It wasn’t a political thing for me. I went because he asked me to, and he was a friend. Could I go over once in a while and give a talk? Just be there. Later he asked if I’d lead the morning meditation a couple of times a week. This was trickier, not because it required a change of schedule—I was up anyway—but because it meant finding a parking place in the gay district at 4:45 a.m.
I could have walked the half hour there, but robes and sandals complicated this. Not that driving in flip-flops, or getting in and out of a car in the dark morning wearing robes, was simple. The long sleeves, the several layers of Japanese cloth, the sacred outer robe and bowing mat that were to be carried and placed respectfully, the keys, latches, and handles, the large cup of coffee filled to the brim. At the first stop sign one hurried morning, I watched with dismay as my favorite cup tumbled forward from the roof of the car where I’d temporarily set it, sheeting the windshield with creamy brown liquid and smashing onto the street.
But over time I worked it out. I became the Tuesday and Thursday morning priest—the one who opened the shrines, did the morning greeting, sat there an hour and a half in meditation, and led the bowing and chanting for the morning service before going home for breakfast. This was part of my friend’s plan to get recognition for this small cluster of gay folk who, for reasons personal and institutional, felt uncomfortable going to the main center for practice. At this point he couldn’t really lead them himself—he was tied up being director of the main center. He’d been out most of his adult life, and though he wasn’t very political, he did seem strongly motivated by a mixture of clannish pride and matronly instincts to nurture this little group.
And they were a great group: sincere in their practice, desperate, some of them, to find a patch of stability. In these early 1980s, young men dropped as though cursed by an invisible witch. AIDS had only just been identified and was not well understood; panic had begun to undercut the sexually charged vibrations of the area. So when these men, and a few women, showed up to learn or to practice meditation, they had their reasons.
Through the seasons the group grew, bought the house in which some of them lived (above the basement meditation room), chose a board of directors, and became an uneasy satellite of the main center. At one point, again urged by my friend, I led a three-month practice period there, the first. It was a kind of slow-motion ordination for us all. Now I needed to arrive early each morning—no longer only twice a week—in time to ring the wake-up bell at 4:40. I gave talks, conducted private interviews, led a class, got involved in decisions made by the house—now the “temple”—and at the end of 90 days sat for the spirited Q&A ceremony. Obviously, in the course of all this we grew closer. Our lives intertwined. My respect for them deepened.
I don’t think their being gay and lesbian influenced me much. The daily rituals of Zen—its formal greetings and constant bowing—encourage mutual respect. Practitioners are supposed to mix “like milk and water.” On the other hand, they were gay and lesbian; that was how they identified. Society had put up significant barriers to their even existing that way, not to mention feeling OK about it, and they’d overcome these. So when the call came for an article on the group from one of the many journals sprouting out of Buddhist centers around the country, I agreed. I felt I knew something about them; I had a constructive outlook, possibly even insights. I wrote the piece and sent it off by US mail. It was accepted.
Several weeks later I received a folded greeting card that showed a woodcut of the bodhisattva of compassion on the outside. Inside was the following message:
I am writing to you because we just found an error in your article, which will appear in Bead. Unfortunately, we did not discover it before we mailed out the issue. We send Bead by bulk mail, so it should be arriving within one to two weeks.
The error appears on page 23, second paragraph. It was typed, “I myself am a homosexual—openly, avidly, and probably obviously so.” It should, of course, read, “I myself am a heterosexual…”
We wish to apologize for our oversight, it’s plain and simple human error. We also hope this does not cause you undue consternation. We will print a correction in our next issue, which will appear about the first of next year. If you wish to respond in any way, we will also print your response. We are also open to suggestions on how you wish us to correct this error. Let us know.
Thanks again for your contribution to Bead and please accept our regrets.
Gassho . . .
After the signature, there was a phone number and some good times to call, several time zones away. My girlfriend’s pretty blue eyes filled with tears of laughter as she read it. I think she may also have felt sympathy. We’d been living together in a flat across from the main center for a couple of years, raising a son, enjoying a social life with other couples (of all persuasions) in the neighborhood. The news that I was “openly, avidly, and probably obviously homosexual” might come as a shock. Lots of people read the journal.
“So it went out bulk mail?”
“And it should get to people in a week, ten days?”
“Something like that.”
“And if you were to send out a postcard with the correction on it, first class, when would that get there?”
“Probably around the same time, depending. It’d take us a little while to get it written, have them printed, do another mailing—”
“But theoretically you could write something like what you sent me, you know—p. 23, 2nd paragraph, change ‘homosexual’ to ‘heterosexual’—and it would arrive not too much after the journal?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Shall we do that, then?”
“Sure, OK. That’s a good idea. We’ll do that. And again, we’re so sorry.”
“It’s all right. It happens. Good luck with the mailing.”
Apparently they got right on it, though they did it a bit differently than we’d discussed. When the postcard arrived— and it arrived several days before the journal—it did not focus on correcting the mistake on page 23, paragraph 2, line 6. It focused on me. It took a remorseful approach, apologizing abjectly for any possible inconvenience or misunderstanding. They wanted to make it clear to all their readership that Grady Ray was not a homosexual. He was, after all, a heterosexual. They were so sorry.
I found this out from my upstairs neighbor, Matt. We both worked in a bakery: as the oven man, he went in to work and got home several hours before I did. This day we passed each other in the stairwell of our building. I envied him the shower he’d clearly just had—his hair wet, pulled back into a ponytail—big in his clean T-shirt, muscular from slamming trays in and out of the rotation oven all day.
“Hey Grady, we got a postcard about you. Yeah, it said you were a heterosexual. Man—so you know, I never had any doubts, myself.” His grin broadened. “But Arlette” (Arlette was his short, curvy, flirtatious wife), “Arlette was saying how good it was to get mail like that once in a while. You know, just out of the blue. A simple postcard, reminding you of your neighbor’s sexual orientation. Just in case, you know, it might slip your mind.”
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.