Author Topic: Young monks struggle with gender issues  (Read 14168 times)

Ensapa

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Young monks struggle with gender issues
« on: May 26, 2013, 02:06:11 AM »
Here's an article on the whole gender issue in Thailand.

Quote
Young monks struggle with gender issues
Though the faith's teachings transcend issues of sexual identity, the monkhood in Thailand is struggling to accept or even come to terms with the truth about the gay and transgender men within its ranks

Published: 26 May 2013 at 00.00Newspaper section: Spectrum



Despite being born a boy, 28-year-old Deer has never accepted her masculinity. She is, she said, and has always been, female.


Growing up with six sisters in a small community in Si Sa Ket province, northeastern Thailand, it's perhaps not surprising that Deer adopted some feminine ways. As a youngster, she said she acted and spoke much like a girl.

It wasn't until she reached adolescence that Deer began to realise that it was not her surroundings that were shaping her behaviour, but rather her soul. It was nature over nurture.

"I've felt trapped inside a male body ever since I can remember. When I was young, I acted, talked and dressed like my sisters, and didn't feel there was anything wrong with that."

The problem for Deer was that her father didn't agree. As his only son and heir, Deer was destined to carry on the family name. Being gay, or transgender, simply wasn't an option.

"When I turned 12, my father spoke to me really seriously about the way I was acting. He said he was disappointed, and had decided that the only way I would be able to change my ways [and stop acting like a girl] was to join the monkhood."

Deer said the experience was "terrifying".

"My parents took me to the local temple and forced me to join the monastery against my will. The minute my head was shaved I started to cry. I felt naked without my hair, as it was the only escape I had from being a boy."

Deer was forced to spend six years as a monk, before leaving at age 18. Soon after, she moved to Bangkok where she has lived, as a woman, for the past 10 years.

"Leaving the monastery marked the end of my old life," she said. "But I still have the scars."

NO PLACE FOR KATOEY

Deer's story is not unique in Thailand. The relationship between katoey (a word used by some of the interviewees here to encompass both gay and transgender people) and religion is complicated, to say the least.

Venerable Shine Waradhammo, a monk who defines himself as a Neo-Buddhist, said that under the basic tenets of Theravada Buddhism, which is practised in Thailand, katoey are simply not recognised.

"Buddhism [in Thailand] was created only for heterosexual people. Male and female are the only genders that are recognised by the religion," he said.

As a result, people who fall outside those two groups "have no place to be", he said.

"It's already difficult for katoey to integrate into society, but religion makes it worse."It's not impossible, however, for a katoey, or at least a former katoey, to take holy orders.

Take the case of Sorrawee "Jazz" Nattee, aka Miss Tiffany Universe 2009, who earlier this month turned his back on the bright lights of the entertainment world in favour of the saffron robes and serenity of a Buddhist monk.

"I want to be a monk for the rest of my life and I'm ready to leave my worldly possessions behind," Ms Sorrawee, who's now known as Phra Maha Viriyo Bhikku, said after being ordained at Wat Liab in his home province of Songkhla.

After four years in the spotlight as a glamorous "ladyboy", Ms Sorrawee had her breast implants removed to meet the criteria for life as a monk. The abbot of Wat Liab was happy to confirm the former cabaret star's return to the masculine fold.

"Jazz is 100% man, emotionally and physically," he said.

The situation is not so straightforward for everyone. Many katoey in the monkhood are forced to live dual lives.

In an article published on his "Neo Buddhism" blog, Ven Shine says many katoey escape the demands and requirements of their "real" lives as monks by posting images of their alter egos, or true selves, on social media websites.

"Social media platforms provide a means of communication for young monks. Like all young people they want to express themselves, and sometimes that means wearing makeup or dressing in women's clothes."

Whether or not these young men are merely "experimenting" by posting pictures of themselves in "boob-tubes" [fashioned from rolled up robes] or uploading videos to YouTube of themselves lip-syncing to girl-band pop tunes is a moot point. Less frivolous is the belief held by some quarters of society that a life in the monkhood is the only way for katoey to rid themselves of the sins committed in a former life.

Not uncommon in Thailand is the opinion that "gayness" and transsexuality are retribution for the bad deeds, or karma, of an earlier existence.

