What This White Heterosexual Male Really Thinks of Transgender People
“We are all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass
In January of 1994, my friend Linda and I flew from our homes in Paris to visit Koh Samui, Thailand. Soon after arriving I noticed many fellow human beings wearing bikini tops and bottoms during what appeared to be various stages of gender transition. They were called “lady-boys” and when Linda and I stopped by the famed Reggie Pub after dinner on the beach one thing was abundantly clear: these lady-boys could fucking dance!
During the days on Chaweng Beach I would chat with the lady-boys and they all said the same thing: from the time they were born they were 100% certain that they had been born into an incorrectly gendered body.
Elsewhere I have recounted my trajectory from Koh Samui to studying parapsychology at the Rhine Research Center at Duke University, but at that time — after studying sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and philosophy in graduate school — I was entertaining the possibility that Western science had gone horribly off the rails during the Enlightenment, throwing the proverbial spiritual baby out with the bathwater. I was fond of saying things such as “Trying to measure meditation scientifically is like trying to measure milk with a ruler” (and you may still hear me utter such ditties if you study with me at Esalen or Kripalu.)
At Duke I fell upon the work of Doctor Ian Stevenson who worked at the University of Virginia School of Medicine for fifty years and was chair of the department of psychiatry from 1957 to 1967. Doctor Stevenson studied more than 2,500 cases of children who claimed to remember their past lives. Some of these infants even spoke foreign languages before learning English. Some had birthmarks that resembled the fatal wounds from their previous incarnations. Pretty freaky. Although only 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation, after getting a second graduate degree in religious studies concentrating on Hinduism and Buddhism, I consider myself part of the proud minority.
And that is how I understand transgender people: at the tail end of the bardo state, when a soul (for lack of a better word) is checking out myriad human fertilizations, the zygote is gender-free. It is approximately a 50/50 shot (so to speak). So let’s just say a soul has been male-gendered in most of its previous incarnations… a viking, a warrior, a prince… but after a few weeks, this 2005 zygote emerges as a female. That might lead to some confusion later down the line. Or a soul was female for most of its previous incarnations… a wife, or a wife, or a wife, or maybe a princess… but after a few weeks this 2007 zygote emerges as a male. That too might lead to some confusion down the line.
“Spiritual, not religious” is the box I usually check on dating apps. And my spiritual bent abides by what His Holiness the Dalai Lama espouses regarding karma and reincarnation: the events that occur within a single lifetime cannot be explained by the karma generated solely within that lifetime. Thus, believing in karma necessitates a belief in reincarnation. And vice versa.
Thank god Buddhism is not a religion!
Buddhism is a prescription to alleviate suffering.
And when I teach the four noble truths at Esalen and Kripalu, I do not teach “Life is dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness or stress)”; I teach that “Life — AS PERCEIVED BY HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS WHICH IS ANALOGOUS TO A HEDONIC TREADMILL — is dukkha.”
As one Buddhist monk said, “If sex were so satisfying you would only have to do it once!”
Being born into an incorrectly gendered body sounds pretty dukkha-ish to me.
I’m a white male born — I believe — into a correctly gendered body at the tail-end of the white male American hegemony. I enjoy privileges and luxuries that most human beings have only dreamt of. I can’t stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose votes like some other white men can, but I can walk less than a mile to five different places and buy a non-GMO burrito for less than $10. Life doesn’t get much cushier than that. For fuck’s sake, the majority of human beings ever born never reached the age of 40 and I’ll be 54 this year!
Thirty-five years ago I had my face blown off of the front of my skull by an angry dashboard. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. And I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s life either — including Brad Pitt and Bill Gates and Bono (and that’s just the Bs!) and whomever else seems to be crushing life from what we can see in two dimensions.
My karma… is my karma.
Your karma is your karma.
And a transgender person’s karma is their karma.
Humanity is a speck of sand in the hourglass of time. And we are all just walking each other home. Compassion for all sentient beings is the only rational choice.
And whoever said that you couldn’t learn Buddhism through dancing with lady-boys?!