Please accept my humble obeisances.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I was terrified to write to Chakra a while ago concerning third gender topics but at the same time I was happy, relieved, and inspired. Some may not have felt it good strategy or even etiquette to be so 'out' and I understand totally why anyone would feel that way.
I want to express a little concerning shelter-spiritual shelter. For those who tend to over generalize and thus misinterpret the intentions of third gender devotees, it seems an easy solution to say just live outside the temple - you cannot live here in the ashram. But everyone needs ashram. Householders have shelter, whether they follow strictly or not they at least have ashram - a recognized dwelling place for spiritual life.
We are all floundering in this ocean to get on the transcendental life raft and sometimes we don't think to leave room for others to climb on board or we think this is some mundane boat that has limited space for only an elite few that look and talk like us when in actuality the life raft Prabhupada has given the world expands unlimitedly with each soul climbing on board. There are many ways to manifest ashrams or life rafts.
I am not afraid to publicly help others on board with whom I have a common empathy or background. Knowing third gender covered souls are often very hesitant to fully take shelter from the tossing waves of the material ocean, many times because they do not feel they belong, deserve, or that they will be allowed to stay peacefully, and yes, often because they cannot follow everything strictly. They hang on to the sides of the raft hiding sometimes half submerged so as to not be kicked away by those already privileged to be on board. But this is no way to live and anyone knows they will not long survive in that state.
So maybe third gender do need to surrendure and build our own spiritual life rafts. I have dreaded and repressed the thought of this for twenty years for it is all unknown territory and fraught with so many obvious difficulties and some limitations in regard to a broader social spectrum. This kind of ashram lifestyle limits opportunities to associate with devotees in general in many regards and above all it creates, by its mere existence, a visciously targeted stigma. Myself, I much prefer unity in diversity but that is rare isn't it? I realized a long time ago that when it came time to be forthright, and that time always comes, it would be seen that third gender are no longer and never have been very much welcome in the temples unfortunately.
One can say or a whole religious community can say in many fancy words that they are broad-minded and full of compassion but third gender have to read life situations vibrationally, looking deeper into the eyes when opportunity is there, and often reading more what is present between the lines than what is said to us directly. This bit of extra intuitive insight and perception is what Krishna has given us is for our survival and it is developed into an art out of necessity. Maybe instead of using so much of our time and energy to fend off daggers and fears inside a temple, we could instead pray to Krishna to bless and direct us with our gifts of intuition and energy how to build little preaching outposts and spiritual communities or just our own private spiritual homes for ourselves so that somehow or other by the grace of God we can continue our devotional lives in peace, harmony and with actual spiritual shelter. Many are already doing that. Outposts, temples, and pioneering can be very good wholesome lifestyles and preaching as I have been finding for some ten years now. People of all walks, genders, colors, religions and belief systems come here to this temple and my home and feel at home.
In the larger established temples there are obvious feigned attempts at unbiased acceptance of all visitors who enter humbly, but third gender also feel those invisible knives in our backs. Basically we live much of our lives ignoring the ignorance of others. I am ashamed of myself and of everyone else to be caught in such a pigeon hole after so much struggle to keep out of this limiting view of third gender and our potentials, but still the reality of our lives amongst the Vaisnava commmunities, is if we are truthful, we are not welcome to a large degree. Being tolerated is not being welcomed.
I have hated and fought against my own life style of forced separatism and reclusion for survival for many years now, but maybe it is actually a real God-given shelter particular for our needs. What if we simply try to establish our own shelters and temples so we can continue our service and offering blessings not curses to all the different Vaisnava communities?
I don't feel anymore at home in a regular brahmacarini ashram than anyone else does frankly, usually after some time, we move out. I don't feel agitated at all, just not at home. But again, the practical side, if we are told to not live in temple ashram, then where? No matter, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. For if we live alone, we die alone and that is certainly not in our best spiritual interests. If we live only with other third gender, we are usually severely ridiculed whether we are strictly following Vaisnava practices or not and if we try to just blend in and hide, well again, we often, though not always, we die inside, very much alone.
A True Spiritual Shelter, an ashram can be made for any type of person and in most any circumstance. It is built on principles and spiritual practices. Of course, it is always up to the individual to follow and take that shelter as a privilege and a blessing and perform devotional service there as best one can do. Where ever we are allowed to live by God'd grace, like anyone else in Krishna Consciousness, we should try to keep with our vows. By definition of ashram that is a given. Householders do not often live inside the walls of a temple ashram but they do have grhastha ashrams as far as I can see. Whether they are able to follow The Big Principle at issue in that circumstance, who knows? Or the better question: who would dare pry into these personal matters of intimacy? But then, Householders are seen as legitimate members of the Vaisnava Communities and that in itself is shelter.
The result of my writings here could manifest my worst fears, in that devotees, even old friends, now may not want to be associated with or identified in public as having friendship or trust in me. Worst fear is sometimes inevitable it seems. What can be done? Many highly intelligent and advanced third gender who have remained understandably and respectfully silent for their own survival and consciousness and for the survival of their delicately positioned place of serving, do not want to be seen as associating with someone more vocal. They also MOST IMPORTANT do not want to spend all this undue time on a subject matter that by its very nature can detour us from more transcendental Krishna Katha. These are far more advanced and pure hearted souls than myself, therefore, my worst fear is the fear of losing their advanced association by my admitted lowly position in our Society. I could lose many friends who are much more spiritually advanced than me. I completely understand this and hold no grudges or expectations, but it is such a great and overwhelming loss to be shunned by your superiors. So please have some mercy on me as I am struggling to remain a servant and friend somehow to the Vaisnavas.
I continuously pray that we all remain kind and compassionate in our intentions here. There are many new devotees as well as old ones, who are writing me saying they are grateful for some honest attempts to bridge our understandings on this subject and that it is helping them in their personal and devotional lives. So with these good results evident, it is worth more trials to come and I am sure there will be many. I am praying that everyone is blessed by Krishna's mercy with peace and happiness in their lives and in their continued service to Radha Krishna.
If anyone would like to contact me for further discussions or exchange my e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
With love and prayers,