It’s Jeffrey back for another week of moderation and I’ve been really feeling a case of wanderlust lately. So this week, let’s take another tour around the world and check in with our queer brothers and sisters in Asia, starting with the fabulous Tibetan trans performer and makeup artist, Tenzin Mariko!
Perhaps the most striking evidence of her acceptance by the Tibetan
community has been the response of its religious leaders – the top
echelons of this deeply religious society. In just the last two years,
she’s been granted private audiences with a host of eminent Tibetan
Buddhist leaders, including Karmapa, the second highest-ranking guru in
Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.
“I feel blessed, truly
blessed,” says Mariko via a video call from Kathmandu, where she has
been invited to perform at a Tibetan show, her 10th such engagement of
the month. “I recently had a chance to meet with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and
he told me that I was doing good work and that he supported me,”
referring to an important lama of the Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingma lineages.
Mariko doesn’t have an explanation for what changed people’s perception
towards her. She thinks people warmed up to her because she gave up
monkhood. She believes that people were upset earlier because they felt
she was disrespecting her monastic vows by cross-dressing — that they
didn’t have a problem with her being transgender, but with transitioning
while still wearing a monk’s robes.
That explanation may be
overly generous, given that a majority of trans and gay people still
remain closeted and invisible in the Tibetan public sphere. And while
Buddhist leaders have acknowledged Mariko and offered her their
blessings, it is also true that the word transgender has always had a
negative connotation in Buddhist texts.
Tashi Ganden, a Tibetan researcher and a former monk himself, points to a 13th century Tibetan dictionary that defines maning, the Tibetan word for transgender, as “a person who has defects with his/her sexual organs”.
definition is borrowed from other religious texts and conveys the
negativism that’s associated with trans people,” says Ganden.
Ganden says the requirement to declare oneself a non-maning before joining a monastery also shows the discriminatory attitude of the monasteries towards transgender people.
Dalai Lama, who holds much sway over Tibetan people’s views on any
given issue, has not publicly denounced same-sex relationships. But in a
2014 interview with American TV and radio host Larry King, he noted
that each religion has different definitions of sexual misconduct and
believers should not engage in such acts.