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Lions Roar : January 2018
THIS DHARMA LIFE Where I Make Sense Buddhism teaches us that the buddhas can appear in different bodies. FINN ENKE chronicles a lifelong journey to find the identity that makes them feel, finally, “I am here.” NANENSTAD EVERYTHING IS OF THE NATURE to change. That’s a fundamental Buddhist teaching, and it might be transgender affirming as well. When I was a trans-struggling child growing up in the 1970s, adults saw me as a nonconforming girl. I knew myself to be a nonconforming boy. I had been taught that everything started and ended with anatomy, but my body made no sense to me. By the time puberty had conclusively rejected any notion that my body would become male after all, I was desperate for ways to integrate my soul into a difficult world, desperate to make my body matter less. I spent my college years pouring over different forms of Buddhism. I practiced meditation with sanghas in the United States and Sri Lanka. I even sat in a cave on the side of a mountain. I was drawn to Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the uncertainty of Avalokitesvara’s form. Apart from Avalokitesvara’s histori- cal transition from apparently male to apparently female as Guanshiyin (Kuan Yin), it remains a question whether this bodhisattva is articulated as male or female, both, or neither. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha says, “If a living being needs to be saved, Guanshiyin will appear in the body of a buddha.” Buddha then lists more than thirty different bodily manifestations of Guanshiyin, who manifests according to what is needed: male, female, young, old, varied by class, station, occupation, divine, human, nonhuman. Avalokites- vara/Guanshiyin manifests nonduality— the way that everything in the universe is present in every cell in every being, form and boundlessness together. So I decided to regard my situation as an opportunity to experience existence in the form into which I was born. It was through form that I could comprehend interbeing, the awareness that everything in this moment is connected to everything else, and always has been and will be. With that understanding, for the next two decades I dismissed my transgender experience on the grounds that, just as form matters, there is no hierarchy of forms. The bunny is as necessary and precious as the bee and the human and the sun. The violence taking place outside me is also inside me; we are not separate. I convinced myself that my body was precious and sacred, and that the specific form didn’t matter. It made no Bud- dhist sense to say that I wasn’t a woman, and the feminist in me also rejected that articulation. Besides, my particular body (despite its female-appearing shape) was also a source of joy—I was healthy, strong, and grateful for the miracle that life is. By the time I was in my forties, I could almost ignore the chafing confusion I felt whenever people addressed me as FINN ENKE is a professor and the author of Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (Duke University Press). LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2018 19 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE