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Victor Marsh | Profile

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Biography

Born in May 1945, Victor was raised in Western Australia. He attended Victoria Park and Attadale primary schools and later was elected captain of Applecross High, where he was active in sports and drama.  He studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Western Australia and graduated in 1967 with first class honours in English and French. He spent some time in grad school at the University of NSW but shelved further academic work in favour of theatre, performing at the original Nimrod Street theatre in Sydney and with the Australian Performing Group, at the famous Pram Factory Theatre in Carlton, Victoria.

In his mid-twenties, Victor felt compelled to seek out a reliable spiritual basis for his life. He could feel, from his high-school days, that if heterosexuality were the only authorized form of sexual expression, then Christianity was the compulsory and only approved pathway for the religious life.  He dabbled with psychedelics, with disastrous results, but even that detour nudged him in a better direction. Quitting drugs, yet feeling virtually zero inner resonance with the conventional churches, he began to read his way around the great religious traditions of the world.  

It was an unexpected meeting with a young guru in 1972 that turned his life around, and he lived for more than a decade as a modern-day monk, studying and eventually teaching meditation on behalf of his spiritual Master in a dozen countries in Asia and the Pacific. With no 'home base', he travelled to as many 72 cities a year. Trust in the connection with his Teacher became his only reliable lifeline, again and again demonstrating the reality of Grace. He realised that his real 'home' had to be located within and that there was real freedom in being liberated from any one set of cultural norms or conceptual frames.

The work underlined for him the reality of a common unity, a ground of being lying behind the multiplicity of differences in culture, religion, language, politics and class and, both in his own practice and in this wider, transcultural setting, he found a profound healing of the anxiety and alienation that had been his modus vivendum, growing up as a faerie child in Australia.  While encounters with toxic, conventional religious teachings had tended to exacerbate his anxiety, the empirical set of meditation practices that he was engaged in shifted him into a re-alignment with the 'real' state of affairs.

It was a rare privilege to engage with this service. However, after more than a decade, he reached the point where it became necessary to face the issue of sexuality squarely and find out how to integrate it as a legitimate part of life, alongside his spiritual realisation. He found was that his deep and regular connection to the infinite Self-beyond-self, Being-beyond-doing had not miraculously transformed him into a well-adjusted, law-abiding Christian heterosexual.  

His guru gave him his blessings to pursue his quest and he re-entered the everyday world of work, relationships, and housing trying to create a career out of thin air. Everything he had learned 'on the road' was seriously tested in the hurly burly of his working life. What he had found through the spiritual work continued to balance and support him in this new phase of discovery.

Just he was re-entering the wider society, he heard disturbing news of a deadly virus stalking the newly liberated, queer sub-culture. He had good reason to be grateful for the beneficial shelter he had found in the celibate setting of the ashrams but he knew he had to tread warily in this new direction.  

Continuing daily with the meditation practices, in 1983 he found work in television, working on several popular Australian shows: the wildly popular entertainment Young Talent Time and the sci-tech Beyond 2000 among them, and he reviewed movies on Don Lane's talk show Late Night Oz for Network TEN. For Beyond 2000 he was transferred to Los Angeles and he arrived in the land of his maternal grandparents on July 4th, 1989. Originally assigned for 3 months he stayed some 13 years.

While continuing working in television Marsh completed a Certificate in Gay and Lesbian Culture at the Institute for G&L education, in West Hollywood and gained a green card (becoming a 'resident alien'), then full citizenship. 

Returning to Australia in 2002, Victor entered a writing program at the University of Queensland.  This was another major shift in focus and gave him the opportunity to re-examine the meaning of his lived experience to date. He was admitted to the doctorate in April 2007, just after his 62nd birthday.  His PhD dissertation was titled "The Journey of the Queer 'I': Spirituality and Subjectivity in some life narratives by gay men", focusing on accounts of gay men's lives where spirituality was accorded equal attention in configurations of identity.

Since that time, he has written scholarly articles for academic journals, guest edited an issue of Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts & Contemporary Worlds, and published a major book-length study of Christopher Isherwood (Mr Isherwood Changes Trains: Christopher Isherwood and the Search for the 'home self'), focusing on the British expat. writer's often ignored religious life as a student of Swami Prabhavananda, a monk in the Ramakrishna Order and head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. The study of Vedanta - the religion of a colonized people - was accorded little respect in Britain. His religious bona fides were not taken seriously as they didn't square with the common perception of queer folk as religious pariahs.

Marsh's book on Isherwood was praised as "an important and relevant addition to the field of sexuality studies" (Prof. Baden Offord). Isherwood scholar Chris Freeman of the University of Southern California  called it "an impressive study", and the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library called it "an especially important contribution to Isherwood scholarship."  Reviewing the book, Dr Donald L. Boisvert, of the Department of Religion, Concordia University, Montreal wrote:"Marsh writes with nuance and considerable scholarly acumen... a remarkably incisive and absolutely necessary book: remarkably incisive because it stretches the borders of Isherwood scholarship, and absolutely necessary because it places gay men at the very heart of the religious journey." In the Gay and Lesbian Review, Dan Luckenbill wrote: "Marsh does a valuable service... exposing the ways many homosexual writers can be bashed obliquely without admitting to homophobia."  

