Developing Trans* Competence - A Guide

“Developing Trans* Competence: A Short Guide to Improving Transgender Experiences at Meditation and Retreat Centers,” by the wonderful folks over at


Thank you very much for this.

I am working on a proposal for a meditation group in an LGBT center, aiming at doing something more inclusive in the future. This type of information is very helpful.

Best regards.


Hey Brenna, Thanks for the link to this website. I went over and checked it out but it has been rather slow with the last post in November. Sounds like a cool meeting place, although there was no one there to meet. lol And I still recall your kindness in asking my opinion on trans-inclusiveness. I was hoping for more dialogue between you and I or anyone regarding the concept of the Trans self…about which I I remain ambivalent. In the purist sense, my perception based on what I know about Buddhism is that we would be better off to grow past trans identity or any identity that causes us to suffer. And Buddha knows that trans identity is a source for much suffering.

There is a fine line which separates acknowledging a personal identity, and indulging in the suffering because of trans identity. And I think that there is fertile ground for a discussion of the aforementioned suffering which surrounds it. You did not say whether you are trans and it is not my place to pry it out of you. But I assume you are because we trans folk are the ones to whom this all matters very much.

Can we…you and I, and whomever else chooses to do so…havea broader discussion about things relevant to Buddhism and Trans-ness? If not her…somewhere? I would find yours and others view informative and…Enlightening. Thanks.

In Peace. Namaste Rosie



I am very interested in the subject and I agree with your comments about going past identity.

Please include me in the conversation and I will try to help in any way I can.

Best regards.


Dear Felipe, thanks for your offer to join in a conversation about the role of gender in Buddhism. I am relatively new to Buddhism, but I have been a Trans person alll my life. And one of the things that prevented me from being fully invested in Buddha was my previous experience with western religion, and the lack of reference in Eastern religion.

However I was relieved to find the subject of gender as an emergent topic here at suttacentral. I have not heard from Brenna recently, but I see no reason why you and I can’t begin a much needed discussion about gender in Buddhism. I am intrigued by this topic which you mentioned [quote=“felipe, post:2, topic:3915”]
I am working on a proposal for a meditation group in an LGBT center,

Please tell me more so I can relate to you in your present context. I look forward to hearing from…and about you.
Namaste, My Friend


Hi, Rosie! So sorry for taking such a long time to reply to your wonderful comment.

I don’t consider myself to be trans (at least not in the way I understand it to be defined), but am very dedicated and interested in promoting spaces in which ideas of gender, sex, and identity can be discussed and explored.

Part of what spurred my interest in becoming more knowledgable about trans people and the issues they face is some of the wonderful work happening over at IMS, who recently have started asking monastics not to segregate the meditation hall according to sex during retreats.

I was also struck, particularly in reading the guide, by how many monasteries/meditation centers do not provide an environment that is inclusive of trans/gender non-conforming people. This you can see in many monasteries where men sit on the left, and women on the right. I often, when discussing gender in Buddhism, want to make real changes to ‘traditional’ practices that place limitations on gender expression.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, @Rosie. Also, feel free to steer the conversation a different direction. I’m going off on a tangent.

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Greetings Dear Brenna, thank you for your kind thoughtful response to my query regarding the place and function of gender in Buddhist philosophy. As I said before, even at the outset of my original investigation into Buddhism many years ago, I was dismayed to say the least at the inherent sexism in a context that directed its followers toward non attachment yet displayed no wisdom about the duality…the socially reinforced male dominated concept of how gender should be maintained as a control mechanism. Based on my perceptions of sexism and genderism in all religions and belief systems I then turned away from all of them and began writing my own manifesto on the delusion we continue to refer to as gender. Of course, only a smattering of people have read my words and my writing remains a lonely artifact of my passion which I now endeavor to disempower.

Having made that disclaimer though, I will sally forth briefly just to reiterate the obvious: if indeed Buddhism is the Middle Path, then those of us who have experienced and processed gender on in a rigorous way, ie deconstructing gender on a personal level, should be recognized as having wisdom to contribute based on our having pierced the veil of illusion that separates men and women. Yet as you know that has not happened and there are no signs that we are on the verge of equilibrium.

I have often wished…perhaps even fantasized that a spiritual leader would emerge who might demonstrate the awareness necessary to expose this contradiction by transcending sex and gender roles in a wisely conceived manner such as deferring to women in a given context…or wearing women’s garb or anything that might indicate some transcendence of the well established roles. But again, we are far from even discussing these issues. Even this wonderful, illuminating web site contains very little evidence that propels us toward equilibrium of the genders. Perhaps if Buddha had on rare occasion worn a dress, or some manifestation of femininity we would be farther along the path toward realization of the REAL Middle Way, but alas Buddhist men are man, Buddhist women are woman, and the path is still divided by that imaginary border.

