“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.
What’s at the end of the chase?

What’s at the end of the chase?

TLDR: Having a set of goals to work towards gives us a sense of direction in life. Our society prizes this go-get-it attitude as a self-improvement hack; many of us strive for this mindset. However, there could be a risk of doing something just for the sake of it and we may end up beating ourselves for getting lost in the pursuit of excellence. 

Many of us have been conditioned to chase something, consciously or unconsciously. We race with others to prove our worth, ever since birth – to be the first to crawl/walk/run, the top rank in class, the one to get into a famous university, the first to be office management level, the one who found ‘the one’ and have family……The list continues. 

The neverending chase has been fuelled by the comparison trap we adopt from our parents, society and ourselves. 

Have we ever pondered what is the source of our chasing mindset?

I was so used to the chase that I rushed from one achievement to another, not sparing time to truly soak in whatever I was doing and its outcome. After landing my first job as an accountant, I quickly enrolled on a professional certified course. 

Upon completion, I thought, ‘what’s next?’. Before long, I was looking to register for a postgraduate degree. 

I must admit those learnings were not in vain. I gained something out of them – both technical skills and soft skills like time-management, relational skills, self-organisation. These skills have been helpful to me in my personal and professional life. But whether or not I could use the effort on a more targeted outcome, that’s another question altogether.

To outsiders, I may look like someone with a thirst for knowledge (or paper certificate, for that matter). 

Little did I know this chase was masked as self-improvement; there would always be a better thing to go for next if I don’t consciously define the outcome that I want to achieve. 

This deceptive ‘self-improvement’ is not limited only to the worldly chase – I realised that I wanted to keep improving myself spiritually too. While spiritual advancement may be a sensible goal, my underlying intention was warped, at least initially. 

I kept myself immersed in spiritual talks one after another. I sat meditating even when the heart refused to – just to prove that I, too, can evolve in my spiritual practice. 

This spiritual chase resulted in resistance between the mind and the heart, not to mention the sense of dejection when I didn’t see the improvement I expected. Definitely not a fun experience!

The source of my chasing mindset was a sense of lacking self-worth. I wanted to prove myself a  deserving human being by reaching the level that is deemed ‘good enough’. And we know that ‘good enough’ is a subjective measurement and may not serve as a good gauge. 

Comparing myself today with who I was 3 years ago, for example, I can honestly say I have grown into a different and (hopefully) a better, more mature person. This is probably a better use of the comparison mind for improvement measurement.

Be kind to ourselves and others

I chanced upon an apt Dhamma talk by Venerable Ajahn Brahm on how we often hold on to ‘I need to be better’ thoughts just because everyone else thinks or expects so. Ajahn Brahm further taught that this ‘I’m not good enough’ mindset is neither kind nor helpful to ourselves. 

Of course, we need to carefully distinguish between accepting ourselves with kindness and not growing out of unconstructive habits. 

There could be a risk of not improving the mind under the false pretence of self-acceptance. Learn to be at peace with what we already have, then improvement would flow naturally. 

Many of us may be performing good deeds and consciously express kindness to others. Doing so not only keeps the mind at peace but also elicits joy during and after the act. I identify with this definition of living a blessed life in the spirit of Mangala Sutta, when I can share and contribute what I have with others. However, with the chasing mentality, I might have forgotten about the one person who would benefit from such good deeds as well – myself. 

How many times do we speak harsh words inside our head when we act less than ‘perfect’? 

‘Why did you do that silly thing?’

‘How could you forget about that important event?’

‘What is wrong with you?’

I probably would not say such things to my close friends or even strangers, so why do I say them to myself? Am I unworthy of the same kindness I have so freely and joyfully shared with others? 

Nowadays, I decide to contemplate my pursuits with an objective mind, even if it seems like an improvement on the surface: 

‘Does this course/workshop feel aligned with the heart or is there another reason why I want to join?’

‘Do I feel joyful in learning or is it another medal on my chest to show the world?’

Suffering arises when we don’t get what we want and when we get what we don’t want

I recently read separate teaching from Venerable Ajahn Chah1 on “wanting with right understanding”. The teaching explained that desire towards and away from something can arise from us as worldly beings. I find resonance to this gentle outlook towards self and am aware that setting goals can start off my self-improvement actions – but blindly chasing and grasping the desire tightly is not right either. Instead, taking action accompanied by gradual and reflective practice would be more helpful. 

