Shabda Aug 1998 page 61.
Thread: Gay, Straight or Bi??

From Jnanavira

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:

'... the FWBO says there was indeed a climate of sexual experimentation in the past, and, yes, mistakes were made, but there was nothing consciously coercive going on. According to Vishvapani, "What happened in Croydon was an aspect of certain attitudes around in the FWBO, but taken to an extreme. In Padmaloka, you had a lot of people who were gay. It did get a bit out of hand and it got disbanded in 1989*. But I've never heard of anything unethical going on there. It was just a rather tangled sexual mess."

According to Ananda, "it was inevitable that it would all blow up, because people were just so messed up. Yes, gay sex was definitely in the air. It was the way to become part of the new Buddhist revolution. People took that whole sexual liberation thing too literally. In the early days we weren't big on practice; we were just Buddhists hanging out, going to lectures, doing yoga. We were naive. People who had been ordained by Sangharakshita tended to develop their own little castles of which they were the unchallenged masters."

* NB Padmaloka is still (2003) operating as an FWBO Men's Retreat Centre.

From Shabda collection 2:
Gay Sex and 'Tantric' Buddhism: The Practice of the Inner Circle.

Ratnotarra (Shabda Feb 98):
'Yes, Bhante's exploration of sex was wonderful. Kulananda was not the only one who enjoyed it. Other people who I happened to talk with about it said the same thing. Hurt, but not much, were those who got attached. They were jealous or felt neglected. Also hurt were people who were trapped in their own prejudices....

'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.'

Ratnottara (April 98)
'Many young men enjoyed meeting him in a sensual way - he could pluck them like the proverbial flowers ... the brahmacharis [celibates] I knew were well aware of what Bhante was doing and did not seem to mind.'

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.]


'It has recently come to light that Dharmacari Kovida has stolen 18,000 in recent years from FWBO(Central) funds to pay for his own 'extravagances'. Kovida (John Hunter) was for many years one of Sangharakshita's right hand men. Nothing was too much for Kovida, and having a taste for boys and young men himself, it was natural for him to play a central role in arranging a steady supply of young male disciples to satisfy Sangharakshita's sexual appetites.

'He was a sort of butler figure who made the beds and showed the young men to their bedroom - which, of course, turned out to be also Sangharakshita's bedroom. To his credit, and unlike his teacher, he has recently begun to question the ethics of both his own and Sangharakshita's behaviour. In particular, he is letting it be known that it involved literally dozens of young men, not the 2 or 3 that many in the FWBO have been allowed to believe was the case.

'Still, 18,000 is a serious matter, and in normal circumstances the FWBO would have asked him to take responsibility for the matter and pay it back over a period of time. However, the money did not personally belong to members of 'the College' (the body taking over from Sangharakshita, of which Kovida was also a member), having been merely raised through the urban FWBO Centres.

'There is also the issue of the reputation of the College to consider: to protect its integrity, it has always been effectively beyond criticism and unaccountable to others. Kovida's actions, therefore, are being seen as an opportunity to exercise compassion towards a brother in the Dharma, and no further action will be taken.

'(A few years ago a Mitra stole approx 5,000 from Padmaloka Retreat Centre. This money had been hard earned by senior Order Members running retreats. The police were informed.)

'The matter is, however, the subject of an investigation by the charity commissioners, who may not hold the same Enlightened viewpoint.'

See also:

Yashomitra's Shabda Article March 2003