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15 Jan 2010

Be yourself

Involuntarily outed at work or to your parents? It’s your choice how you want to see it – as a calamity or you can see it as a huge blessing in disguise, says Sharon Saw.

Some people get presents for Christmas and some get landmines. My girlfriend learned over Christmas that her Christian parents found out about her being Buddhist and her father pretty much said that she was gay and he was very unhappy about it.

However, instead of raising it with my girlfriend, they had opted to go around the bush by telling a friend who then told her. Of course, my girlfriend was upset and wanted to confront her parents to get it out in the open but she stopped short. Strangely enough, before we left for home to spend Christmas, our spiritual guide, H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche had told us that we should ‘act normal’ (as one would normally act should the incident not have happened).

Rinpoche’s advice usually has sound basis. For example, once he told his Nepali friend, KB to take his ID before he went out. Rinpoche had never told KB that before so KB made sure he had his ID and sure enough, that day, he was stopped by police and asked for his ID.

Another time, my girlfriend and I were going on a long drive and Rinpoche sms'ed us just as we passed the toll – check your tyres. My girlfriend and I looked at each other and decided we better do so and again, our tyre pressure was dangerously low. Anyway, to cut the long story short, we remembered his advice and decided to ‘act normal’.

When Rinpoche heard about my girlfriend’s parents knowing about her being Buddhist and gay, he sent an incredibly supportive message to her which I think would apply to anyone in the closet about their religion or sexuality and the tremendous fear of being found out.

Rinpoche said that her parents being upset when they found out about her being gay and Buddhist shouldn’t surprise her. What she should do was to exercise patience, care and just be normal with them. Eventually they will come around and they will understand.

It made sense. After all, if you’re over 21, you have a job and you can support yourself, you’re considered mature and independent. It is important that we live our life now. We can’t live the life that our parents want. We can’t get married (not in most countries anyway), we can’t have kids (usually) and we can’t fit in that kind of box that our parents want us to be in.

It’s time for us to be ourselves.

For those of you who have been in the closet and suddenly your parents or your work colleagues find out about you – it’s your choice how you want to see it. You can see it as a calamity or you can see it as a huge blessing in disguise.

After a lifetime of hiding, you can finally be who you are and as you are. The subconscious hiding will permeate throughout different aspects of your life and not let you live to your full potential because something is always holding you back.

You’re gay. You’re spiritual. So what? That’s who you are and you have the opportunity now to be yourself with the people you love.

Rinpoche advised my girlfriend that if her parents wanted to ignore her, she should just accept it and not react negatively. He reiterated that she should just be as normal with them as much as possible. When she doesn’t react back, eventually they will come around. She should generate love for them, and eventually they’ll realize that she’s not a bad person and she’s not doing anything bad.

Hopefully, their love for her will be stronger than their fear of gossip or loss of face at Church or whatever demons they themselves have conjured up because of their perspectives of her being gay or Buddhist. Even if they never come around, at least by not reacting back, there is no additional hurt to them and you do not create any negative karma for yourself.

Rinpoche also mentioned that when people react negatively to us because they don’t agree with our way of life, whatever they may be – such as being gay or wanting to devote ourselves to spirituality rather than being a professional, or being an artist, it’s not our fault because it is their negative perception of what we are doing rather than our lifestyle having any inherent negativity that hurts them.

Be strong and be who you are because you’re not being gay on purpose to hurt or damage anyone, least of all the people you care for.

Be patient and extremely kind. If they avoid you, stand your ground – not to challenge or to put them down or to win. You stand your ground because this is WHO YOU ARE.

Whatever happens, live your life the way you’re supposed to. Be yourself and be the best person that you can be.

Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column will appear every other Friday.

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-01-16 01:39  
Hi Sharon,
My my....what your partner went though sounds familiar to mine....minus the gay part...

