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Bones That Stick Out: Trans*Queer Dharma with Shaun Bartone


In Shaun Bartone’s January 2015 Shambhala Times article, “Making Trans*Queer Dharma Workâ€, the author quotes another queer Buddhist friend who says,

You have a lot of bones that stick out, bones that don’t fit in one place or another.

Shaun shares about involvement with two sanghas, and delves into the disparity between the two. Shaun describes the experience with the first as one that values direct experience over “thinking too muchâ€, and Shaun becomes seen as “too much of an intellectual†. Shaun describes how being a queer trans person offers specific insight into what is known as anicca (impermanence):

In that sangha, I tell them that as a trans person, I have a deeply felt sense of the truth of the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence. My lifetime as a queer has taught me that there really is ‘no self’. My queerness is a pastiche of collected parts that don’t always fit together. ‘Self’ is socially constructed and constantly changing. All facets of identity are ascribed, learned, performed, negotiated, discarded, transformed and mutable. This doesn’t sit too well with members of this particular sangha; it’s “thinking too much.†

Shaun is accepted as a scholar in the other sangha, but has the feeling of being “too queer, too transgender.† Shaun describes the feeling of alienation:

But when I walk into my sangha on Sunday morning, I feel like a total freak. I don’t want to feel that way. I just want to be a freak among freaks and not feel like a freak. But it’s not realistic to expect that sort of “fit†in either sangha. My bones stick out too much.

Shaun decides that the best course of action, therefore, is to attempt to educate both communities on what it is to be Trans*, and does so with the assistance of a guidebook entitled Developing Trans* Competence: A Guide for Meditation and Retreat Centers, published by trans*Buddhists.org. Collaborating with Queer Dharma NYC, Shaun arranges to present the Gude and speak on trans issues with both sanghas, which came with some initial conflict. However, Shaun was able to present the Trans*Competence Guide to both Shambhala International & Nalandabodhi Halifax in the same month.

Shaun ends by tracking the small, but noticeable changes towards awareness within each sangha, and recognizes the uphill battle that exists in being the person to bridge the gap:

But otherwise things are as normal as ever. It still takes a lot of poking and prodding to get them to recognize difference. For good or ill, I chose to be the fall guy for this process. ‘Cause my bones still stick out.

Read Making Trans*Queer Dharma Work by Shaun Bartone in the Shambhala Times.

You can also follow more of Shaun Bartone’s writing on the Engaged Buddhism blog.

Read Developing Trans* Competence: A Guide for Meditation and Retreat Centers for yourself.


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