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What would be the Theravada approach to people who have a transgender experience? As far as I understand it, the mind does not have a gender. So should a Buddhist, out of compassion alone, indulge a transgender person in their request to be regarded as a gender opposite that which they are born; or is this not compassion at all, to indulge one in things which you understand to not be based in reality? Where is the line drawn where one crosses over from being compassionate to being dishonest to oneself and what you have experienced to be true? I know this may be a sensitive subject to some, and I'm not trying to marginalize anyone else's experience of reality; only trying to gain some perspective on how to relate to the world. Thank you

  • I edited to write 'Theravada' instead of 'Buddhist'. You chose the theravada tag for this the topic, and so I guess you are asking what a specifically-Theravada approach or perspective is. You also used the modern-world tag though, so I'm not entirely sure: maybe you asking for the perspective of contemporary (i.e. modern) Theravadins. – ChrisW May 30 '15 at 10:06
  • theravada is fine thats the perspective i was looking for. i just chose modern because it seems to be something more of a modern "phenomenon". i could just be biased, though, being alive now, myself :p – Ryan May 30 '15 at 10:08
  • I suppose binary gender roles seemed well-defined when I was an infant and only knew 'mum' and 'dad'; but I'm guessing that there's always been some overlaps in 'gender' and gender-aspiration in society and in history. Even women's wanting to ordain for example might once have been seen as 'transgender'. A midieval times a Shivaite saint wrote, "If they see breasts and long hair coming, they call it woman, | If beard and whiskers, they call it man, | But, look, the Self that hovers in between, is neither man nor woman" – ChrisW May 30 '15 at 10:30
  • no doubt there have always been people not associating with a binary position, it's probably just our modern culture that's making it more comfortable for such people to be so open about it. – Ryan May 30 '15 at 10:41
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    See also buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1441/… for a discussion about transgender issues which you may find interesting – Crab Bucket May 30 '15 at 11:46
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Stay with loving kindness (Metta) and act out of goodwill.

Have compassion (karuna) knowing that all people suffer and offer help when you have strength.

Avoid perceptions of gender and personalities as that would lead to conditioned responses or worst still stereotyped reactions. So with mindfulness intact act with goodwill.

  • Your saying, "Avoid perceptions of gender" contrasts nicely with the OP saying, "their request to be regarded as a gender opposite". – ChrisW May 30 '15 at 10:08
  • I think Samadhi may be saying to avoid conceptions/formations of "gender" in ones own mind, to avoid getting caught up on it, as gender is a constructed artifice. – Ryan May 30 '15 at 10:29
  • I think i misread what you meant chris; but you're right it does – Ryan May 30 '15 at 11:08
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The mind can be seen as having a gender. Usually being very emotional, afraid and capricious are seen as a qualities of a female mind. Of course both men & women can be like that. That's when you say a man with female qualities or a woman with male qualities. All Brahmas who have none of the above weaknesses are considered male, even though they don't have a physical gender.

As far as dealing with transgender, you can simply treat them as trasgender. In practical situations, if they look like women in appearance, address them as women. If they look like men, address them as men, regardless of what they want to be called. Or simply avoid using gender references at all.

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    that was the way my mind inclined to act as well; but then the thought arose that doing so may arouse anger in such people, to their detriment. And with that in mind would it still be proper to address them as such? – Ryan May 30 '15 at 0:26
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    You can't really take responsibility for people getting angry because of their delusions. People who are around can also get angry even though you might make that person happy. – Sankha Kulathantille May 30 '15 at 0:34
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    You can also avoid using gender references – Sankha Kulathantille May 30 '15 at 0:48
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    thats a good point, avoiding the contention is probably the best way. the middle way! – Ryan May 30 '15 at 1:05
  • In Western countries, some people are teased and bullied in school: including people who are gay and transgender. Apparently, for transgender gender, people expecting you to behave/dress/socialize/identify as the 'wrong' gender feels like coercion and bullying. I saw documentary video of young children (boy and girl) who wanted to be the other gender. One of their dads was talking on documentary, and said, "When I first heard of their desire (to be transgender) I was surprised. But I did some research and I found that suicide rates are higher among transgender people who aren't allowed ..." – ChrisW May 30 '15 at 9:28
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My opinion is that, being a transgender is not an unnatural phenomenon, since being a hermaphrodite by birth is a natural occurence, because it is an inherited mutation. So there is no question about that. But the question is, do we classify men who have decided by themselves that they are women, or whether we classify women who consider themselves men - purely on the basis if a cosmetical gender changing surgery.

In reality, the brain does have a gender. This is because the brain is a physical object, and humans are quite skilled at comparing physical objects. It is quite like comparing an orange and and apple and calling each by their own man-given name. A woman's brain has distinct differences from a male brain, since sensory centres relating to empathy, kindness, attachment are more well defined than in a man. A man's motor centres are more well defined in a woman. So we can see size differences in certain regions in the man's brain and woman's brain when comparing them physically (externally). But what if I ask you, what would you see when comparing a female bodybuilder's brain with that of a non-bodybuilder female's brain? Yes. The bodybuilder's motor centres are indeed more well defined than her non-bodybuilder counterpart. So, physical comparisons are quite lacking in truth. So we need to consider avout the mind's nature as well. A person's gender as well as their characters and personality depend on many factors.

It is stated that prince Siddhartha made five great considerations (Pas Maha Belum) before being born on earth. Those are time, continent, country, clan and mother. In addition, a person's aforementioned features depends on their Niyama Dharmas as well.

