Transcending: On Pride
We asked the contributors of Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices if they’d be willing to share their thoughts this Pride month: whether they’re celebrating, what it’s like to be sheltered-in-place, how they are connecting and finding community, and how they choose to show up. This Pride has been different for myriad reasons: situated amidst a pandemic and global uprisings for Black lives, we’re being called to action in radical ways both new and familiar. Read on for reflections from 2020 Pride, and for more information about Transcending. All contributor proceeds from the sales of this book are donated to Trans Lifeline.
As I stay at home for the most part I have been reflecting on what I am experiencing, in my body, right now. Fear, anxiety, at times peace, and centeredness. This virus has raised fears about my body. I’ve been in the hospital before, unable to breathe, and on oxygen. But that time my partner was there to advocate and stand witness to the treatment of my trans body. I have been thinking about my whiteness and what protection that gives me in so many spaces. I need to advocate and stand witness to Black people like my partner has stood witness for me.
I want to be out in the streets right now. Yelling for justice. Standing witness with the Black youth leading the way right now. When I wrote in Transcending about “Right now, it’s like this,” I didn’t think the “this” would be so intense, so global, so shifting. I have a new place supporting the work of Black people over video conferencing and electronically. Recognizing that this is a moment. Each moment is a moment. Each moment is different. And right now, being present, in all its forms is what we are all called to do. This includes leaning into uncomfortable and new spaces. This includes fighting for justice and standing in solidarity. We need to renew each second to this work of anti-racism because each moment is new.
Ryan Patrick Backer
After our in-person book launch for Transcending went online, the box of the books I had in my bedroom didn’t feel like a burden but an opportunity. Over the course of our time in isolation I was able to make ten (and counting) no-contact bike deliveries of the book all around Montreal/Tiohtià:ke. Not only did I get to move my body, see the city again, and see some friends at a distance, I also had the opportunity to bring joy to my sangha members’ hearts. At this time we don’t see each other much except online, so the masked bike rides were well worth the rewards of being in the presence of loved ones and being able to share this important book.
Shaun Bartone: ~ All Black Lives Matter: Pride in the Pandemic
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, all outdoor Pride parades and festivals in North America have been cancelled through September. Instead, we are celebrating Pride at Home, in our living rooms, and yes, our bedrooms. I call this Intimate Pride. We celebrate Pride in a way that reveals what we often do not show at Pride events: our ordinary lives at home, and our intimate relationships. I watched Lady Gaga’s online fundraising festival, One World Together at Home, which raised money for frontline workers in the pandemic. The festival featured some of the biggest stars in the music business, no less than herself, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, and many others. What was remarkable to me about this festival was that all the videos were broadcast from people’s homes, from their living rooms. The setting at home was so humbling. You got to see these stars as they really are: human beings. And yes, many stars are wealthy and live in homes more luxurious than ours. But nonetheless, seeing people in their own homes revealed just how human and ordinary they are. In this year’s Pride at Home events, we reveal our intimate lives to each other and the world.
At the same time, during this pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken over the streets of our cities, building tremendous energy and power to push for Black civil rights, to protect Black lives, and to end police brutality. All Pride events in North America have been cancelled, but in some cities, such as Los Angeles, the Pride committees have turned over the space for outdoor Pride events to the queer Black Lives Matter movement, to queer Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The Pride Parade in Los Angeles is called All Black Lives Matter, to make it clear to everyone that queer and trans Black and BIPOC lives matter as much as white, queer, straight, and cisgender Black lives. All Black Lives Matter will march triumphantly down the streets of our major cities, proclaiming pride for all of us in the queer community.
