Changing Genders, Changing Buddhists

I sit down with my cup of tea this morning and open up the paper. I don’t usually read newspapers but one of the headlines has caught my eye. It reads: “Are you ready for the sensitive man?” with a cartoon-picture of a man who throws away his porn- and car-magazines while holding a magazine on meditation. A tear flows out of his eye. It is an article about the changing gender-roles in our Western society. In the same paper there is also an article about the rising popularity of Frida Kahlo. The paper attributes this to her bi-sexuality and her surmounting of gender-roles.

A few months ago, Belgium passed a law to allow people to change their gender legally without any fuss: just to go to cityhall and change it and pay a small administrative fee. A judge in the Netherlands recently ruled that a third gender should be recognised in the law. Things are changing in our world; the traditional social gender-roles that we learn from the time we are born are changing.

So what does this mean for us as Buddhists? How do we look at gender and work within ourselves and how should we deal with this changing environment within the Sangha? Let’s first have a look at what this “gender” really is. When we are born, we are either male or female. Or are we? This is the assumption on which our gender-binary world rests. But let’s have a closer look at these assumptions.

First of all, I want to make the terminology clear: there is a difference between biological sex, social gender-roles, gender-identity and sexual orientation. Often these terms are used loosly and as synonyms but that is a mistake. Although these terms have something to do with each other, they are still independent from each other in that any individual can have a unique combination of each.


Biological Sex

Sex refers to the anatomical and other biological differences between females and males that are determined in the womb. Most people are born with either male or female organs, but certainly not all. There are also people who are intersex. In our world, they are often operated at birth in order to fit into the gender-binary world outside.

Then there is such a thing as spontaneously changing sex. This is rare but it can happen in puberty, mostly from female-to-male. Scientifically this process is not yet well understood. (Salt, 2007)

Social gender-roles

Gender is a social concept that denotes the social and cultural differences a society assigns to people based on their biological sex. Each society imposes on people the expectations of behavior and attitudes based on their biological sex. This we call gender-roles. Gender is therefore a social construction. How we think and behave as males or females is not determined by our biological sex but is a result of how society conditions us based on that biological sex. (Lindsey, 2011)

Biology vs Social conditioning

For many years there has been the debate if differences in gender stem from biology (Workman & Reader, 2009) or social conditioning or a combination of the two. Of course there are differences between the capabilities of our respective bodies, but in our world these differences are subject to change too. We no longer live in a society where day-to-day survival is of the utmost importance. Everybody still has unique traits and possibilities, but these are no longer determined solely by our biological sex. Even if biological differences did influence gender roles in prehistoric times, these differences are largely irrelevant in today’s world. (Hurley, 2007; Buller, 2006; Begley, 2009)

Some of the most compelling evidence against a strong biological determination of gender roles comes from anthropologists, whose work on preindustrial societies demonstrates some striking gender variation from one culture to another. This variation underscores the impact of culture on how females and males think and behave. (Mead, 1935; Morgan, 1989; Murdock, 1937)


Gender-identity is how we feel about ourselves. It is a mental construct that in most cases is in line with the assigned gender-role and biological sex, but not in all.

Attempts to reassign gender-identity can result in gender dysphoria; the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be different to one’s biological sex. These people literally feel to be “in the wrong body” (or being forced to play the wrong gender-role) and feel more comfortable if they can assume the gender-role of the opposite sex or no particular gender-role at all.

Next to the usual terms of “man” and “woman”, there are many terms to describe various forms of gender-identity. If you want to know more, here is a short video that gives a great introduction:

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference for sexual relationships with individuals of the other sex (heterosexuality), one’s own sex (homosexuality), or both sexes (bisexuality).

