“I was worried about how my parents would react if they found out that I was gay”: Coming out as a gay Buddhist #pride

“I was worried about how my parents would react if they found out that I was gay”: Coming out as a gay Buddhist #pride

Introduction

Hi there! My name is Wilson and I identify as a gay cis-male, with pronouns he/him. To celebrate Pride Month, I would like to share some personal thoughts on the topic of coming out. 

However, it’s important to note that coming out is a deeply personal process and is different for everyone. Without being sensitive to this, there can be misunderstandings and unintentional discrimination even amongst the different communities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. The incident of an actress, Rebel Wilson, being outed publicly by a gay journalist before she was ready to, is one example.

As my sharing focuses heavily on the experiences of a gay cis-male, for the benefit of other members of the LGBTQ+ community, I have included resources at the end of this article to offer other perspectives on this topic. 

Q&A

1. What does ‘coming out’ mean to you?

To me, ‘coming out’ is a process of ‘letting people in’. I know it sounds oxymoronic. Just imagine our house. There are some rooms that we would allow guests to enter, while some are only permitted to loved ones. Or perhaps we may choose to keep the doors closed at all times regardless of who it is. 

These rooms represent different aspects of our identity, and coming out is akin to inviting others to see various sides of us. But it’s not just about letting others into these rooms. It’s also about letting ourselves in. Because coming out is part of a journey to accepting ourselves for who we are.

It took me a long time to accept my own sexuality. Therefore, I can understand if people around me need more time to come to terms with theirs too. Also, there isn’t any fixed order of letting people in. Some prefer to be completely comfortable with their own sexuality before coming out to others. Some prefer to have their loved ones support them on this journey of coming out from the beginning. Some prefer to come out to others after they are financially stable. Some prefer not to come out to others at all. You decide what is right for you.

Most importantly, allow yourself to embrace this aspect of you completely. The kindness that you grant to yourself will triumph over any kindness that others shower on you.

2. What challenges did you face growing up as a gay cis-male?

I first guessed that I was gay at the age of 11. When I started to realise that I was different from others, I began judging myself for being “abnormal”. I was constantly worried that others would find out about my secret. I tried to develop feelings for girls but it just somehow never felt right. I once confessed my feelings to a girl, to then realise that it was not what I truly felt.

In order to avoid dealing with my sexuality, I diverted my energy to my studies. I also built a staggeringly high wall in my heart to keep my parents out. I was worried about how they would react if they were to find out I was gay. 

3. How did you do it then?

At 18, I developed a crush on a male classmate who was dating a girl. When I finally came to terms that it was unrequited, I felt really heartbroken. I remember feeling really silly and before long, nothing I did brought me joy and I would tear uncontrollably at random moments. I decided to confide in a close friend over MSN Messenger. (I can already picture the quizzical looks on the faces of Gen-Zs)

I shared with him my struggles and eventually, came out to him. He told me, “That doesn’t matter to me. You are still my friend, no matter what.” Till today, I feel truly blessed to have that as my first coming out experience, one that was met with unconditional love.

I came out to my parents when I was 23. While it took them some time, both of them were accepting. To me, I was finally able to bring down a wall that separated us for such a long time. Our relationship has improved since.

Now, I feel that I’m still on a journey of coming out to myself and others, but it is one with much more support from my loved ones. A few friends at work expressed concern about me coming out to colleagues. However, I feel like this is my way of showing the people around me that my sexuality is just one aspect of me and it does not change anything about the other aspects.

4. What is the funniest reaction you received when you came out to someone?

“How can you be gay? You love watching tennis and more importantly, your dress sense is horrible.”

I burst into laughter when a friend at work who previously thought that I had a “girlfriend” exclaimed that line, in jest (I believe). While I do admit that my dress sense is far from impeccable, her words reminded me of certain stereotypes that people have about gay males. 

5. Can I still be a Buddhist after I have decided to come out as LGBTQ+?

Of course you can! Being LGBTQ+ does not stop you from progressing on the Noble Eightfold Path. Enlightenment is available to everyone regardless of gender and sexual orientation. 

