Gender Dysphoria and the Dharma


In Jey Ehrenhalt 's November 2014 “Gender Dysphoria & the Dharma”  Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the author quotes,

“I am tired of having a body,” writes Buddhist author Susan Moon, “I just want to be my body. Let me remember that my buddha-nature is drenched in flesh.”

Jey begins their musing in the setting of their workplace, as a kindergarten teacher. The children bring attention to Jey’s shoes and hair in a seeming opposition to their voice and body and reason that therefore, their teacher is “half boy, half girl”. Jey’s internal response notes the depth behind a child’s profound simplicity:

At four, they understand gender’s social construction better than most.

Jey identifies as a gender non-conforming with chronic pain, and relates to the body-mind dissonance which the DSM-IV correlates to the condition gender dysphoria through the desire for escapism; for abandoning the body. However, Jey notes a dilemma:

The problem is I’ve gotten so good at jumping out of my skin that I can’t figure out how to get back in.

While in attendance at the local Zen temple, Jey shares in breath with their sangha and listens to the priest talk of the three marks of existence: dukkha, anicca, anatta; suffering, impermanence, and non-self.

He outlines the path by which we stop clinging to our identities, letting go of the delusion of an independently existing self. Upon enlightenment, he informs us, we will awaken to the truth of non-self. No race, no body, no age. No gender.  “No eyes no ears no nose no tongue no body no mind,” we chant from the Heart Sutra.  Upon awakening, says the priest, we will return to Buddha-nature, free of conditioned arising states. As we come closer to the enlightened mind, we will realize that our minds and bodies are not separate, but different aspects of the same thing. I wonder silently to myself if gender dysphoria—the experience of dissonance between one’s body and mind—in the awakened Buddhist mind, could even exist.

Jey details their navigation through gender identities -- first as genderqueer for subversive reasons, but ultimately felt disillusioned with the lack of language substantiating what exists beyond the binary:

But, as I came to discover, there is no genderqueer box next to M and F. Invalid entry, please try again.

They navigate through transmasculine identity, but, through a support group, was left with the impression that instead of escaping the body, it would become the sole focus -- the primary objective being HRT:

The trophy of ultimate acceptance would reveal itself as utter invisibility. In eyes of society I would be “trapped in the wrong body” no more.

Jey’s release came from the practice of Buddhist meditation in earnest; in learning that in the eyes of Buddhism, the root of suffering is attachment to identity, Jey found the beginning of their path back to their body. This practice proved invaluable to their management of their chronic pain, as they allowed their body to release on its own, without judgement.

Jey continues to note, however, that breaking from the binary is a privilege:

As promising as this philosophy sounds, it remains a privilege to break free from these binary categories of cultural identity. Such a transcendence sounds deceptively simple and dangerously reductive when it denies ongoing historical struggles, high-stakes political fights around gender identity. While I understand the appeal of moving beyond one’s gender, the paradigm likely shifts more smoothly for one whose other identities don’t make them a target of oppression.

Jey ends the article with the musing around Susan Moon’s quote and expresses their goal of enlightenment as being settled in their body:

If I am finally able to feel at home in my gender identity, part of me hopes I will cling to it in triumphant attachment, never meditating my gender away.

Read Gender Dysphoria and the Dharma by Jey Ehrenhalt