Welcome to SPN

Register and Join the most happening forum of Sikh community & intellectuals from around the world.

Sign Up Now!

Sikhism and Gender Variant Identities

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by CaramelChocolate, Feb 28, 2011.

  1. CaramelChocolate

    CaramelChocolate
    Expand Collapse
    SPNer

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2004
    Messages:
    588
    Likes Received:
    62
    I appreciate this is a controversial topic but none the less I feel it should be discussed as in the intersex community there is a high suicide rate.

    How does Sikhi 'deal' (sorry I could not think of a better word) with the 'issue' of intersexuality and transgenderism. On one hand Sikhism is pretty silent in dictating gender roles. However there is the Singh-Kaur dichotomy and the gender separation which was introduced after the Gurus by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (correct me if I am wrong).

    Some definitions:

    Intersex - Around 1 in 750. This includes either male or female born without all biological aspects of their respective gender (includes women born without a womb), or perhaps born with some from either gender (i.e. the genitalia of both sex).

    Transgender/Transsexual - A recognised medical condition in when one feels they are not the gender they are physically in. They have surgery to correct their physical gender to their emotional gender.

    Hijras - Perhaps a separate issue but intersexed or transgender individuals in South Asia may feel that this is their only socially viable option for them to be themselves. I am not discussing those hirjas who become a hijra because of poverty or economical factors, just those who do so because they are transgendered or intersexed.

    People may argue:
    There are only two genders according to Sikhi (Singh-Kaur)
    Yet there is the principle of equality
    Should they be allowed to do anand karaj? Many argue marriage is for procreation, what if the individual cannot procreate because of their intersexuality, transgenderism.



    My view - A literal interpretation leading one to believe a marriage/anand karaj is only between the conventional male and female is problematic as such an interpretation method would need to apply to the whole of SGGS. This means that Guru Nanak cut off his own head:

    ਮਸਤਕੁ ਕਾਟਿ ਧਰੀ ਤਿਸੁ ਆਗੈ ਤਨੁ ਮਨੁ ਆਗੈ ਦੇਉ ॥
    I cut off my head, and offer it to Him; I dedicate my body and mind to Him". - 938

    Which we know is clearly not the case. And using this interpretation method it would mean that Waheguru is a MALE (references to Husband Lord). So my view is SGGS is for poetry and praise of God and should be used as a symbolic guide, not be read literally as there would be the problem of where to read literally and where not to. Infact one of my friends was told by her Grandmother to drink the water which is used to clean the feet of devotees going into Harmandir Sahib! This is the problem - SGGS is poetry and clearly isnt literal. I think the Gurus recognised times changed and hence they provided more general rules which could be applied to all times - no lust, anger etc. etc.



    So what do you think?
    Can their be a place for gender variant individuals in Sikhism with all the rights that Sikhism provides (including anand karaj)?
    How would Sikhism view the operation of transgendered in light of the idea of not changing one's body (i.e. not cutting hair is often used to include peircing, body modification, tattoos etc.), and given the medical evidence recognising transgenderism as a medical condition?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  2. Loading...

    Similar Threads Forum Date
    Hard Talk Male Domination, Gender Discrimination In Sikhism Hard Talk Apr 18, 2016
    Gender and Sex in Sikhism by I.J.Singh Sikh Sikhi Sikhism Feb 11, 2010
    Hard Talk What Sikhism Says About Gender And Sex? Hard Talk Oct 22, 2009
    Interfaith Religion In Sikhism Interfaith Dialogues Nov 30, 2016
    Hard Talk Is Sikhism A Organised 'religion' ? And If So Is That Antithetical To The Teaching Of Gurmat? Hard Talk Nov 27, 2016

  3. Seeker9

    Seeker9 United Kingdom
    Expand Collapse
    Cleverness is not wisdom
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    May 3, 2010
    Messages:
    649
    Likes Received:
    973
    Now this is an interesting question indeed and I am really not qualified to comment on the physical aspects...that point about keeping one's natural born body though really is fascinating and I will view responses with great interest

    In the meantime, I would say that the spiritual aspects of the path are more important to me than the physical aspects...not to denigrate those physical aspects in any way....

    And that is just my opinion, nothing else
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. findingmyway

    findingmyway
    Expand Collapse
    Writer SPNer Contributor Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2010
    Messages:
    1,667
    Likes Received:
    3,767
    CC ji,
    This is a fascinating topic. Working in healthcare research has really changed the way I look at a lot of things over the past 10 years including all issues relating to gender. You may also want to look at the "Hukam and medical treatment" thread I started sometime ago which had some brilliant responses. I think you will enjoy it.

