It really isn’t. And it’s not, maybe it can’t, be fair; so much conditioning & clinging!
However if controlling one’s own living thoughts, speech & bodily behavior is attainable, diligently developed by practice, maybe that’s enough.
It really isn’t. And it’s not, maybe it can’t, be fair; so much conditioning & clinging!
However if controlling one’s own living thoughts, speech & bodily behavior is attainable, diligently developed by practice, maybe that’s enough.
Hello! I am a non-binary, transgender novice monastic, currently living and training with a bhikkhuni community. I have been a lurker on this forum for several years now, but only made an account for the first time today. My reasons for not engaging until now mostly have to do with the fact that I do in fact have a real life sangha that supports me and nurtures me in the Dhamma, to a much greater extent than any internet forum can possibly do. The conditions of my life are such that I don’t really need this space, and I’m very grateful for that. Yet I have continued to lurk here anyway, precisely because discussions like these continue to happen here from time to time. I find it valuable and helpful to know what others beyond my immediate circle are thinking about these things, so that I may have a fuller and more nuanced view of the landscape in which I find myself living and practicing.
It’s true that the landscape here is sometimes inhospitable. That’s also true in my real life sangha, where for all the goodwill and beautiful intentions in the world, people don’t always quite get it about the challenges that arise for a non-binary person in a highly binary-gendered monastic system. This can indeed be frustrating and painful, and I take this as really excellent advice for practicing in such an environment:
It’s completely true that no one (on this forum, or in my community, or anywhere else) is going to come make things safe for me. It’s completely true that no matter how I engage with these discussions (on this forum, or in my community, or anywhere else), I am not going to be able to make things safe for anyone else. I appreciate Cara’s pointing this out because it’s been such an important realization for me on my individual path of practice. And yet, I don’t quite agree with this part:
My alternative framing here would be: by all means, be choiceful in how you engage with the discussions happening here. Consider well whether it is beneficial to yourself or to others. Does it support your own practice of the Dhamma or not? Does it offer inspiration and encouragement to your friends and fellows on the path or not? If the answer is no, then I quite agree: don’t do it!
But we all come here due to quite different causes and conditions, with different intentions, at different stages of practice. I, for my part, am definitely not quite here yet:
cittaṃ yassa na kampati;
Asokaṃ virajaṃ khemaṃ,
Although involved in worldly ways
Unshaken the mind remains
And beyond all sorrow, spotless, secure
These are the highest blessings
As long as I have not fully realized this particular blessing, my intention is to continue to care as best I can for the shaking of the mind when it is touched by the dhammas of the world. That means sometimes removing myself from a situation that is too painful for me to practice with, if I can. And it also means sometimes taking action to stop particular harms from occurring, if I can. And it also means sometimes just standing and shaking because there’s nothing else to do, except to meet it internally with whatever patience and compassion I can muster. All these modes of practice are of value, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone should just stick with one of them all the time, but rather learn to use them all as skillfully as they can. Whatever real happiness I have found in this world so far comes from just that. So I offer this for reflection in hopes that it may also be beneficial for others. If not, no worries, you can make your own choices about it!
Bhante, my understanding is that the cases of explicit acceptance for (binary gender) trans monastics in the Vinaya involve spontaneous physical changes where the “signs” of a man or woman just appear, in a fashion that is not really well explained in the text. (I’ve just been looking for the reference to this and haven’t been able to find it quickly – perhaps someone else can help?) Two questions arise in my mind about this:
Can we reasonably consider such spontaneous physical changes to be equivalent to the medical transition process that many trans people undergo in contemporary times?
Must we assume that such physical changes are necessary for the acceptance of fully-ordained transgender monastics in the Sangha (Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni) that corresponds to their internal sense of gender identity? I.e., must the Vinaya be read to imply that medical transition, including surgery, hormone therapy, etc. is necessary for such acceptance, or is this open to interpretation in the text?
I would note that such medical interventions are not accessible for significant numbers of trans people at this time (for a wide variety of reasons), and most transgender communities that I’m familiar with would object strongly to the idea that one’s medical transition status must be a determining factor in establishing one’s identity as male or female. So, the statement that the Vinaya explicitly accepts trans people as fully ordained seems to me to be an oversimplification of something that would actually require more research and consideration to clarify.
