Chakra Discussions

Being Transsexual in ISKCON

by Kevin Bello

Posted May 11, 2010

This is a letter I wrote a few days ago to my local ISKCON temple:

Please accept my humble obeisances. My name is Kevin Bello. I am 21 years old. I love culture, religion, languages and philosophy, as well as general neatness. I have practiced Krishna consciousness, Gaudiya Vaishnava dharma for only 2 years, so I am still very neophyte. I belong to a glorious organisation called Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math under the lineage of His Divine Grace Srila B.R. Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj and Srila B.S. Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj (he wrote the Prabhupad pranams that all ISKCON devotees recite constantly), and am aspiring to have connection with the current successor of the Math, His Divine Grace Srila B.N. Acharyya Maharaj.

I also suffer from a condition known as Gender Identity Disorder, or GID.

Forgive me if I have made any mistakes or offenses in this endeavour of clarification; however, it is an issue that must be addressed in the Gaudiya Vaishnava community, and will needs be understood with proper guidance.

Gender Identity Disorder, or GID, as I understand it, is a karmic variation of human subspecies: it is a fusion of a gendered gross body, while the subtle body is also gendered in another fashion. In this circumstance, one may have a female gross body, but possess a male subtle body, or a male gross body and a female subtle body. There are gradations of strength in this regard, but sometimes the desire is so strong that it needs to be expressed in the physical plane. This is not to be confused with sahajiya-vada which attempts to take the spiritual conception and pollute it with our mental speculation and carried further into the material realm. GID is solely a material problem, and not a spiritual one. Those who suffer from this are called transsexual or transgender. It is not a sexual orientation; it is gender dysphoria.

In Vedic history, we understand of the existence of tritiya prakrti, these third gendered souls described in the Bhagavatam as neither male nor female. Even at Mahaprabhu's most auspicious birth, such third gendered souls expressed their joy for the Golden Lord by dancing before Him. Such souls undoubtedly have the mercy of the Lord, despite their so-called low birth. Such people in Vedic times were very much respected, and were falsely named 'eunuchs' by English society as an attempt to describe the third gender. We have Vedic descriptions of such people like Brihannala, although this was Arjuna's disguise for a mere year.

Nowadays, with the implimentation of this birth-based caste system, the third gender (hijras) are reviled by society. They are treated as non-human, and because no one is willing to hire them, they are subject to jobs as prostitutes, and depression brings them into drugs and alcohol abuse.

Even in the West, this is also happening. Such sincere souls who just desire for acceptance are subject to the fate of societal fear, hatred and rejection, with great difficulty in acceptance for job opportunities. They turn to prostitution for money, and drugs and alcohol for comfort. They are seen as unintelligent, mentally disturbed, and less than human. Indeed, through this discrimination, it is no wonder why such persons become depressed, lonely, and suicidal. It should not be surprising that they eventually embody the very prejudices of society.

Understanding this, one would think that with the mercy of Sri Guru and Mahaprabhu, one would be able to overlook such material problems and address that individual soul according to spiritual merit. However, I found that this is beside the case, after having heard these devotees and their individual experiences with ISKCON.

Having talked to both a doctor and a psychologist, I was diagnosed with GID. When I was transitioning (changing my body from male to female), I was shocked at what kind of person I was treated. I still remember the confusing messages given to me, and the treatment I had from Sankarshan Das Adhikari. First of all, his wife and he himself addressed my transitioning at a public home program in front of everyone, telling how sinful it was to transition and that we must go beyond the body... And the second instance still amazes me to this day. I was arranged to meet with Sankarshan Das Adhikari with his wife. He told me that I should not take initiation if I transition, having to subject the guru to be born again and again until I go back to Godhead. I was told by him that I will never go back to Godhead, and his wife also suggested to me and her husband that I could be born in a lower species of life!

I felt humiliated, burned, discriminated against, embarrassed, and traumatised from that point. The very temple of which I have given my heart to, my life and soul, has now rejected me, not because of any spiritual disqualification, but of my material situation. What have I done wrong to merit an angry guru and wife to tell me how sinful I was? I was not even aspiring for initiation, and yet I was still given this treatment.

Even after giving some evidence in a compilation that Srila Prabhupad said nothing against transsexuality and even gives implicit support, I still was given the burnt end and felt that I had no one to look to except the Lord alone. Along with this feeling of helplessness and nowhere else to go, the opportunity to move to Alberta awaited me. And although that move had helped me to deal with the feelings that I had, the damage has been done. I have never felt so hurt by a spiritual organisation that is supposed to be the embodiment of Srila Prabhupad's mercy as I did during my transition.

Although I can not consider transitioning, or changing my body any more due to the societal and financial implications, I can not but help feel this general hopelessness for people like me who are interested in spiritual life and developing a loving relationship with the Sweet Absolute, Shri Krishna. I now must deal with the pain of this dysphoria between subtle body and gross body, that I have to live with a female mind and a male body. Unless you are third gendered as I am, you can never understand this loss of identity in a society which puts so much emphasis on the strict dichotomy of two genders: male and female. And all we ask in return is compassion and a chance to practice Krishna consciousness in the loving association of devotees. I am thankful for the philosophy of SCS Math, but unless ISKCON Vancouver shows more compassion to such people, I can not recommend ISKCON Vancouver to such sincere souls who happen to be transsexual.

Any Gaudiya Vaishnava society is not perfect, simply because it is not made for saints, but for sinners. If we were all pure devotees, shuddha-bhaktas, we would have no need of societies such as ISKCON or SCS Math or even SGVS (Srila Narayan Maharaj's group, the Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Society). So before you judge someone's salvation and spiritual gradation towards Krishna consciousness, look at your own life and focus on your own spiritual life. Srila Govinda Maharaj said that true religion is finding faults with one's self, and practicing the virtues of Humility, Tolerance, and Giving Honour to all living beings. Otherwise our vaidhi-bhakti (devotional service according to the rules and regulations), our sadhana (spiritual discipline) is in vain.

As Srila Sridhar Maharaj once said, Mercy is always all-encompassing and all-extending. The only qualification necessary is our sincerity to receive it.

I hope that this succinct e-mail will capture but a truffle of the experiences that I had to go through. I have nothing against Srila Prabhupad nor of ISKCON, nor of Sri Sri Radha-Madan Mohan. My only contention is that the treatment of transsexual devotees (not even 'non-devotees!') is deplorable, and needs be rechecked and re-examined. The temple authorities, being in positions of leadership, must be exemplary examples of Humility, Tolerance, and Honour, and even if not, the sincerity to practice such virtues should be there. These should be extended to everyone, regardless of any material situation.

I hope this helps clarify my position on the matter. Please forgive any offenses that I may have caused...