    What you talk about are 2 separate issues. The first is chromosomal abnormalities so too many X and Y chromosomes or not enough. This messes up the body physically and can cause more than gender related issues. Surgery to correct this to make the child of a single gender is medically warranted if the child or parents feel it is in the best interests. This is no different than any other medical intervention.

    The 2nd set of issues is "mental illness". A lot of mental illnesses are very much misunderstood (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder, OCD). They have a physiological basis and a person cannot just snap out of it. I would say this also includes transgender issues as no-one wants to make life difficult for themselves. Piercings etc are done for adornment, their function is purely aesthetic. Treatment for such issues is not aesthetic but is very much functional so again I would treat as any other medical intervention provided appropriate counselling is undertaken before and the person is sure that is what they want. Treatment is not always surgery. Some people manage well after other interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy which can enable a person to deal with the situation.
    Life is not so simple to say there are only 2 genders. Everything in life seems to be shades of grey! As fas as Sikhism is concerned all human beings are described as the soul bride and Waheguru as the soul groom so no reference to gender differences in human beings. I am inclined to think the emphasis should be on how dedicated a person is to the Sikhi way of life and whether they stay away from vices such as lust rather than gender alone. Just because someone doesn't have these issues doesn't mean they will not be lustful and vice versa.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  5. Seeker9

    Seeker9 United Kingdom
    Expand Collapse
    Cleverness is not wisdom
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    May 3, 2010
    Messages:
    649
    Likes Received:
    973
    Dear Findingmyway Ji
    Brilliant summary - echoes my thoughts too
     
    • Like Like x 2
  6. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
    Expand Collapse
    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2004
    Messages:
    14,551
    Likes Received:
    19,200
    Caramel Chocolate ji

    Methinks more reflection works well on this thread. Things are quiet. So I have posted an article by the redoubtable IJ Singh, and dialogue that followed at SikhChic, in response to a question you asked.

    Same Sex Unions

    by I.J. SINGH





    In recent weeks, Sikh sites on the Internet have fostered an energetic discussion on 'same sex unions'. I enter this debate with a great deal of trepidation. The conversation is necessary; hence this essay, written a few years ago, is being reproduced today.



    On July 19, 2005, Canada became the fourth nation to fully legalize same sex marriages. During the stormy national debate that preceded it, Navdeep Singh Bains, a young Canadian Sikh Member of Parliament and lawmaker, garnered significant notoriety and considerable abuse from his fellow Sikhs for supporting the legislation.

    The highest seat of Sikh temporal authority, the Akal Takht in Amritsar, Punjab, also joined the fray; its jathedar - egged on by other members of the Canadian Parliament - quickly censured the Canadian law and exhorted Sikhs to reject it. Canadian gurdwaras immediately weighed in with statements condemning Canada's legalization of same sex unions.

    Sooner or later, this Pandora's box had to be opened. The question of "gay marriages" will neither go away, nor should it.

    The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Portugal, Denmark and, most recently, South Africa have taken the bold step of embracing and legitimizing same sex unions after considerable soul-searching. Others, like the United States, seem poised at the brink but find the question terrifying; the issue remains mired in interpretation of Christian doctrine by some, and in state versus federal rights by others.

    For instance, voters in Maine plan a referendum that will decide, for the third time, whether to add sexual orientation to the state's human rights act that already prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, marital status, religion, ancestry or national origin.

    Very much aware of the minefield I am stepping into, what I aim to do is not to propound a view written in stone, but to explore the issue from a Sikh humanitarian perspective - in other words, to foster a debate. Judgments and decisions will evolve, but that time is not now and not yet. It is time to explore, to debate and discuss.

    What is the Sikh position to be?

    We like to think of love and marriage resulting in family to be as indivisible as horse and carriage. But the institution of marriage and family, like the horse and carriage, is in constant flux, evolving and changing dramatically over time.

    Marriage-and-family was at one time a politically and socially mandated economic institution, protecting the rights of men, women and their children while delineating the duties of each. It was necessary for families to have children if for no other reason than to increase the labor pool.

    In support of this contention, I offer the fact that, in the upper classes, a man was expected to acquire a second wife if no children resulted from the first marriage; in Europe, the poorer classes and peasants would not marry until a premarital pregnancy provided proof of fertility.

