“I’m just aware they’re labels”
Researching Western Buddhist Practices of Gender and Sexual Identification
Keywords:Buddhist, identity, LGBTQI, minority, queer
This article discusses fieldwork in two research projects on Buddhists in London. It explores issues involved in researching lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and/or intersex (LGBTQI) Buddhists. It also considers issues around heterosexual identities in Buddhist communi-ties. In researching dynamics of gender and sexual identification of participants it was observed that at times participant narratives treated these identities for these axes of difference as provisional and contingent rather than essential, fixed and a basis for socio-political organization. This contrasts with much of the work on religion and sexuality in mainstream theistic traditions, where their LGBTQI members often argue a “reverse discourse” asserting their place in a “Divine Order” in which their sexual/gender identity is a key part of “who they are.” It is argued that theoretical approaches based on queer theorizing could be particularly applicable to research on Western Buddhist perspectives on gender and sexual identities. This is attributed to the anti-essentialist approach Buddhism takes to questions of subjectivity and identification and its non-hegemonic status in the West. Such queer theorizing would, however, need to acknowledge the constraints to “border crossings” between identity positions arising from oppressive forces from gender minoritization, class status, minority ethnic origin, and so on. It is also suggested that research on the heterosexual majority can elucidate ways in which faith communities are gendered, racialized and stratified by class.
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