"Many parents with gay sons, especially those in upcountry communities, believe that the monkhood will resolve their children's gender identity crises," said Jetsada "Note" Taesombat, coordinator of the Thai Transgender Alliance, which among other things provides a telephone and web-based support service for people with gender issues.

"It might sound strange, but they truly believe that becoming a monk will turn their gay sons straight," she said.

The reason why so many gay monks post "inappropriate" pictures of themselves online is because they are reacting to life in a monastery, she said.

''They don't want to be monks. They are forced to do it by their parents who think that a few years inside a monastery will 'cure' their gayness.''

Nopparat Benjawatananun, director-general of the National Office of Buddhism, agreed.

''Many families believe that the monkhood can change the behaviour of their gay children. They think that being a monk will lessen their sons' sexual impulses and make it easier to control themselves,'' he said.

Despite the strength of feeling, it's clear from the evidence of the Facebook images and YouTube clips, that the regimen does not always produce the desired results. But that's not Mr Nopparat's concern.

''The National Office of Buddhism has no authority to rule on monks' behaviour. If someone is accused of doing something wrong, that's for the abbots and other senior figures within the temple to sort out,'' he said.

He certainly has no problem with ''feminine'' monks.

''That's never a concern. I've met many monks that act and speak in a feminine manner, but they are smart, don't break the rules and are well-liked by the local community. For me, they are fully qualified to serve as venerable monks,'' he said.

FIGHTING HOMOPHOBIA

Pongsathon Janleuan, director of the M Plus project in Chiang Mai, said when looking at the issue of gay monks it is important to treat each case individually.

M Plus is a non-profit organisation that works with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, but it is primarily concerned with promoting sexual health among men who have sex with other men.

''Just because some gay monks put on makeup and dress like women, doesn't mean all gay monks do. It's a personal issue and we should consider each situation as it comes,'' he said.

Like in school, monasteries should provide clear rules on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, he said.

''Then, regardless of sexuality, if someone misbehaves, they can expect to be reprimanded.''

The problem, as Mr Pongsathon sees it, is that people are heavily biased against the LGBT community. ''Society doesn't have enough intellect to analyse the core issues,'' he said. ''The public is quick to criticise gay monks for trivial things like putting on makeup and wearing dresses, but if a 'straight' monk behaves badly, people look the other way.''

According to Ven Shine, geography is another factor worth considering.

''Thailand is home to a great deal of sexual diversity, and that is reflected in religious communities,'' he said. ''It's not unusual to see a gay monk, and in northern and northeastern parts of the country, there is a very high concentration of them.''

Much of Thai culture, ''from the performing arts to poetry has a feminine flavour, and this is particularly evident among communities in the north of the country'', he said.

Mr Pongsathon of M Plus agreed.

''The reason why there are so many gay monks in the north of Thailand is because society there is much more laid back. Northern people care less about a person's sexuality than they do about what that person contributes to society,'' he said.

The problem is that not everyone in Thailand is as open minded as people living in the North, he said.

''Northern people know that gay monks are central to their communities, but other Thais don't see it that way. They are too quick to judge them for acting in ways they consider inappropriate. It's a very narrow-minded way of thinking,'' he said.

For Ven Shine, it's not just society that needs to be more open minded. Religious organisations do too.

''Theravada Buddhism is based on a very patriarchal system, and that contributes to the institutional homophobia,'' he said.

When a young man first enters the monkhood, he is asked several questions, in Pali, by a senior monk. One of them is ''Puri sosi'', which translates as ''Are you a man?''

''This is clear evidence of at least some degree of sexual discrimination,'' Ven Shine said.

''There are more katoey living in Thailand than anywhere else in the world, yet we've learned so little from them,'' he said.

''Even though we stage transgender beauty contests across the country, we don't really accept them as part of society.''

Despite Sorrawee Nattee's successful renaissance as Phra Maha Viriyo Bhikku, Ven Shine said he is upset by the disrespect shown to the former showbiz star by the media.

''Even though he met all the criteria set by the Buddhist authorities and was eligible to be a monk [as he had retained his male genitalia], he was still attacked by the media. It was wrong to criticise him like that.''

Mr Pongsathon agrees that gender should be of no issue if a person is truly committed to a life in the monkhood.

''Gay people have just as much right as anyone else to get ordained. Sexual orientation shouldn't have anything to do with it,'' he said.