Thank you for any clarity that you are able to share about this!
To be clear, I want to add that my interest in bringing up this issue here is not to put up unnecessary barriers to the full ordination of trans people – quite the contrary! It’s just that when I was early in the process of exploring my monastic aspiration I heard such things about the Vinaya acceptance of trans ordination said rather blithely, by people who didn’t really understand the complexity of the lived experiences of trans people. I was disappointed and saddened later to find out that it wasn’t actually as straightforward as that. So I am interested in actually doing the research and consideration needed to understand what the text says about this, with the intention that trans men and women who wish to ordain might have a solid, well-considered, well-informed textual basis to support that aspiration.
Another video… this time a trans Buddhist voice, Michelle McNamara, talking about the extraordinary challenge of being trans, the resistance she met from Buddhists and how her conviction in the teachings and research led her to find a safe and supportive Buddhist community. She mentions the presence of trans people in the suttas and her desire to let trans Buddhists know they have a place in Buddhism. It’s well worth a watch.
And also, this excellent article by Carol S. Anderson which looks at the difference between changing sex (physical characteristics) and changing gender (internal sense of identity) in relation to the stories of spontaneous changes in the Vinaya which relate to the Bhante @Sujato’s OP and subsequent posts by @kaccayana, as well as showing the importance of understanding the difference in these terms both in English and the various forms found in the Pali.
First of all I want to thank you Venerable Sujato for that very informative OP I’m really grateful for your essays, posts etc., which are presenting a lot of knowledge and information and are very clearly presented
I wish to add few words to this subject, but it can relate actually any controversial subject as Viveka pointed out in her beautiful post.
I’m also very familiar personally with such situation, because I’m a hard-core vegan and a semi-pro-psychedelic (at least in psychotherapy environment) person which makes me very controversial in some circles so I know what it means to be misuderderstood by the mainstream.
Anyway, I think it is very importaint to remember that these are processes of emergence of new understanding of things, that were being perceived in some different way by the masses throughtout centuries.
For example our understanding of gender idenity is a pretty new process, that only minority of humankind understand to some degree, and only few decicated people understand it with all its depth, just as vegans are minority and very few understand everything related to it.
It is basic psychology, that it is not easy to change habitual patterns of an individual, and it becomes much harder for societies, especially when some paradigm was dominating for centuries or millenias.
I think we’re very used today to “quick changes” in our modern world, but sometimes we forget that some processes really need time.
For example I’m almost Ph.D in philosophy, my promoter is a specialist from gender studies, I’ve had a lot of lectures about gender studies on my studies program. I’m also very dedicated to be knowledgeable about dhamma and vinaya and writing Ph.D about buddhist philosophy.
Still, I learned new things from this topic, regarding both LGBTQIA+ and vinaya, from posts of Ajahn Sujato and Bhante Akaliko. Which means that even fairly educated person can lack information regarding such issues, so how can less educated people know so much about it? Being a real specialist in the field, we can sometimes forget that most people are completely ignorant in it, and even farily educated people still lack knowledge that specialists do have.
What I’m going to is that I think both sides should have compassion for each other. People who are not familiar yet with new concepts towards people who are in minorities and their situation, but the minorities also could find compassion to the ignorance of the masses.
I think if someone find some posts offensive, relating questions or criticising LGBTQIA+, then also posts of LGBTQIA+ defenders I believe are sometimes too harsh for people who simply don’t know much about it, and didn’t had time to understand it properly, and are being harsly criticised for their ignorance, especially when the posts are not strictly offensive, but are questions or discussions and not statements.
I think these are a little harsh statements for a Bhikkhu, I personally would be very sad if I’ve received such feedback from a Sangha member. Isn’t one of missions of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis to kindly educate people about understanding of the world, and isn’t it part of the deal between lay people and monastics? That lay people support monastics with alms and donations, and monastics educate people in dhamma, meditation and other stuff related to understanding the mind? And I think psychological identification is a mind process. Correct me if I am wrong please.
