Becoming Jivaka - the story of the first transgender monk

I came across an interesting article and book-review in Tricycle that I want to share here.

It is about the first Female-To-Male transgender in England, Michael Dillon. He eventually ended up in India and tried to become a monk. He became a Samanera but ran into a lot of problems trying to get higher ordination. His story echos the stuggles that the Bhikkhunis have also had to deal with 50 years later.

Eventually he found a Tibetan monk who was willing to give him higher ordination, but Michael tragically died before he could actually ordain.

(Michael Dillon (left) with his first mentor Sangharakshita in 1958 at Sangharakshita’s monastery in Kalimpong, India)

It makes me wonder: how far are we now, 60 years later. Have we made any progress, really? Is there more clarity in the status of transgenders in the Sangha? Or are we like the US Army: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.


It’s sad, the Dhamma should be available to all, since its not birth or one’s physical features, but one’s noble qualities which matter in the end.

Also, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any thai transgender buddhist figure, seeing as how transgender communities are more widely accepted in those societies. Whats the status of thai “third gender” individuals in the thai sangha at the moment?


@Adan has recently shared a short film about a transgender trying to ordain in Thailand here:


History reveals more varied examples.

E.g. the case of a Chinese eunuch – arguably a sort of gender mutation – who was the admiral leading a huge globe encircling naval expedition in the 1420’s. When he finally returned to China, the political climate had drastically reversed, but he was granted honorable retirement to pursue Buddhist monasticism.

This case (c.f. and the many other related links) is considered historically dubious in several respects, but the book is an engrossing read.

The main point, though, is that eunuchs have played major and respected roles across history, and notably in China.


I don’t see the problem in terms of vinaya, despite local opposition to the issue. The dhamma is available to all, especially as lay people. If you identify your gender as a man, and wish to ordain, they should be able to ordain as men, and or if a woman, as a woman.

with metta


There is an occasion in the Vinaya where (paraphrasing) ‘the characteristics of a female appeared in a male monk’ and the Buddha tells him to start following the rules for nuns. Then the same is said for a female monk manifesting male attributes.

This refers quite likely to transgender issues, given that sexual organs don’t generally pop-up overnight! But it seems in those times and later, issues that we would talk about psychologically were referred to with ‘biological’ language: organs, attributes… eg Buddhaghosa and Vasubandhu.

On youtube there is an interesting series of videos from a Thai talk show. Search ‘gay monk woody talkshow’. I did a bit of research on the topic so if anyone’s interested I have some bibliography.


I not infrequently see transgender people in my clinic. I was struck by how much they feel at ease when the appropriate hormone is administered to them, at the transgender clinic. They feel like they are in the correct body (again?). It goes a long way to show how little the body needs to change sex.

with metta


Thank you all so much for your valueble contributions and insights.
Yes please @Bernat, could you share your data here?

I think it is important to start looking more into these issues in the Sangha and I probably will when I have some more time.


Oh my! Thanks for a fascinating, ongoing discussion about which I can relate as I am a post op Trans woman. And thanks to those of you who embrace me and my unique status on this tiny planet full of mystery…like gender dysphoria which provided me with the best possible introduction to the concept of dependent origination.

Ironically, it was my ‘dysphoria’ that gave me very early insight into the first construct to which we are all introduced at the moment of our birth when a stranger decides which of the two paths we must follow throughout our lives based on observation of our genitalia-the derivation from which can often be fatal. As a young trans person I was forced to deal with the first question in life that most people are never compelled to ask themselves: that is not who am I, but what am I? And if you were to respond ‘a human, of course!’, I would respond by saying sadly that is not enough in this world. One is either a male human or a female human.

Even the Buddha in all of his wisdom was ‘stuck’ in a gender which he employed to elevate men over women. If he did speak about the illusion of gender I have not been made aware throughout all of my discussions and research here at Sutta Central. But he is not alone in his failure to point to the illusion of gender, a sociological control mechanism beyond our evolutionary closeness to primate behavior- evidenced by the fact that chimps don’t care how other dress nor kill other chimps because they are too effeminate.

I have written quite a bit, from a subjective perspective, about the experience of being trans in a world still so profoundly divided. Most of what I have written goes largely unnoticed. I do not take it personally, but mention it as a way of indicating our continuing acceptance of gender as a horrible way of organizing the world order. And I leave you with this caveat: any man who reads this and is ready to challenge the concept of dependent origination as it relates to the First Condition called gender can learn much about the weight of that conditioning by simply changing your gendered uniform for one day. In other words wear a sun dress to Wal-Mart. You will be enlightened.


Thank you so much @Rosie. I find your input in these matters so very valueble.

For anybody in a different position it is very hard to understand this gender-dysphoria and what it does, how it feels. But it is our challenge to turn it into a beautiful learning experience and see how it can give us a different perspective on things.

I personally don’t think the Buddha was stuck in the gender-binary. But he had to work in a society where people thought in that way. So he had to somehow adapt to it to provide the best possible learning environment for his disciples at that time. I’m convinced that in the Sangha there was equality then between all people, but after the death of the Buddha the social influences have again started to exert itself and make changes.


I’m not a 100% percent sure what you mean by ‘illusion’, but the Buddha did teach that conceit based on any of the five khandas is a failure to see truly (e.g. SN 22.49), and constantly taught that the five khandas are to be regarded as ‘not me, not mine, not my self’.

