The Triratna Gender Diverse Sangha

an introduction

Some background

The Triratna Gender Diverse Sangha was formed in the summer of 2014 when a conversation was struck up between Irian (ex Padmavani/Padmavyuha), Kamalanandi and Sal, a GFR mitra from the LBC. They were all at a Public Ordination at Adhisthana and were afterwards catching the sun in the courtyard. They were talking about Irian’s difficulties in joining the women’s wing after coming out as trans recently in 2011, and having been previously ordained into the men’s wing in 1997. Irian had come out as trans in 2010 and subsequently came out as non-binary and then finally as genderless in 2011. When Kamalanandi met them (Kamalanandi  himself was living and identified as a woman at that time) he was very moved by their story.

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Irian, Kamalanandi and Sal went on to set up two facebook groups, a secret one just for gender diverse people already in the Triratna Buddhist Community and one private one (on facebook this means you can see the group exists but you have to ask to join it) that is open to allies as well as trans and non-binary people in TBC:  go to Facebook page

Jnanamitra and Shraddhasiddhi got involved very early on too and by the spring of 2016 the first residential retreat for the gender diverse  sangha was held at Adhisthana. Bhante’s Sangharakshita spoke privately to several of us and was pleased that the movement was able to support this diversity.

At the time of writing the facebook groups have over 400 members with spin-off whatsapp groups, Training for ordination r groups and a self organised monthly zoom check in. Before covid there were 2 retreats a year, an open one and one just for training for ordination  mitras. There are currently 20  training for ordination mitras who are supported by the Gender diverse  Order Members. Some of these mitras are pursuing their ordination solely in this context and some attend Tiratanaloka as well as this. A handful of mitras have withdrawn their ordination requests over the last few years due to their own difficulties with navigating the process due to their own gender, or lack of it, not fitting the system.

Go to our Resources section to access archive material from our retreats, including talks and interviews. Please bear in mind that any material showing people who have undergone or are undergoing physical changes will date very quickly. Check the date of what you are watching, if it’s more than a year old then the chances are that person will look and sound different than this at present.

If you are a mitra and would benefit from contacting the team of Order members who support gender diverse folks then do get in touch

An introduction to the Triratna Gender Diversity Working Group

In March 2018 the first meeting of the Triratna Gender Diversity Working Group took place. At present it is made up of Saddhaloka, Vajratara and Parami from the College of Public Preceptors,  Prasadacarin who is the European Chairs Assembly representative and liaison person, and Jnanamitra, Kamalanandi, Nagakusala and Shraddhasiddhi who are people with lived experience of gender diversity. Munisha, as the Safeguarding Lead,  is also available to support when needed. 

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This Working Group was set up in response to the difficulties faced by Kamalanandi in his move into the men’s wing when he came out (fully) as trans in January 2016, having previously been ordained into the women’s wing in 2013. The group was also motivated by problems that had been faced by both Irian Greenleaf and Jnanamitra before that, who had changed wings back in 2001 and most definitely had had the hardest experience of them all. 

The working group aims to make routes through the movement easier for trans people who are binary identified and trans and non-binary people who don’t fit into the “single sex” structure and culture within the movement. The working group has produced a number of documents to support centres and gender diverse people including a Trans awareness policy that centres can adopt and a Pathways to involvement in Triratna document aimed at clarity about the support needed for gender diverse people within the movement. 

The gender diverse Order members on the working group have given training to meetings of the European Chairs Assembly, UK and Ireland Mitra Convenors, have met with the College of Public Preceptors and supported many individual centres, retreat centres, and ordination kula groups. 

Go to our Resources section below to access documents and training developed by this Working Group

If you are involved with Triratna in any way and would benefit from support from the the team of gender diverse Order members in the working group then do get in touch

Resources

Archive, talks & interviews

from retreats and Sangha members

 Video we couldn’t embed: When Mum Becomes Dad

Prasadacarin's conversation with Sangharakshita

Prasādacārin 2016

Dear friends and siblings in the Dharma,

I am a Swedish mitra about to go on this years ordination course at Guhyaloka. I do not identify as gender divers myself but consider myself to be a strong ally. I do have experience of related issues since I’m gay and have never felt that I have lived up to expectations around masculinity fully. Two weeks ago I met Bhante for the first time and would like to share part of our conversation with you all.

After having talked about the situation in Stockholm and Sweden and following a very interesting conversation about death (I’m a trained undertaker and do non-religious funeral services) I asked Bhante about the topic of diversity in our sangha. Here is a summary of that part of my meeting with Bhante, the part that had a really strong effect on my shraddha.