I don’t mean to be offensive, and I kindly ask to interpret this post as call for compassion. I just suggest compassion from both sides of the situation and I just share my feelings to reconsider the way of sharing information to more understanding that people simply don’t know everything about gender identity and that the discussed subject is pretty new and difficult and confusing to most people on this planet. I think it is great that you’re informing us about nuances of the subject bhante, but I think it would be ever more productive if we kindly accept that some people are conditioned to different views and let them ask questions.
I find posts of Ajahn Sujato as exemplars of right speech, he’s very informative, but does not feel people bad about their ignorance in the process.
I’m aware it is very frustrating to be pro-vegan, pro-LGBTQIA+, pro-psychedelic etc., to all the time meet ignorance on the other side, I know how it feels because I was there myself and I often still am. But since on this board there is so much talk about right speech, I think both sides of the situation should care for it.
I don’t think there is a regulation on this board when you make account that one will get knowledgeable with LGBTQIA+ terminology and customs, but that one will adhere to right speech. So if it isn’t obligatory, when someone is making ignorant post with not bad intentions (simply asking questions, even if they’re challanging), I think it is good place to educate, or just post a link to some educating material, without being offended and without making that person feel bad about their ignorance. Because most of world population is, and will be ignorant of this subject for next dacades, because it is a new emerging phenomenon after millenias of completely different paradigm in mainstream culture. And buddhists or not, everyone is affected by dominating paradigms of perception, until a lot of work is done to change that perceptions, which for many, myself included, is work in progress.
We live in a time when some topics are vastly discussed, and discussions are part of process of changing habitual perceptions and it is actually good that they happen, because it means that something is actually changing. If we remember that, we can be less offended by this exhanges and focus on that things are actually progressing.
I think it is great that both Bhante Sujato and Akaliko and others on the forum informs us about nuances about the subject, so we can be more understanding, compassionate and careful in our interactions I find that very illuminating and I’ll surely be more careful and I’ve actually read all thread and gained new insights into the discussed subject. I just think both sides of the ‘argument’ can act in a way more conductive to harmonious discussion and learning, especially trying to be impersonal and informative and just let go of that which is difficult and understand our conditioning. Most offensive posts are deleted by mods anyway.
Ven Akaliko’s last edit on his post was a day ago, and your post was from 9 minutes ago, at the time of this writing. You must have had to dig far to find those quotes, as I couldn’t find it even in the 10-page edit history of the post.
If it was removed, maybe there was a reason, perhaps even a reason related to your reflections on it.
I can’t help but wonder why/how you dug this quote up, though, out of curiosity. It seems to have been something that was deleted.
But consider, are these “a little harsh?” On terms of the second quote, if I remember right, he responding to the user who called gay people “sodomites.” Is there something wrong with suggesting that users can flag posts they find offensive? I suppose maybe you thought the puking emoticon in the third quote wasn’t sufficiently polite.
Either way, these sections of the quote you are responding to were retracted, which begs the question as to the purpose of your responce to them.
Nope, I took it from still existing post here, from its actual version still hanging there, it was edited yes, but my quotes are from still actual version:
It is the topic which was reason of this topic being created, so they are closely connected.
I don’t think the person was calling anyone sodomites…
And yes, I think using power and authority of being a Bhikkhu to perceive someone’s words in negative light because someone wanted to discuss something is not nice, because being an authority which Sangha clearly are here, can really turn the tide of people’s perceptions about particular person. And personally I don’t think his post was THAT bad.
PS: If anyone finds any of my posts as offensive rather than calling for reflection, then please feel free to delete or edit them.
Bhante, with respect, I believe that we are now beginning to understand that very few people (if any) are 100% male or 100% female from a biological point of view. Sex is a multi dimensional spectrum with each sex characteristic being a spectrum in its own right. For example how much of a functioning womb do you need to possess to be considered a biological female? What level of oestrogen? Or, what length of penis is required to be considered a male? What level of testosterone? What if you have high levels of both testosterone and oestrogen? … etc …
From the wiki link that you gave, the definition of intersex from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is:
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.