    The question of same sex marriages was moot, although same sex couplings have existed probably as long as humans have, and even longer in the animal kingdom. Although ancient Greeks received attention for bisexual and homosexual conduct, I doubt that other cultures were free of it. For instance, I point to the eunuch culture that has existed in Indian society for ages. Until very recently, in most societies, including Indian, gays were effectively closeted and never publicly acknowledged.

    But socio-economic realities have changed, spurred largely by the industrial revolution and advances in reproductive technology. Now having a child is now a choice, as is the decision to marry or to continue with a marriage; these are no longer matters dictated by economic or societal imperatives. Marriages are now increasingly driven by love or become mergers dictated by other considerations, where the roles of the individuals are negotiable and flexible.

    These societal changes open the door to the argument that gay and lesbian couples can participate in modern society as a family unit just as well as heterosexual couples. It follows, then, that to deny them such opportunity is to abridge their human dignity and their rights of citizenship.

    It is difficult, if not impossible, to deny that gay citizens have equal rights in a just and free society. There is mounting biological evidence of a propensity for gay behavior, if not of a gay gene. I don't know if homosexual behavior is entirely or only partially driven by differences in DNA or if being gay is the sin that some Bible-thumpers would have us believe, but to deny gays any of their basic human rights would certainly be sinful.

    A marriage is a civil union when a court or some such legally controlling authority performs it. Such an act speaks of a legally binding, contractual obligation that is needed for protection of the individual participants as well as of the society. I could, therefore, argue that there is no basis for denying gays and lesbians such civil licenses, even though, traditionally, marriages have been defined as only between heterosexual partners. Even common-law marriages are legal recognition of only heterosexual unions.

    Sikh tradition and teaching speaks of human dignity that is inviolate and of relationships that are not exploitive or manipulative. I believe my position to allow same sex unions is consistent with this.

    The next question is whether Sikhism would allow same sex marriages to be performed within a gurdwara by the same rites (anand Kaaraj) as heterosexual marriages. And here we are in absolutely uncharted territory.

    Remember that in the four lavaa(n) of Anand Kaaraj, there is no mention that the hymns are directed to a heterosexual couple; in fact, these hymns are metaphors for the development of the relationship between the human and the divine.

    Guru Granth and Sikh teachings do not offer us a slate of unambiguous do's and don'ts; Sikhism does not micromanage our life. What it does offer us is an ethical framework of universal values within which to negotiate our ethical dilemmas.

    For most people, marriage remains a sacrament that must be solemnized in sanctified space, where the presence of the unifying higher power of God can be felt. Even if they visit their places of worship no more than twice in their lifetimes, most people absolutely want the imprimatur of their religion before they feel decently married. Remember that religions provided the earliest organized structure for human societies with codes of conduct for their adherents that antedate civil societies.

    Most religions have categorized a vast array of sins of omission and commission that place those followers who commit them outside the realm of those accepted to be in grace. Until they atone for their departure from the path, such people may have some privileges of institutional religion withheld from them, and they may be barred from participation in certain rites. For example, a divorced Roman Catholic may not easily receive Communion or be remarried in the Catholic Church.

    Since a family - consisting of the mother, father and children, if any - forms the nucleus and the smallest functioning unit of society, most religions have sanctified this unit at the core of their teaching. In the view of most religions, then, gay and lesbian couples do not fit the definition of an acceptable unit of society. Even though they look to a universal loving creator, religions have to be lived here on earth. Most religions thus have difficulty sanctifying or accepting the union of same sex couples.

    The question of same sex unions has only recently surfaced in Sikh society, not because gay Sikhs do not exist, but probably because in the Indian culture they remain closeted and do not occupy public space or public consciousness. I have come across one article (in Punjabi) by Gurbaksh Singh Kala Afghana on this issue; with a plethora of suggestive and indirect citations from gurbani, he rejects the idea of same sex unions.

    One recent commentary in English by two Sikh-Canadian lawyers, T. Sher Singh and Ramandeep Kaur Grewal, argues that for Punjab-based Sikh religious leaders to venture authoritative Sikh opinions on the Canadian legal debate was inappropriate as well as unnecessarily intrusive to the internal affairs of Canadian society - especially when those sitting in judgement in distant Punjab had neither solicited nor entertained any submissions from those directly affected by the proposed law.

    In its scripture or its tradition, Sikh teaching appears to say nothing at all about same sex couples, but it does speak at length of core ethics wherein the dignity and rights of every human are sacred; where compassion and fairness govern human conduct. It follows, then, that the rights of those who follow a gay lifestyle should be equally acknowledged and never abridged.