Past Lives

The causes of why some people feel different from the social norm, either in gender-identity or sexual orientation or both, have been much debated but it seems to be a highly complex mix of biological and socio-cultural factors. One thing that sticks out for me is than none of the research has focussed on past lives. We have all been male and female in our past lives before and we have acted out many different social roles, including gender-roles. The mental factors that we have brought into this live from the past should not be overlooked but it is difficult to determine the extend to which this plays a role. It is known through the work of Ian Stevenson that children of a young age are more likely to remember their past lives and this is the age that core gender-identity gets established.

There is a large variety of combinations of biological sex, gender-identity and sexual orientation that people can have. Many transgenders and genderqueer people have tried to live a life according to the social norms with a gender based on their physical characteristics before they “came out”. Many were in a marriage with children before they decided to transition or come out as queer. Some never do and stay in their assigned gender-role. The idea of the gender-binary is simply much too simplistic.

I do not think that nowadays there are more people who feel uncomfortable in their assigned gender-role than there were before, but that the awareness, the understanding and the acceptance is increasing in our modern society. Many people begin to question the value of such gender-roles in an ever changing world where immediate survival is less important but new challenges have to be met. In the end, we are all just human beings.

Gender in Buddhism

Religion plays a large role in socializing individuals to their assigned gender-roles. Buddhism is certainly no exception to that, but we have to make a difference here between the Buddha’s teachings, and Buddhist culture, which has developed based on geographical and interpretational differences since the time of the Buddha.

In order to understand the Buddhist’ point of view we have to go back in history. As Ayya Sujato pointed out in his article on the Buddha’s genitals, the Buddhas himself appears to be more non-binary: he has gone beyond the notion of gender. But how were things in the Buddha’s time? This was a very different society than ours and the only things we know about it have come to us through the background stories of the Suttas and the Vinaya. But what that tells us is that in social relationships, this society was not so very different from India today. In any case, it was most likely a hetero-patriarchical society where forced marriage was the norm.

It was in this society that the Buddha had to teach. Even if he himself felt different, he would not directly challenge existing structures in society but would teach people to contemplate and look inside of themselves. His way of teaching was very subtle, never lecturing but always guiding people to find answers inside. And what he taught was to be compassionate to all beings, regardless of caste and gender.

In his Teachings he makes very clear that these distinctions between humans are irrelevant:

“Neither in neck, nor shoulders found,
not in belly or the back,
neither in buttocks nor the breast,
not in groin or sexual parts.

Neither in hands nor in the feet,
not in fingers or the nails,
neither in knees nor in the thighs,
not in their “colour”, not in sound,
here is no distinctive mark
as in the many other sorts of birth.

In human bodies as they are,
such differences cannot be found:
the only human differences
are those in names alone.”

Suttanipāta 3.9

The Teachings

There are various ways to look at the teachings. One way which I find very helpful here is the teachings on the five Khandhas: form, feeling, perception, choices and consciousness. When teaching about the five Khandhas, the Buddha teaches to contemplate them as Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (suffering) and Anatta (not-self). He does not say that there is not a self, but that if you identify with a self, you actually identify with these five Khandhas; if you see them in accordance with reality, they don’t operate as a “self”, something you can cling to.

His approach is to encourage investigation. How do you know these things? Go through each aspect of experience and see if it is permanent of impermanent. “Dukkha” is a bit more subtle and sometimes confusing because the term “dukkha” is here used as a characteristic of the five Khandhas and is not used in the same sense as the feeling of “dukkha”, which is part of the second Khandha. What is meant here is something like seeing the imperfection of things, seeing that it is not fit to provide lasting satisfaction. Anatta is seeing that these experiences cannot be controlled and are therefore not a self.

One of the most important things about the five Khandhas is not the particular definition of each each but the interrelationship between the first four (form, feeling, perception, choices) with the fifth (consciousness). The interaction, the responsiveness and the resonance between the inner subjective awareness and the sentient body, between the inner sense of awareness and the external signs. We don’t simply see objects as annica, dukkha, Anatta but the very nature and structure of the interaction itself is interdependent and constantly spinning around, constantly changing. Deep insight is not about knowing what external objects are but how the mind is involved with these objects.

