“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.
Having the courage to quit my job and start again. #Mindfulchats with Yanda

Having the courage to quit my job and start again. #Mindfulchats with Yanda

TLDR: Why quit your job during a pandemic? How do we help our friends who are thinking about quitting?

When the pandemic plunged the world into recession, university graduates felt nervous. The fear of not finding a job or having your job offer rescinded was real.

Hence, to land a job and then quit your stable, full-time job during a pandemic makes you pause and say “Huh, why?”. Yanda has a different take. He asks ‘Why not?’.

Sipping coffee as Yanda shares his story

The Job Hunt Hype

Yanda, a final year student in 2020, took his time to enjoy university while it lasted. He mentioned that “everyone was rushing to secure a job. There was great hype for job hunting.”

It was definitely not an easy climate to be in. Rather than worrying about uncertainty, Yanda volunteered for Buddhist Organisations such as NTU Buddhist Society/ BYN (Buddhist Youth Network). He then took on the job search in his own time.

(No. Yanda doesn’t come from an uber-rich family where a job falls on his lap. He didn’t see the need for an all-or-nothing chase.)

Eventually, Yanda obtained a few offers in the engineering space and took on a role he thought he might enjoy. That is where things changed.

Is This It?

Work soon became monotonous and a routine for him. He noticed a routine of “working, going out for lunch, sitting back down and going home.”

This made him wonder, “Is this it? Is this how I am going to spend my life? What do I want? If I lived to 60 years, will I be content with doing 40 years of the same thing?”

In response to his musing, I mumbled: “Definitely not me.”

His attempt at sharing work struggles with some friends did not yield something he could relate to. They alluded to “finding meaning in your job rather than have the meaning come to you.” It was cold comfort.

I could see his thought process unfold and why that advice didn’t sit well. Yes, there was this sense of job security during a pandemic but it brought little meaning to him. That meaning was nearly impossible to find.

The turning point came when this question popped to mind, “If tomorrow, I am going to die, I would only remember that I did paperwork here and there. That’s it”. That spurred him into action. He tendered his resignation and left the company to the shock of his peers. New hires are usually expected to stay in that job for at least 2 years, but he stayed in that role for less than 6 months.

The Pains Of Change

“I had fear and felt scared”, he gulped when recalling the moment he quit and had no job offer on the horizon.

“So what helped you through the uncertainty?” I quizzed.

The fellowship of his Buddhist circle who listened patiently was what brought him to a brighter state of mind. Friends that were slow to advise but quick to listen to his pain helped him greatly. “That is what matters…being there for me,” he concluded.

“Confidence in the Buddha’s teaching, knowing that all these negative emotions would fade,” he added, gave him strength when he was alone. He viewed the transition as “uncertainty at its very core.”

Over the years, having done mindfulness practice enabled him to watch his emotions and to make  necessary changes without attachment. That gave him the conviction that it was not an impulsive move but an informed one.

Starting Again

Smiling as he recalled his Buddhist work, “I have done a lot of Buddhist work that brought joy to me. If this (engineering) job doesn’t fit me, what can I do?”

As causes and conditions came together, Yanda didn’t need to wait long for an answer.

“A friend told me that she had an opening at a preschool where they wanted a Dhamma friend to help build the school’s curriculum.” He recalled. He mulled on the idea of facing kids all day and decided to take the plunge.

Yanda is now studying for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education while working to help build the preschool’s curriculum.

“Uncertainty,” he answers immediately when asked what he loves about his job. “What the children can bring to you every day with every interaction presents uncertainty,” he added.

When he dived deeper, he felt lifted about being able to help kids appreciate this ‘thing’ called the mind. Letting them know that there are ways to develop their minds. Equipping them with Buddhist concepts, techniques and emotional awareness to thrive in a stressful world really motivated him.

“Kids are easy to teach, as they are free of concepts,” he quipped. At that moment, I recalled being an inquisitive child, something I felt I have lost along the way. It was interesting to see how uncertainty could bring us pain (job transition) and joy (teaching kids).

Helping Others Start Again

I was curious to hear Yanda’s take on how we can help our friends’ transition from one job to another.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but what I can say is that this is something cliché,” Yanda shared.

“Listen to them and be genuinely happy for them. Recognise that they took a courageous decision to step out of something that did not fit them,” he added.

On a practical side, Yanda shared that we should remind our friends to also financially plan ahead if they choose to resign without a job offer. As a rule of thumb, one should have at least 3-6 months of expenses saved in cash to weather them through their job search.

His advice was grounded heavily on the Buddhist idea of appreciative joy which is a joy in the achievements/victories of others.

“How can I support you? Do you need resources/contacts?” has been one of the most helpful questions friends asked. I instantly agreed by nodding furiously as I felt that we often are quick to develop solutions without considering our friends’ needs.

Turning Back Time

“Your first job is super important” is one piece of advice that Yanda recommends ignoring for graduating students. It adds unnecessary stress to the individual. That person may then seek out the perfect job which may not exist.

Having wisdom is crucial in helping us see the world properly. If he could turn back time to advise his graduating self, he would say this: “Have an attitude in life that let the results take care of themselves once I try my best. If it doesn’t go my way, what can I do next?” and “We are our own boss, only we can understand our emotions and the true nature of our mind.” 

Asking that question gives us the courage to be open to what life can bring. What we can do is to create conditions for success while developing a sense of non-attachment to the outcome.

“Understand we have a mind, and emotions are never truly ours. Just like a cup. The reason why we wash it is that we are confident that the dirt can be washed off. The dirt was never the cup.” he summarised.

It was a mind-blowing summary of expectations and emotions. Recognising emotions as transitory and being at ease with the unpleasant is a skill set we all need as we go through the different changing phases of life.

Yanda showed that Singapore youths are hungry for life and meaning. We need not stay in the same job just to clock a magical number of years before leaving. Asking ourselves “Is this it?” can spark conversations and paths we never dreamt of.

Yanda is currently working in Blue Lion Preschool as an early childhood educator trainee. 

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