    Should homosexual Sikhs be discriminated against?

    I would say no, neither in the gurdwara nor outside of it. Judge not others, the Gurus would say, but make your own life sublime. This would mean judge not those who follow a different beat.

    I would think, therefore, that Sikhism would be tolerant and non-discriminatory. By this logic, there would be no reason to ban a gay Sikh from any activity in the gurdwara in any capacity, from the managerial to the preparing and serving of the parshad or langar, and even in the reading from Guru Granth or in leading the congregational prayer (ardaas).

    Some might be uncomfortable with my position here because many of these activities seem to cast the gay person as a role model for the community, but I mention them so as to spur discussion and debate.

    It seems to me that homosexuality should be accepted and tolerated, but not necessarily held as a laudatory model lifestyle. If we recognize that some people are different (biologically or behaviorally), we can then accept their difference. And in practice, Sikhism, I believe, has been quite tolerant for one rarely hears of homosexuality and never of any discrimination. But then, this may be the natural result of an Indian culture where sexual intimacies are never publicly acknowledged.

    On the other hand, much of Sikh teaching is couched in metaphors from family life. Even the adoration of God is explored in terms of the closest relationship that humans can comprehend - that between a man and a woman. The heterosexual relationship is defined as sacred in Sikhism; an honest family life is described as the first duty - the primary religion of humans.

    This must be kept in mind while we debate same sex unions.

    From the perspective of nature, same sex unions clearly are at best sterile, nonproductive ones. A heterosexual union, on the other hand, holds the promise of being naturally productive. Same sex unions, some would argue, go against the biological laws of nature and are, therefore, against the laws of God; and laws of God cannot be denied.

    Let's apply Kant's categorical imperative here: If everyone were to do what I recommend, would the world be a better place? If everyone were gay, the world would surely end because the gay union cannot be biologically fertile. Sex is meant to be a creative reproductive force. This reasoning lies at the core of religious rejection of same sex unions.

    Yes, I know that modern reproductive technology can surmount such limitations, and also that not all heterosexual unions produce successful parents or children who contribute to society. Does this call for religions to withhold their approval of same sex unions? It is this that surely puts us in a pickle.

    It seems to me that institutional religions must preach, as in fact they do, kindness, compassion and equal acceptance of all people, regardless of their lifestyle or sexual orientation. But each religion must also be able to withhold its imprimatur from a certain way of life in its institutional framework.

    Since religions have the right to determine if certain sacraments are to be denied to a follower judged as not being in a state of grace, a denial of the right to a religious wedding, it seems to me, is not a human-rights issue. It is a matter to be decided by the adherents of a religion according to their traditions and teachings. A denial of recognition of same sex unions within a religious practice would, I believe, be outside the jurisdiction of the civil judicial process.

    In other words, a religion may deny a religious wedding ceremony for same sex couples in a church or a gurdwara while at the same time insisting on equal rights for them in society.

    The Sikh code of conduct (Rehat Maryada) speaks volumes on marriage, but only that of heterosexual couples; same sex unions remain unmentioned, and this could be viewed as a tacit rejection of such conduct. My interpretation of the question here - same sex unions - is deliberately narrow.

    For instance, it cannot be stretched to approve polygamy as seen in some societies, such as that of the Mormons. (Even the Mormons have now changed their code to conform to mainstream U.S. society. They no longer officially approve polygamy, though it is still practiced.) In Sikh belief, such relationships in contemporary society would, by their very nature, be manipulative or exploitive and diminish the sacred intimacy of the relationship.

    I know that I am leaving the issue unsettled. That is deliberate, but it is not a delaying tactic. The issue is such that we will not and cannot remain immune from it. It is too important to be left only to preachers whose thinking is circumscribed by the cultural realities of Punjab and India. It is one of those major constitutional and legal issues that societies face from time to time and that are never resolved in a day, a week, a month or even a year.

    Let's join the discussion and see what evolves. Let's wait to draw lines in the sand.

    http://www.sikhchic.com/columnists/same_sex_unions
     
    • Like Like x 1
  7. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
    Expand Collapse
    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2004
    Messages:
    14,551
    Likes Received:
    19,200
    From the same url

    Conversation about this article

    1:
    Homosexuality has been existent since times immemorial. I'm neither against homosexuality, nor in favor it. But I feel that somewhere in between the world of black and white, there are many grey spots which need to be researched.