So it’s not really a biological definition, it’s about “typical binary notions of male or female bodies.” - which of course are driven by societal agreement (usually enshrined in law). I would add to the definition above that some phenotypical intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all for the duration of the person’s lifetime. For example the presence of a womb in a person who otherwise displays typically male characteristics. They may not ever know that they have a womb unless they need scans / surgery in that area.
All (or at least the vast majority of) persons should be considered intersex going forward, because, well, sex is a spectrum with very few people at the edges. Unless one has been specifically tested for each of the sex characteristics and given a score (normally out of 100 for each characteristic), you don’t know where you sit on the spectrum for that characteristic. This is not done routinely at birth - at least not in the UK.
Each one of us is genderised on a daily basis (either by ourselves or others) as male, female or non binary, but in essence we are all intersex.
My personal current understanding is that the concepts of male and female are a hangover from earlier religious definitions that science is now beginning to declare to be wrong from a human physiology perspective, in the same way that creationism is wrong from a geological perspective.
I leave this for your consideration Bhante.
The Vinaya gender split was too confusing and divisive for me to deal with…
…so I just decided to study and adopt precepts from both as I can.
Oddly, it has made my life simpler because now I can just relate to bhikkhus or bhikkhunis in exactly the same way.
Not at all. I mean, I think I am using words in the same way as in Wikipedia:
But you know the relevant passages as well as I do: do you have any specific suggestions as to how I could rephrase it better? Remember, the problem was that someone said “trans people cannot ordain” and I was trying to, in a brief and non-technical statement, indicate that this was not true.
Ahh, that seems unlikely.
Just bear in mind, any community is going to make choices as to what rules they follow and do not follow and how they interpret them. Stricter is not always better; wisdom and kindness have a role to play, too.
Thanks Cara, I am sorry to hear of your suffering, you are a good and wise and kind friend. We have tried, but perhaps, after all, the internet was a mistake.
I know, right!
Hey Ven Kaccayana, welcome, so good to see you!
Yes, that’s the most explicit canonical reference.
Sure, the Vinaya does not know about genetics and chromosomes and such, but only about external presentation of sexuality, i.e. whether a person has a penis or a vagina.
I don’t think so. As I said, research is ongoing, and I am far from confident that I understand either the Vinaya texts or the nuances of contemporary understanding of gender and sexuality. But so far as I know, the understanding in the Vinaya is based on physical presentation. The idea of a gender identity separate from that is unknown. So in the eyes of the Vinaya, if you look like a man, you’re a man, if you look like a woman, you’re a woman. Thus any trans person who has a clear physical presentation of gender, regardless of whether or not they have undergone reassignment, could ordain.
The problem then is that one may be accepted in a community based on physical appearance that does not accord with one’s gender identity. That’s obviously not a good state of affairs, although how much of a problem it is would depend on the specific case. I’m not really sure how to resolve this, although one solution may be to develop communities that are not so strictly separated.
That leaves unspecified those who may present in a way that is physically ambiguous. Here we can look at the terminology used in the Vinaya, but there are a range of interpretive problems:
I am not aware of a satisfactory solution to all these problems. But with some good will over time I hope we can work it out.
Exactly. It does no-one any favors to act as if there is no issue. At the end of the day, like it or not, the Vinaya is a system that is based upon binary notions of gender, and we have to deal with that. Perhaps we need a more fundamental reassessment of how we relate to Vinaya.
When I first became involved in the discussions around bhikkhuni ordination, there were times when I was really riled up by the whole thing. I struggled with the question of whether to write or keep silent, and I chose the former, despite the risk that I might say something intemperate.
As monastics we are second-guessing ourselves just as much as we are being second-guessed by everyone else. But it is better, I think, to speak and be honest.
If there is an energy behind that, consider the reasons. Consider the pain and suffering that has gone on for so long, and the constant stream of put-downs and marginalizations and exclusions. I’ve suffered bullying a little bit, so I have small glimpse of what it must be like, but I can’t really understand it. And consider the many monastics whose conduct is not called into question in this way because they just say nothing.
Indeed, yes, I really try to say things the right way, but it is tricky. Anyway, so long as we can help each other we should be right.
I do, too! Thanks to all the wise and wonderful who have helped out. It’s a journey, it might as well be an enjoyable one, right?