When discussing attachment in a realistic way, it seems appropriate at least to me that we begin the discussion with an acknowledgment that gender is the first…the original aspect of our conditioning which must be dismantled before we may proceed. Yet references to and actions associated with the dominance of male gender is most difficult to find anywhere in these pages. Where is the passage that might indicate our attachment to gender as the original pit of conditioning into which we all fall. many times in my past when confronted with the presumed wisdom of a male counterpart I have suggested that they test their own detachment by going to a public place like Walmart wearing feminine apparel like a sundress. This suggestion is met with sound of testicles shrinking…thereby proving my point, at least to my satisfaction.

Talk about your tangents! But you asked me about my thoughts on gender and that is a smattering. Love to hear your or anyone’s comments on this very pertinent subject. Let’s keep it going! Namaste with Love!


No ego attachment, but surprise that this post did not garner more response as I am always happy for redirection to another’s point of view.

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Welcome to Sansara, friend! :grinning:


Hi @Rosie. Thanks for bringing my attention back to this post. I had started to write a reply but forgotten about it - now I can finish!

I must take this opportunity to thank @Brenna for bringing this to our attention and for everyone’s comments. I really didn’t know, and hadn’t explored much about trans* issues before now, and it got me thinking and doing a little research to help me try to understand a bit better.

In the midst of my research I came across some interviews with those who had undergone transition, and one quote that really stuck in my mind was

Like any other woman, I’ll be discovering what it means for me to be the woman I am for the rest of my life. I just started the process later than most.

I thought that really captured it! I am biologically female, but I never thought about being female until I experienced some rather obvious sexism. It was a rude awakening into my gender, and has made the idea of ‘identifying as a woman’ uncomfortable. Deep down, I don’t think I really want to be a woman. But I also don’t want to be a man
And so I guess I’m still discovering what it means to be the ‘woman I am’, not just in my own eyes, but the world around me. It’s kind of difficult to mention and bring this up, but does it present a problem to be a person who doesn’t want to necessarily identify as a gender at all? It’s difficult to understand how to relate to this. I don’t have a problem with being called a woman or using female pronouns. But ‘owning’ my womanhood by ‘identifying’ as a female is uncomfortable. Wow, I feel like I’m in therapy :laughing: very interesting to explore this! I hope it’s not insensitive to share this, it just brought up some interesting thoughts for me.

Feeling like I noticed ‘becoming a woman’ later in my life, I really noticed the contrast in my perspective. I’m curious to hear more about differences you noticed in how people treated you and reacted to you through your journey if you were open to sharing.


“I pass the butter” Love it!

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“And what, bhikkhus, is the way leading to the cessation of identity? Here, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple … does not regard form as self … nor feeling as self … nor perception as self … nor volitional formations as self … nor consciousness as self … nor self as in consciousness. This, bhikkhus, is called the way leading to the cessation of identity. When it is said, ‘The way leading to the cessation of identity,’ the meaning here is this: a way of regarding things that leads to the cessation of suffering.”"

Yes…thank you. This is what I learned through my personal exploration and deconstruction of the thing called the ‘gendered self’. How I arrived at this was karma related to my birth as a so called trans person. We humans are compelled to conform to an arbitrary identity created before our birth based on the appearance of genitalia, therby determining the type of gendered suffering we accept as our reality. I was fortunate early in life to recognize gender as a social construct. My early awareness of this condition caused me to wonder to myself “How did I get in here? There must be some ‘mistake’. What has happened to me? Why am I in this body”

And these questions of my youth gave rise to an awareness of gendered constructs as a false division of my wholeness. And still I wonder if this early awareness was related to my rebirth. I would very much like input from my teachers here on this question of the possibility that I reacted to my rebirth with an awareness of my previous incarnation. Hope I said that right, but i obviously could use some help in understanding this birth situation?


Hi Rosie,

Thanks so much for all your input.

As to the question of karma, there is no overall theory of gender found in the early texts on this. Generally speaking, karma is said to be one of the factors that influences us in this life, but not the only one. Biology, for example, operates with its own constraints independent of karma.

So it seems reasonable to suppose that gender may be influenced in some cases by karma, and in other cases not. The same would apply to the various and complex relations between gender as biology, as social construct, and as psychologically felt by an individual. These things may, or may not, be influenced in complex ways by karma, just as they may be influenced in complex ways by genetics, upbringing, and so on.

One thing we can say is that the teaching of karma and rebirth suggests that we have all been men, women, trans, and everything else. Gender is not essential, because nothing is. Gender is simply another set of passing conditions, part of our own diverse experience of samsara. Each manifestation in samsara brings with it its own possibilities and its own sufferings. We can choose to either learn from that, or not.


Thank you so much for responding to my request. And rarely do I hear gender and its relationship to the individual explained so succinctly. Indeed studies have been done on the biology of gender indicating that organs of the endocrine system and the influence of prenatal hormones on the brain are predominately determinant for our gender awareness.