For example, I started this article with the intention to write about chasing struggles. It has developed into deeper contemplation of my underlying beliefs and expanded thoughts that I am sharing now.

Trying to be mindful of my wanting and not-wanting, I do my best at the moment and allow the outcome to unfold. 

I realise that telling myself to let go of expectation, is an expectation by itself – another debacle to untangle! 

Rather, it is much more peaceful to put in my best effort for the situation; watch the result arise and take the next step from there. 

When a learning experience concludes as expected or not, I try to take time to settle down and truly embrace the event. When another learning opportunity comes, I will then be able to jump in wholeheartedly. Even if I failed, I could learn from it. Failure is just another piece of feedback! With this outlook, I hopefully lessen the suffering created for myself.  

I conclude that having a goal is necessary, especially for myself and many others who are just entering the ‘real’ life of the professional and social world. 

Clarity of true motivation is essential as we take on the path, paired with conscious kindness towards ourselves when the comparison mind takes a negative turn. The next time I look at others and start to put them on the pedestal with an unreasonable expectation of myself, I will remind myself: ‘remember how far you have gone’ and ‘we all have our own path to take’.

Notes:

  1. Source: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah – Single Volume, Aruna Publications, 2011, Chapter 22, page 237, https://forestsangha.org/teachings/books/the-collected-teachings-of-ajahn-chah-single-volume?language=English

Wise steps:

  • Pair working on goals with a mindful review of underlying reason in choosing these goals, it could provide clarity on the true nature of our motivation
  • When harsh reprimand arises within, ask if these are the words we will give to others 
  • Refrain from punishing ourselves when we could not let go immediately. Be still, the conditions for letting go will arise.
“I lost my sense of smell.”: Turning to Dhamma when Covid strikes you

“I lost my sense of smell.”: Turning to Dhamma when Covid strikes you

TLDR: Learning to be okay with not feeling okay can help us recover better when an unexpected illness happens

It was during a meal that Celeste, in her 20s, began to feel some slight discomfort. Her throat was dry and her nose was runny after having Tom Yum soup.

At 4 am, Celeste confirmed that her discomfort was not from the Tom Yum but something worse.

Her test result showed she was positive for Covid-19. It was something that she never expected to contract as she had taken many precautions.

Fever and body ache struck her quickly. This shocked her as she assumed that after being fully vaccinated, and keeping a healthy lifestyle, it will pass like a breeze.

That was far from the truth as she entered Day 2 of home recovery.

Rotten food & rotten plans

Snapshot of the food that had no taste due to Covid

Celeste felt that being a swim coach, playing tennis & yoga, coupled with healthy eating would provide a strong trampoline for recovery on Day 2. Covid had other plans installed for her. It was not going away.

“I lost my sense of smell. Everything tasted like rotten food”, she recalled.

Fear arose when she Googled and found that some people stopped eating even after recovery as their sense of smell never recovered fully. They had lost interest in eating as it was no longer enjoyable.

There was also a very real possibility that she may end up in the 0.2% of infected vaccinated patients who died from the disease. 

The fear then morphed into self-blame for falling sick.

“I didn’t realise it was unkind until the anger and fear clouded my mind. It made me afraid of Dukkha (Suffering)”, she recalled.

Her meditation practise helped make her aware of the unnecessary self-criticism and blame she was laying on herself. However, the fear and anger grew in her mind.

Soothing Fear with Dhamma

As the fear paralysed Celeste, she decided to use piano music to calm herself as she lay in bed. However, the mental proliferations filled with fear did not go away.

She then recalled a playlist of talks recommended by her Dhamma friends from her young working adult Dhamma group (DAYWA). Being new to Buddhism, she was unfamiliar with whether it would help but decided to give the playlist a try.

“Be okay that you are not feeling okay”, Ajahn Brahm, the monk on the playlist, advised. This struck her hard.

She was always trying too hard to be healthy. Covid was something beyond her control. Despite being fully vaccinated, she still fell deeply sick. Acknowledging that it is okay to fall sick was a great relief to her heart and mind.

