Community Profile: Finn Schubert, Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism, Brooklyn, NY

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Finn Schubert has been a formal student in the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism since 2010. In 2013, he co-created with Audrey Renson and Chance Krempasky, in order to increase the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming Buddhists and provide concrete resources for trans inclusivity to Buddhist communities. He has been active in reproductive justice work for the past ten years and is looking for more opportunities to engage in activism in a Buddhist or interfaith context. He has a master’s degree in epidemiology and works as a research manager at a community hospital.

Why is our work important to you?

I am deeply inspired by the trans*Buddhists and allies that I have met through my work on the guide and on the website. When I reflect on the trans*Buddhists I have met through this website, through our PTHC workshop, and on our online sangha hangouts, it’s hard for me to believe that just five years ago, I thought that I might be the ONLY trans*Buddhist. I feel very nourished by the trans*Buddhists I have connected with through this project, and I love our online sangha hangouts.

What questions have come up for you as a trans or gender non-conforming person in Buddhist practice?

This isn’t exactly a question, but one difficulty that I had is that being trans made me feel a bit special and misunderstood, which really played into my ego and mental habits. So, I guess if framed as a question, it would be, how do I own the uniqueness of my own personal experience while still understanding myself as one of many, many humans in community together and understanding my experience as part of a universal human experience?

Was there a part of the Developing Trans*Competence guide that particularly resonated with you? Why?

I’m deeply grateful to my co-authors for insisting that the guide could not be a purely prescriptive document, that we needed to be sure it included people’s personal experiences and feelings (which we included in the gray boxes throughout the text.) In my own life, I’ve found that it’s much easier to tell someone what I want them to change, and much harder to make myself vulnerable and tell them how their behavior is making me feel and why it’s important that they change, even though such vulnerability is important for relationships and for making lasting change in communities. The personal experience inserts are some of my favorite parts of the guide, and I’m grateful to everyone who shared their experience in these sections.

In what ways (if any) do you feel that your experience of being trans or gender non-conforming has supported or deepened your practice?

It reminds me not to assume things about other people and their experiences, not to have such fixed ideas. I currently live in the world as a trans man who is generally assumed to be a cis man, and I find that people often make incorrect assumptions about my history, my body, my plans for having children, etc. And these assumptions seem to be incontrovertible fact in the minds of people making them. In the same way, I know that I am making assumptions about people all the time, without even noticing or creating the space needed to recognize them as assumptions. I use my experience on the other side of people’s assumptions to try to motivate myself to be very careful about the assumptions I make about others, and to try to create a sense of spaciousness and possibility whenever I notice myself feeling like I “know” something for sure about another person or situation.

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