''The gay and straight monks I know in Chiang Mai and other northern regions all joined the monkhood because they wanted to study the dhamma. But people judge the gay ones differently, often disrespectfully.''

What people forget is that in becoming a monk, a person transcends sexuality, he said.

''In their world. there is no male or female.''

Phra Payom Kalayano, the abbot of Wat Suankaew, said that despite the obvious difficulties, things are getting better for gay people who want to follow a religious path.

''In the past, katoey had no hope of being ordained because the rules were stricter and society was less open minded. But they have just as much right as anyone else to join the monkhood,'' he said.

''The best thing about katoey is that they are intelligent and well loved by local people, and they are really good at handicrafts. Masculine monks like me can't do that stuff.''

FROM MONK TO NUN

But these utopian ideals are not how Mimi, a katoey in her late 20s, sees it.

As a boy she spent six years as a monk in a temple in northeast Thailand, before moving to Bangkok as an adult, she told Spectrum.

It was in the capital she realised she was a katoey and began living as a woman. Despite the gender change, she remained committed to her religious beliefs and developed a good understanding of the dhamma.

Recently she visited her local temple, which she had been supporting financially for some time, and asked to be ordained for a week as a nun. ''I asked the head nun to ordain me so I could continue to practise the religious ceremonies. But when she looked at my ID card, she said she couldn't accept someone like me in the temple,'' she said. ''I didn't know what to say. It was like I'd been slapped in the face.

''I was annoyed, so I asked her how she could take money from a katoey but not allow one to be part of the temple. I asked her, 'What's wrong with you?'.

''She didn't answer. She just walked away,'' Mimi said.

According to Ven Shine, the only way to rid Buddhism in Thailand of such deep-rooted prejudice is to changes the way people are educated.

''We have to stop telling people that being gay is a sin. By saying that someone's sexuality is down to karma is very disrespectful. We have no right to brand anyone a sinner,'' he said.

''We should also accept people into the monkhood regardless of their gender. And that includes katoey, whether or not they have the genitals they were born with.''

Ven Shine said that the concept of men acting like women is explained in Buddhist scriptures as Vatsana, which means destiny or fate. ''It is something they are born with. It can't be changed,'' he said.






sonamdhargey

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2013, 02:05:14 PM »
As long people still have prejudice and remain ignorant and not wanting to accept or reeducate themselves, this problem will persist. Families sent their gay sons to temples to take up monk hood to straighten them up is absurd. It is being very irresponsible and causing more problems instead. Accepting is key in Buddhism and that is what these people is lacking. It is the people with the selfish mindset is preventing others which does not fit their personal views are giving their religion a bad name. They are the one who is the preventing others with such gender to be benefitted from any religious studies. The degenerate times indeed.

Benny

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2013, 03:43:45 PM »
This is really sad to know that so many families in Thailand are sending their " feminine " sons to join the monk hood with the hopes of " straightening " them. This is like treating the monastery as a dumping ground for these so called delusional soft males ! It is an attitude that enrages gay rights and diversity campaigner Natee Teerarojanapong, who said trying to alter the boys' sense of gender and sexuality was "extremely dangerous".
"These kids will become self-hating because they have been taught by respected monks that being gay is bad. That is terrible for them. They will never live happily," he told AFP. Furthermore , the " graduation " rate is less than 50 % , most of them after leaving monk hood , will have their sex change , according to statistics. So all this uncalled for " treatments " are just reinforcing the discrimination. What they need is acceptance and understanding.

RedLantern

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2013, 07:11:33 PM »
People should stop telling others that a being a gay is a sin.By saying that someone's sexualities down to karma is very disrespectful.We have no right to brand anyone a sinner.
We should accept people into monkhood regardless of their gender And that includes whatever they are,
The concept of men acting like women is explained in Buddhist scriptures as Vatsana,which means testing or fate."It is something  they are born with and it won't changed,The Five Precepts are for lay people.monks 227
precepts.Buddhist are more tolerant tolerant

Ensapa

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2013, 08:16:33 AM »
If I am not mistaken, those who are transgendered are not allowed to be monks, and even those who are gay are not allowed to be monks after a homosexual monk during the Buddha's time got intoxicated with lust and requested for sex from every man he encountered, leading to the Buddha to set this rule. As you can read from the article, during the ordination the monks would ask "are you a man?" and if the answer is no, the ordination cannot proceed. But as time passed, and as long as the homosexual man can keep to his vows of celibacy, there is no reason to ban homosexuals from becoming a monk. It is sad that it does make things difficult for transgendered people in thailand to practice Buddhism, but i hope that changes soon.