“90% of my worries never came through. I spent so much time worrying about things that never happen”, recalled Celeste as she was recovering.

After the one hour Dhamma talk, Celeste felt at ease and fell into a deep sleep.

Returning to senses

Celeste, having heard numerous mind-soothing episodes of Dhamma talks, was ready to accept a life of no smell. She reflected that she had taken her 5 senses for granted and realised that they did not belong to ‘us’ strictly as we could not command them as we like.

“We don’t own these senses, senses are merely borrowed. Not Mine, not myself.” she reflected.

Celeste was internalising and seeing first-hand what Buddha talked about non-self. We do not control our body and mind as much we would love to. For if our body was fully ours, it wouldn’t lead to dissatisfaction and we would have full control. 

This brought to mind Buddha’s teaching to monks in the following dialogue:

What do you think, monks? Is form (body) permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”

“Suffering, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“No, sir.”

As Celeste was coming to peace with her lack of smell senses, it came back to her. She was beginning on her upward path to recovery.

Associating with the kind

As she slowly recovered, she found that body aches and pain remained. However, she avoided the trap of feeling unhappy with her body.

“Wanting things to be perfect feed the monster within you. Pain reminds you that your body is not perfect…and that’s okay”, Celeste shared.

Beyond the Dhamma talks, her loved ones were pivotal in lifting her towards full recovery.

Her in-laws delivered her favourite vegetables that she loved to eat even when the Delta variant was a real threat to their health. Her yoga friends delivered herbal tea and cooked for her.

This difficult period also made her appreciate her husband more (who was also infected and had to be hospitalised). Life and death became very real for her when her husband heart rate dropped drastically which landed him in the hospital as she lay at home infected with Covid.

“These moments made me count my blessings and not take them (loved ones) for granted”,  Celeste recalled.

Life lessons from covid

This episode made Celeste rethink the way she was living her life. She decided to cut down on some overindulgence she was partaking in, such as midnight movies and sleeping late. Maintaining health was a crucial component of her life that she wanted to strengthen. 

She then aspired to dedicate more time and consistency to her meditation practice which tide her over this tough period. She found herself meditating less when times were going good for her and hence, aspires to build a consistent habit of meditating regardless of the times.

“Be patient and be unafraid” she advised those who may face such an unexpected infection.

“For your friends infected with Covid, ask them how you can help them. Delivering food and checking in on them really lifts their spirits”, she encouraged.

In our darkest and lowest times, recollecting the Dhamma is one way to rest our minds at peace. This allows our body and mind to be okay at being not okay, paving the way for deeper healing.


Wise Steps:

  • Create a playlist of your favourite Dhamma talks that you can listen to in times of trouble
  • Every hardship we face is an opportunity for us to turn towards the truths of life or remain in our perceived truths of life
Through a Buddhist Lens: Waking Up To The World And Taking Rest From It.

Through a Buddhist Lens: Waking Up To The World And Taking Rest From It.

TLDR: With wisdom, we wake up to achieve our human potential. With mindfulness and metta, we rest our minds. Gathering the Buddha’s teachings, I reflect on waking and sleeping better.

Time flies. Days and nights passing away. How are we spending our time?

I pull overtime at my job almost daily. Time passes in a blur as if I were on a roller coaster ride. Exhaustion and sleep punctuate work; work thoughts disrupt my sleep. 

Waking up, pangs of dread overwhelm the heart — the daily existence is a grind. 

Despite the grind, an awareness that ‘Life can be better,’ nags on. The heart is eager for nourishment.

Two Important Moments Of The Day

If waking up and sleeping point to the start and the end of a day, they become two important moments. A question then surfaces, “What is a skillful way to sleep and to wake?”

What does the Buddha and the Sangha (the community of monastics) recommend? Tucking this question in mind, I sought for answers.

In a weekly morning podcast by Dhammagiri Forest Hermitage, I posed the question to my teacher Venerable Ajahn Dhammasiha. He is a German monk residing in Brisbane, Australia. His answer is simple:

“The Buddha teaches us to be mindful all the way to the moment we sleep.

