Shabda Aug 1998 page
This is a complaint about Tejananda's essentialising sexual discourse in his July Shabda thread. Tejananda uncritically takes as empirical sexual categories which are in fact ideological and should be subject to interrogation, or at least employed with an awareness of their provisionality. He writes of a "heterosexual" mitra put off by "homosexual propositions". He defines "heterosexual" as "anyone who is not bisexual, not even slightly interested in same-sex sexual activity, and who, in fact, responds to the idea of engaging in it personally with anything from mild distaste to outright repugnance." He says later of these "heterosexuals", that they are "simply not gay". He takes "the majority [of order members] to be heterosexual" for whom "same-sex sexual involvement" he decides "isn't relevant". I have written at length elsewhere about the recent origin of the hetero/homo binary classification of human sexuality and the difficulty of extending this classificatory system to non-western cultures, or to western cultures prior to the 18C. I will not repeat these arguments here.
Instead, I will argue that this hetero/homo division (with the convenient default category of "bisexual" to catch all the misfits) is an ideological imposition which does not fit my experience of sex with men involved in the FWBO. Widespread changes in sexual interaction in single sex "total institutions" such as prisons, schools and monasteries is amply illustrated by empirical research.
I experienced similar changes in other men's sexual practices when living at Padmaloka as a newly ordained order member in 1984-85. I was 18/19 years old at this time and fairly flamboyant (apparently I used to "flounce around in a kimono"). I met a large number of men who came to Padmaloka on retreat and a number of them confessed that they found me sexually attractive, often in the context of communication exercises, and these men expressed surprise at feeling these sexual urges towards me, as they had not previously been aware of any sexual attraction towards men. They managed to rationalise their feelings by saying that I was "feminine" (i.e. "woman-like" and therefore a legitimate love object) or that I was "young" and what they "really" found attractive was my "youth." My thin wrists ('just like a girl's") and my "smooth cheeks" were much fetishised. I was flattered by the attention and sometimes had sex with these men [after the retreat] even though they were often not my "type". As far as I'm aware, for several men, the one-off sexual "experimentation" with me was their first and last "homosexual" encounter. The sex didn't lead to a deepening of bonds or even a friendship with these men, several of whom are now ordained. Indeed, why should it have? Why should sex with another man be justified by reference to a higher purpose? Masturbation isn't, and when engaged in lightly, for fun or "experimentation" sex has the same moral valency as masturbation. One day, I "confessed" to Bhante that I thought I was having "too much sex". He just laughed, and said it wasn't the amount of sex that was important, but that I shouldn't get attached.
I don't want to claim that "everyone is really bisexual". I'm not. I only like a specific type of man (yet I am aware that this could change). But, in single-sex situations, strange things take place and men look around for alternative sexual stimulation. I don't think that many of the men I had sex with at Padmaloka were "really" bisexual or became aware of previously repressed bisexual yearnings but that in the absence of sexual stimulation from women, some things about me which "signified" (in their minds at least) "femininity", became desirable. Of course it was a projection, but who cares? We could learn a great deal form some Asian constructions of "sex as play". Sex isn't always a sin and it shouldn't have to be justified by reference to a higher power.
I don't think that Tejananda can so neatly "other" same-sex desire onto a minority of "homosexuals" and "bisexuals" in the Order, leaving the "heterosexual" majority stress (and desire-free). Sexuality is, like everything, contingently produced. Change the environment and sexuality can be expected to shift. It may not be as easy as changing one's drink from coffee to tea as Bhante (apocryphally?) suggested, but Tejananda is wrong to suggest that there is a "heterosexual" majority of Order Members for whom same-sex attraction "isn't relevant". It's ridiculous to say that "homosexual overtures" should not be made to "mitras who are heterosexual" in any circumstances. How are you to know someone's sexual preference? Shall we all wear coloured handkerchiefs expressing our sexual preference for that day? Is sexual preference fixed? Is it only genitalia which signify gender performance and is it gender performance which signifies desirability? Do we always know when an attraction to someone is "really" sexual? Is it better to act on a sexual urge and get it out of one's system, or turn it into discourse and constantly analyse, interrogate and debate with it? Tejananda is again trying to make categorical judgements which are unworkable. Can't we just be left alone to decide for ourselves how to act skilfully with regard to sex, just as we take responsibility for other areas of our lives?
NOTE: so far much of the debate about sex, gender, sexuality, men and women etc. is conducted by and between MEN. Would some WOMEN like to contribute on the issue of sex and the spiritual life with regard to same-sex sexual practice in their own communities?
Below are some more comments about homosexual 'exploration' and 'experimentation' at Padmaloka Men's Retreat Centre.
From the Buddhist magazine Tricycle (Summer 1999) p 114:
From Shabda collection
(Shabda Feb 98):
'At Padmaloka, some of the Bhante's mudras ['karma mudra'- the sexual consort of Indian tantra] reminded me of certain people that I had encountered under queer circumstances. He seemed to look at the young and handsome while overlooking the old and unsightly. I dreamed that I would talk with Bhante about his preferences but I never had the courage ... deep down I wished that he would face 'it' some day.
'This day happened when the Guardian came out. [However] that happened long after I'd resolved my ambiguities. I came to believe that his explorations should become legend, something like Padmasambhava and his consorts.'
The following report, from 'Pritideva', was circulated to a number of non-FWBO Buddhists in January 2003. [NB it has not been possible to verify the report at the present time.]