According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (niyama) which operate in the physical and mental realms.They are:

  1. Utu Niyama - physical inorganic order, e.g. seasonal phenomena of winds and rains. The unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes and events, causes of winds and rains, nature of heat, etc., all belong to this group. 2.Bija Niyama - order of germs and seeds (physical organic order), e.g. rice produced from rice-seed, sugary taste from sugar-cane or honey, peculiar characteristics of certain fruits, etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order. 3.Karma Niyama - order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results. As surely as water seeks its own level so does Karma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result, not in the form of a reward or punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the sun and the moon. 4.Dhamma Niyama- order of the norm, e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the advent of a Bodhisattva in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws of nature. The natural reason for being good and so forth, may be included in this group. 5.Citta Niyama - order or mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of consciousness, arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind, etc., including telepathy, telaesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-reading and such other psychic phenomena which are inexplicable to modern science. Every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by these all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws in themselves. Karma as such is only one of these five orders. Like all other natural laws they demand no lawgiver. Quotes from here.

Hence, a person's gender has all these predeterminant factors as well. The issue is, gender - like race, religeon and caste, are just human classifications, just like an orange is different from an apple. What is more important is not the physical differences between individual objects/beings, but rather what lies within- their conscience and the karma they commit right here right now, which decides where they progress in this cosmic existence. So my opinion is that being a judge of what should be and what is ought to be, is not what Lord Buddha taught us to do. He taught us on repeated occasions to be compassionate, kind, gentle, wise and understanding. See beyond the barriers and see the being within the external covers.

"Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else."

"Purity or impurity depends on oneself, No one can purify another."

"True love is born from understanding."

-Gautama Buddha

"By working together, we come to realize that no barriers to religion, race or gender exist." -Venerable Wuling, Path to Peace Buddhist view of transgenderism

EXTRA READING: Buddhist view of transgenderism

  • Thank you for your response. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize my initial reaction was knee-jerk, not at all born out of clear awareness of what is. – Ryan Jun 2 '15 at 1:45
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In order to serve as a reference for any trans/queer/non-binary and gender non-conforming folks on the Bodhisattva path here, looking to see how Buddhism interacts with their gender identity, it would be beneficial and more precise to add that Buddhism 100% allows all beings to be what they already are. When I entered the stream I had already had one transsexualism operation and was waiting for my second. The middle path does indeed allow for many of us who aren't monastics to be part of the sangha.

This article ...

Gender transformed and meta-gendered enlightenment: Reading Buddhist narratives as paradigms of inclusiveness

... quotes the buddha’s official position on trans-men and trans-women according to the Vinaya.

Here, in the Suttavibha≡ga – the first section of the vinaya – we find significant discussion on offences meriting expulsion from the order (pārājika). All kinds of breaches of celibacy are discussed; the discussion is prompted – as stated explicitly - by real cases, [etc.]

Interestingly enough, we read here also about a change of sex, although the connection with breaches of celibacy is not immediately obvious:

‘Now at one time, the sign of a woman [ittthilinga] appeared to a monk. They [the other monks] told this matter to the lord. He said: “Monks, I allow a teacher [upajjha, preceptor, spiritual teacher] to meet with nuns during the rains, as for the upasampadā ordination [higher ordination], so as in the presence of the nuns away from those offences which they have in common with monks; but in those offences of monks which are offences not in common with nuns, there is no offence (for the nuns).’

‘Now at one time, the sign of a man [purisalinga] appeared to a nun. They [the other monks] told this matter to the lord. He said: “Monks, I allow a teacher to meet with the monks during the rains, as for the upasampadā ordination, so as in the presence of monks to turn the monks away from those offences which they have in common with nuns; but in those offences of nuns which are offences not in common with monks, there is no offence (for the monks).’ (Vin. iii 35 PTS)[3]

The gist of this narrative might not be too clear in the earlier translation of Ms. Horner, Pali Text Society (1938), which I just quoted. Let us try a more accurate reading of the crucial point in this obscure Pāli passage:

The Buddha answers in the case of the male to female (MtF) transformation: Monks, I allow [her] a preceptor, I allow her the ordination, I allow her the ordination years [or: the monsoon periods, pointing either towards prestige or the general permission to stay with other nuns during this period] and the presence of nuns…

The Buddha’s laconic and pragmatic reaction towards sex/gender-crossing within the sa≡gha (the Buddhist community) is striking. The bottom line is, the Buddha changed the status of the transsexual from Monk to Nun, with all implications for the keeping of the specific precepts of the other sex but with no consequences for the continuity of spiritual guidance (preceptor) and prestige (years of ordination). The female to male (FtM) is treated analogously.

The context of the passage in the discussion of offences clarifies the focus on the ethical implication of a sex-change for the community, in which sex specific precepts had to be kept and in which cross-sex contact was extremely limited and sanctioned.

By defining the transformed as a full member of the sex changed into, the Buddha clarifies the monastic-disciplinary implications. Interestingly enough, the text doesn’t give any account how the ‘mark of the opposite sex’ appeared in the person in question. That it happens is accepted as common fact. This is also demonstrated by the enumeration of MtF and FtM transformations in the para-canonical Milindapañhā (267) within the regular phenomena appearing in the world.[4]

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Buddhism is not identitarian.

If transgender people follow the five precepts (which includes committed sexual relationship), Buddhism says this is wholesome & minimizes harm.

If transgender people do not follow the five precepts (which includes uncommitted heedless sexual activity), Buddhism says this is unwholesome & generates harm.

Buddhism is a Path of 'Dhamma', which means a path about how to 'maintain/uphold/support' one's well-being and also the well-being of others.

All people suffer due to wrong action, regardless of their sexual identity/disposition.

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