Acting Without Acting : Notes From A Queer Buddhist

I was born into my father’s white conservative evangelical worldview. I was expected to “be a man” like so many other boys. When he was alive, he attempted to police my thoughts through word and force so that I acted like a boy. There was one time when I mentioned that I liked the color red. He said “You shouldn’t like red, it’s a girl’s color. You should like blue.” Embarrassed, I said “Okay, I like blue.”

As a role model, he demonstrated that, apparently, a man must be angry and violent and that one’s wife and child are to be at the receiving end of that anger and violence. Even after he died, his version of manhood haunted Mom and I.

Mom later found a partner in Judy, the person I would call my “Other Mother,” or, more often, a “cousin of the family” to outsiders. Up until the very last years of their lives, my parents didn’t want to openly live as a couple. Judy was so scared of the consequences of being out that she didn’t want to be listed as a partner in Mom’s obituary. She told me that she was afraid that someone might attack her.

For me, it created some special issues. I had to act as straight as possible. Mom and Judy told me that I could not attract attention to them so as to give no one an excuse to out them. In a way, it was also to prove that two women could raise a son and that would turn out “normal”. When I found that I had discovered that I came to have feelings a boy in school, I was worried that I might be gay. It was ok for Mom, Judy, to be attracted to the same sex but not me. I truly felt that I had to “be straight” and “be a man” to protect them and myself.

And so, I was always preoccupied with masculinity, which sets an unachievable standard in this society. This only helped arise within me a toxic masculinity that stoked the flames of self-hatred and, by extension, a hatred of others.

Fortunately, in my mid twenties, I got into a relationship with Angie, my high school friend who would later become my partner and wife. She didn’t hold me to an unachievable standard. She just loved me (and still does). It was the first time that I felt truly accepted by someone.

Late into my twenties, I started exploring Buddhism, having decided that, if, in my view, Christianity didn’t accept my parents, I wasn’t going to accept it.* I then read an article that the Buddhist Church of San Fransisco had been performing same-sex marriages since the 1970s. Though I was interested in Zen at the time, I remembered that and decided that Buddhism, as I saw it, was much more welcoming. **

Eventually, as I’ve said in previous stories, I found Pureland. Then Mom and Judy died and I became more interested in the tradition.

The significance of Pureland to me lies in the idea that everyone is accepted by the Buddha. Most importantly, however, is that I am accepted and I am loved by the Buddha. And I don’t need to reform in some way or be endowed with inherent goodness to receive that love. I am just loved.

Over time, that love worked on me and helped soften my heart. By moving to Baltimore, I was taken out of the conservative culture back home. I also felt that I no longer had to protect anything as Mom and Judy were gone. I came to accept my attraction to more than one gender and found that the word bisexual was a good approximation of how I viewed myself.

Then came the gender issue. For most of my life, I’ve walked on eggshells around it, carefully monitoring how I acted so that I fulfill my so-callled duty to “be a man”. However, I found that, no matter what, that descriptor never suited me. It blocked out a femininity that rarely got to arise. Furthermore, the word “man” became empty in the Light of Amida. And so, with great relief, I discarded it. The closest terms that could describe me at this point is are masculine-presenting, genderqueer, and non-binary. Between these realities of sexuality and gender, I tend to just call myself queer for brevity.

How does this help me? I’ve come to accept myself more easily. I can be me. Now I wear red nearly every day for both religious and personal reasons as a reminder of that fact.

Other than Angela and Amida, there are other beings who have helped me accept myself. There are the friends I’ve made in Unitarian Universalism, Amida Shu, the bi community, and the non-binary community. I’m so very grateful for knowing them.

Accepting myself as I am, my foolishness included, I’ve also been able to reflect on my relationships with homophobia, transphobia, and racism as all of these are upheld by the Mara of white supremacy and patriarchy. Just to be clear, it doesn’t mean that life is suddenly easier as I still have a ways to go and hatred is still thick in the air of society. But, by having a better understanding of my queer nature, I’ve come a little closer to the ideal of wei wu wei, acting without acting.

Namo Amida Bu

*I would later realize that there are some wonderful lgbt+ Christians that have developed ministries that truly are inclusive.

** Again, I would later find that not all Buddhists welcomed lgbt+ people. Often they bypass the realities of bigotry through the teachings of non-duality and transcendence.

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