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Reading Queerly: Towards a Queer, Trans, and Feminist Readings of Tibetan Buddhism


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

This panel will set out to weave a complex methodological, genealogical, and textual reading of Tibetan Buddhist materials and their imbrications with queerness, transness, and sexual violence. Rather than applying a top-down analysis that runs Buddhist materials through the theoretical and political commitments of an essentialized queer studies, this panel proposes to engage Buddhist source materials in reciprocal conversation with feminist, queer, and trans hermeneutics. Our panel will ask how not only the materials themselves, but also our own academic practices and locations, are imbricated with power. How might we ethically and generatively conceptualize sexual violence, consent, transness, or queerness? And how might these conceptualizations shift when considered in different languages or geo-historical locations? Our panel asserts that scholars must contend with the ways gender, sexuality, and religion coalesce to create conditions that reproduce hegemonic ways of knowing. Orienting our questions towards power, instability, and genealogy, we examine the problematics and potentials that emerge when reading Buddhist materials through queer, feminist, and trans lenses.


  • Abstract

    In this paper, I will seek to unearth the orientalist and transphobic ontologies that inform "tantric sex retreats" and "tantric sex therapy" literatures. By analyzing three "tantric sex retreat" and "sex therapy" articles, I will make three central arguments. First, these literatures reinforce a homogenous conceptualization of "tantra," one that divides "modern Tantra" from "historical and esoteric" tantras. This framework of "tantra" concurrently uplifts a multitude of religions while simultaneously obscuring any specific historical, religious, or geographical contexts of "tantra." Second, these literatures and retreats synonymize "tantra" with "sex," reinforcing an image of "tantra" as an "exotic orient." These literatures further use Indigenous frameworks in ways that replicate extraction and covert imperialism. Third, in their efforts to reclaim "the feminine," these literatures reinforce cis-normativity by tying their conceptualizations of power and "sacredness" so intimately and inseparably from matters of biology and a womans yoni/vagina. Ultimately, these "women-centric" retreats exclude transgender women by theoretically denying them access to "touch" practices.

  • Abstract

    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).

  • Abstract

    This paper brings classical Indian Buddhist discussions of sex and sexual discipline into “reciprocal conversation” with feminist philosopher Linda Martin Alcoff’s work on sexual subjectivity. In particular, it examines the interplay of intention, pleasure, desire, and consent in descriptions of sexual violation and misconduct, mainly in the Pāli vinaya. Drawing on four case studies – the rape victim Uppalavaṇṇā, the rape accuser Mettiyā, Sudinna whose transgression with his wife is the occasion for the promulgation of pārājika I, and a sleeping monk raped by a passing village woman – it sketches the outlines of a classical Buddhist sexual subjectivity, and draws ethical through lines from ancient times to today.

  • Abstract

    This paper takes as its starting point Sarah Jacoby’s response to José Cabezón’s goliath work Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism, in which she poses the question: “What would a queer Buddhist theology look like, theoretically but also symbolically?” (2019, 726) Motivated by this charge, I chart an initial encounter between queer theorizing and Buddhist tantra through a close reading of three primary sources: the Guhyasamāja, Hevajra, and Kālacakra tantras. I stage this close reading as a dramatized encounter between an “indecent” queer Buddhist theologian, who advocates for queer innovations in interpretation, and a “good Buddhist,” who defends the tradition against the perceived onslaught of queer theory. This dialogue between two imagined interlocutors allows me to draw Buddhist tantra and queer theology into reciprocal conversation, resisting the interpretive impulse to prioritize one over the other. Thus, rather than straightforwardly advocating for a hermeneutic stance that “queers” Buddhist tantra, this paper queries how close attention to Buddhist tantras might reveal previously unnoticed limitations in queer theorizing.

  • Abstract

    This paper takes up a single question reverberating around anglophone Tibetan Buddhist sanghas in the wake of the recent crises involving guru-disciple sex abuse: When, if ever, is it appropriate for a Tibetan Buddhist guru to have sex with his (or her) disciple? I turn to passages from the Tibetan autobiographical writings of Sera Khandro (1892-1940) and Lelung Zhepé Dorjé (1697-1740) to shed light on the still poorly understood history of sexuality in Vajrayāna Buddhism. As two figures who lived on the margins of the monastery in the sense that they negotiated between the at-times competing demands of celibacy and religiously-purposed sexuality, their writings can tell us a great deal about the purposes of practices involving sexuality as well as the critiques and dilemmas they elicited in Tibet. This paper applies feminist hermeneutics to read select Tibetan passages out of a conviction that a better understanding of the socio-cultural contexts, gendered experiences, and embodied knowledges pertaining to sexuality in Vajrayāna contexts can serve as a resource for envisioning a less harmful and more inclusive Buddhist sexual ethics for the future.

  • Abstract

    What is (neo)liberal feminism and what are its dangers? How can decolonial and intersectional theories and praxis counteract and refuse the cooption of feminism by neoliberal ideologies promoted by nationalist imperialist governmentalities? To address these questions, I engage the emergence of Tibetan feminism with neoliberal characteristics. This particular focus will allow me to animate my argument that (neo)liberal feminism’s focus on gender as an identity category fails to consider decolonization and intersectionality. Without such analytical considerations, feminism not only loses its liberatory potential as a praxis, but can become mobilized by nationalist imperialist governmentality to serve as the basis for racialized policies that target certain citizens within state purview and justify imperial occupations abroad. While neoliberalism feminism has been correctly assessed as a strain influenced by white feminism, it is wrong to assume that only white women practice neoliberal feminism. In fact, brown women practice it too. In the following, I engage Tibetan women practicing neoliberal feminism. Thus, this post tries to contextualize (neo)liberal feminism and its potential dangers, while at the same time outline how decolonial and intersectional feminism can counteract such dangers.

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LCD Projector and Screen

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Session Length

2 Hours

Schedule Preference Other

Sunday, 9:00-11:00 am : Tuesday, 9:00-11:00 am
Schedule Info

Friday, 9:00 AM-11:00 AM (Virtual)

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