Aprimary Buddhist belief is that sexual characteristics are fluid; genitals can change in the next lifetime or even in this one. 1 That the belief in sex change was enduring and widespread is shown by the surprising number of sex-change stories that exist and by their incorporation not only into prominent Buddhist texts, but their presence within discussions of central Buddhist concepts such as karma, emptiness, and illusion. The Buddhist creation myth that describes sexual characteristics as a decline from a primordial nonsexual state lends support to the belief that sexual characteristics, being secondary, can drift.
Most of the stories that follow are more expressive of male fears about losing masculinity than of female hopes of gaining it. In researching Afghan stories about women changing into or disguising themselves as men, Margaret Mills found that they are usually told by men, not women. 2 In other words, even though the stories feature women, they reveal male concerns. This is equally true of the stories that follow, which were told by men and preserved in texts controlled by men. These stories represent male views, anxieties, and fantasies. Although a few stories subvert the wholesale negation of women and challenge the basic notion of gender, overall they privilege maleness. Most tellingly, the vast majority of stories are about women becoming men. An important genre of stories that for the most part indicate gender is fixed, that an individual's sexual characteristics remain constant from life to life, are those of the Buddha's past lives. Yet they, too, privilege maleness. As will be shown, gender is understood to be a reward or a punishment, and many texts argue that achieving an advanced stage of awareness precludes one from being reborn as a female.