You speak the truth, in a general sense. But I think that one of my points-having been born into the middle of all of this-was that gender is the first and primary condition of all human existence, and thus a primary cause of human suffering. And that while most people accept this construct as quite normal in their own lives, for me the experience of not merely being born trans, but perceiving it as destiny at such an early has allowed me the opportunity to see through the veil of all conditioning. And for that I am very grateful.

I was also looking forward to hearing about other’s personal relationship with their own gender because I believe that as gender is the first set of social instructions we receive as infants it is also the one most difficult for a person to see with detachment. Therefore as the SuttaExpert pointed out in SN 22.44, identity beginning with gender is the cause of much suffering. I remain your humble student and thank you again for taking the time to respond. Namaste


In a search for something completely different I happen to come across AN 7.51 - made me think of this thread, and thus it was added.


Nice one @Aminah. I like that Sutta!

It’s the only place I’ve seen in the EBT where gender identification/attachment is really addressed. My principle issue with Buddhist monasticism has been the (excessive?) emphasis on gender differentiation. First gender is presented totally in binary form and then a whole bunch of rules are laid down to make sure you pay attention to your assigned gender and behave accordingly. … But, nevertheless you are supposed to be letting go of attachment and identification to everything including gender and status. It’s certainly a high bar for one’s practice!

It struck me particularly because my introduction to Buddhist practice was through Dharma centers where the culture is to blur any perceived differences as much as possible. Until recently everyone on retreat seemed to be wearing bagging sweat clothes or oversize flannel pajamas, no one washed their hair or wore make-up, and, except for the “monastic” retreat, there was nothing in the set-up distinguishing gender at all. Everyone was supposed to be avoiding all sexual activity including even the subtlest flirting.

At IMS where I was on staff, perception of gender difference was ignored to the point that it was not a consideration in assigning shared lodging. So when my room-mate moved off campus at one point I (cis-gender female) found myself sharing a small kuti with a man I had not met before. As it happens, he was probably my most compatible room-mate. But obviously for many people that situation would be very challenging due to trauma or other history.

So it came as a bit of a shock to be exposed to Thai Forest monks, one of whom, for instance, wouldn’t let me hand him a train ticket. I had to put it down on something so he could pick it up, or else give it to a lay man who could hand it to the monk. I must say I find Ajahn Sucitto’s blog this month fascinating in light of my experience at Western Ajahn Chah monasteries where much of the property is designated as “male only”.

@Rosie I apologize if I am going off on a tangent and hijacking your topic. I wasn’t sure whether to start a new one or not.


Oh not at all. Right on topic, and I am glad for the discussion. As a Trans woman I can appreciate your wisdom and experiences in this area. Looking forward to more discussion as I perceive it as a slightly underrated topic. Namaste.

@Suravira, I think you have put into words the origins of my gender ambivalence, and hit the nail on the head in terms of highlighting the irony between ‘the genders are irrelevant, let go/get over/be unattached from your gender’ and ‘but you’re this gender so you have to do that’.

Yes, quite true of so many places in the west where sexual mores are more permissive. This is not firm evidence, but I don’t hear of issues with this set up any more often than with strict segregation. Proving perhaps that celibacy and sense control starts in the heart and not the physical constructs around us.

@Aminah AN7.51 is a great one and brought much wisdom to my life in many ways. Thank you!!! :pray:


Hi Folks, and thanks for your contributions regarding a topic about which I have been wondering for years. In fact it was the ‘apparent’ sexism-which is to say my subjective perception-of visible Buddhism that kept me on the outside for decades. I am by means of my Trans-ness very sensitive to the existence of institutional sexism. And to me Buddhism despite its description of the middle path where men continue to walk ahead of the women. This is not an indictment, for it is clearly stated that sex and gender are merely the burdens of sel which must continue to be worked out in our individual karma… And so Cara why I think gendered ambivalence is an important level of awareness.
But it must be noted that in terms of societal oppression that the dominant class or gender is often unaware by nature of their position in the structure that they control. I know this probably sounds like radical feminist theory at this point in my comments, but I am a humanist first. And my perspective on all this is from the near bottom of the social hierarchy where cis and lesbian women are permitted more power than Trans people. So I am not a feminist.

Indeed the my wisdom as a trans woman clearly illuminates the illusion of gender maintained by both cis-genders. If Buddhism really is The Middle Path then my perspective would be truly valued by those who cling to polar opposites. But as I have observed here and everywhereI have been the opposite is apparent.

Our human sexual behavior is guided by our hormonal biology. I know this unequivocally from having lived a life with a biology dominated first by testosterone, and then later in life by estrogen. And I can tell you that this experience has taught has taught me volumes about behavior. But beyond this is the societal imperative of gender-a social control mechanism which acts as a virtual prison from which few people may escape. We may speak of liberation in the loftiest terms, but the reality of gender apartheid continues to reinforcement the current sexist paradigm unchallenged.

I have written thousands of words on this topic, and could continue to expound. But that is not my purpose. My purpose is the liberation of all sentient beings, and a desire to see happiness for everyone. I look forward to your comments.