I described to Bhante that for me creating conditions for people to feel welcome and included in the sangha is very important. However I find that again and again some people in the movement tell me that my interest in and active work around diversity of various kinds is too political or even un-dharmic. I asked Bhante what to do in this situation, since I do not want more conflict but more harmony.

I took gender diversity as an example because it is something that I knew Bhante has heard of within the movement. One of the first things Bhante said was that this process will take time. The reason, he said while holding his fist closed to demonstrate, is that issues around gender are sensitive and that gender identity is something that people tend to cling very tightly to. He then expressed that he supports the coming gender diverse retreat and that he thinks it is good that it will be held at Adhisthana. He said that we have got to be open to what comes in the future. He also talked about the needs that a gender diverse group of people might have, for example practically around toilets and showers. Here he said that to some extent people might have to accept that Adhisthana is not fully prepared for this yet, but he also said that Adhisthana might have to look at ways of meeting these needs in the future. Later in the conversation Bhante told me that two key words (that he strongly emphasised when he said them) to use in my practice around this are ‘discussion’ and ‘patience’. He came back to the fact that this can take time to change and that most people will not change easily. But he asked me to keep the discussion alive even when there is disagreement. And since it will take time and won’t always be easy, patience will also be needed.

Towards the end of our meeting we talked about gender diversity in society and Bhante said that the topic of gender neutrality and non-binary identity (my choice of words) is something he has only heard more about in the last months after talking to Padmavyuha about the coming retreat. And then Bhante said something that really means alot to me: ‘No matter what happens in society at large, we as buddhists have to act in accordance with buddhist principles and be open to people of all kinds and their needs’.

There are four things here that I find really positive. He said ‘have to’, not could or should. He stressed that this is based on dharmic principles. He talked about openness to different people. And he explicitly expressed the importance of the fact that people have different needs when they come to our sangha and to the Dharma. One more thing that Bhante said is that ‘they are our members, not some people out there, but our members’. It was clear that this made a big difference to Bhante, that we need to somehow explore this since it is important to not just a few but to a quite large number of people in our sangha (he mentioned having heard about these groups and the number of people who have joined them).

I have been meaning to share this since returning to Stockholm and after reading some more depressing accounts from Kamalanandi and others just now I couldn’t wait any longer. This meeting with Bhante gave me even deeper shraddha as well as teachings and tools to inspire my own practice and my practice of creating sangha together with others.

So know that on the 2nd of May you will very likely have another ally in the order. And not just an order member but a Dharmacari willing to keep patiently discussing gender diversity and other areas of diversity for a very long time

Irian's gender conversation with Sangharakshita

Irian Greenleaf, formerly Padmavani

July, 2015 (from facebook)

Hi all, now that I’m landed after my retreat, I wanted to tell you some positive stuff about conversations I’ve had with people over the last week.

Mainly, that I met with Sangharakshita on Monday, and unexpectedly ended up having an almost half-hour conversation with him about gender diversity – because he’d been told about the retreat we’re planning there next spring, and wanted to know more. So we ended up talking about gender identity, how gender differs from physical sex, how both are not binary but more of a probability field (because I personally think that even calling it a ‘spectrum’ does its multidimensionality a disservice), about non-binariness, about how NB people experience sexual orientation, about asexuality… And finally about our group, why we exist, and what evolution we’d like to bring about within the Triratna gender paradigms.

He was very appreciative of the need to do this, given the need to make the dharma (and the sangha) accessible to as many people as possible, and wished us well. He said “I look forward to hearing how it goes – if I am still around” (he’s 90 in August). At the end of our meeting, he said “Well, we must all be open to learning about new things, even at my age.”

I’m very happy about this conversation, especially as it wasn’t me that instigated it, he was genuinely keen to learn about others’ experience of gender.
I also spoke later in the week with Dhammadinna (one of the public preceptors), who was also very interested, understanding, and supportive. We talked about the longer-term possibility of order members (such as myself) training up as study leaders with a view to eventually having gender diverse Going For Refuge retreats – both she and Sangharakshita could see this is a logical progression of cultivating support for gender diverse people in the sangha. And of course, Parami is incredibly supportive of us too, and doing much on our behalf :).

I wanted to post this so that you know that among the more experienced order members, and those who are in a position to advise on new directions for Triratna, we have very good support already, and I am confident that this will help move things along in people’s more local sanghas over time, and on the men’s side of things, which are still lagging somewhat behind in understanding and support.

Contact one of the working group

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