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Narratives of Tibetan Buddhist Homosexuality/Homophobia in the 20th–21st C.


Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 1200 characters including spaces)

This paper looks at English-language representations of homosexuality in Tibetan, Mongolian, and Himalayan cultures. I analyze how categories like "Sodom," "homosexuality," and "queer" were construed in relation to "Tibetan culture" or "Buddhism." I argue Tibet was reimagined in line with globalizing concepts of gender and sexuality, revealing the tendency for western representations to imagine Tibet as culturally "backward" (Anand 2007). In the early- to mid-20th c., Tibet was usually portrayed as inappropriately permissive of "homosexuality." From the late-20th c. on, Tibetan Buddhists were more often construed as inappropriately "homophobic." This paper examines the genealogy of that transition. I argue that disrupting the automatic presumption of Tibetan Buddhist homophobia and critiquing normatively "modern" notions of sexuality and gender can clear space for queer readings along the lines Padma'tsho (Baimacuo) and Sarah H. Jacoby suggest for transnational feminism based not only on "secular liberal rights-based theories, but rather outgrowths of Buddhist principles" (2020).