Shaunyata is my new Buddhist Drag name. It means, roughly, “Shaun is empty, Shaun does not exist; there is no Shaun.”
In post-structuralist discourse, ‘Shaunyata’ means “Shaun is an empty signifier.”
I’m introducing the concept of Drag into Dharma as a tool of queer meta-analysis. Queer Theory, Post-Structuralism, Post-Modernism are all linguistic techniques for deconstructing Dominant Discourse and Master Narratives. Queer Theory and Post-Modernism are very potent tools for Buddhist analysis, which is virulently deconstructive. The Dharma deconstructs everything we experience as ‘mind-made’ and thus as a culturally-constructed fabrication. The Dharma deconstructs phenomena into its most completely decimated form: emptiness. As much as contemporary Western Buddhists seem to despise Post-Modernism, the Dharma itself is a homologous process. As one dharma scholar said, ‘the Buddha was a pre-modern post-modernist.’
Drag presents the social body, the cultural identity, the personality, as persona, as a deliberate construction and performance, and therefore as a form that can be deconstructed. Drag injects fluidity, impermanence, and emptiness (non-self) into fixed notions of gender, embodiment, presentation, and identity. Drag says there is no identity that is ‘real’, fixed or essential. Everything about a person’s appearance is non-essential, i.e. lacking any permanent intrinsic reality, and is constantly changing. Meanings presented by the drag body/identity are dependent on context, and are therefore dependently arisen, or interdependent.
Dharma Drag adds yet another layer of deconstruction: Buddhist identities are just another false persona, another illusory and empty signifier. Dharma Drag does not disdain the emptiness of the persona, but simply makes visible and overt that the Buddhist identity is nothing more than a cultural signifier that has particular meanings within the Dharma context.
Dharma Drag, like Queer Drag, presents the Dharma persona as a comic performance, as an ironic commentary on the pretentiousness of religious identity. Thus it critiques the social construction of religious identity and the power relations and systems of dominance that the construction elides. There is nothing more imperious and suffused with stuffy and ego-centric self-importance than the Buddhist persona as guru, lama, acharya (teacher) or devotee and practitioner. The Buddhist Persona begs for a queer deconstruction, to be re-presented as a Drag Persona that deconstructs and destroys it’s own egoistic self-importance.
Shaunyata was just the first Dharma Drag name that I came up with spontaneously one day. There may be others on the way. If you have a Dharma Drag name, or would like to have one, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
As Ru Paul said (an avid meditator): “We are all born naked, the rest is drag.”