In relation to gender, we can see that our gender-identity is a perception. Whether we identify as man, woman or something else, we all have this perception. We also have an idea about how other people perceive us and this is where our assigned gender-role comes into play. This gender-role is a socially conditioned phenemenon, but it also has an internal part, namely how we perceive this in relation to ourselves; the interaction between what is inside and what is outside. We have no control over how these things are and we cannot will ourselves to have a different gender-identity. It is Anatta. It is as it is and we cannot change it. Our gender-identity is not a choice.

But when contemplating, there is a shift from Sañña (perception) to Pañña (wisdom). By observing things, slowly our defilements disappear and we will start to see things in a different light. The inner qualities of the mind change while wisdom grows. This way, we can let go of our thinking about how we “should be” according to some perceived social standard outside of us and learn to accept ourselves, and our gender, as we are, while keeping in mind that it is Anatta. This way we change our relationship to the outside world and we change our perception of ourselves and others.

The Vinaya

As is shown in the short video that @Adan posted, the argument against transgenders ordaining that is used now is the same as was used for Bhikkhunis before: you can meditate and develop without being ordained, just accept the way it is and be content with that. This is an argument that is used often by Buddhists, therewith quoting the Teachings of being content, equanimous and letting go. But that is a wrong grasp of the Teachings. Wanting to ordain is a wholesome aspiration and in line with the Dhamma and the Buddha would have applauded that. The Buddha himself was always compassionate to all beings and when individuals were refused ordination it was never because of their gender-identity or sexual orientation.

We have to look at how people with another gender were described in the Vinaya. There are several words that could denote this, or are generally translated as such, all of which only appear in the Khandakas of the Vinaya Pitaka and more precisely only in the Bhikkhunikhandaka (or as a term of abuse in Bhikkhu Saṅghādisesa 3). Bhikkhu @Sujato (2007) argues that the Bhikkhunikkhandhaka, as well as other parts of the Vinaya, are a later addition, possibly dating back to the Second Council.

There are several types of people that are noted: Vepurisikā, Sambhinna, Ubhatovyañjanaka and Paṇḍaka.
All of these terms are mentioned in conjunction with ordination: people with these characteristics are not allowed to ordain, at least, not as a Bhikkhuni. In the Early Buddhist Suttas we do not find any mention of the first three terms, only the word Paṇḍaka is found in some Anguttara Nikaya passages that do not have any parallels in other Early texts. It is not well understood what these terms actually denote, although the more conservative people in the Sangha refer to these terms as meaning anybody who does not comply with the established gender-norms. However, I believe it is wrong to accept the most conservative reading of the texts based on so little knowledge of the actual meaning of these terms.

The term Paṇḍaka has been discussed in more detail in this thread and also in the essay by @Bernat Font. It would seem that a Paṇḍaka is not an indication of gender or sexual orientation but more a term denoting a person who exhibits strong lustful behavior that would of course be inappropriate in the Sangha.

Regardless of how the Vinaya is interpreted, the doctrine of Anatta itself denies that there is an identity or lasting entity at the centre of any being, so this makes gender difference at the deepest level a superficial factor just as race, ethnicity, appearance or social status. Therefore to deny anybody ordination on the basis of this is itself against the Dhamma.

The Buddha’s teachings are just as applicable in today’s world as they were 2500 years ago, but we have to keep in mind that the conditions in which we need to work with these teachings are vastly different. We have no Buddha to tell us what to do, but if we try to follow the Buddha’s footsteps and be kind and compassionate to all beings, we cannot be far off.

Bhikkhu or Bhikkhunī?

Of course the above begs the question: if ordination for transgenders is allowed … how should they ordain?

No doubt this will be the topic of much discussion in years to come because not all trans-people also have had surgery (so they might still have the body of the opposite sex, at least partly). It is quite possible that somebody with male genitals identifies as a woman and visa versa. Moreover, there are many people who don’t strongly identify with either sex: they are non-binary.