Interestingly enough, the same was done, it seems, in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya. I was discussing this this morning with Vens Suddhaso and Soma, and it seems the list of antarayikas in the ordination question where such issues are raised is identical for both men and women, just gender-swapped. In the Pali they are quite different. Moreover, in the Dharmaguptaka, the extra rules for bhikkhunis are said to also apply as minor offences for bhikkhus.
The posts you are referring to include posts which were flagged by this community (not just me) some which have been deleted because they are offensive, and the users have been suspended from this forum. So, what remains here now, including my responses, is just half the picture, and you might want to hold off forming a view whist not knowing exactly what they were in relation to? They were in response to previous posts which were ignorant, hurtful and offensive, and which were homophobic and breached the community guidelines. That’s why I responded harshly. That’s also why they those posts were deleted and the users suspended.
Again, you are making an incorrect assumption here based on a paucity of information. Those posts and others have been deleted. You cannot see them anymore. Just because you cant see them doesn’t mean they didn’t exist! And your conclusions based on not knowing the full story are a little unfair. It’s also pretty irritating to see a loaded slur that was thrown about for centuries to accuse queer people of being sinners, told they are going to hell, used to justify imprisonment, torture, and even death again being used in a hostile way on this forum, and then repeated here by you.
In responding to the tone of my posts - you are engaging in tone policing. It is quite understandable that someone experiencing homophobic/transphobic posts that question their right to exist, or where posters are using offensive slurs, that a response might be emotional or harsh. However, you don’t get to decide how LGBTQIA people talk about their oppression or the discrimination and hostility they encounter. People can say the most horrible bigoted and offensive things in a very polite tone, but get away with it because they are not causing a fuss. Where-as LGBTQIA people have to literally jump up and down and shout to be heard when they face offensive or hostile words to get people to understand why its offensive. This might seem harsh to you, but maybe try to use some empathy and realise how frustrating and hurtful and painful it is to have to endure things like this over and over again on a supposedly safe place for discussion like this. In the struggle for acceptance and equality and respect, feminists, queers/trans, POC didn’t always get their human rights by being polite and just accepting things and being ‘nice’. Further, the forum guidelines encourage us to not “respond to tone” but look beyond it to the substance.
This isn’t controversial. The reason behind this is a pretty standard idea. It is not the job of LGBTQIA people to educate you or others in every single online discussion. This is called emotional labour. It’s work that you are expecting LGBTQIA people do just for you, and every other single person in every other forum in the world - really, there is not enough time in my day.
But @Invo, although you criticise me harshly and quote me like this, did you simply not notice that I actually provided several links explaining the terminology and also provided several videos to help people on this forum understand? That involved me taking the time to research and find them. Should I personally do this for every single discussion on the issue? As you say, this would mean taking the time and effort to explain commonly available terminology to
well… that’s quite a lot of people…The most expeditious and efficacious method for this is for people to do the work of finding out about LGBTQIA terminology and issues themselves. Just google it!!! For us, doing this work is incredibly time-consuming and draining. We have had to justify and explain our existence over and over again, every single day for all our lives. It’s yet another unfair burden for LGBTQIA people, on top of everything else, never experienced by cis-het people, who because of their privilege never have to justify their existence or explain their sexuality, never have to talk about their bodies, sex-life or anything in a public forum like this. I’ve spent a substantial amount of my time responding to you here today. So often, for us doing this sort of thing, it’s annoying and repetitive and might be an entire waste of our time and energy. More importantly, it can also bring up a lot of unhappy memories about past interactions with people in real life and online that are traumatic. Just having to talk about these issues is painful and emotionally laden. It’s clear you don’t understand this aspect, with your request to
For us, having to talk about our lived experience and explain it to others ALL THE TIME is not a neutral feeling. Try and understand the reason why that is maybe, before you criticise.
