Developing Trans*Competence: A Short Guide to Improving Transgender Experiences at Meditation and Retreat Centers


In 2014, a small collective of transgender Buddhists and allies from across the United States wrote, edited, and published a short guide for Buddhist sanghas and retreat centers entitled Developing Trans*Competence: A Short Guide to Improving Transgender Experiences at Meditation and Retreat Centers

The collective, now known Trans*Buddhists, not only hosts and distributes the guide, but acts as a resource and hub for other Buddhists of trans experience. They introduce the guide on their website:

... the guide offers a vision for sangha spaces that are fully welcoming to transgender practitioners. By breaking down common problems faced by trans* folks when visiting spiritual centers, the guide offers a deeper understanding of trans* people’s experiences as well as structural solutions that can be implemented in a sangha.

Peppered throughout with quotes from Buddhist transfolk around experiences in sangha, this brief guide features hand-drawn illustration and a simple, easy-to-follow style. With gentle tone, this guide delivers its impactful messages written with crystal clarity.

The beginning vision of a trans inclusive sangha space reads as a short statement of intent, a manifesto detailing the importance of having a space free of misgendering, disrespect, and discomfort, while being inclusive in leadership as well as laity, and stresses the importance of self-education for cisgender sangha members.

The guide continues on with a brief note on Trans* identities, touching on the differences between sex and gender, as well as the misconception that there is one way to be Trans*. Discussion around common pitfalls follows, from the basic binary assumption and extending to registration forms, housing and dormitories, and restroom and shower facilities.

The guide is singular in its method of addressing concerns; rather that simply decrying the ways in which non-inclusive spaces are harmful, there are very clear & practical suggestions for solutions to those concerns -- registrations asking for preferred names and pronouns, while swapping gender checkboxes for a blank space; including options for single rooms and all-gender housing; suggesting fairly designated times for shower facilities, including all-gender time slots.

A short section on educating sangha members focuses on how impactful a statement of inclusion from sangha leaders can be -- affirming for the trans members present while providing cis members the opportunity to be mindful of trans issues within the sangha.

The closing notes recognizes that this guide is simply a first step for sanghas to begin trans* inclusion in earnest, and encourages sanghas to both involve transfolk in their leadership and provide resources for learning to the general membership. A short glossary of terms and list of books, websites, tips, and other resources for further research is included before concluding with a short Metta.

Read the full Guide as a PDF, and learn how Shaun Bartone used this guide to educate two sanghas.