rossoneri

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2013, 09:36:35 AM »
As time past, i would certainly think some of rules can be adapt and change too, not to the worst but to be better. To me no matter what gender you wanted to named yourself it really does not matter. By doing good and practising Dharma and holding one self vows should be to most important. Being a gay is not a sin but i think it's some strong imprint which being brought forward from the past life. Accept who we are and who is the other person are should be the case, not discriminate and judgemental.

Ensapa

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2013, 08:00:40 AM »
gay monks and transgender monks are two very different things. It's not fair to lump them into the same category to begin with. While the Buddha has clear rules regarding gay monks, there isnt a clear one about transgender individuals who wish to be ordained. Personally, i feel that a transgendered person should be ordained as the gender that they are, i.e. if its a woman trapped in a man's body, he should be ordained as a nun, especially if she has been living as a female and has undergone gender reassignment surgery and vice versa.

pgdharma

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2013, 02:17:58 PM »
It is so sad to see some families using the temple as a dumping ground to straighten their katoey children with the belief that becoming a monk will make their gay sons straight. Even though the Budddha’s teachings transcend issues of sexual identity, the monkshood in Thailand is still struggling to accept and come to terms with the truth about gay and transgender men. From my point of view, irrespective of what gender one is, as long as one holds the vows well and practice the dharma well that is the utmost importance.

dondrup

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2013, 05:39:59 PM »
Karma is definite. There must be a cause for every effect.  What these gays or transgender people have experienced as women in men’s bodies is due to sexual misconduct in their past lives.  However, it is a misconception to believe that temporary monkhood will rid them completely of their predicament or gayness. To really purify their karma of being born as gays, they have to sincerely engage in Buddhist confessional practices.

Buddhism embraces all beings.  Ordination transcends the gender of being male or female.  Ordination is a means to realize the Dharma and subsequent liberation and enlightenment. Society must realise that the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people deserve to enjoy the same basic human rights as the heterosexual people.

Ensapa

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2013, 08:08:44 AM »
Karma is definite. There must be a cause for every effect.  What these gays or transgender people have experienced as women in men’s bodies is due to sexual misconduct in their past lives.  However, it is a misconception to believe that temporary monkhood will rid them completely of their predicament or gayness. To really purify their karma of being born as gays, they have to sincerely engage in Buddhist confessional practices.

Buddhism embraces all beings.  Ordination transcends the gender of being male or female.  Ordination is a means to realize the Dharma and subsequent liberation and enlightenment. Society must realise that the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people deserve to enjoy the same basic human rights as the heterosexual people.

Yes, ordination does transcend gender, but one has to remember that there should be discipline and appropriateness in place. this is the reason why monks and nuns have separate quarters. It is hard if there is a person that does not confine to the ordinary gender norms, it would be hard to find a place where these people belong. It is not really about discriminating them, but it is more of the logistic side of things that need to be dealt with which makes this issue a thorny one.

diablo1974

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2013, 06:14:24 AM »
Being gay is not a 'sin' in the Buddhist context, but is our culture and social identity that we have been habituated to make it so.  Having a liking to same sexes is one of many mental afflictions, hence the motivation of parents sending their childrens to temple to 'cure' sexual orientation' is incorrect. But sending problems (if homosexuality is considered a problem) to the triple gems is not entirely wrong too, in this degenerated age, most people wont be visiting temples if they do not have a problem or feeling insecure.

brian

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2013, 12:53:46 PM »
gay monks and transgender monks are two very different things. It's not fair to lump them into the same category to begin with. While the Buddha has clear rules regarding gay monks, there isnt a clear one about transgender individuals who wish to be ordained. Personally, i feel that a transgendered person should be ordained as the gender that they are, i.e. if its a woman trapped in a man's body, he should be ordained as a nun, especially if she has been living as a female and has undergone gender reassignment surgery and vice versa.