6. Any advice for someone who is struggling with understanding their sexuality?

Please be kind to yourself and give yourself the time and space to explore your feelings! In the meantime, find people or resources that you can trust to support you on your journey. I hope that as you discover more stories of those who have walked a similar path, you would realise that you are not alone and that there are safe spaces for you to make sense of all your feelings and thoughts.

I felt that as I judged myself excessively for my sexuality in my youth, I developed a coping mechanism by looking outwards instead of looking inwards. I gave a lot to others and yearned for affirmation. At the same time, I avoided my emotions and denied myself of the care and love that I gave to others. Over the years, I have learnt to love and care for myself as well as I do so for others and to accept the different aspects of me.

7. How can I be an ally for a friend on their coming out journey?

Be a friend like how you would be with other friends who face their own struggles in different areas! Practise active listening, avoid assumptions and respect the confidentiality of what has been confided in you. As you gain more awareness about the LGBTQ+ community, you can be an ally to your friend and also to others in the community.

Being a gay cis-male has shown me that different aspects of my identity can give me privilege or cause me to be discriminated against. This prompts me to be an ally for others who face discrimination, e.g. women and people living with HIV. When we are allies for one another, we can collectively love ourselves and others much better.

Conclusion

Writing this article felt like another step in my coming out journey and I honestly struggled while writing it. However, I am thankful to the people in my life who have accepted me for who I am and supported me in so many ways. For me, coming out has become something that I do more often with the people I meet now and I do hope that the world will be a better place for all who are facing discrimination in one way or another, not just the LGBTQ+ community.

Resources

Rebel Wilson outing sparks Australia media reckoning: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-61807511

Stonewall Resources: Stonewall | Coming Out 

https://sujato.github.io/rainbow/

https://www.hrc.org/resources/being-an-lgbtq-ally


Wise Steps:

  • Reflect:
    1. How does it feel to be seen as ‘different’? 
    2. How would others help you feel included? 
    3. Having this reflection enables us to empathise better
  • Read resources to better understand the LGBTQ+ community and how we can be inclusive.
  • In a world where we can be anything, let us first be kind.
#WW:💓Beyond attending Pink Dot, how can we support our LGBTQ+ friends?

#WW:💓Beyond attending Pink Dot, how can we support our LGBTQ+ friends?

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

Pink Dot, an event that supports people’s right to love, comes and goes every year. This year is back to a physical event with many hugs exchanged and photos taken. Beyond the event, how can we show support and compassion to our LGBTQ+ friends?

1. To foster harmony and understanding, we first must drop the need to be right all the time. Here’s how

2. The ultimate guide to inclusivity in organisations (Buddhist ones included!)

To foster harmony and understanding, we first must drop the need to be right all the time. Here’s how

white round ornament on white surface
Unsplash

What’s going on here

The author shares how we can establish harmony between the divides in society. Staying silent about discrimination can make us part of the problem too. Understanding our and others’ fears can bridge the gap.

Why we like it & the key takeaway

The author gives super nice graphics on how we can react in different situations. For example, if a colleague is uncomfortable with another colleague’s sexual orientation. Or in other cases, a colleague feels discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

“A constructive approach is to educate ourselves about the opposing views in hopes that our perspectives can be shifted, and that misconceptions can be cleared. “

Check out the full article below!

The ultimate guide to inclusivity in organisations (Buddhist ones included!)

Screen capture from Rainbodhi’s Manual

What’s going on here

Rainbodhi, a spiritual friendship group for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists and an advocate for more inclusion and diversity in the broader Buddhist community, shares a simple manual for boosting inclusivity in Buddhist groups and more!

Why we like it & key takeaways

The cute comic strip helps the reader navigate the dos and don’ts in creating an inclusive practitioner circle for all. More importantly, the manual also shares perspectives on the link between Anatta & sexual identity. We love the manual as it is comprehensive in building a more inclusive organisation.