Anderson (2016a) points out that monks and nuns forego the usual markers of sex and gender difference when they don their robes and shave their heads. In addition to this, they live a celibate life so these sexual organs are not used for the purpose that nature designed them for. It would therefore seem ludicrous for a transgender, who has not had full surgery, to have to go through this for the sake of a body part that plays no part in Buddhist Monastic practice.

The argument revolves around the explanation of a passage in the Vinaya in Pārājika 1 (translation by Ajahn @Brahmali):

At one time the characteristics of a woman appeared on a monk. They informed the Master. He said: “Monks, I allow that very discipleship, that very ordination, those years as a monk, to be transferred to the nuns. The monks’ offenses that are in common with the nuns are to be dealt with in the presence of the nuns. For the monks’ offenses that are not in common with the nuns, there’s no offense.”

The same passage is then repeated for a nun.

The appearance of this passage in Pārājika 1 is a bit odd. This rule has to do with sexual intercourse and obviously a change of characteristics has nothing much to do with that. It is possible that this passage was added later.

Carol Anderson (2016) points out that in the Abhidhamma, male rebirth is seen as the result of good kamma and female rebirth as the result of bad kamma (adultry) and that this might have some bearing on the appearance of this passage in Pārājika 1.

It is unclear what exactly “characteristics of a (wo)man” are. The word this hinges on is liṅga, which means sign or characteristics. It can refer to physical characteristics but not necessarily. The words for “characteristics of a (wo)man” are itthiliṅgaṃ and purisaliṅgaṃ. These words appear in the canon only 5 times, in later texts like the Abhidhamma and the Milindapañha. It also appears in the early suttas once, namely in Digha Nikāya 27 which describes the evolution. In the latter case, it seems that liṅga indeed refers to biological sex.

In the first commentary on the Vinaya-piṭaka, the Samantapāsādikā, the change of liṅga is described as appearing suddenly in the middle of the night; one goes to bed as a man and wakes up as a woman. This seems of course highly unlikely but might have it’s roots in the notion that sleep is a precarious state whereby one looses control, which can lead to shameful situations (Heirman, 2012). The commentary also attributes such a change to good or bad kamma.

Scherer (2006) and others take the term liṅga as a reference to the ‘secondary sex organs’ or characteristics of sexual difference, which also include behavioral differences so the term can be used to denote both biological sex and gender-identity as we define it today. They base this conclusion on the work of Buddhaghosa, a later commentator. However, the notion of gender as we have today is no doubt different from that in the time of the Buddha. More research in this field and also the corresponding parallels in other schools is needed to get a better picture.

In any case, it seems that there is a lot of uncertainty about what liṅga actually refers to. There are different attempts to explain the term in later commentarial literature but these have very different views from each other. All this has an impact on the ordination procedure, whereby one is asked if one is a purisa(man) or itthi (woman). It would follow from this passsage in Pārājika 1 that in order to be a man or woman for the purpose of ordination, one should have the liṅga of a man or woman.

I feel that the safest way to approach this is again to look at the Teachings and choose the most compassionate route. The passage in Pārājika 1 gives an indication of what the Buddha would do: the transitioned person should practice according to the VInaya that is most appropriate to them in order to get the best possible opportunities to eradicate defilements and practice the teachings.

I feel therefore that in light of the Teachings, ordination should be based on gender-identity and not on biological sex. The Buddha’s Vinaya is a guideline for our practice and is meant to help us overcome our defilements. A trans-woman, because of her gender-identity as a woman, will also benefit more from the training for Bhikkhunis and visa versa. It is therefore up to each individual to see where they would receive the best training suited for them in consultation with the monastics of the monastery where they wish to train.

As Ajahn Brahm said:

As Buddhists who espouse the ideal of unconditional loving kindness and respect, judging people on their behavior instead of their birth, we should be well positioned to show leadership on the development of gender equality in the modern world and the consequent reduction of suffering for half the world’s population. Moreover, if Buddhism is to remain relevant and grow, we must address these issues head on. But how can we speak about gender equality when some of our own Theravada Buddhist organizations are gender biased?