Whatever gender is, it’s certainly contained within the five khandas. It follows that conceit based on gender is a failure to see truly, and that gender is ‘not me, not mine, not my self’.


I would like to think that too.

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Thanks for your ‘right view’ and for the clarification you provided. What I meant about gender being an illusion is that it is dependent origination…human created. And given that Buddha referred to it thusly I cannot help but wonder why it is still the primary condition of all humans including Buddhists of course.

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@Rosie For me, the interesting thing about that Vinaya story is that it reflects a situation in which a monastic manifesting attributes of the other gender did not create big problems or fusses, the response is smooth: okay, then live with that other community and follow their rules. Although, as you say, all this is still gender-binary.

Sadly, the tradition has not always been as cool as in that example. The Vinaya also bans ‘paṇḍakas’ (what we might call ‘queens’ today) from ordaining, after a story of self-advertising promiscuity; as well as ‘ubhatobyañjanakas’ (hermaphrodites, maybe transgenders). I think those in Thailand who argue against ordaining transgenders and gays equate either of these categories with the Thai term ‘kathoey’, ladyboy.

Jose Cabezón edited a good book entitled “Buddhism, sexuality and gender”.

@Vimala I attach an essay with quite a lot of bibliography and some analysis on the ‘paṇḍaka’ problem. Don’t judge too hard, it was my second essay for uni :sweat_smile:

Essay on homosexuality - Bernat Font.pdf (120.3 KB)


Thank you so much for that, and I look forward to perusing. But your quotes regarding the historical division of societies into sexes, and therefore gender can easily be called clinging to illusory concepts, or ignoring dependent origination- a basic tenet of Buddhism as I understand it. As a relative newcomer to Buddhism I am having a very difficult time comprehending this sort of cherry picking of which Christians are also very fond.

Either we accept dependent origination as an absolute or we step outside of the 4 noble truths. This classifying of humans in a hierarchical context with regularly gendered people receiving more benefits not to mention respect and power smacks of a profound judgment against differently gendered people…which leads directly to suffering by means of the imposition of a caste system which I thought was a Hindu concept. And at the risk of incurring the wrath of those in power it does indeed seem like this is a non issue to those male people who decide stuff.

I know that this is a horse which has been beaten nearly to death. But until the scales of equanimity are balanced, we may have to get a new horse.

Thank you for listening…With Metta and liberation to all.


" De Silva cites a commentary that states that paṇḍakas are “full of passions,
unquenchable lust and are dominated by the desire for sex.” Vasubhandu regards paṇḍakas and
hermaphrodites as sensualists, chronically overcome by the deflements of both sexes;
Buddhaghosa claims they are hindered by deflements like those of fxed wrong view and, like the
Milindapañha, denies them the possibility of spiritual progress (Harvey, 2000, pp.417-418). Zwilling
(1992, p.206) speculates that the negative view of the behaviour and characteristics of paṇḍakas is
a result of social stigmatization, and queer thinkers like Michaelson (2011, location 1652) go
further and consider stigmatization as a cause of the behaviour itself."

This controversy over ‘effeminacy’ dating from these early quotes up to the present still smack of blatant sexism. And further how can a person’s morality be ascertained by their behavior-ostentatious as it may be? These judgments still seem to ignore the concept of DO. I could use a right view clarification. I do not know how judgment creeps in to all perception: I perceive you as such, therefore you must be [fill in the blanks.] This perpetuates suffering regardless of the alleged spirituality of the spokesperson.

Given that Buddha was the Awaked One, how did he not see all humans as having equal value?
Darn, this is ignored my passions. Gotta chill…with Metta.

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Just finished your paper. Kudos for a brief but comprehensive look at sex and gender as it evolved throughout history in respect to various Buddhist traditions. I remain somewhere between puzzled and miffed. Sex and gender are either conditioned phenomenon or they are not. If they are conditioned phenomenon they should be regarded in the same light as all causes or they are not which negates the profound principles of dependent origination.

Again, pardon my clumsiness in Buddhist principles. I am here to learn. I await a greater wisdom. :grimacing:

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I think only 2 or 3 of the pañcapaṇḍakāḥ, the five-fold pandakas, are forbidden to ordain, at least in the Dharmaguptaka vinaya. Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya has a different pañcapaṇḍakāḥ sequence, including one who “becomes aroused while bathing”, which might replace the “speckled one” in the Dharmaguptaka, but it also only has 2-3 of the 5 barred from ordination. I think the Theravādavinaya has the same general tradition presented, but I am not sure.

But the statement is true, generally. Vinayāḥ ban paṇḍakāḥ, but not universally.

Some of the categories of paṇḍaka are very odd, and involve transformations in-line with the lunar cycle. I’m sure it’s in your paper, though. I will try to read it shortly.

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I think what happens is that only a tiny percentage of people can see their past lives, which includes having been males and females. For everyone else it is a theoretical construct, and being conditioned in this life to ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’ they are stuck with this delusion. It is the people who bear the brunt of this division who are most conscious of it.

So to turn that around - this experience of suffering - actually gives those individuals and advantage in seeing things as they truly are > this suffering as an opportunity




Thanks for sharing your essay. I enjoyed reading it :anjal::grinning:

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