Ventures, 2018)
Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness (Alyson, 2001, Lethe Press, 2008, Peregrine Ventures, 2018)
Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe (Alyson 2003, Lethe Press, 2008, Peregrine Ventures, 2018)
Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III (Peregrine Ventures, 2017)
With Walter L. Williams, Ph.D.
Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo (Lethe, 2006)
With Steve Berman, co-editor
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling (Lethe, 2006)
As Toby Marotta’s editorial assistant
The Politics of Homosexuality (Houghton Mifflin, 1981)
Sons of Harvard: Gay Men in the Class of '67 (Morrow, 1982)
(This biographical statement was provided by Toby Johnson; January 2004, updated November 2018. Photo credit: Tim Leary.)
Biography Date: January, 2004