In this article I do not aim to be complete but try to create an overview of the issues and open a channel for discussion and more research in this field. Now we have some fairly comprehensive research with regards to Bhikkhunis and the possibility of Bhikkhuni ordination, it is time we start to look at other minorities that are not always accepted within the Sangha.


Anderson, C. (2016). Changing Sex in Pali Buddhist Monastic Literature. Researchgate.

Anderson, C. (2016a). ‘Defining Women’s Bodies in Indian Buddhist Literature’ In: Barbara A. Holdrege and Karen Pechilis (eds) Re-figuring the Body: Embodiment in South Asian Religions. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press

Begley, S. (2009, June 29). Don’t blame the caveman. Newsweek 52–62.

Buller, D. J. (2006). Adapting minds: Evolutionary psychology and the persistent quest for human nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Heirman, Ann 2012. ‘Sleep Well! Sleeping Practices in Buddhist Disciplinary Rules’ Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 65(4), pp. 427–444.

Hurley, S. (2007). Sex and the social construction of gender: Can feminism and evolutionary psychology be reconciled? In J. Browne (Ed.), The future of gender (pp. 98–115). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Lindsey, L. L. (2011). Gender roles: A sociological perspective (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mead, M. (1935). Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Morgan, S. (Ed.). (1989). Gender and anthropology: Critical reviews for research and teaching. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association.

Murdock, G. (1937). Comparative data on the division of labor by sex. Social Forces, 15, 551–553.

Salt D, Brain Z (June 2007). “Intersex: Case studies”. Cosmos (15). Archived from the original on 2009-02-14.

Scherer, Burkhard (2006). ‘Gender Transformed and Meta-gendered Enlightenment: Reading Buddhist Narratives as Paradigms of Inclusiveness’ Revista de Estudos da Religião – REVER 6(3), pp. 65–76.

Sirimanne, Chand R. (2016). Buddhism and Women-The Dhamma Has No Gender. Journal of International Women’s Studies.

Sujato Bhikkhu, (2007). Bhikkhuni Vinaya Studies. Santipada.

Workman, L., & Reader, W. (2009). Evolutionary psychology (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


Thanks so much Ven, this is a fantastic summary of some very important issues.


:pray::heart: Thank you, Venerable!


Thanks Venerable for this informative and thought provoking article.

Many people might wonder why Buddhists need to think about things like sex, sexuality and gender. Its important to remember that, historically, religions and religious representatives have traditionally had a very poor track record when it comes to dealing with people who have a different gender experience or sexuality. These people have been excluded, stereotyped, othered, vilified, shamed, tortured and killed in the past, and, importantly this is still continuing today.

Monastics especially need to be informed about the diversity of lived experience out in the world and within the monastery gates! Why? So that they don’t continue to to exclude (or worse) through ignorance. This is important because Buddhists tend to think of themselves as ‘good people’ whilst not recognising that their words and actions can be harmful to groups they know little about. There ARE people who are queer and people who are transitioning
in every facet of Buddhist life, here and now, so, information and understanding is key to being more inclusive, kind and compassionate.

Here’s some things monastics can do in their talks and retreats to be more inclusive of people who have different gender and sexuality experience.

  • Don’t assume.
    Don’t assume all people are straight! When teachers talk about ‘attraction to the opposite sex’ it excludes people who are same-sex attracted. This feels like they just don’t exist! Its simpler and more inclusive to just say ‘attraction to others’.

  • Also don’t assume that you can tell someones gender just by looking at them. People who are non gender conforming might be in the process of transitioning or a masculine looking woman may not identify as a man. Ask what pronoun to use. An elegant way of doing this is to let them know you are open to respectful pronouns by telling them your gender pronouns first, ‘I’m he/him, what pronouns do you use?’.

