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