I feel if transgenders were to be ordained, they should be catagorized in a new catergory so that they will be made comfortable to monks and nuns in the monastery. Meaning to say that if the woman who was trapped in a man's body and if 'she' were to be housed together with the rest of the nuns in the monastery, how will the nuns be feeling? No matter how you change, in the end of the day you can't deny the fact you will carry male features and no one can hide the fact that 'she' is still a man. Nuns won't be able to live comfortably with transgender not because they are scared or being sexist but they are after all man. At the same time, if 'she' were to be placed in monk's monasteries, 'she' will not feel comfortable either.

Maybe if 'she' were to be ordained, maybe it will be better to have 'her' revert back to what 'she' was born as, man because one should give up their attachments when they turn to ordination.

hope rainbow

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2013, 03:20:27 PM »
But, Brian, excuse my ignorance if I get this wrong, but a transgender that changes sex from man to woman has never been a man, she just corrected an improper body... She corrected a misshap...
Indeed we must not get entrapped by attachment, I agree, but let's not impose enlightenemnt onto sentient beings ahead of it happening... That person is mentally engraved, "hard-wired" as a woman eventhough she has the body of a man, she fixes the problem by adjusting her body to what she feels with force IS her mind.
In this case, I think it is the Sangha community that should let go of their attachment and accept a woman for what she is: A WOMAN, and not make her a FREAK. Wherelse would she go, certainly not as a nun amongst the monks, I think the natural place for a transgender to become ordained is within the gender that that person belongs to, in this case she becomes a nun.
Simple.

gay monks and transgender monks are two very different things. It's not fair to lump them into the same category to begin with. While the Buddha has clear rules regarding gay monks, there isnt a clear one about transgender individuals who wish to be ordained. Personally, i feel that a transgendered person should be ordained as the gender that they are, i.e. if its a woman trapped in a man's body, he should be ordained as a nun, especially if she has been living as a female and has undergone gender reassignment surgery and vice versa.

I feel if transgenders were to be ordained, they should be catagorized in a new catergory so that they will be made comfortable to monks and nuns in the monastery. Meaning to say that if the woman who was trapped in a man's body and if 'she' were to be housed together with the rest of the nuns in the monastery, how will the nuns be feeling? No matter how you change, in the end of the day you can't deny the fact you will carry male features and no one can hide the fact that 'she' is still a man. Nuns won't be able to live comfortably with transgender not because they are scared or being sexist but they are after all man. At the same time, if 'she' were to be placed in monk's monasteries, 'she' will not feel comfortable either.

Maybe if 'she' were to be ordained, maybe it will be better to have 'her' revert back to what 'she' was born as, man because one should give up their attachments when they turn to ordination.

buddhalovely

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #13 on: June 04, 2013, 05:14:34 AM »
According to the scripture, gays, transvestites, eunuchs and people who have both genders' sex organs can't be ordained as a monk. One question that the preceptors ask them is 'Are you a man? If they say 'yes', they just lie. Hence, their ordination becomes void from the beginning, even if they don't commit any sexual misconduct. The people in the photos shouldn't be considered as monks.

Being homosexual does not mean wanting to change your sex. Homosexual simply means same sex. If you are a homosexual man then you are attracted to men and a homosexual woman is attracted to women. Wanting to change your sex is being a transsexual. Homosexual men are not katoeys. It is amazing that most Thai people cannot seem to understand this. It seems to be Thai society that wants homosexual (Gay) men to look and act like women. This article is not about being "Gay" at all.


hope rainbow

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Re: Young monks struggle with gender issues
« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2013, 06:34:22 PM »
Dear Buddhalovely, I have come accross texts that state that transsexuals and hermaphrodites can't be ordained.
I can't remember eunuchs nor gays being mentioned though... Could you help me by telling me where is this information from?
Thank you

According to the scripture, gays, transvestites, eunuchs and people who have both genders' sex organs can't be ordained as a monk. One question that the preceptors ask them is 'Are you a man? If they say 'yes', they just lie. Hence, their ordination becomes void from the beginning, even if they don't commit any sexual misconduct. The people in the photos shouldn't be considered as monks.

Being homosexual does not mean wanting to change your sex. Homosexual simply means same sex. If you are a homosexual man then you are attracted to men and a homosexual woman is attracted to women. Wanting to change your sex is being a transsexual. Homosexual men are not katoeys. It is amazing that most Thai people cannot seem to understand this. It seems to be Thai society that wants homosexual (Gay) men to look and act like women. This article is not about being "Gay" at all.