“I was put on this earth to be a bodhisattva, to just glow, emanate love, respect, peace, pizzazz.” Andre J.
“I Am Just So Glad You Are Alive”: New Perspectives on Non-Traditional, Non-Conforming, and Transgressive Expressions of Gender, Sexuality, and Race Among African Americans. Layli Philips, Marla R. Stewart (2008) Jr. Af. Am Studies
In mid-autumn 2007, the November issue of French Vogue appeared on newsstands featuring a statuesque bearded black man sporting a feminine mushroom bobbed hairstyle, a fitted turquoise Burberry mini-length trench coat, high-heel ankle boots, a giant cocktail ring, and lip gloss. This 28-year-old New Yorker was known as Andre J.
Who — or what — was this person? And where did he come from, literally as well as figuratively?
Numerous interviews with Andre J reveal an intriguing and complex set of self-characterizations:
“Most people are conditioned to think of a black man looking a certain way. They only think of the ethnic man in XXX jeans and Timberlands, and here Andre J. comes along with a pair of hot shorts and a caftan or maybe flip-flops or cowboy boots or a high, high heel.” (Trebay 2007 November 25).
“I’m just expressing myself and not hurting anyone and taking myself to a place where I want to be, where the world is beautiful.” (Trebay 2007).
“I was put on this earth to be a bodhisattva, to just glow, emanate love, respect, peace, pizzazz.” (Larocca 2007 March 4)
I want to spend a lot more time and blog space focusing on dharma and culture. Why? Let me list a few reasons:
Contemporary Buddhist scholarship has spent countless thousands of hours and pages drilling down on Buddhist scripture and doctrine. I now know the umpteen hundred ways to translate the word ‘dukkha’. If we focused instead on institutions and culture, Buddhism would get a lot more interesting. By ‘institutions’, I mean more than the corporate sangha or the Tibetan government at Dharamsala. I mean the kinds of social organizations we inhabit and create when we get together with other Buddhists.
If we don’t expand the possibilities—range, diversity, alterity—of dharma culture, there is no room for people like me. There is no place for queers, weirdos, non-conforming people of color, indigenous folks, artists, activists, punks, hippies, geeks, nerds and other mentally and socially divergent people. Creating divergent cultures creates a refuge for divergent people. For queirdos*, that is, like me.
We need to have some kind of “burning man” festival for dharma practitioners, specifically for Buddhists, who are so damn straight-laced and conformist. Buddhists are so single-mindedly focused on ultimate enlightenment to the exclusion of everything else, they’re worse than Christians or Muslims trying to get to heaven.
We need to start producing and publishing divergent dharma cultures. We need to go beyond liberating individuals and liberate cultures, because it’s through cultures that we create societies, and it’s through awakened, liberated cultures that we can create a society that just might be resilient enough to survive the climate apocalypse. Take B. R. Ambedkar as an exemplar of how to liberate a culture.
So divergent dharma culture is going to be an increasing focus for my blogs. Let’s focus on creating really divergent and liberating dharma cultures. I’m game for it.