 Isherwood's partner, Don Bachardy, wrote: "At last, an intelligent appreciation of Chris and his work, as well as a proper understanding of him as both a writer and Vedantist."

Writing in Melbourne Community Voice, Andrew Shaw described it as: "A serious, well-reasoned and in-depth look at gay spirituality and the conflicts and resolutions it promotes."

In 2011 Marsh compiled and edited a collection of essays on issues surrounding marriage equality in Australia (Speak Now), featuring a Foreword by the retired High Court Judge Justice Michael Kirby.  Writing in the Alternative Law Journal, Senthorun Raj wrote of Speak Now: "Often public debates are constructed in polarising terms: conservative religious narratives that value marriage as a procreative institution, are weighted against a human rights dialogue that argues marriage equality is a basic civil right. Speak Now... attempts a more provocative discussion, beyond the current public debate, by interrogating the different political, personal, cultural and affective investments that surround the disparate ways in which marriage occupies a privileged space in our communities... While Speak Now unequivocally condemns homophobic fears of queer desires and same-sex relationships, it also urges us to que(e)ry the underlying conditions of state recognition, ritual and rights. In doing so, the text speaks to a future where relationship diversity is embraced and supported, rather than denied or shamed."

David Allan, writing for GayLawNet, said that the book "contributes mightily to the current debate... The compilation gives pause for considerable thought, regardless of the perspective a reader may have when first opening the book... Speak Now introduces the reader to a stimulating, rollercoaster variety of inter-mixed views, that challenge and nourish the formation of a contemporary outlook on the question of marriage and of same-sex marriage."

In 2014 Marsh published a book-length autobiography about his own spiritual journey, The Boy in the Yellow Dress. Award-winning novelist Amanda Lohrey says of this autobiography: "If ever a memoir captured the Zeitgeist, it's this one. Wise, funny, surprising at every turn ... More than a portrait of growing up gay, it chronicles the wild search for meaning of an entire generation." DNAMagazine praised it as a "compelling memoir, vividly written, veering from tragic to hilariously funny episodes".  (He has published shorter memoir pieces in Griffith Review, Wilde Magazine, and others.)

A review in the Byron Shire Echo describes The Boy in the Yellow Dress thus"This is the life of an actor, writer, television presenter and producer, devotee of Indian mysticism, academic, father, grandfather, gay rights author and teacher of mindfulness. The scope of the book is ambitious, seeming to touch on most of the fabric of the material world while being, essentially, a drama of unfolding spiritual perception. No lack of incident then, but also no lack of reflection on what it all means. Marsh has experienced desperate oppression and soaring freedom and presents both in well-written and colourful detail."

Marsh has contributed major essays to the collections Heaven Bent: Australian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex experiences of faith, religion and spirituality; and to Queer Religion, vol. 1: Homosexuality in Modern Religious History, as well as for several collections on Isherwood.

Currently, Victor is working on the second volume of his memoirs, continuing with the odyssey of the boy in the yellow dress.  He says that when you find your life has been written for you, too often in the language of hostile discourses, life-writing practice (memoir, autobiography, etc.) becomes a powerful way to recuperate the lost parts of self and assert the value of experiences falling outside the standard model. He continues to be disturbed that many of his queer brothers and sisters torture themselves trying to accommodate their deep spiritual needs to the wrong-headed demands of mean-hearted religious teachings that, in his view, have really lost the plot.

Subjects of discourses that would position them as 'other' – second-class citizens in the dominant order – may find, then, that life-writing offers life-enhancing alternatives to articulate resistance other than through bald polemical diatribes. Writing the life oneself may enable disobedient subjects to seize the narrative of their lived experience and investigate alternative, otherwise hidden patterns of meaning embedded therein, and in so doing produce texts that work as sites of contestation to oppressive discourses. Such a writing practice provides a point of entry for the recovery of parts of selfhood positioned beyond the socially respectable models of meaning that serve only the propagandistic purposes of the oppressors.  

Such texts assertively ‘talk back’ (as bell hooks would have it) to dominant cultural narratives, becoming sites for staging what Judith Butler calls ‘unforeseen and unsanctioned modes of identity’. They disrupt authorized versions of masculinity and femininity and destabilize the construction of the homosexual-as-religious-pariah, or as psychopathological specimen, or both, and resist what Butler calls the 'violence of exclusion' that narrows the categories by which subjects qualify for full human status.

As Salman Rushdie has said, "Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts."

As Marsh has navigated his way through these different worlds - whether in relationship or travelling solo, working in one field then another, moving from city to city, country after country -  he has found that his constant and reliable guide and companion, for more than four decades, has been his guru, or mentor, Prem Rawat.

(This biographical statement provided by Victor Marsh.)

Biography Date: May 2017

Tags

Gay Spirituality | Hindu | Isherwood, Christopher | Author/editor | Marriage Equality | Australia

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