As a non-binary Buddhist, I struggle to send mētta to all human and non-human beings because I distrust most human beings. I can’t spiritually bypass this reality: our trans identities put us at a high risk of violence, especially Black trans women and Black trans feminine people. Cisgender strangers cannot be trusted as trans-friendly. As a result, many in my community and I have learned to stay home where it’s safest. We also, often, meditate alone. Cisgender Buddhists use anicca [ed. note: impermanence] as a method to make us feel delusional and engage in transphobic behavior—violence that can keep us from continuing the path toward enlightenment. So, while I can’t say sheltering in place is a new phenomenon, the Transcending anthology continues to bring me solace. As Em von Euw’s essay “Coming Home to Themselves” emphasizes, one cannot take refuge in the Three Jewels if they are not safe in, or are pushed out of, the sangha. The other trans Buddhists in this collection see me, ask to hold my hand, offer me flowers, and I offer the same to them. In our mundanity, in these assemblages of stories, changing bones, and aging tissue, we find an even ground to sit together and breathe safely.
Born and raised Black and queer, non-binary (both feminine and masculine) in San Francisco, I learned the history of the civil rights movement, the origins of Pride as a “riot,” and the legacy of “Act Up” in responding to the AIDS epidemic. I knew that activism through demonstration, both civil and “uncivil,” created freedom for me in a way my ancestors and transcestors (transgender ancestors) never got free. I didn’t imagine that I would find myself at an epicenter of a civil rights movement in the Bay Area, in the summer of 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic.
Nor did I imagine that Pride, which has been co-opted, commodified, and heavily policed would return to its roots out of the necessity to dismantle policing to keep my people (specifically Black people) alive. That the history of Black transgender women, such as Marsha P. Johnson, creating a path for all LGBT+ people would finally be honored in a way they always deserved and never lived to see. When I call my ancestors in a room, when I’m on my meditation cushion, it is these women I call into the space with me first. When I reach for the strength to engage with dismantling white supremacy and anti-Blackness within myself and the world around me it is these Transcestors who lend me their strength.
This Pride I will participate in a civil rights demonstration, for the benefit of Queer Liberation, through civil disobedience. I will do so in my car, mask on, socially distanced from my community. Simultaneously, surrounded by those who march and ride motorcycles, with their masks on, making their best effort to be 6 feet apart from those who aren’t in their intentional “quarantine pods.” Some of us will be there in spirit as some of us must stay home to keep ourselves safe from COVID-19. May the livestream of Queer Liberation demonstrations globally connect us all. May Transcending continue to serve as a catalyst for connection and much needed change in Buddhist communities. We are never alone even months into sheltering in place in our respective homes. I hold you all in my heart while this year we bring forth the gifts our Transcestors gave us (this is a reference to Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise!).
Transcending has exceeded my hopes and dreams. From hearing that the collective voices saved people’s lives, to changing their lives, to helping people not feel so alone, to helping trans, genderqueer and nonbinary Buddhists find their voice in sangha and with their teachers—it’s been heartwarming to hear. Cis people are also sharing that they are receiving an education from this book as well. Deep gratitude to North Atlantic Books for making all of these voices come alive in the world.
But the work is never over. Some people are celebrating pride in isolation this year and others don’t celebrate pride anymore due to the racism, transphobia and many other issues. Wishing all of you mētta and well-being during this time—no matter if you do celebrate pride or you don’t. I do, however, want to point out for those who don’t know the history of Stonewall to spend a bit of time learning about how Black trans women paved the way for us all.
The reality is that BIPOC trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary Buddhists struggle with much more violence, oppression and silenced voices than others of us do. I encourage all of us to think of how we could use our privilege in the world more to act in solidarity with BIPOC trans, genderqueer and nonbinary Buddhists as well as all BIPOC folks.
May greed, hatred and delusion end. May we all find the causes and conditions for awakening.
When I first transitioned and came out more than twenty years ago, I was, as far as I knew, the only transsexual or gender-queer Buddhist teacher. It was important then to assert my identity and validate my position, especially among first-generation convert Buddhists in the west, and especially for the benefit of others like me. Now that we have this beautiful anthology of writings by transgender and gender-queer Buddhists, now that there are more than just a few of us, I can happily assert that I am not a transsexual, nor even necessarily a Buddhist because I do not strongly identify with any of the dozen or more possible identities that I could use to describe myself. Surely that is the point. ‘Buddhism’ had its own built in self-destruct mechanism. If, after all, there is no separate self, where do we draw the line between ourselves and another? Each of our lives, as an expression of a living system, is made of so many other lives, so many other identities, and streams of being. I have learned that personal liberation, in any context, has a lot to do with transcending singular identities, no matter how much we may be attached to them. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t change my sex. It doesn’t mean that I don’t teach and practice sacred practices informed by Buddhism and other traditions, it doesn’t mean I don’t fix the plumbing, clear trails, cook fancy Persian food, write poetry, and any number of other possible designations. But we are all more than any of the possible designation we or others give to us.