“Some Buddhists use the concept of not-self to shut down LGBTQIA+ people talking about issues that affect them, or the very real suffering that they experience.”

Check out the manual here!

If you would like a physical copy, do drop an email to: [email protected]


The Journey In Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Friends #mindfulchats with Kyle #pride

The Journey In Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Friends #mindfulchats with Kyle #pride

Content warning: This piece describes acts of homophobia and bullying that might be disturbing to some readers.


Since young, Kyle is always confused with how people look at him and why people like to call him names that are demeaning and hurtful. The term “gay” was not common during the ‘80s in Singapore.

A boy behaving femininely did not fit into how society thought a boy should behave Boys in this group are labelled “Ah Kua”. Ah Kua is a derogatory Hokkien term for a transsexual or transvestite. “Maybe something is not right, I have to be more like a boy,” Kyle recollected on his thoughts as a child.

Today, Kyle is a jovial, energetic, creative designer and Buddhist guide who volunteers at a soup kitchen and Buddhist organisations. Though he has gone through a hurtful past, he now recollects his experience with zen and ease.

He hopes that his sharing will spark a conversation about how it is okay to be different and how we can support our LGBTQIA+ friends within the Buddhist communities.

The Challenges of Being Different

Kyle was easily a bully’s target in school as the only boy in the choir. He joined the choir because he loved to sing but yet he was often called a “Sissy” for choosing to do what he loves.  

“Every day I am thinking…am I going to be called something else?” Kyle shared. He would find longer routes to his destination to avoid a group of boys who would bully him.

Secondary school was where things escalated.

“If you like boys, then there is something wrong with you,” Kyle recalled. Boys would shame him in public by shouting derogatory names at him or throwing garbage into his bag.

Thankfully, he had four female friends who always defended him from the bullies. They made the pain of insults easier to bear. He recalled taking part in the school’s talentime competition, with the song ‘Hero’ by Mariah Carey. The lyrics inspired him to go up on the stage to express himself and the audience was stunned at his performance.  Kyle could reach all the high notes in the song. His performance led to less bullying as people saw his talent in singing. 

Kyle felt lucky as the derogatory remarks were instead replaced with the nickname “Mariah”. 

Mariah Carey’s “Hero” gave him the courage to be stronger during those tough times. The lyrics and tune provided a space of calm and refuge. “Mariah Carey and Whitney Huston are where my pillars of strength and inspiration came from. “That’s before I came into contact with the Buddha of course!” Kyle chuckled.

The Buddha as his inspiration

“I am not special, if I suffer I am not the only one,” Kyle realised as he found out about the four noble truths.

Learning the noble truths that life is subjected to unsatisfactoriness and there is a way out of it resonated deeply with Kyle. It gave him the empathy that he was not alone.

Bullying followed Kyle even when he was pursuing a diploma at NAFA. He really wanted the bullies to suffer badly. He was thinking about how to seek revenge all the time. However, he realised all the unhappiness and burdens within caused by hatred arose from being attached to his ego. 

“At a later stage, I learnt more compassion.” Kyle shared. He drew his source of compassion from a Dhammapada verse on hatred.

 “Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”

Responding to hate with hate only tortures oneself with anger, Kyle reasoned.

“Being kind to oneself is not just shopping or buying things for yourself. We always say be kind to yourself. When you are not angry towards others, that is when you are really being kind to yourself”

Kyle’s sharing struck a deep chord within me. In a society that starts talking about self-care, we often talk about the material. Kyle’s sharing nailed it that the emotional aspect is hardly looked at.

“Life without Dharma will be tougher to live on. The loss of my loved ones, the physical suffering from illness, the mental tortures of guilt and hatred. My suffering only I can relate to. No matter how happy one can be, the drum always sounds better when it’s far away.” 

Kyle is thankful to be alive in this time where the Dharma still exists. He is constantly inspired by the teachings of Ajahn Buddhadasa, Ajahn Chan, Venerable Hsing Yun, and Thich Nhat Han., Without the Buddha’s Dharma, these masters wouldn’t exist. 

