My Dad Went on a Date with Carrie Shirley’s Mom, and It Got Awkward

In light of Carrie Shirley’s recent article about her mom going on a “date” with a young Dalai Lama, I asked my dad for insight on Shirley’s mom, with whom he had an uncomfortable encounter when he was 14 years old.

In a Broadly article earlier this week, Carrie Shirley shared an account of her mother allegedly spending an afternoon with a young Dalai Lama. Even though she had no evidence of this actually having taken place, Broadly published her post in full, along with a grainy picture of her mother with another woman and a random Asian guy in a sweater purportedly somewhere near Cambridge, UK. In spite of the many calls for withdrawal from people online, Broadly has not, as of this writing, retracted this defamatory piece from their website.

Screengrab

Screengrab

Reception to this article was fairly unanimous: almost everyone with any familiarity with the Dalai Lama and two functioning brain cells could see that this kind of journalism was problematic, to say the least. How could Broadly publish such a reductive, invective piece? Why didn’t any of their fact-checkers investigate the photograph to verify that it was indeed the Dalai Lama? Do they not see how this kind of condescending post marginalizes the plight of Tibetans and consequently diminishes genuine conversations about gender equity in Tibetan Buddhism? Was Broadly always this shitty, and we never noticed until today?

While social media affords us an intimate—if often one-sided—relationship with bloggers, figures like Carrie Shirley still prove impregnable despite their attempts at writing. It’s one thing to watch someone live-stream their colonic on Periscope; it’s another to simply pretend that what they write is sincere and meaningful. Forty years ago, my dad was witness to this. He went on a date with Carrie Shirley’s mom. *

Northern India.

Northern India.

At the time, my dad was studying at a Tibetan high school in Northern India; Shirley’s mom was passing by the area during her trip through Asia. She was in the midst of her hippie wanderlust which was common among her peers at the time.

When my dad and Shirley’s mom met, she had been travelling for fourteen weeks. There was a manic, pixie glint in her eyes and early clumps of dreadlocks at the tips of her hair. It was awful.

My dad was around thirteen. He was studying and living in the hostel, along with many other Tibetan students. Due to the limited food provisions, they had to sleep hungry, often making do with copious glasses of water. So, when one of their teachers notified them that an American visitor was interested in touring the hostel and could use a guide, my dad volunteered immediately. It was a quick way to possibly earn some cash to buy extra food for himself and his friends. It was worth a shot, considering the school was poor, he was broke, and the fledgling Tibetan community in diaspora was just coming together, having fled a violent Chinese occupation only a decade ago.

Even though my dad had zero inkling going in that this was a romantic endeavour of any kind, he was soon in for a rude awakening. “She started making these weird, physical gestures,” he recalled. “I had to keep distancing myself from her and smiling awkwardly because I didn’t know how to tell this adult woman to back off politely.”

In some ways, the tour was fairly ordinary: my dad showed Shirley’s mom around the school, the ramshackle library and the small cottage workshops dotting the periphery of the property. In other ways, it was less so—she introduced herself to him as “Shirley’s mom”. “I didn’t know how to address her, so I just waved when I wanted her attention,” my dad said.

In addition to the school tour, my dad took Shirley’s mom to a nearby Indian restaurant, hoping she would treat the emaciated young boy for his help in showing her around. “She was not offering, not at all,” he recalled. “Even though it was lunch time and we were seated in a restaurant, I had to actually point to the menu before she even got the hint.” My dad had smiled weakly at her and hoped he would at least get a piece of samosa. No dice.

“She was a little weird and hard to talk to,” my dad said, so Shirley’s recent Broadly article didn’t surprise him. And widespread shock seems a little late in the game, at this point. The truth is that Shirley’s article has been shared many times by Shugden devotees, a group of Buddhists that have been beefing with the Dalai Lama for decades now.

It’s also perhaps misleading to label this article a joke, since Shirley makes it a point to continually ascribe sexual motivations behind her mom’s alleged encounter with the Dalai Lama. Even in the absence of any such accounts from her own mom, Shirley alludes to a kind of lecherousness to the Dalai Lama, to make him seem like some kind of a predatory guru. Why would someone do that, unless they mean to gaslight a revered Buddhist leader, and play the White, Femi-Hipster MO of marginalizing the struggles of people of colour?

This kind of drive-by critique and analysis of the Tibetan movement and people from an outsider’s perspective is not new. There is a thriving cottage industry of Westerners reading a book on meditation, taking a deluxe retreat package in a Tibetan Buddhist school in Colorado or Nova Scotia, and then packaging this consumptive pathology as a kind of divine revelation. Some of them even integrate themselves into the exile Tibetan community, and pontificate further on the ills plaguing the people and the culture.

In many ways, this is a modern take on a centuries-old tradition: colonialism. Laced with just a trace hint of irony to show everyone that you’re invested in it insofar that it gives you a sense of meaning and notoriety in an otherwise vacuous, self-obsessed existence.

This entitled, privileged attitude is at odds with what anyone would call true feminism or journalism. One would think that in order to sincerely speak about gender equity in the Tibetan community, Shirley would engage with Tibetan women to understand their lived experience, their opinions and their aspirations. A female-focused publication like Broadly could even post an article from the many Tibetan female writers.

Again, no dice. Instead, a white woman claimed that her mom went on a “date” with a young Dalai Lama. She used that as a springboard from which to make her all-important assertions on gender imbalances within Tibetan Buddhism. White people, as always, get the megaphone. Even if it’s littered with facile observations and mediocre writing.

