This post took a little longer to write because I needed some research and contemplation. Someone asked me, “Does Buddhism accept Transgender?”
I think the answer is a straight-forward yes if we are referring to the Triple Gem when we say Buddhism. The enlightened disciples of Buddha, also known as the Sangha, will have no issue with Transgender people (Trans). The Dharma never denounce or condemn Trans. The Buddha will definitely not discriminate against Trans.
Here’s my simple rationale. If Devadatta was predicted to become a Buddha in the long distant future and serial killer like Angulimala can become an Arhat, then I believe being a Trans is not a problem for practicing Buddhism.
After reading a little bit more about transgender, I think we can perhaps try to understand it better by imagining how uncomfortable it will be for us, if one day, we woke up and discover that our gender had changed overnight. I imagine waking up with a female body. Following that, my daily experience of life will probably be thrown upside down. I don’t think I will feel comfortable wearing a dress or enjoy jogging in my new female body. That sense of waking up in a wrong body must be extremely uncomfortable. Following that, the pressure of conforming to social expectation to dress and act feminine, marry a man, and etc; must be unbearable. This is my clumsy interpretation of what it meant to be Trans.
Being born with a gender that we do not identify with is suffering. Imagine deep in our mind, we identify as a man but was born with the body of a female; or vice versa. In that sense, our body may become a source of suffering to us. It is due to this perspective that some Buddhist teachers explained that being born a Trans is due to one’s bad karma.
Unfortunately, some people interpreted that message negatively and concluded that Trans are probably “bad people” in their previous lives. This can lead to discrimination or an unsympathetic “You deserve the suffering” kind of mentality. Unknown to them, such apathy, arrogance and meanness is also a bad karma.
Although most of us are born without remembering our past lives, sometimes strong attachments and preferences may carry over from one lifetime to the next. Who are we to judge others?
In one case study that was recorded by Dr. Ian Stevenson, a girl in Thailand identify herself as male because she recalled her past life as a Japanese male jailor who was in-charge of female POW. Although he is born a woman in his current life, he cannot identify with his new body and continue to live as a man.
The above is just an example and cannot be used as a yardstick to conclude that all trans arises similarly. Karma is complicated because each of us is unique.
In the scriptural context, I read an interesting story of how a man was infatuated with Buddha. Naturally, Buddha did not reciprocate his infatuation. However, that blessed encounter with Buddha resulted in the miraculous transformation of that man’s gender, from male to female. Subsequently, he lived the rest of his life as a woman, got married and gave birth to her own children.
The above narrative is my personal interpretation and I think it is a positive message for Trans. Imagine your body transforming into your correct gender. However, traditional Buddhist education would interpret that episode as a form of punishment for a man who dared to lust after Buddha. Thus you loose your manhood.
However, that kind of narratives doesn’t seem right to me because of my conviction that encounters with Buddha only bring blessings. After contemplation, it occurred to me that one man’s meat can be another’s poison. From a man’s perspective, losing one’s manhood must sound so horrible, but from a Trans’ perspective; a miraculous gender transformation is a great blessing!
From the above difference in interpretation, it should be apparent that the Buddhist community can also be bias. This is because each one of us had been conditioned by our education, cultural value, family value, personal perspective and etc. Many a times, non-Buddhist values and principles are mistaken to be Buddhist and stubbornly upheld. That may cause confusion and suffering.
For example, in the 80s and even today, some Buddhist educators continue to teach that female body is inferior to male. I have met Chinese Nuns who subscribe to such views too. Some teachers even teach that a bosomy female body is a result of extreme lust in one’s mind. Consequently, nuns are proud to share that developing a flat chest after years of practice is a positive sign of spiritual progress. This is because their body is transforming into a male body, which is more meritorious than a female body.
The irony here is that trans woman is deemed bad karma whereas a trans male is celebrated? The Buddha in my heart cannot be teaching such biasness. No?
In summary, I believe Trans can be a good Buddhist and equally good for enlightenment. If you meet small-minded unenlightened “Buddhist” being nasty, try to sharing wisdom with them, if you can. Otherwise, just leave them be and hope wisdom will come to them one day. Share wisdom, not fear.
May all be well and happy.