The 'fear of homosexuality' double bind
This section refers to an interview with Sangharakshita entitled '‘Buddhism, Sex and Spiritual Life', published in Golden Drum magazine (FWBO/Windhorse, August 1986), and cited in the FWBO Files at note 51.
In the interview Sangharakshita lays out his views on the relationship between sex and spirituality. Overall an impression is created of fair-mindedness, openness and compassion. He does not, on the whole appear to tell his listener or readers what they should and shouldn't do but behind the tolerance and easy-going delivery a very clear message emerges. While male-female sexual relationships are not condemned outright, there does not appear to be anything positive about them. In fact they are fraught with dangers. The message which comes over is that if you can't control your 'desires' and 'cravings' then there is nothing really bad about heterosexuality but it is fairly certain to reinforce your conditioning and it will probably only end badly. The best thing, if you must have a partner of the opposite sex, is to live separately from them and to cut down sexual contacts to a minimum.
When it comes to homosexuality on the other hand the emphasis is very different. According to Sangharakshita's analysis 'men find it quite difficult to experience physical contact with other men because of their fear of homosexuality' (p12). This is all part of their conditioning and is something which needs to be positively overcome. Later on the same page he goes on: 'They' [Western men] 'must break down their fear of homosexuality, by facing it and by not being afraid of sexual contact with other men.'
Whereas physical contact between men and women is presented as a source of conditioning and therefore of spiritual failure, in the case of relationships between men, lack of physical contact with each other 'very often limit[s] the possibilities of friendship with other men. And so because they don't develop friendship with other men, they don't develop spiritual friendship with other men. And because they don't develop spiritual friendship with other men, they're not able to develop what the Buddha declared to be the most important element in the spiritual life.'
Having appeared to advocate homosexuality as a means of spiritual advancement, Sangharakshita then backs off and attempts to return to a stance of compassion and aloofness. He goes on: 'This is not necessarily to say that they [men] should have sexual contact with men, but at least that they should not be afraid of the idea. They have to realise that physical, and even sexual, contact between men is just physical or sexual contact between men. It is a quite ordinary thing and men's fear of that should not be allowed to get in the way of one's friendships.'
Anyone who took his argument seriously would it appears be faced with something of a double-bind. Fear of homosexuality must be faced, but how can it really be faced without actually engaging in homosexual acts? Theoretically, it might be possible to overcome this alleged fear in abstract, by thinking about it, analysing it and so on, but thinking about something isn't the same as doing it. The student might merely convince himself that he no longer feared homosexuality. If on the other hand the student really had accepted homosexuality, then he would have realised that male homosexual acts were 'just...sexual contact between men' and 'a quite ordinary thing', and therefore he might as well put his belief that he had deconditioned himself to the test by performing homosexual acts.
While Sangharakshita says explicitly therefore that sexual contact with other men isn't actually necessary, equally his analysis seems to leave only one option for anyone who wants to develop ‘spiritual friendship’. The analysis seems to imply that anyone open to spiritual friendship, should at least be open to homosexual seduction.