Kwan Yin: The Original Gender Outlaw

The Buddhist bodhisattva Kwan Yin embodies the Divine Feminine. She is the Goddess of Compassion -- her very name means "She Who Hears the Cries of the World." Beyond this characteristic, however, Kwan Yin is a much more complex being.

Kwan Yin originated in India as a male deity and was brought to China in that form. Ancient representations of Kwan Yin often include a pencil-thin mustache and a small goatee. But because compassion and mercy were categorized as "feminine" virtues, portrayals of Kwan Yin got progressively effeminate over time as artists tried to capture that essence in their work. During the Song Dynasty (about 1000-1200 C.E.), Chinese artists just threw in the towel completely and turned Kwan Yin into a woman.

So today Kwan Yin is a willowy figure in a flowing white dress and veil, with the hairdo and jewelry of a beautiful woman. But, in recognition of Her male origins, She is always portrayed as completely flat-chested. Unlike virtually every other representation of the Divine Feminine, there are no big breasts for Kwan Yin! She is the most androgynous of all spiritual beings.

Her journey from one gender to the other mirrors the transgender journey that so many people undertake today. Taking our cue from Kwan Yin, mercy and compassion should always be our response to that most profound of all transformations. It is quite literally a divine journey.