  • Respect Pronouns
    Its very disrespectful and hurtful to not use someone’s preferred pronoun. If you do accidentally mis-gender someone, apologise straight away and really try hard to not do it again.

  • Remove physical barriers
    There are lots of physical ways we can recognise discrimination in monasteries and retreat centres. Does your registration form only have 2 options, male or female? Include an ‘other’ category! In some dhamma halls, men sit on one side and women sit in the other This can be confronting for people who are non binary, and for those who are transitioning, as well as people who seek to avoid unnecessary segregation.

Consider providing some accommodation that is not segregated by sex, that are mixed, instead. Why? If the aim of single sex dorms is to ‘protect’ each other from too much contact with an object of attraction, this assumes that everyone is
straight. Putting a gay guy in a room full of men might be fine for some, or putting a trans woman in a room of cis women might be fine for some but for other gay guys and other trans women, this might make their retreat more complex and difficult. So providing mixed dorms means that people who might not neatly fit into segregated categories can be with other people who are cool about being around other genders. Same thing goes for toilets. Allocating a toilet that is gender free means people don’t have to make difficult public decisions about using a toilet that other people might not think they should use.

  • Don’t erase experience
    Please don’t say ‘we are all just the same’ or ‘we are just 5 khandhas’, or things like, ‘that’s just self view’ or ‘identity ego’ and so on. It is important to understand the mechanics of how privilege and discrimination function. Whitewashing the differences in other’s experience does not help tackle discriminatory language or behaviour, nor does it address the very real challenges and difficulties that people who have different experiences to cis straight people face everyday - especially in religion. It’s essential to listen and understand.

These are just a few examples of why Buddhists need to take on board the knowledge that the world is not so black and white as we sometimes believe. It’s also great if cis straight people can inform themselves a bit more about these issues because it is a real emotional labour for queer and trans people to always have to do the explaining. Being a queer/trans Ally is a positive way of showing personal inclusivity in our communities.

So thanks, Venerable, for this resource and for contributing to help people understand these issues.



We really need to ask ourselves when it’s appropriate to say such things. When are we engaged in a deep and meaningful conversation about the Dhamma and when are we listening to someone who simply needs acceptance and kindness?

There may be ways of combining both - but surely only when a great deal of trust and acceptance have already been established.

Sometimes in doing this:

…we run the risk of using the Dhamma as an excuse for our own ordinary and mostly unintentionally harmful ignorance and then we become (even unintentionally) a part of this:

Anything that encourages, kindness, understanding and acceptance of others is a good thing. Thank you both for showing me more clearly how I might contribute to reducing harm.


Yes, Kay, that’s right! Its worth noting that in the quotes you use above I was referring explicitly to the erasing of the different lived experiences that queer and trans people have BECAUSE of their different identities. For example, a trans person who has felt shame about their body and identity along which social stigma, their sense of identity is incredibly important to them (especially because they have often fought hard to arrive at feeling ok with it) and shouldn’t just be brushed aside with some spiritual ‘objective truth’. What’s interesting is that cis straight people often can’t see their own inherent bias when it comes to their identity view, thinking of themselves as ‘normal’ in a world that privileges cis straight people - it’s easy for cis straight people to think they have abandoned more of their identity than their queer trans friends!

This is analogous to the way some people say that they are ‘colourblind’ when it come to race. By not acknowledging the different experiences of people from various backgrounds in terms of discrimination and oppression, we blind ourselves to the realities of living in a culture that actually is racist. The ‘white fragility’ response that white people often have when suddenly made aware of their whiteness (in the same way that POC are made aware of their skin colour all the time!), reveals an aspect of their identity that they had not previously been fully cognisant of (white is just normal!) .

These issues are complex and the potential for spiritual smugness and spiritual bypassing is strong, so as you say, I think it’s best to have trust built before having these conversations. But also to listen, as others experiences might help us to see our own identities in different ways too.

Thanks for your reply!


