20 Feb 2023

By Stepien

Welcoming the Rainbow: Kilgraston retreat testimonial

We were touched to have received the below testimonial from one of our nonbinary practitioners, who attended the “Earthing Our Practice” Retreat in Kilgraston in October 2022.

Recently I attended the Kilgraston retreat, which was a beautiful experience for many reasons. It also was a wonderful example of supporting practitioners who are trans or nonbinary, and I hope other organisers can learn from their good practice.

The registration form asked if I was male, female, or nonbinary, which felt welcoming to me as a nonbinary person. I submitted the form and to my surprise, one of the organisers said they were checking whether there could be nonbinary accommodation, because the rooms were going to be divided by ‘men’ and ‘women’. I didn’t hear anything back, so assumed it hadn’t worked out and I’d probably just be roomed in the ‘women’s corridor’ — inaccurate, but I can appreciate the logistical difficulties for event organisers in a world that still expects either ‘men’ or ‘women’ as guests, even as I knew it would bother me if I had to stay there.

So I was gobsmacked to arrive and be offered a separate nonbinary flat! (There was originally going to be another nonbinary attendee sharing it with me, which would’ve been wonderful, but they unfortunately had covid.)

People who aren’t nonbinary and/or trans might not appreciate what a relief this was: to be told that I was seen for who I was. To not have that shiver of dysphoria and internal protest that would’ve happened every time I set off to my room had I been put in the ‘women’s’ section. I almost cried with joy.

It was such a gift, and a true welcome, from the organisers. I hope that everyone who attends a Plum Village retreat is similarly given a place to lay their head that respects their gender identity.

I did struggle, as I always do, with the Contemplations Before Eating. I’d like all sanghas to think carefully about how they use these in order to be more inclusive. My strategy was to try to be the one at whatever table I was sitting at who offered to read them aloud. And then I would change ‘nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood’ to ‘nurture our siblinghood’. Feeling slightly awkward about that was still better than the sting of exclusion when I did end up sitting there and someone read the original version. I was overjoyed, at the very last meal, when someone read that sentence and used ‘siblinghood’ because they’d heard me do it! 

Overall, though, the Kilgraston retreat felt like such a welcoming space for me, right from arrival, given the care around my gender identity. I am hugely grateful to the organisers!

Rainbodhi (rainbodhi.org) is a group supporting LGBTQIA+ Buddhists across traditions; their guide Welcoming the Rainbow: A Guide to LGBTQIA+ Inclusion for Buddhists (http://rainbodhi.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Welcoming-the-Rainbow-Web-Version.pdf) may be helpful for retreat organisers.