Feb 4, 2014

Gay Tibet

Buddhists in the United States are generally gay-positive, but not in Asia.  This article by lesbian travelers Katie Cook and Maggie Young discuss the utter impossibility of being open in Lhasa -- to gay Tibetans, ultra-conservative China seems like a gay paradise.

And the Dalai Lama, an incarnation of the Buddha himself, has expressed many times that same-sex relations are "wrong," "inappropriate," and "sexual misconduct."  He clarifies: only if you're religious.  "If two men...are not religious, that's ok with me."

So if you're already going to hell, what's the difference?  Go ahead and date.  But gay Buddhists must be celibate.

Still, when I was a kid in the 1970s, I kept returning to the image of Tibet as a "good place," where same-sex romance was open and free.

I'm not sure why.  I didn't know about Bhutan, the Land of Penises, or about the homoerotic Bokh wrestling of Mongolia.

Maybe it was the image of thousands of muscular monks in orange robes draped around their shoulder, leaving their chest and arms bare -- acres of beefcake.

Or maybe an Uncle Scrooge comic  that I read in grade school, in which the intrepid duck and his nephews visit a Himalayan paradise, Tralla La (a play on Shangri-La).

Or The Blue Lotus, a Belgian comic novel that I read in high school.  The dashing journalist Tintin goes to China, where he rescues and buddy-bonds with the teenage Tchang -- the only person other than Captain Haddock that he ever loved.

Later, in Tintin in Tibet, Tintin goes to Tibet to save Tchang, over the objections of a jealous Haddock.

In high school I also read Seven Years in Tibet (1952), by Heinrich Harrer.  A German soldier during World War II escapes into Tibet.  Eventually he becomes the tutor to the young Dalai Lama.  They become friends, and stay together for many years, until the Communist invasion and escape into India.

I found it a powerful evocation of same-sex love.

In the 1997 movie version, Brad Pitt plays Heinrich Harrer.

Or maybe it was just the image of the Potala, the 1000-room palace-temple-fortress on a hill overlooking Lhasa.

1000 rooms!  I could hide in there, and no one could ever find me again, and I could escape the constant interrogation of
What girl do you like?
What girl do you like?
What girl?
What girl?
What girl?