I agree that one shouldn’t use spiritual ideas to brush people away, or as an excuse not to have empathy, a la “it’s just five khandas get over it mate”.

But why isn’t a trans person, who has felt shame about their body and identity, and social stigma, a strong person who is ready to hear the true Dhamma?

I feel that there is an implication that non-binary people are made weak by their struggles. But the non-binary people I know are extremely tough and courageous people. I think they would probably roll their eyes at the idea that some guy talking about attraction the opposite sex is ‘erasing their lived experiences.’

Isn’t it more liberating to teach something like ‘don’t allow other people to control your happiness’ like Ajahn Brahm does?

IMO, non-binary/trans people may have an advantage when it comes to understanding non-self. Why not leverage that to produce real liberation?


I am reminded while reading this thread about the importance of customizing the teaching to the student. To know whether saying “there is only the five khandas” is a helpful teaching for a particular student at a particular time, this take great skill. From my own perspective of being rather weak on interpersonal skills, I revere such teachers - I wish there were more of them.


Hi Erik,
I’m not sure if you fully read the comments I made above in regards to identity, discrimination and privilege, which contextualised the comments I made about the 5 khandhas.

I don’t agree with you that I implied trans/non binary/queer people can’t handle dhamma truths, rather I pointed out that these should not be used to brush aside the importance differences of their identity in a society which struggles to acknowledge and accept them. Some examples might include, registration forms, bathrooms or accommodation that is only male/female, or laws that are discriminatory, like how gay teachers can be fired in religious schools in Australia because of their sexuality.

Further to your eye rolling comment, as a queer man, I do feel that my lived experience (and that of gay, lesbian, bisexuals etc) is erased when teachers only talk about straight attraction as if it’s the only kind. This is an extension of the invisibility that gay and trans people faced in the past, their stories excluded from public discourse and religion.

Ven @Vimala’s post is all about raising awareness of different sex/gender/sexuality identity and my post in reply is about recognising how cis straight privilege functions in practical ways. Unfortunately, we can’t just magic away the very real discrimination and oppression in society with positive thinking or pithy sayings, this is an approach which bypasses the existing external problem and which actually needs to be addressed explicitlly.

We will all continue to explore our identities in our spiritual lives and meditation, but this will always be a very personal thing.


It may well be that I am reading something into your post that isn’t there; I have only my interpretation to interact with. I agree that these examples are good to implement, also I didn’t know that was legal in Australia.

Thank you for sharing your experience, Bhante. Do you see any space for ‘don’t let anyone else control your happiness’ type of teachings?

Oppression and discrimination is indeed real, no question about that.


Greetings Ven Akaliko,

I’m unfamiliar with the term

Could you clarify what the “cis” stands for?

1 Like

Thank you everybody for this discussion. I’ve been away for several days at the Tilorien building site and unable to reply.

Thank you very much Ayya @Akaliko for your contribution and practical advice. I think you also raised a very important point:

If you feel fine with your assigned gender-role, it is easy to bypass the fact that you also have a gender-identity view.

I think there is at least an advantange in that non-binary/trans/queer people are more aware of their identity-view, at least in the aspect of gender (there are other aspects of identity-view as well). In order to be able to let go of this, it is necessary to first become aware of it and accept it fully. If you constantly try to “be” something else because you feel pressured by the society around you, you are trying to change the 5 Khandhas: (Anattalakkhaṇasutta sn22.59):

And you can’t compel perception: ‘May my perception be like this! May it not be like that!’

In one of the other treads, somebody suggested for everybody just to try and see how you feel if you change: for men to dress up and do things that women traditionally do and visa versa. And then see how it feels. Then you get an inkling of how much you attach to your gender-identity.

That is why I found this TedX talk so powerful. This man used to be at the top of a large organisation and always thought of himself as progressive, accepting and kind to women. But when he finally transitioned, not only did she loose her job, she started noticing the different ways people started treating her because they now saw her as a woman.

