Triratna News

Confessions of a Transvestite Buddhist

On Sun, 3 April, 2016 - 23:40
Munisha's picture

Devamitra’s new book, Confessions of a Transvestite Buddhist: A Quest for Manhood was launched at the London Buddhist Centre (UK) on 18th March.

The book’s blurb asks, ”What drives a man to dress as a woman? What kind of man is a cross-dresser? Is he even a man at all, or is he something else? What exactly is a man, anyway? None of the explanations offered by psychologists, sociologists and others satisfied Devamitra… And they certainly provided no answers to the questions that troubled him, including, crucially: did transvestism square with his aspirations as a Buddhist?”

Editor’s note: Devamitra’s book is an account of his personal experiences and views as he explores transvestism in relation to a faithful and considered practice of the Dharma. As with all content and discussion on The Buddhist Centre Online, the views expressed by individual contributors and commenters are not intended to be indicative of a general Triratna position.

Buy Confessions of a Transvestite Buddhist

Watch Devamitra’s book launch interview with Maitreyabandhu at the LBC

Watch a conversation about gender diversity in Triratna

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Ljós's picture

Hi, I’m Padmavyuha, an experienced Buddhist who’s trans (and supporting many others in similar situations), and I’d like to respond to a couple of issues with this talk.

I’m very pleased to see Devamitra able to be more broadly open about his own experience here, and in his book. However, though his personal opinions on what it might mean to be trans are of course his to express, I want to make it clear that they are largely very uninformed opinions; his views on this are not shared by the vast majority of the global medical community, nor do they represent those of the Triratna community itself.

Some factual corrections; firstly, being intersex has no direct connection with being transgender (though some intersex people may also be trans) - intersex is a general umbrella term that covers a variety of conditions, in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy or genetic makeup that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male (and this is not always apparent at birth). Being born with intersex qualities is actually even more common than being born with Type 1 Diabetes, for example - since (as current science tells us) “biological sex” itself is a lot less rigidly binary than we’re generally led to assume, as is the case with gender too.

Secondly, being trans (transgender); a person who experiences themselves as trans is someone whose experience of gender isn’t congruent with their body, or with society’s assumptions about what that relationship “should” be between their body and gender. Since the mind and body are not separate, dismissing trans experience (which is very much about a real and present relationship between body and mind) as “all in the mind” is guaranteed to be both inaccurate and unhelpful. It is in fact harmful to trans people struggling with their own experiences, and also harmful because it encourages a dismissive and often obstructive attitude among others towards trans people’s experience.

I’m one of the founders of the Triratna Gender Diverse Buddhists facebook group, formed a year ago to support people in the Triratna community who are exploring their gender experience (whether it’s a binary woman/man experience, or something different from that). We now number around 250 (including several very welcome allies), of which a good fifth are Order members. Please do come and join our group, if you’re a Triratna practitioner who’s gender diverse or you’re an ally. We’re also working on compiling a document to help Triratna institutions (centres, retreat centres, study leaders, etc.) understand better how to support gender diverse people in the sangha, how to support people going through gender transition, and so on.

We are running our first gender diverse weekend retreat at Adhisthana (in the UK) in May this year. Sangharakshita himself is very supportive and encouraging of what we’re trying to achieve, and recognises the value of developing an ungendered “wing” (including a path to ordination) alongside the women’s and men’s activities, for those people for whom the existing single-sex setup on its own is not able to be inclusive or welcoming.

Please bear all this in mind as you’re considering Devamitra’s words on these subjects.

Michelle Brooker's picture
Thanks padmavuyha for your measured response. My name is Michelle Brooker. I am an experienced trans woman Buddhist student in Tibetan traditions who has recently come to triratna due to a transphobic response from my tibetan teacher.I hope that other Trans* people who come across this interview and devamitra’s book do not feel that the triratna movement is misogynistic and transphobic. This most certainly would have been my response if this interview or devamitra’s book were the only contact that I had with the triratna world. Fortunately I am studying in a women’s friends group at the triratna Melbourne buddhist centre and as a transgender woman I find I am totally accepted and welcomed with open handed generosity. Sadly, as I am the only transgender in the triratna community in Australia as far as I am aware, I won’t have easy access to study with a trans group, which in the gendered approach of the triratna world is probably the best way for many trans people to progress on the triratna Buddhist path. However the women’s group is giving me what I need. I have just finished reading the book and will post separately about it but it’s outdated context and important factual errors leave me very much unimpressed, while not questioning devamitra’s sincerity or motivation, I do not regard it’s publication as a skilful act.
Munisha's picture

Hi all,

Greetings from the Triratna News editor. We featured Devamitra’s book launch as one of many diverse (and personal) stories from the world of Triratna: it’s interesting in itself that a cross-dressing man has been able to be a member of our Order for many years. 

Triratna people vary in their opinions on, and levels of familiarity with, trans and gender issues and terminology. Devamitra’s is one voice and he is not presented as speaking for Triratna. We’ve been very happy to feature other voices too. For example, we covered the setting up of The Buddhist Centre Online’s Gender Diverse space, which is, however, private, at the request of its members. We have invited them to have a public-facing gender diverse space here too.

To mark the Pride season 2015, we featured a Rainbow highlights post, rounding up a lot more material, including my good self talking about gender and identity, and material from our Stockholm sangha. Do have a look. We even changed The Buddhist Centre Online logo to celebrate the week!

It’s significant that there are several trans people in our Order, and that Adhisthana, Triratna’s ‘home’, is hosting Triratna’s first gender diverse retreat next month, 13th-15th May, with the full approval of Sangharakshita.