Experience Number One:
I used to live with my parents and they were staunch Protestant Christians and hostile to any other beliefs/practices other than their own.
When I became a Buddhist, I could not divulge and played Church for about 2-3 years and kept my identity under wraps until one night, when I came home after work to a burglary, my usual locked room door was rammed down, my cabinets ransacked and stuff thrown and strewn all over the place, including my Buddhist stuff, it was then that the cat was out of the bag.
When my parents found out that I became a Buddhist, my dad's reaction gave me an ultimatum: it's either Jesus or get out of the house. It was a non-negotiable point and he would not have his son nor his house 'trespassed by the practice and teaching of demons'. Fine. I told him to give me some time and I will shift out. My mom? Ever heard of 'hell hath no fury like when a woman is scorned?'? This scorn manifested in the form of seizing all of my Buddhist stuff: books, malas, refuge/precept robes, certificate and so forth and started a bonfire (and you thought the Middle Ages were over? Not in my home) I was subject to an Inquisition styled 'trial' where I was asked to recant/renounce, lectured at for hours (until I was late for work once, thankful for a manager who understood my domestic challenges), beaten physically, threatened with family excommunication and even had an 'exorcism' done over me to expel whatever 'Buddha demon' that was in me...
My reaction? Surprisingly, I was calm but shaken, and to quote the great German Protestant reformer, Martin Luther: "Here, I Stand! And can do no other!" and took upon myself all the 'consequences' of standing up for my Buddhist faith. I made it clear to my parents that I am not moving out because I hated them or what not but it was for the sake of peace and at their request. I will still continue to support them financially and otherwise as how a fillial child would have.
Eventually moved out...but after more than 6 months, we (myself and parents) had a 'UN Treaty' to avoid religion for the sake of peace but I still stayed on my own. Occasionally, when I visit them, I still face moments where I was expected to say grace at the table, entertained their snipe remarks on Buddhism with a smile and relatives reminding my mom on what a useless and hopeless heretic and apostate son that she has and blah blah...Life goes on...

Experience Number Two:
Based on the above and in the state of confusion, I went to seek the opinion of fellow Buddhist brethren of whom I had some considerable experience and friendship with and these were amongst some of the responses I received: (the 'mild' ones)
1. One told me that I was an ungrateful and unfillial child and deserved Hell for 'disobeying' and 'breaking family tradition'
2. One told me to renounce the Triple Gem and return back to Church
3. One chastised me for making my parents so furious and thought I deserved the abuse from them.
Summary: Family and Tradition supercedes the Buddha Dharma at any cost. No 2 ways about it. (I wondered if they had read the life of the Buddha? Or was it a selective reading? ;) )

In the end, who helped me, literally? It was a close agnostic friend who offered a room as a temporary solution before I found a place of my own and even assisted me to do the physical shifting to his place and later to a new location. A year later, he investigated the Buddha Dharma, joined a short term Monastic retreat and formally became a Buddhist.
And the earlier 'NATO' (No Action, Talk Only) group? No where to be found and am glad that this incident was a chance for me to see their true colors.

The gay part? That may have to wait or perhaps never...sigh...

A reflection...
"I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay.
Which two? Your mother & father.
Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder & your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, & rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate & urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. If you were to establish your mother & father in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. Why is that?
Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world.
But anyone who rouses his unbelieving mother & father, settles & establishes them in conviction; rouses his unvirtuous mother & father, settles & establishes them in virtue; rouses his stingy mother & father, settles & establishes them in generosity; rouses his foolish mother & father, settles & establishes them in discernment: To this extent one pays & repays one's mother & father."
2. 2010-01-17 21:25  
wow, i only wish i had born again christian parents, instead my older brother is gay and married to an uptight upper east sider jew, they invited me to tom ford's vanity fair exclusive opening dinner for his new movie a single man, because i had no idea what kind of function i would be going to, i wore jeans

the wrath of two fierce successful gay men where upon me when they discovered what i was wearing

too much pressure to have two perfect gay social climbers in the family

enjoy your parents and love them
3. 2010-01-17 22:33  
Thanks Sharon, this wat I needed....
4. 2010-03-27 15:50  
By the time I scrolled down, I was finding for the "like" button to click on xD

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