There was another question on FB from @Varada which I want to address here:

And what about the age aspect? Women are turned down for ordination if considered too old (usually 50 or 60, depending on which sangha we apply to) whereas men can take ordination at any age. How will the age limit for applicants outside of the binary system be decided?

Thank you very much for this question Ayya. It is indeed true that many Bhikkhuni- and other nuns-communities have an age limit. There is no justification for this in the Early Buddhist texts, nor in the Vinaya. But I suspect this also has to do with the same part of the Bhikkhunikhandaka. In the ordination procedure for women, which I see as a later development, there are questions that could be interpreted that women after menopause are not allowed to ordain. But again, I feel that such a interpretation is needlessly conservative and we need to be more compassionate and look on an individual basis.

In Amaravati I was told that the reason is that older women find it more difficult to adapt to monastic life because they are more set in their ways and find it hard to change and accept nuns that are much younger to them as their seniors. Of course this reason would equally apply to men but the monks do not have this rule. Moreover, this very much depends on the person and not on their age.

Another reason I heard is that older women are more likely to get ill and need care more than younger women, putting unnecessary strain on the, still very small, communitiy.

Therefore I feel that age should not be a consideration in determining if somebody can ordain or not, regardless of their gender.


This is an interesting proposal, especially in that “gender-neutral”, or genderlessness ends up looking somewhat modern/masculine. Historically, fancy, frilly and garlanded was not strictly feminine, but it leans heavily that way now. How to reconcile the idea that a woman letting go of attachment to gender identity appears masculinized and a man doing the same looks like, well, a man?


Good point @nadine. I guess if there are few or no physical adornments left to relinquish, men can still give up their identity attachment to power, authority and privilege! :joy::joy::joy:


The idea is not about being gender-neutral but about trying out the opposite. Indeed a good point is that these things change over time.

It’s about playing with the gender-roles we have been assigned and see how you feel. Step into the shoes of somebody with a different gender-role. How does that make you feel, how do people treat you differently, what do you think people think about you, etc. Just to observe and learn from your own reactions, perceptions and feelings. In how far is your identity caught up with the gender-role you have been assigned at birth?


One could make the case that robes are much closer to dresses than the old jeans and button down shirt that men typically wear, making it on the whole a more feminine look in terms of early 21st century fashion.


We can project a Self on to the khandas. We can project gender, job title, family role, etc on to it as well. If we could just sit with the khandas, without projecting identity views on to them. Letting go of one identity and taking on another is running hither and thither on the shore of samsara. It’s got some merits though, if only to flush out defilements!

with metta,

"Another reason I heard is that older women are more likely to get ill and need care more than younger women, putting unnecessary strain on the, still very small, communitiy. "

… interesting. That seems to contradict what i learned of sex differences in aging humans in academia or professional life. But only regional data and possibly not current. Seems odd tho…


In fact I’ve thought that the monk robes were a form of, or at least related to the “sari”. Found a while ago multiple youtube videos of monks (from various traditions) showing how to wrap what’s just a rectangular cloth into a garment – all basically the same procedure.

Researching that a bit further right now, the monk’s attire is actually called “kasaya”, and listed in Wikipedia (“Clothing in India”) along with “sari” and more, but not specifically relating the two. And that article says artistic depictions of Buddha ca. 1st-Century CE more resemble a Greek form of dress (“himation”), and that as “forerunner” of the modern monk wrap.

Here’s a picture of “sari” from that article. Basically rectangular cloth folded and wrapped similarly to the monk’s wrap; they share the folded or wound part flung over the left shoulder:

But that feature appears common not only in Indian but also Greek and Roman clothing in ancient times. (Curious how it appears to have survived India up to modern time, but not in European culture.)

Straying even more a bit off-topic, but in a way humorous, I came across this:
(eBay “Buddhist Monk Priest Theravada Full Robe Set… $154.35 free shipping … 100% heavy cotton, durable and sophisticated” … and is that a monk or a fashion model in the illustration?)