I’m not a fan of labels, boxes or stereotypes. I understand stereotypes and perceptions come from truths most don’t want to admit, but often times they are exaggerated to feel superior. Sometimes the stereotypes can hurt a group that is seen to be positive, as is the case I feel with Buddhist. We are seen as being peaceful, vegetarians, wiser than others, and well spacey hippies. I can say I’ve met my share of those kinds of Buddhist but I’ve met plenty of others that encompass everything life has to offer, good and bad. One core principle of Buddhism is showing love and compassion to all sentient beings, as we all are composed of the same materials. With Buddhism showing the connection between all living things on the planet, and how labels and categories are a device to divide, can I be a Buddhist and identify as gay?
I struggle with a lot of things as a Buddhist. I want to be vegetarian but I can only really get to eliminating red meat mostly and focusing on only eating meat a few times a week. To me that is a win and it’s all a process. As I don’t do anything cold turkey, I see myself becoming at least pescatarian in the next few years. It is said the Buddha died from tainted pork, showing he wasn’t completely vegetarian. Buddhist monks do alms runs, which is walking around with a bowl to allow followers to fill them with food for merit. It is considered rude not to accept and eat what is placed in the bowl. When being invited to a home for dinner, it is also considered rude to request alterations to the meal unless it will cause suffering, like food allergies. This doesn’t excuse me eating meat, many Buddhist do and always will, but for me I struggle with how acceptable that is to me.
I also want to eliminate labels from my heart and mind (click here for past post on labels). I understand labels and categories make things easy for a lot of people, but they also make things harder for just as many, if not more people. One such label is the gay label. Make no mistake, it’s important to know sexual preference when trying to bond with a person beyond a friendship. I am someone who wants a husband so being gay and proclaiming my sexuality is important, but in doing so I am accepting a label. Even calling myself Buddhist is accepting a label. I don’t see either as being bad but as I study and experience life, I see the bad in every label, mainly how others respond to that label. It just makes me wonder how to be my essence and core without labels.
This post really came up because I am in a couple of Buddhist Facebook groups. In one of them I asked about gay Buddhist groups and started a shit-storm. Many didn’t understand what could be so different about being a gay Buddhist that couldn’t be shared with straight Buddhist. Many referenced labels, notions, and words being to blame, and how Buddhism is about extinguishing concepts and notions to liberate the mind. I also remember when I was looking for a therapist, I wanted a black female therapist, not a straight white male therapist, feeling like the former would offer me more understanding than the latter ( I was wrong and my straight white male therapist did a great job).
I understand what the straight Buddhist were saying ( and a handful of gay Buddhist). The idea is to see everyone, every animal, and every thing as equal and the same. We are all composed of the same things, thus separating ourselves with labels isn’t helpful. But let me hit on one of these straight Buddhist, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be too thrilled. I feel sometimes when diving into the Dharma, a person might move too quickly. Sometimes a person can get really wrapped up in learning and experiencing these wonderful truths, failing to realize the world as a whole might not be there. It’s okay to want to spread a positive message, but a message can only be heard and absorbed by someone who is ready and willing. Otherwise you wasting your time, and really it becomes idle speech, something we aren’t suppose to engage in as Buddhist either.
I wanted a gay Buddhist group because I wanted to get answers to gay issues with a Buddhist slant. I want to be able to talk about my frustrations with the hook up scene with other gay men who have been there and understand that are following a Buddhist way of life as much as they can. Maybe they still hook up, maybe they see it going against the precept on sexual misconduct, but I wanted it being less broad and gay specific to help me in that community. It wasn’t and isn’t about separating myself from other Buddhist and other people. I can’t be sure a straight Buddhist knows how to handle a bitchy queen like a gay Buddhist. As much as I hate to admit it, each community, straight, gay, Christian, Buddhist, American, and International, have their own language, customs, and norms. While my goal is not to be trapped by any of them, in finding myself and escape from them, I feel someone with a shared experience will know more than without. And yes, a person not in those communities can lend perspective on them that might not be seen while in the midst, but why can’t I have both?
I can say I don’t like being labeled gay, Buddhist, male, black, or a gen Xer. They all have something someone else can find fault in, thus causing problems in terms of interactions. I am not in a place where I can mentally and emotional separate myself from any of my boxes but I can own them in a way that feels right to me. Over time I might be able to let them all go calling myself love and compassion. But for now I am all of those labels, still gay, still a Buddhist, and still on the path.
Oh and I did find one gay Buddhist group on Facebook. Join us by clicking the link.