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
Pandemic Diaries: Lessons On Right Effort And Morality

Pandemic Diaries: Lessons On Right Effort And Morality

TLDR: ‘Right’ Effort is not always obvious. Walking the Middle Way applies – especially to our actions during the current pandemic. While it’s important to adhere to guidelines, it’s important to practice self-compassion.

In the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta, the Buddha advised his son that if an action is viewed to bring harm of any sort, then it should not be done.

If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do…”

(MN 61 Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone, emphasis mine)

The global pandemic is a situation where one person’s actions could harm themselves, others, or both. So it seems that the wise thing to do would be to stay home as much as possible.

Extreme #1: Going out 238423 times a week

Some people may outright ignore this advice. They may even be in denial, downplaying the dangers of the virus and thinking “aiya, I won’t get it one la”, or “I probably already got it and am immune to it already”.

When looking at the mind, it seems that the desire to go out unnecessarily comes from restlessness. Because we usually find it hard to sit with unpleasant feelings like boredom and depression, we search for distractions.

As Ajahn Jayasaro recently said, one of the most severe forms of punishment in our society is solitary confinement – putting someone in a room with nothing to stimulate the senses. The lockdowns and restrictions we are facing globally are similar but on a grander scale.

As people generally have not trained themselves to find a reliable form of happiness from within, this condition seems unbearable. So it’s understandable why people would find it challenging to adhere to guidelines.

These conditions are tough, and something we can empathise with and have compassion for.

Extreme #2: Hermit mode

Some people (*raises hand slowly*), however, veer towards the other extreme. At the beginning of the pandemic, I made it a point not to go out except when necessary – even if government restrictions allowed it. I turned into a full-fledged hermit.

When considering whether to go out, I would ask myself, “Am I doing this out of necessity or just for pleasure?” Knowing that my actions could put lives at stake, then if this came from a desire to indulge in sense pleasures, I wouldn’t really act on it.

I would miss important family gatherings like the Winter Solstice. Or when Aunty cooked her special homemade chicken noodles for the whole family. Or when a relative turned 60.

I practically never saw my friends, even though I was due for many catchups after coming back from overseas.

In Chinese culture, family, togetherness, customs and tradition are incredibly important. So what I was doing seemed pretty blasphemous.

I received remarks from my relatives like:

“Why you so long never come visit me???”

“But it’s legal what”

“Your head square square one la”

Despite all this, I stood my ground, believing that I was keeping my sīla very well. I thought people around me just couldn’t deal with being cooped up at home and were being heedless.

I called up my Dhamma friends and ranted to them, complaining that I didn’t feel understood.  People didn’t bother understanding my good intentions.

I reflected that a benefit of keeping sīla is freedom from remorse. I thought to myself, in the future, I’ll feel at ease knowing that amidst all the suffering, sickness and death endured during the pandemic, I did my best not to consciously contribute to that.

That probably sounds well and good… except for the fact that I was miserable and depressed.

The Middle Way

Recently I had a series of insights that have helped me move closer to the ‘right’ effort. I realized that self-imposed isolation (on top of other things) was causing me depression and that it’s actually not a crime (literally and figuratively) to go out. As we’re social beings, we do need adequate levels of human connection, and I’ve learned that it’s especially important to me personally.

Close friends of mine know that I have a strong defilement of self-denial and borderline asceticism, which often throws me off the middle way. My behaviour during the pandemic has been a case in point.

Let’s revisit the Buddha’s advice introduced at the beginning.

This whole time, I thought I was doing the right thing because by isolating myself:

1. I’m not harming myself physically

2. I’m not harming others physically

3. I’m neither harming myself nor others physically

But I never really considered my mental health when reflecting on this. And even though I knew I was feeling depressed, I thought that it was better for me to endure that state of mind than put lives at risk.

I thought I was doing the right thing, especially when I looked to the monks as role models. Even in ordinary circumstances, my Ajahn (monastic teacher) rarely ever left the monastery unless there was a good reason (e.g. to visit sick devotees at the hospital). This sent the message that Dhamma practitioner should focus less on the external world and more on doing inner work. As long as there is food, shelter and medicine, a practitioner can remain in one place, limiting their movements and restraining the senses. This solitude is important for the practice.

Again – all well and good. If you can practice the Dhamma at that level – Great. Amazing.

But personally, I was punching above my weight. I was trying to practice like that and it was not working. I was just not at that level yet, but I was forcing this onto myself because my logical mind willed itself to do something that I was not emotionally and intuitively ready to sustain. It was an effort, but it was the wrong effort.

I’m reminded of a quote by Ajahn Chah:

When you practice, it has to be in line with your own strength. Here you have a single cart and your ox is the size of your fist, and yet you want the cart to carry as much as a ten-wheeled truck. You see ten-wheeled trucks passing you on the road and you want to be like them. But you’re not a ten-wheeled truck. You’re just a cart. It’s sure to break down. You’re what’s called a fruit that’s ripe even before it’s half-ripe, food that’s burned even before it’s cooked.”

(In the Shape of a Circle by Ajahn Chah, translated by Ajahn Thanissaro)

So in realizing this, I tweaked my behaviour.

Now, I make a conscious effort and set aside specific times during the week to spend quality time with close friends and family.

In addition to that, I’ve also taken a gentler approach in my practice (e.g. it’s OK to be watching more Netflix), as I feel that this is just what I need at this time.

That being said though, I’m still careful not to be heedless – not to veer towards Extreme #1. I give myself a quota: two outings or gatherings a week – just enough to keep me uplifted and mentally well. I do this with the underlying intention to take care of myself, not simply out of pure, unrestrained pleasure.

I think this is ‘the middle way’ for me – although it may look different for other people.

Over the years, I’ve learned that sīla and right effort are not black and white. It’s more of a gradual training in skillfulness and understanding rather than something that you ‘get right’ or a list of ‘to do’s’ to check off. The ‘right thing’ can look different, depending on circumstances and your capacity to practice at that time. For example, the monks observe 227 rules, and some do it with great ease – but if I tried to make myself do that right now, I’d probably have a nervous breakdown.

I think what’s most important is one’s intention – knowing what our intention is when doing something, and how pure it is. You could tell yourself that you don’t have much capacity for self-restraint, so you HAVE to go out 10 times a week. But is that really true? Or are you just making excuses and being heedless? It’s therefore also very important for us to be honest and true with ourselves. Then, we can truly act with goodness in our hearts, bringing goodness to others and ourselves. I believe this is right effort.


Wise Steps:

  • Reflect on the middle way and ‘right effort’ for you, so that you can rest assured that you’re not being heedless and also taking care of yourself. Set up systems and take intentional actions, like setting a quota for how much you go out per week.
  • If you’re experiencing peer pressure from others to go out more than you’re comfortable with, practice establishing right view. Reflect wisely so as to establish goodwill and empathy in your mind. Reflect on how all beings are the owners of their actions and its results and know that your actions do matter.
  • Practise gentleness and self-compassion. The pandemic has shaken up the world. While we work towards cultivating an unshakeable mind amidst turbulent conditions, it’s important to have mettā as a foundation during these tough times, accepting and receiving whatever we may be going through before trying to ‘fix’ any of it.