Lying down mindfully (on our right), we direct our minds to the time we wish to wake up the next morning. Intend to wake up by then. Thereafter, focus the mind on a suitable meditation object, such as loving-kindness (metta or thoughts of goodwill). Thinking:

‘May all beings be well and happy. May I be well and happy. May everyone be free from suffering. May all be safe and at ease…’ 

Meditating as such uplifts the mind to a wholesome state. The Buddha also highlights that practising metta will ward off bad dreams.

At the first moment of waking up, we develop metta within our hearts. We then radiate warmth and kindness in all directions.”

The Resolution to be Kind

Here, I recall a teaching from Venerable Ajahn Anan. Ajahn Anan is a Thai Forest Tradition master and the abbot of Thai Monastery Wat Marp Jan. He reminds us of the following:

“Waking up, be determined to not give in to anger and ill-will. Be resolute to be kind and compassionate to others because all beings are suffering.

Making this determination doesn’t mean that the mind will not experience anger or ill-will later in the day. We need to train our minds to let go:

‘What is the point of being angry when I am going to die? What’s the point of fear? We are all going to die- death is the culmination of our lives. It is inevitable that we will die.’ Knowing this, anger is a waste of our precious time.”

Fighting against the Sweet Nectar of Snooze

For some night-owl like me, waking up does not often translate to getting out of bed immediately. Zzzng zzng. Snooze. Just one more minute. Zzng zzng zzng. Snooze, repeat. Sounds familiar? All that snoozing conditions the mind for more sloth and laziness at our first opportunity for exertion.

There is simply too much inertia to overcome in the morning. This is evident if the day did not bring anything promising to look forward to. What can we do? 

Venerable Ajahn Dhammasiha suggests automatic lighting that switches on with chanting, instead of a regular alarm. Now, that is creative. I wish my home had smart lighting. For those who use analog light switches, the next best option is to set your alarm tone with a recording of the Pali morning chant and spring up for the lights upon “Arahaṁ sammāsambuddho bhagavā…”

Is this challenge possible? What makes me so sure a perpetual snoozer would jump up at that?

Contemplating Hell to Roast Us Back to Reality

For monks in the Thai Forest Tradition, they sleep less and wake up earlier than most of us in the wee hours of the morning. How do they do that? 

Venerable Ajahn Chah, the teacher of both Venerable Ajahn Anan and Venerable Ajahn Dhammasiha, had a curious way of training his disciples to wake up on time as the abbot of Wat Pah Pong, a Thai Forest monastery. I paraphrase Venerable Ajahn Chah’s exhortation as follows:

“When you are awake, think, ‘Should I return to sleep, may I drop to hell when I die.’ Really believe in this and you dare not return to bed.”

A fellow practitioner I know uses this method with much success for his morning spiritual routine. For those who are not ready to believe in hell’s existence or who prefer a gentler but no less serious reminder, contemplate death:

“Life is uncertain. Death is certain. I am grateful for being alive today. Death can come at any time. May I make use of what limited time I have as a human being. May I exert energy for the benefit of myself and others.”

Having tried these contemplations personally, the mind may still not be fully awake to gain physical momentum to get out of bed. During these trying moments, we must rely on our sheer willpower to pull away the covers:

Change the posture to sit up. Plant both feets to the ground. Stand. Head for the lights. Then, step out of the door. 

The struggle is worth it. A day of opportunity awaits.

What is the Reward? 

The still silence of the morning permeates our hearts as we go about our routine. For many practitioners, they allow themselves to soak up the joy and peace arising from the morning chanting and meditation (more on chanting in another article).

To rise early with a clear mind demands the discipline to sleep early. Hence, we cannot be greedy with screen time on our electronic devices. 

To borrow the following wisdom from our Christian friends:

“There is a time for everything, 

and a season for every activity under the heavens” – Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for us to rest; a time to wake. 

With wisdom, we wake up to achieve our human potential. With mindfulness and metta, we rest our minds. Wishing all beings wakeful and restful moments, always.


Wise Steps:

  • Start your morning with feelings of metta, or goodwill, to all beings around you!
  • Know what can move you out of laziness in bed? Contemplating hell? Or contemplating Death?
  • Instead of simply battling to rise out of bed, explore what also encourages you to sleep early! (E.g. Locking your electronics away at 1130pm to reduce blue light exposure)

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