Sharing Trans Joy at the First Residential Retreat for the Transgender and Gender Expansive Community

Here is an article that ran in Lion’s Roar recently that was written by me, Fresh Lev White and Rene Rivera about the First Residential Retreat for the Transgender and Gender Expansive Community. You can read more below.

In September, “Creating Joy In Community,” the first residential retreat for transgender people, brought together 50 members of the transgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, and non-binary community at Big Bear Retreat Center in California. Retreat teachers Fresh “Lev” White and René Rivera, and retreat manager Martin Vitorino reflect on the experience.

We are so delighted and honored to have been among the co-creators of “Creating Joy In Community,” the first residential Buddhist retreat for the transgender community in the Insight Meditation tradition. The retreat had 50 participants and was offered by InsightLA at Big Bear Retreat Center in California from September 12-16, 2019.

As the teaching and retreat management team, we each had previous experiences of being the only trans or gender-nonconforming person on a retreat. As shared in a previous article for Lions Roar, we wanted to offer “Creating Joy In Community” to fellow members of the transgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, and non-binary community as a space where we could all show up and practice as our whole selves.

“The experience of practicing together in community was exactly the medicine everyone needed to remedy feelings of isolation, loneliness and unworthiness.”

In our trans community, many people inhabit multiple marginalized identities and intersectional oppressions, including racism and ableism. Trans people experience high rates of violence, homelessness, un/underemployment, suicide and mental health challenges due to the pervasive impact of transphobia. Trans women of color in particular are murdered at disproportionately high rates. Many have experienced trauma and may not have the resources to attend a residential meditation retreat. As one participant wrote of the retreat, “Meditation spaces can be so inaccessible, especially for differently-abled folx, poor people, trans people, and communities that have been forced to the margins.”

We addressed this through raising funds to make sure the cost of retreat registration and travel was not a barrier, especially for people of color. In response, we received generous support from InsightLA, Big Bear Retreat Center and individual donors, allowing us to offer the retreat on a sliding scale. No one was turned away for lack of funds, and 21 of the participants received financial support for travel.

The result of this support was a beautifully diverse group of people: 55% of participants identified as people of color, over half reported access needs or disabilities, and three were veterans. Within the group, age ranged from 21-74, and participants reported over 40 different variations of gender identities.

About half of the folks who came to “Creating Joy In Community” had never attended a residential retreat before. We designed the retreat with trauma in mind, and a key part of that meant we needed to build a container that could be responsive to the needs of the group in real time. Sometimes, this meant adapting our schedule and teaching to allow the ASL interpreters to have time for their own practice. Other times, it meant adding options for sharing and connection for those that needed it, while maintaining silence in other areas to support practice.