[Buddha-l] Buddhism and hermaphrodites/intersex people: query

Sharon Smith hsp01ses at gold.ac.uk
Fri May 30 17:19:38 MDT 2008

Dear Colleagues,

I am currently engaging in research about the approach Buddhism takes
towards people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning
(of their sexuality/gender) and intersex (described within these
communities as queer people).  As part of this work I am looking at the
approaches of Buddhist texts and commentators on these issues as well as
writings by those from queer communities.  One area that I am unclear
about is the approach that Buddhism has taken to intersex people (commonly
referred to as hermaphrodites).  I have read Carl Olson's brief article on
the approach taken by Early Buddhism to hermaphroditism in the Buddhist
Studies Review which he regards as negative, and have come across a
section of a translated Pali canon text (Buddhism in Translations by Henry
Clarke Warren first published by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi in 1986) in
which it is stated that intersex people cannot make the wish to become a
wheel-turning Buddha.  I have also seen a quotation from the book by
Serinity Young, "Courtesans and tantric consorts : sexualities in Buddhist
narrative, iconography and ritual" in which being reborn as intersex is
described on p.205 as "the lowest possible state amongst men."

However, at the same time I am aware that the approach towards gender
minorities in several parts of the Buddhist world (both Theravada and
Mahayana) can be generally more tolerant. I am trying to understand
possible causes for this, firstly through teachings of Buddhist texts and
commentaries and secondly in terms of the ways Buddhism has developed
within those particular countries so as to develop a more nuanced view.  I
would be really grateful for any help you can provide on these matters and
any writings/materials you can direct me towards.

With thanks in advance and best wishes,

Sharon Smith

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