Kyle has enormous gratitude for how the Dharma has transformed him.

I wondered to myself, “With so many challenges at school, was his experience in the Buddhist community any different?”

Gay + Buddhist?

Although Kyle never had negative experiences from the Buddhist community regarding his sexual orientation, challenges remain. Occasionally, when doing Dhamma volunteer work, he was apprehensive about sharing his sexuality as he was unsure how people would react.

He felt compelled to ‘tone down’ his behaviour when he entered the Buddhist setting.

“Why?”, I wondered.

Kyle shared that it remains a cultural taboo to say, “It is okay to be Buddhist and to be gay”. Something that is not discussed, creates uncertainty. There is a dearth of centres that have Dhamma talks and resources tailored to LGBTQIA+. Hence, there is uncertainty whether LGBTQIA+ members are welcomed. 

Kyle noted with gratitude that Buddhist Fellowship and the Handful of leaves were the few Buddhist platforms that are most supportive.

The compulsion to tone down on his femininity eventually faded as Kyle developed his Dhamma knowledge. 

He concluded that being LGBTQIA+ is not a sin. Rather, it is the way that we treat others and ourselves that matters more than our sexuality. Our thoughts, speech, and actions of kindness and wisdom are of utmost importance.

That made me wonder how we can better support our LGBTQIA+ friends.

Community Support

“Be sensitive to what you say as it may make them feel uncomfortable. You may be close but do not take liberty in sharing with others about the person’s sexual orientation.” Kyle advised.  

He recalled that some straight friends might accidentally ‘out’ their LGBTQIA+ friends, leaving them in an awkward situation.

“If we are standing up for them, just defend them because everyone deserves kindness and no one wants to be treated harshly,” Kyle advised. He mentioned that is better to avoid ‘out-ing’ LGBTQIA+ friends if they aren’t prepared to share their sexual orientation.

As friends, we also can express skilful speech by not stereotyping a person immediately. Don’t call out someone for ‘straight acting’ if they are gay and expect gay people to have to act a certain way.  

In addition, if you suspect that a friend is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, don’t ask them. They might not be ready to share and feel even more stressed.

One Buddhist community that helped Kyle was “RainBodhi” (HYPERLINK), which combined two words “rainbow” and “Bodhi”. It is a LGBTQIA+ friendly community that conducts talks and provides resources to help one another. 

Books such as this on Buddhism and homosexuality was particularly helpful to Kyle.

Finding Compassion for Yourself

How can members of the LGBTQIA+ community develop more compassion towards themselves against a conservative society which may not always be understanding?

“Take your time and explore what is happening. It is always through initial confusion that we gain clarity and wisdom eventually. Once you understand your emotions, you know better about this “Me” and “I”. Pick up a Dhamma book to ground yourself.” Kyle shared.

Kyle added, “If you aren’t religious, then pick up philosophy or inspirational books.” 

Remind yourself “There is nothing wrong with you”.

Looking Back

With Kyle developing so much wisdom over time, I wondered what Kyle would tell his younger self.

“Trust your instinct. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way you are. One day you will know a group of people who truly love who you are. You will meet an amazing teacher, the Buddha. You will come across the Buddha’s teaching and it will transform you. Be kind to people as much as possible. I promise you, that’s the only way that will help you through all the struggles. ” Kyle encouraged.

“Stop obsessing with losing weight and lose the ego instead!” Kyle added in jest.

In the spirit of pride – acceptance and care- Kyle summarised his thoughts by sharing, “Keep giving joy and love to people around you, even when you can’t find it yourself. Because whatever hardship you are going through, all the joy and love you have given would come back to you eventually” 


Resources to help the LGBTQIA+ & Allies:

  1. Rainbodhi Buddhist Community: https://rainbodhi.org/ 
  2. Bhante Dhammika Book: http://budblooms.org/2020/05/21/buddhism-and-lgbt-issues/
  3. Ways to be a better ally: https://engage.youth.gov/resources/being-ally-lgbt-people

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