Embracing the Icon: The Feminist Potential of the Trans Bodhisattva, Kuan Yin

I explore how the Buddhist icon Kuan Yin is emerging as a point of identification for trans people and has the potential to resolve a tension within feminism. As a figure that slips past the male/female binary, Kuan Yin explodes the dichotomy between universal and particular in a way that captures the pragmatist and feminist emphasis on doing justice to concrete, particular lives without becoming stuck in an essentialist quagmire.

Graceful, tranquil, and composed, the figure of Kuan Yin looms in the shadows of Buddhist temples, museums, and countless Chinese restaurants. With a name that describes one ‘‘who hears the cries of the world,’’ Kuan Yin provides solace and inspiration, serving a function not unlike that of the Madonna or Guadalupe. However, the legends that give rise to Kuan Yin are, at least in some ways, more complex than those of her Christian counterparts. She/he is sometimes d

This is Member-Only Content

To access, click here to activate a Digital Subscription with a 2-Week Free Trial (no credit card required).