    2:

    Guru Nanak's embrace was indiscriminate in his love and kindness; methinks we should take a cue from him and love gays/ lesbians/ whatever without reservation, regardless of one's personal views on sexual orientation. The tricky part is reconciling societal (and, by extension, legal) norms that dictate our attitudes to what appears to be unconventional behavior. I agree with Dr. I.J. Singh's assessment that religions cannot (and should not) discriminate (fundamentally) but reserve the right to withhold. But religious institutions only reflect the generally held beliefs of its adherents; change therefore must come at the individual level first, if we are to modify our institutional position. A vast majority of Sikhs, like overall society in general today, have negative opinions/ feelings about homosexuality. It would be far fetched to expect Sikh institutions to be otherwise. Discussions like this one is what we need more of - in our private and public settings - if any real tolerance towards homosexuality is to emerge.


    3:
    Despite tacit acceptance of the rights of same sex couples to be united at religious places, Dr.I.J. Singh has put most relevant arguments relating to this complex issue on the table. Whilst religion should remain relevant to the needs of society, it should guide and not follow fads, trends and vote-seeking political considerations. Expression of love in human relationships takes many forms. However, sexual leanings have to be controlled and channeled as spiritual love, which is free from lust. Sikh institutions have evolved from the egalitarian principles enshrined in Gurbani. In matters such as seva in gurdwaras and Sikh social activism, gurmat is non-discriminatory. As a spiritually-biased temporal system, very much concerned with here and now, the Sikh way of life (Sikhi) also gives us guidance about the human family. Often, this guidance about a model family is couched in idiomatic language and the author is quite right when he implies that, like other religious systems, Sikhi too promotes responsible married life which creates 'the smallest functioning unit of society' as a household 'consisting of mother, father and children.' Otherwise, Gurbani is concerned with spiritual love for the Creator and the created, finding expression in many ways. According to Gurbani, we are all soul brides of One Lord, regardless of the male or female bodies we occupy. Love is expressed in Gurbani for sister brides who have acquired the status of 'suhagan'. As such, we do not need, and should not insist on, seeking any further 'imprimatur' of religion.

    4:
    There is strong evidence that in majority of these individuals, the gay/lesbian behavior is innate and not learnt. What is not clear at this point is what leads to the change in sexual preference. It is quite likely, it is the result of perturbation(s) of the developmental pathway that leads to the sexualization of the brain. Given the intrinsic nature of the behavior, these individuals deserve the same respect and dignity accorded to any other individual in society. The change in societal attitudes can only be affected through open discussion and education. On that score, I feel our youngsters growing up here have healthier attitudes and are more accepting of such individuals.
     
  8. Randip Singh

    Randip Singh
    Expand Collapse
    SPN Sewadaar
    Historian SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    May 25, 2005
    Messages:
    2,949
    Likes Received:
    2,952
    Sikhi percieves our souls to be genderless, so does it matter what our outer shells are?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Seeker9

    Seeker9 United Kingdom
    Expand Collapse
    Cleverness is not wisdom
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    May 3, 2010
    Messages:
    649
    Likes Received:
    973
    I thought this was a very interesting question and I'm not sure it was answered directly, but may have misread/misunderstood earlier posts

    Any thoughts folks?
     
  10. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
    Expand Collapse
    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2004
    Messages:
    14,551
    Likes Received:
    19,200
    Seeker9 ji

    How is keeping hair, etc., based on "not changing one's body?" What is the support for this point of view? IMHO it is not the most pertinent reason to keep hair, though we find this reasoning all over the net. To refrain from "changing one's body" is nowhere addressed in the historical record. Guru Gobind Singh is not quoted in any eye-witness or anecdotal accounts of the first Vaisakhi as saying "do not change your body."

    Often this comes across as false ego feigning rigorous spirituality. Puritanism.

    To keep hair is part of the Sikh Rehat Maryada as defining characteristic of a Sikh, an outcome. In Ardaas we view hair as a gift. And , in that context, we remember the shaheeds by keeping hair. In the Sikh Rehat Maryada piercings and other alterations to the body are put in the context of avoiding practices associated with Hinduism. "Not changing one's body" is not a reason nor a rationale for anything. If that were the case, reconstructive surgery for cancer patients, or pace-makers, would be out. Reasons and rationales are more about maintaining a distinctive Sikh identity.

    So given that - why would there be any obstacle to surgical gender reassignment?
     
    • Like Like x 1

Share This Page