During the pandemic we launched Transcending here in Montreal/ Tiohtià:ke during an event called Queer Healing. This event is usually in-person, but it quickly became a Zoom event as information about the pandemic unfolded. Our friends Zavé Martohardjono from NYC and Finn Lofton from Oakland read after I led a pandemic-centered mētta meditation for frontline workers (not including law enforcement) and all those suffering. We couldn’t have had these wonderful humans be a part of an actual book launch in Montreal, so the online event was a blessing. Pride has now turned into Black Lives Matter protests. Many of us are happy that Pride is returning to its political roots at Stonewall led by people of color. Queer ancestors such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson would have been happy with this. There is much joy and much sorrow during these times, but this book and these protests uplift forgotten voices due to the white cis supremacist society around us. It is a joy for previously unheard voices to be heard across the waters and lands of Planet Earth.
I have been so delighted to hear from people who have read Transcending and have felt more connected as a result. Community and resilience are so important, especially right now. Getting involved in struggles for justice is important, and as Audre Lorde pointed out, for oppressed people, just surviving is a political act. So we should take care of ourselves and each other. Trans and gender non-conforming people have survived in relative isolation for a long time, but our shared lineage matters, even if we haven’t met our ancestors or their history has been erased. I look forward to continuing to create our connections and if Buddhism and meditation practice can support that, wonderful. We all share interconnectedness and an awake nature, and nothing can take that away. Let’s honor, cherish, and protect our sacred world and relationships. When I think on that, I find resilience and love, like a lotus blossom. It means so much for me to be connected to you, and to all beings. Near or far, we are connected, and we are all children of the stars. I think that is what pride means for me: knowing I belong in the universe, connected to others, people like you and me.
Em von Euw
As I stay home during this incredibly powerful time, I pray for peace. I pray for my trans and non-binary siblings, especially those who are Black, Latinx, and Indigenous. I pray for those who enact violence on innocent lives. I pray for those who are risking their lives in order to save lives. I pray for those who are sick. I pray for us to remember we are family, made of the same stuff. I pray for capitalism to lie down and be buried, so we can plant wildflowers and berries over its body. I repeat my prayers as a chant, and I listen to the bell as it rings, carrying the power of mētta through the air.
I am forever grateful to my trans Buddhist kin for inviting me to explore deeper realms of existence and find equanimity within my Self. The uncoverings of Spirit I have witnessed will be with me for the rest of my life. These tools have been vital medicine during this Pandemic. I feel more at Home in my form than ever before, and thus more able to support my Self and others in this time of great need. We are one.
may all beings be joyful, happy and free.
may we welcome life’s challenges with compassion and support.
may we live in empathy and non-judgement with all our whole cosmic family.
may we heal from our suffering, our deep wounds, and find the home in ourselves.
may all beings be in peace.
may all beings be in peace.
Transcending brings together more than thirty contributors from both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions to present a vision for a truly inclusive trans Buddhist sangha in the twenty-first century.
Shining a light on a new generation of Buddhist role models, Transcending gives voice to those who have long been silenced within both the Buddhist establishment and society at large. Trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary practitioners have experienced empowerment and healing through their commitment to the Buddha, dharma, and sangha—and they also share experiences of isolation, transphobia, and aggression. In this diverse collection, we hear the firsthand accounts, thoughts, and reflections of trans Buddhists from a variety of different lineages in an open invitation to all Buddhists to bring gender identity to the discourse, into the sangha, and onto the cushion—and only by doing so can we develop insight into our circumstances and grasp our true, essential nature.