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date: 03 December 2022

Queering Buddhist Traditionslocked

Queering Buddhist Traditionslocked

  • Bee SchererBee SchererProfessor and Chair, Buddhist Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Summary

Buddhist traditions intersect with queer lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer/querying (and more) subjectivities and belongings in a multifaceted way. Queer theory (QT) can enrich Buddhist thought and practices as well as Buddhist studies by inserting a challenging method of deconstruction, troubling and resisting oppressive and harmful socioreligious scripts with regards to, and beyond, sexuality and gender. There is a nascent reception of the queering impulses within Buddhist traditions, yet QT and foundational queer theorists lack comprehensive Buddhist appraisal: Queer “dharmology” has yet to be systematically developed.

When discussing perspectives and practices regarding sexuality/ies and sex/gender in Buddhist thought and cultures, a distinct genealogy of nonheterosexual desires and sex/gender diversity emerges. Buddhist views on sexualities anchor on the psychology of desire and attachment in terms of religious philosophy and soteriology; at the social level, biopolitical regulations of Buddhist life focus on the dichotomy of celibate monastic vs. householder lay contexts. The variety of sex/gender subjectivities in Buddhist traditions include the historical stigmatized third and fourth sex/gender categories of the paṇḍaka (“gender-deficient,” usual thought of as “male-deficient”) and the ubhatobyañjanaka (“both-sexed”). However, neither category maps neatly onto contemporary queer and trans* subjectivities, leading to confusion, debate, and discretion in contemporary Buddhist cultures.

The complex picture of both surprisingly pragmatic and inclusive as well as discriminatory and hostile paradigms emerges from Buddhist thought and practices in the divergent traditions of Theravāda, East Asian Mahāyāna, Tibetan Buddhism, and in ecumenic or demi-/post-denominational forms of Buddhism and Neo-Buddhism in the Global North (“Western” Buddhism), both historically and in contemporary global-glocal-local traditions.

Queer (post)modern Buddhist subjectivities are increasingly emerging as powerful voices within constructive-critical and reflective emic modes of Buddhist thought and practice. A contemporary queer Buddhist “theology” or queer (/trans*-affirmative) dharmology can be successfully developed in a framework of five parameters: (1) reflexivity, (2) hermeneutics, (3) conceptualization, (4) signification, and (5) application. Focusing on the parameter of conceptualization, QT-immersed queer dharmology can start with the specific, “messy,” complex, contextual, ever-changing and conditioned human experiences, and interactional negotiations or be(com)ing and interbe(com)ing. A “this-worldly” (socio-saṃsāric) focus also averts the danger of spiritual bypassing and “dharma-splaining.” Instead, complex Buddhist notions such as karma and interdependence become powerful instruments of Buddhist queering, that is, challenging any normative societal script that causes suffering.

Subjects

  • Buddhism

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