Transgenderism

A person described as transgendered or transsexual usually identifies as, and desires to live and be accepted as, a member of the sex opposite to that indicated by his or her body. Thus some individuals have a strong feeling that they are female despite having male genitals or that they are a man despite having a woman’s genitals. Such people often say that they feel they are “in the wrong body”. Ancient Indian literature contains numerous myths about people who spontaneously changed sex, usually as a result of having desire or sometimes even just admiration, for someone of the same sex as them self. Several such stories are also found in Buddhist sources. The commentary to the Dhammapada (5th century CE?) includes a story about a man named Soreyya who changed into a woman after becoming entranced by a certain monk’s beautiful complexion. Later he/she married and bore two children [1] . The Pali Tipitaka mentions several different types of transgendered states and individuals – the man-like woman (vepurisikā), sexual indistinctness (sambhinna), one having the characteristics of both genders (ubhatovyañjanaka), etc. [2] . The existence of transgenderism is taken for granted in Buddhist literature with no moral judgments made about it.

Various theories have been posited to explain transgenderism – that it is a psychological or hormonal abrogation or that it has genetic or environmental causes. The Buddhist doctrine of rebirth could help explain it. A person may be reborn as, say, a woman in numerous successive lives during which time feminine attitudes, desires, traits and dispositions become strongly imprinted on the mind. This would determine that she be continually reborn into a female body or that her consciousness would shape the new embryo into a female form – whatever factors are responsible for the physical characteristic of gender. Then, for either kammic, genetic or other reasons, the person may get reborn into a male body while retaining all the long-established feminine psychological traits. If this or something like it, is the cause of transgenderism, it would mean that this condition is a natural one rather than a moral perversion as most theistic religions maintain. The Buddha said that traits or dispositions (vāsasā) developed through a succession of lives (abbokiṇṇanī) may well express themselves in the present life and that they need not be an inner moral fault [3] .

Notes

  1. Dhammapada Atthakatha I, 324 [back]
  2. Vinaya III, 129 [back]
  3. dosatara, Udana 28 [back]