If people are ignorant of these issues, they might want to educate themselves before just throwing their opinion around even though it might be ignorant and hurtful. If you don’t actually know what you are talking about, don’t try to set yourself up as an expert. If you think that your opinion is really important, despite knowing little about a subject, and decide to share you views anyway, don’t be surprised if people react. People who have never danced shouldn’t go and lecture ballet dancers about how to pirouette, but might want to learn to dance a bit first. White people shouldn’t tell black people about racism, but might want to listen a bit about their experience of racism to understand it. Someone who knows nothing about flowers shouldn’t expect that they won’t be corrected when they go around incorrectly naming flowers in front of a horticulturalist, let alone if they were to broadcast these incorrect names all over the internet.
The thing is,
Having people add their opinions about LGBTQIA people is part of the problem. This is how it feels to be a LGBTQIA person all the time. Everyone has an opinion about you, without knowing you , without understanding, without making the effort to do so. Firstly, imagine is it was YOU who everyone was talking about here. Just imagine it. And not just here, but everywhere out in the world; in the churches, in the parliaments, in newspapers, at the dinner table, on TV, at protests, everyone adding a “few words” all the time, everywhere! Just imagine how it would feel. Everyone seems to feel entitled to “add a few words” on the subject of LGBTQIA people and their lives or the way they talk about discrimination all the time, but are reluctant to listen to us!
Not your call to make. Queer people decide what is homophobic. POC decide what is racist. Women decide what is sexist. You might not be able to see why this is, but you should probably listen. Other people obviously agreed with me, and the moderators hid the post. In these situations, its best to centre the voices and feelings of those impacted. Not other users who it doesn’t affect such as yourself. Your opinion on whether a queer person should be allowed to take offense is pretty patronising.
So, what I have been saying is, in the context of LGBTQIA issues on this forum, try listening to the voices of LGBTQIA Buddhists firstly and accept that they might know more about the issue than others, and don’t try to drown them out with your opinions, don’t ask them to explain everything just for you, and certainly, don’t try to tell them about their experience and how they should be. That’s why its worth mentioning again:
The parameters are strained when we try to hold the general public to the rules that we commit ourselves to upholding as best we can. When these are rules of public discourse there probably is a built-in impossibility.
And it’s the stripping away of humanity that saddens me. Talk on the internet is just so thin.
To be fair, I repeated it before him, and only because I saw the post flagged before it was deleted.
Not to worry. Sometimes it’s best to let things drop.
Hmmm, this is very tough subject. I’m sorry if I offended anyone, especially you Bhikkhu Akaliko I am still learning about these things. I just wanted to consider reflection about that this person that posts were removed etc., could be a good person that simply was ignorant in this subject, but people always get even more defensive when they’re treated harshly and they go deeper into wrong views. And I just wanted to remind that voice of every Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni can have very shaping effects and can have very deep effect psychologically, especially in buddhists circles, with great power comes great responsibility. So it is importaint that when any idea is being spread by a Bhikkhu, that it is done in kind manner, because such is path of Buddha. I don’t think Buddha would harshly speak to anyone even if he was very ignorant and insulting.
Also I believe this subject is extremely difficult psychologically, and I don’t have such one sided view about it. Even in human relationships, when one side is being extremely vulnerable emotionally and calling other one “cruel” because they’re not careful enough to deal with extreme vulnerability can be actually more toxic and used as a way of putting others into sense of guilt and controlling the situation in relationship through it. It is one of basic manipulation mechanism, that can be projected on a sociological scale, and I think it is counter productive to actual solution to the situation and mutual resilience and accepting the differences in views. Each good psychologist in such situation advices getting more resilient and trying to stop controlling the relationship and just embrace who you are no matter what others think and leave toxic environement.
I don’t criticise LGBTQIA+, I just question methods of discussing the matter, as “we good vs you bad”.
I don’t know if such situation takes place here, because it is beyond my competence to judge it, but I am far of taking side and condemning anyone because someone has different opinion and I think reality is much more complicated than “good vs bad”.
btw. I’m extremely open and never, ever in my life critised anyone because of their race, gender, sexuality etc.
I think there is this “eggshell” atmoshpere around this subject and I think both sides are adding difficulty to it. I’m for defending the minorities, but from my perspective, sometimes they’re using methods that I think are not really the best. Of course when homophobes etc. are offensive it is much much worse. But if we aspire to perfection of right speech and right action, I think these points are worth considering.
But maybe I am just ignorant and too harsh, if yes I’m sorry.