Saturday, July 25, 2009

Coming out and Buddhism

We gays are a perfect match with Buddhism at the time we come out: however, many of us do not follow through on what drove us to come out to find spiritual bliss in something like Buddhism, and instead, we end up becoming again part of something we were desperate to leave behind.

Maitreyabandhu will help me explain this with words from an article of his printed in the book "Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists," published by the Gay Sunshine Press of San Francisco.

In his article, "Coming out into Dharma bliss," Maitreyabandhu explains that we as gays feel confined and locked by the various groups around us: family, church, school, friends, work. We feel trapped because of the closet as we are constantly aware that "I don't fit in, there doesn't seem to be a place for me." In reaction, we become very introspective (sometimes also very depressed!), but through this introspection, we begin to define who we are: we must do this because we recognize that society at large will not define us as it will with its hetero children. Consider this passage from Maitreyabandhu's article:

"A true individual is committed to developing self-awareness. Usually we are not very self-aware. We may think that we are individuals, that we think and feel for ourselves, but in fact we are very much determined by the expectations and assumptions of those around us."

Many of us "knew" at some level that we were gay when we were very small children. In vague ways, we reached out to those in our families for recognition, but our families didn't recognize our out-stretched hands and as a result, we got ignored. From the beginning, we felt out of place. And as we grew older, sex became extremely important to replace the affection we missed out on as children. We did not learn about love because there was no one to model love for us, so it was all about sex. But we felt restrained by being in the closet, being hidden from the world; we were hiding from ourselves. Maitreyabandhu continues:

"We can see this very clearly in our experience of coming out. When we come out we realize that we do not fit in the expectations of the group, whether it be the group of our immediate family, the church, our peers or our work colleagues ... In coming out we have to define ourselves as distinct from the group. For me this was a very frightening and isolating experience. I so wanted to fit in. I so wanted to conform to the group. But I couldn't. I was gay. Coming out is a special feat of self-awareness and as such can be the beginning of a truly spiritual life, a life devoted to developing our individual self-awareness."

Those of us who are out can remember the feelings of freedom and bliss we experienced through the simple act of telling people "I am gay." Even when their response was not supportive, knowing that we had separated ourselves from these groups that had been confining us was an epiphany that changed our lives significantly. As closeted gays, we eventually came to realize through our own experience that these groups were empty. There was nothing internal with these groups to give them identity and cohesion: it all came from the outside. We, as gays, saw something else driving our being and that came from within. So we liberated ourselves by coming out and separating ourselves from the emptiness of the groups around us.

But what did most of us do (including myself!) after coming out, after experiencing this epiphany, this spiritual peace? We joined another group! We joined the group called the "gay culture," and some of us, after separating ourselves from the confines of the identity labels the straight world imposed on us, willingly placed new labels on ourselves to fit whatever empty personality we decided to adopt: some of us became drag queens, others became leather men, others became the "cute boys next door," others became butch (the moniker “butch” in some variation was the first name I used on the gay chat sites) or fem or flamboyant or reserved -- we all had to have our own bars, we had to dress a certain way to identify with our group, we had our signs and labels. After freeing ourselves, we willingly trapped ourselves once again. Maitreyabandhu continues.

"The gay scene seemed to me increasingly characterized by sexual competitiveness, vapid small talk and endless wanting. Its obsession with the body beautiful, with the pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself, with youth and style seemed to trap gay men like myself in either painful superficiality or isolation. The alternative, however, seemed to be an increasingly domesticated 'straight-acting' conventionality."

The very thing, Maitreyabandhu suggests, that freed us, our self-identification as being not with the group and our identification with others like us to find succor and support, can become a trap to ensnare us in the very confinement that we so desperately sought to escape. Identifying with others as gay can be a tremendous positive influence for us, but as Maitreyabandhu goes on to say ...

"We must also be aware of its limitations. In other words, we need to be aware that it is a group, that the gay scene is a collection of groups, all with their accepted ways of behaving, of talking and of acting. If we are not careful, we will move from one set of constricting assumptions to another, our gay liberation will become a gay limitation."

The Dhamma is a natural next step for those of us after coming out, if we stick with that striving to self-identify as being separate from the emptiness of groups. Unfortunately, most young gays are swept away by the sensual pleasures of the gay scene. I think it comes back to love. We, in general, as gays do not understand love. We missed as children the physical affection and affirmation we desired and as a result we missed out on the lesson of love that straight children acquire as they grow older. We tell ourselves, "I want to find a man to love and be with for the rest of my life," but we struggle with this because no one truly taught us about love. We have to find out on our own, and many of us fall into the pits of despair created by the traps of sensuality: alcoholism, drug addiction, and for many of us disease. We become faced with the question "How can I love someone else when I don't even know how to love myself?"

Gays are coming out much younger these days. And what is there to welcome them? Circuit parties, mass consumerism, Ecstacy and sex without commitment. The situation has improved over the recent years, with schools becoming more receptive to gay-straight alliance groups. But more always is needed to be done. Perhaps we gays who are Buddhist need to reach out and attempt to redirect that wonderful experience we had at the time we come out and take advantage of that desire to be free of group identification. The Dhamma provides this, and the Dhamma can teach us about love when no one else did. It is a path of peace that we older gays can document because we have travelled it ourselves.

Remember how many of us willingly had sex while we were teens with men twice our age? We did it for two reasons: one we just wanted to have sex with someone and it was too difficult to risk finding someone our own age, but the second reason was we were seeking the affection and direction of a male father figure, we were seeking the father we didn't have. An entire cultural response to this developed with older gay men becoming the “mothers” to younger gay men; the mother’s role being the introduction of the acolyte to the world of the gay subculture. Once that introduction was complete, the acolyte was set free; the mother no longer held any authority over the younger man. Because of this, the issue of intergenerational sex will continue to be with us despite the discomfort it creates with many of us.

But as gay Buddhists, we can fill that need provided we can show the restraint to resist any sensual temptation; we can show how younger gays can not only love themselves, but others in healthy ways AND open to them a spiritual path that is simple to follow and easily self-verified.

Remember the bliss of coming out? Remember the bliss of finding the Dhamma? Is there any need for these two blissful experiences to be separated by years of more suffering?

Final note: Dharmachari Maitreyabandhu was born in 1961 in Warwickshire, England. He was ordained in the Western Buddhist Order in 1990. I believe he is still affiliated with the London Buddhist Centre in the East End, one of the many worldwide centers of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. If this has changed, please let me know and I will correct this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment