- That Queer Feeling, 20 May 2019, by Jeffery Gent http://www.homohistory.com
“There was an escalating feeling that the police weren’t finding what they were looking for. They knew they couldn’t find anything. They were getting angry.”
In the early hours of 7 August 1994, Victoria Police raided Tasty, a nightclub in Melbourne’s CBD with a predominately queer clientele. Hundreds were strip-searched under the pretence of a drug search. The police didn’t find a thing.
Ron Van Houwelingen is now a Melbourne LGBTI activist, but in 1994, he was a 27-year-old hospitality worker and Tasty regular. “You went down a laneway and the thumping music would get louder. It was a place for gays, lesbians, trans people, drag queens, artists – it was a place for freaks!” He describes the mood at Tasty as one of euphoria, of celebration. “We’d survived the ’80s, losing our friends to HIV. This was the start of something else.”
The venue managers had been tipped off several weeks prior that there would be a raid, but according to Van Houwelingen, no one had anticipated its scale. “Before it happened, it was just another fun night. The bar staff seemed apprehensive but the party went on.
“I happened to be in the ladies toilets, about 2am, with a friend having a chat. Suddenly we heard sirens and a female police officer stormed in and immediately separated my friend and me.”
What happened next was an ordeal that went for hours. Each of the 463 patrons at Tasty was made one-by-one to strip and bend over for Victoria Police to perform a search.
“I was one of the first to be stripped”, said Van Houwelingen, “but there were a couple of hours before of just standing with our hands against the wall, waiting to be searched. Anytime you got tired and your hands would slip, an officer would yell out: ‘Hey faggot! Hands back on the wall!’”
There was an added level of humiliation for Tasty’s drag queens and trans patrons, who were also forced to undergo a full strip-search.
By the time everyone was out of the club, a group of patrons had already begun planning their next move. Among the group was Melbourne lawyer Gary Singer, who mobilised activists to meet at LGBTI radio station Joy FM’s studios the next day. “We knew it was wrong, so we started the ball rolling, making some noise”, said Van Houwelingen.
The media backlash around the event was an embarrassment for the Kennett government at the time. There was disbelief in the LGBTI community and the wider public. Singer led a successful class action for some 250 Tasty patrons, on the grounds of false imprisonment and assault, winning each $10,000.
Tasty wasn’t the last time police assaulted queers in Australia. Last year, NSW police assaulted Jamie Jackson Reed, a young gay man attending Sydney’s Mardi Gras. The incident was followed some days later by a march of 1,500 people to a Sydney police station, against police brutality. Police around the country now routinely employ gay and lesbian liaison officers, but it’s clear from recent incidents like the one involving Jackson Reed that these liaison officers are nothing more than pinkwashing.
The police have a long history of terrorising the queer community. The first Mardi Gras itself was a political protest commemorating the Stonewall Riots. Although the protesters had originally obtained a permit to march, this was revoked, and the police violently suppressed the demonstration, arresting 53 people.
For many decades, day-to-day harassment of LGBTI individuals was par for the course. As homosexuality was widely criminalised until the 1980s, many men who were arrested for homosexuality still have that charge listed on their record.
Recently, Victoria Police apologised for the Tasty raid. While Van Houwelingen welcomed the apology, he had mixed feelings. “Why has it taken 20 years?” More than an apology, the best thing to have come out of Tasty is the lesson that our strength lies in our ability to struggle collectively. For the patrons at Tasty, collectivity was something learned through the AIDS crisis. “AIDS was the reason we became active. There was a general camaraderie based on lost members of the community, lost friends. We were already a wounded community, but that gave us our strength.”
Victoria Police has apologised for the “extreme” and “disturbing” 1994 Tasty raid in which more than 450 patrons at a Melbourne gay club were strip-searched.
Acting Chief Commissioner Lucinda Nolan apologised on behalf of the force on Monday night to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the raid this week.
“The events that took place that night caused distress to people and had a significant impact on the relationship between Victoria Police and the wider LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex] community,” Acting Commissioner Nolan said.
“It is therefore appropriate we extend a sincere apology to the community members who were affected by the events on that night and also to the broader LGBTI community for the impact this event has had on our relationship over the past two decades.”
The apology took place during a meeting at the Victoria Police Museum with the police’s newly established LGBTI community reference group.
It was the morning of August 7, 1994, when the music died, the lights went on and, according to witnesses, police ordered the “faggots” to put their hands up.
The victims were not criminals, but clubbers targeted during a questionable drug raid.
The 463 patrons in Tasty Nightclub in Flinders Lane were subjected to a terrifying and humiliating strip search.
It was a political nightmare for Victoria Police and premier Jeff Kennett, who denounced the raid as “extreme” and “disturbing”.
A successful class action by about 250 patrons for false imprisonment and assault cost the state $6 million.
The class action was led by lawyer and former Melbourne deputy lord mayor Gary Singer, who was at the nightclub when 40 police burst through the doors.
He was one of first to receive the apology at the private function on Monday night.
“It’s really exciting. I think it’s a great leap forward when the Chief Commissioner comes out and apologises,” Mr Singer said.
“It’s never too late and 20 years is not a long time when it comes to governments or bureaucracies. This is the beginning of a new chapter and we are seeing the police force recognise they need to deal fairly with various sections of the community.”
Mr Singer led the class action on behalf of Sally Gordon, who was awarded $10,000. Other cases were settled for the same amount.
“We wind the clock back 20 years and they [Victoria Police] certainly weren’t doing anything then. We fought that case and it was a very difficult case to fight. It went on for six or seven weeks and every police witness gave a version of events that simply wasn’t true.”
Shaun Miller was also there during the raid.
“Even though it was 20 years ago, I still remember the lights going on,” he told LGBTI publication Melbourne Community Voice.
“I remember what the police said, I remember being strip-searched – the whole thing.
“In my view, the police apology is genuine and sincere and a wonderful milestone in the road to improving the relationship between the LGBTI community and the Victoria Police.”
Another vocal victim was pyjama king Peter Alexander: “The fact that innocent people in their hundreds were stripped and humiliated still haunts me and reminds me that we have to keep check on people in authority.”
Acting Commissioner Nolan said while the force has made “great strides” in the recognition and celebration of gender and sexual diversity, there was “still work to be done”.
“We know there is under-reporting of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic incidents and offences. We understand that in order for these reporting rates to increase, the LGBTI community needs to have confidence that their reports will be taken seriously and their complaints will be treated respectfully.
“We are committed to ensuring that every LGBTI Victorian has a positive experience with our organisation, whether they approach us for help, see us in the street, or indeed work within our ranks or aspire to do so.”
This article has been reproduced from tricycle.org, and was written by Dr. Jay Michaelson, and published July 02, 2018. To me, this article encapsulates why myself, and many others, have deserted conventional beliefs – and in my case, both Catholicism & Atheism – to follow the path of The Buddha. Atheism gave me a stance, a soap box to denounce what is…and has been for centuries…the hypocrisy of conventional & fundamentalist religion. With its emphasis on bible bashing, “family values” – which is not inclusionist – xenophobia, misogyny, racism, homophobia, general prejudice & discrimination, stigma, and love of power, influence and money, has…well…totally gone against every precept and doctrine that was meant to make it great! Today, especially in light of the recent expose of sexual abuse, which has covered EVERY religion, and their associated charities and institutions, people are deserting churches, mosques and temples in hordes. As a gay man, conventional religion left me bereft of choice and hope decades ago. But like many, I still have this strange yearning for some form of spirituality, or belief or…if you like…enlightenment. Something that has a base in history, something unadulterated, something that isn’t based on ethereal deities, son’s of God, messengers of God, heavily adulterated books, myths and fantasies, something that doesn’t leave me feeling empty and dirty!For me, Buddhism has provided that spark. Not bogged down in doctrines, theologies, enforced beliefs, and lists of do’s and don’ts, it gives you choice. You enter into things voluntarily. If you transgress, you are answerable only to yourself. How deeply you travel down the road to enlightenment is up to you. Nothing is forced upon you! It provides a path that is rich and based in ancient culture. It is a path worthy of investigation.
Om mani padme hum 📿
Rediscovering Buddhism’s LGBT history of gay monks, homoerotic samurai, and gender-nonconforming practitioners and gods
It’s no secret that many LGBTQ people have found refuge in the dharma, and it’s easy to see why. It helps us work with the wounds of homophobia, recognizing internalized self-hatred for the delusion and dukkha [suffering] that it is. Yet when queer people interact with the dharma, there is often something missing: visibility. It’s nice that Buddhism doesn’t say many bad things about us, but does it say anything good? Where are we among the Dogens and Milarepas and Buddhaghosas?
This is not, of course, a question limited to Buddhism. Everywhere, queers have been erased from history. Often we find ourselves only when we are being persecuted; we have to read in between the lines of our interlocutors, trying to reconstruct a lost past.
But there is much to be gained from the effort. Finding ourselves in history, for better or for worse, reminds us that we have one. We can see the different ways in which gender and sexuality were understood across time and cultures, and we are reminded that sexual and gender diversity has always been a part of human nature.
The history of queer Buddhism does not always paint a rosy picture. We find a mixed tapestry that includes stories of acceptance and persecution as well as examples that are problematic or offensive to modern Western sensibilities. While books can be (and have been) written about this subject, here I will limit myself to four examples that demonstrate the breadth of queer experience throughout Buddhism.
1. MILD OFFENSES
First, and I think least interestingly, there are various levels of injunctions against male-male sexual behavior. What’s interesting here, apart from the mere visibility—yes, the monks were doing it with each other—is the minor nature of the offense. In the Theravadan monastic code, for example, sexual (mis)conduct between monks or novices was no more egregious than any other sexual misconduct, and did not warrant additional sanctions. The offense is similarly minor in Vajrayana monastic communities, leading both to consensual “thigh sex” (frottage) among monks, and, tragically, to many documented instances of sexual abuse.
Conflicting statements by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama have reflected this ambivalence. In 1994, he said that as long as there were no religious vows at issue, consensual same-sex intimacy “is OK.” But in an interview published two years later, he said that only when “couples use organs intended for sexual intercourse” could sex be considered “proper.” After meeting with gay and lesbian activists in 1997, he noted that the same rules applied to straight and gay people alike, and that they were not part of the direct teachings of the Buddha and thus might evolve over time. In 2014, he reiterated the view that for Buddhists, homosexual acts are a subset of sexual misconduct, but that this was a matter of religious teaching and did not apply to people of another or no religion. Other rinpoches have disagreed and fully affirmed gay and lesbian lives. There is no clear position.
2. GENDER-NONCONFORMING ANCESTORS
Second, there are several instances of what today might be called gender-nonconforming people in Buddhist texts, now newly accessible thanks to historian Jose Cabezon’s recently published 600-plus page tome, Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism. Many Theravada and Mahayana texts, for example, refer to the pandaka, a term which, Cabezon shows, has a wide variety of meanings, encompassing “effeminate” male homosexuals, intersex persons, and others who exhibited non-normative anatomical, gender, or sexuality traits. (The term pandaka is often translated “eunuch,” but insofar as a eunuch is someone who chooses to be castrated, this is an inaccurate translation. Because of the breadth of the term, Cabezon himself renders it “queer person.”)
By and large, the pandaka is not depicted positively. As Cabezon describes in great detail, the Theravadan monastic code prohibits the ordaining of a pandaka—“the doctrine and discipline does not grow in them,” it says. And a Mahayana sutra called A Teaching on the Three Vows says bodhisattvas should not befriend them. But to me, just the visibility of the pandaka is encouraging. Here we are! And if we have been stigmatized, well, as Cabezon notes, that is hardly comparable to how queer people have been treated in other religious traditions.
3. SEXUAL SAMURAI
Third, there is a fair amount of male-male homoeroticism in Buddhist textual history. The Jataka tales [parables from the Buddha’s past lives] include numerous homoerotic stories featuring the future Buddha and the future Ananda; in addition to the tales themselves apparently being told without a sense of scandalousness, these stories suggest an interesting appreciation of the homoerotics or at least homosociality of the teacher-disciple relationship. Like Batman and Robin, Achilles and Patroclus, and Frodo and Sam, the Buddha and Ananda are, emotionally speaking, more than just friends.
Japanese Buddhism probably had the most fully developed form of same-sex eroticism—nanshoku—that endured for hundreds of years, beginning in the 1100s and fading out only in the 19th century, under the influence of Christianity. These relationships—sometimes called bi-do (the beautiful way) or wakashudo (the way of the youth)—were pederastic in nature, often between an adolescent boy (probably aged 12–14) and a young man (aged around 15–20), and thus not role models for contemporary LGBT people, but a queer love nonetheless.
As with Greek pederasty, these relationships combined a sexual relationship with a mentoring relationship. And as in the Greek model, there were clear rules and roles that needed to be followed; nanshoku was not hedonism but a homosexuality that was socially constructed.
The legendary founder of the institution of nanshoku was the 12th-century monk Kukai, also called Kobo Daishi (“the great teacher who spread the dharma”), who was also credited with founding of the Shingon school of Japanese esoteric Buddhism, which incorporates tantric practice. Although there is not much historical evidence for this, it’s interesting that the institution of nanshoku became linked with tantra, which has its own polymorphous eroticism in the service of awakening.
This culture has left us the greatest collection of homoerotic Buddhist texts of which I am aware. Nanshoku Okagami (the Great Mirror of Male Love), published in 1687 and available in a fine translation by Paul Gordon Schalow, is a collection of love stories, some requited and others not, between samurai warriors and Buddhist monks, actors, and townspeople. Now available in multiple translations, the book is an almost unbelievable artifact of Edo-period hedonism, warrior love conventions that closely resemble the Mediterranean ones, and Romeo-and-Juliet-like stories of forbidden love, impossible love, and star-crossed lovers. If you can get past our cultures’ very different ethics regarding intergenerational sex, it’s an amazing queering of history.
4. GENDER FLUIDITY
Finally, the fluidity and play of gender within some Buddhist texts is often inspiring but also frequently problematic. Numerous Buddhist enlightenment stories feature women suddenly transforming into men, for example. On the one hand, that’s kind of awesome from a queer and trans point of view. On the other hand, it’s often a way of explaining how deserving women can become fully enlightened—by becoming men.
That highlighting the role of a prominent female bodhisattva like Kuan Yin or a female deity like Tara has enabled many Western dharma centers to manifest their commitments to gender egalitarianism—awesome. That Kuan Yin is but one manifestation of the male bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara—less awesome. And yet, that a male bodhisattva occasionally manifests as a female figure—maybe more awesome.
So too the feminization of the principle of wisdom, prajnaparamita, and the Vajrayogini, who is female, erotic, and enlightened. These figures may be gender-essentialistic, gender-binaried, and heteronormative, but especially for Westerners, they productively queer the assumptions of what is masculine and feminine.
These examples of queerness in Buddhist text and history are just a sampling; there are many more. When queers look at these echoes in the past, we’re doing several things: We are finding ourselves in history and theology. We are claiming and acknowledging our existence, albeit in different forms from those we know today. And we are, hopefully, keeping our senses of irony and historicity intact. This isn’t gay-hunting or a naïve apologetics that siphons off the bad and leaves in only the good. We are, instead, searching for a usable past, not with a faux nostalgia or appropriative orientalism, but with a sophisticated relationship to what has gone before and what is present now.
Correction (7/5): An earlier version of this article translated Kobo Daishi as “the great master from Kobo.” A more accurate translation is “the great teacher who spread the dharma.” The article also identified Kukai as the founder of the Shingon school, which is disputed.