After their day together, my dad returned to his hostel. His friends asked him if he got any treats. “All I got was a bottle of coke,” he remembers. “I thought, I spent two hours taking this American lady all over the place, showing her shops and trying to translate for her, but nothing.”

And then the calls started. She came by his school more than three times, asking to “get together again.”

When I asked him why he didn’t take her up on her offer, my dad replied, “It was kind of like having a distant aunt call you to mow her lawn,” my dad said. “And you keep doing it, but she never thanks you in any meaningful way. And there was always this weird sexual vibe around it. It was peculiar.”

For someone with inherited centuries of privilege and decades of liberal education, Shirley’s article lacked one thing: She couldn’t speak to Tibetan women. Couldn’t make conversation with them, couldn’t relate to them, and certainly couldn’t write about them. As my dad said about her mom, “She was just a pest.”

Forty years later, not much has changed.

*Note: This piece is satire. Well, not all of it. Back

Follow me on Twitter: @GelekB

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11 comments

  1. jigmeyeshe

    You make one mistake – she wouldn’t have called herself ‘Shirley’s mum’ as ‘Shirley’ wasn’t around then… the women in the photo are too young!

      • jigmeyeshe

        LOL…
        As well as posting a photo of Sogyal Rinpoche (and not His Holiness the Dalai Lama) and using defamatory insinuations about a person who has always behaved as a exemplary monk the following is also not true!
        There is no ‘campus’ for Cambridge University as the university is made up of separate buildings integrated throughout the city.
        HH the Dalai Lama did not live in Cambridge, only visited, so he would not have set up a shrine with ancient artefacts in his room. Tibetan artefacts were not made BC.
        The river in Cambridge, UK, is not called the ‘Charles River’. It is the Cam. The ‘Charles River’ is near Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_River

  2. no name

    The lady who wrote the original piece actually has close links to the NKT/ISC and even bragged about having ‘done it” to their chief propaganda minister INDY HACK (Dont bother, they deleted the tweet-screen shot coming) She has a long and well documented list of NKT associates. Working for China? Looks like!The NKT/ISC are developing quite a history of deception and will stop at nothing to carry out the CPC agenda.
    Update on ‘The Lies of the Shugden Propaganda Machine’
    http://www.dalailamaprotesters.info/?p=2852

  3. tenpel

    There are more errors. Carrie tried on the one hand to offer a critical pro feminist account (nothing wrong with that!) but the means she applied were determined by her wish for an outcome that ends with the astonishing and incorrect claims »For someone with inherited centuries of wisdom and decades of Buddhist study, the Dalai Lama lacked one thing: He couldn’t speak to women. Couldn’t make conversation with them, couldn’t relate to them, and certainly couldn’t hit on them. As my mom said, “He was just a pest.” Forty years later, not much has changed.«

    The key of the article is the misapprehended and misinterpreted and misrepresented story of her mum, and it serves only for the purpose to put the DL down. Other false claims in her article (besides being unable to identify the Dalai Lama or to have geographic knowledge about Cambridge) include:

    1) “Reception to this interview ranged from shock to anger.” this is not correct. There were many contributions that put the misinterpretation of a cut BBC interview into perspective, among others see the summary here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2015/09/dalai-lama-in-hot-water-over-sexist-comments-again.html There is also an article by Psychology Today that does not step into the outraged blinded hype: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pacific-heart/201509/no-the-dalai-lama-is-not-sexist-taming-the-angernet

    2) “The title Dalai Lama arose in 1587, and by 1641, the Dalai Lama—this one was the fifth—had complete political and religious authority over Tibet.” In fact researchers such as Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich (University of Hamburg) state “In reality there are altogether only about 45 years of absolute governmental power of the Dalai Lamas” (“In der Realität … insgesamt kaum mehr als fünfundvierzig Jahre der uneingeschränkten Regierungsgewalt der Dalai Lamas zusammenkommen.”, Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich, Lamakratie – “Das Scheitern einer Regierungsform”, Universität Hamburg, p. 182) or Brauen, Martin (2005:6): “Only few of the 14 Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet and if, then only for some few years” (“Nur wenige der 14 Dalai Lamas regierten Tibet und wenn, dann meist nur für einige wenige Jahre.”)

    It is always a problem if your writing is guided by bias that leads to a tunnel view where you even see falsities as facts. Actual, I am really really sorry for her. I also recited some Chenrezig mantras for her this morning. It seems to have been her first article and she really screwed it up. Must be quite painstaken. If the editors have some compassion towards her and some wisdom with respect to the facts and some self-compassion towards themselves – not to speak about compassion towards the readers, Tibetans or fairness towards the Dalai Lama – they should delete the article.

  4. Pingback: The Case of the Missing Tibetan Woman | Shit's Political
  5. Dan

    I remember many years ago when His Holiness first visited the U.S. people could be heard leaving the university auditorium saying to their friends, “Did he really hear what I just heard him to say?” They were talking about His closing words, “If what I’ve said is useful to you put it into practice. If it isn’t useful to you, forget it!”
    What they misheard were the last three syllables as delivered in H.H.’s India-tinged accent in two syllables. If you don’t know what I’m getting at, forget it!
    (Someone suggested to me to put a clarification in the newspaper, but I thought it would just bring more attention to it. The truth is He’s very often misheard when He speaks in English. Not just for pronunciation, but as here, for the phrasing, “Not much use.” This needs to be unpacked from his earlier parallel statements. He’s just saying a beautiful woman would attract more people to the Buddhist teachings, and therefore be more beneficial. It’s a joke, but with a serious intent.)

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