Trans in Exile: My Journey from Tibetan Monk to Trans Woman

By Tenzin Mariko and Natasha Khullar Relph

The story of the first Tibetan Buddhist monk in history to have publicly come out as a trans woman.

Biography | LGBTQ+
11% funded
77 supporters
Funding
Support this project
Make Trans in Exile: My Journey from Tibetan Monk to Trans Woman a reality – choose your reward below.
$15 
29 pledges

Digital

A copy of the ebook.

PLUS:

  • Your name in the back of the book.
Choose this reward
$40  + shipping
19 pledges

Hardback

First edition hardback.

PLUS:

  • Ebook
  • Your name in the back of the book
Choose this reward
$75  + shipping
4 pledges

Trans Ally Tote Bag

Check out this perfect tote to carry your hardbacks in!

PLUS:

  • First edition hardback with signed bookplate from both authors
  • Ebook
  • Your name in the back of the book
Choose this reward
$75  + shipping
1 pledge

Trans Ally Mug

A Trans Ally mug exclusively designed by Unbound.

PLUS:

  • First edition hardback with signed bookplate from both authors
  • Ebook
  • Your name in the back of the book
Choose this reward
$85  + shipping
3 pledges

Meet the Writers

A ticket to a zoom Q&A with the authors of Trans in Exile: Tenzin Mariko and Natasha Khullar Relph.
This is your opportunity to ask Mariko and Natasha anything about the book.
LIMITED TO 30.

PLUS:

  • First edition hardback with signed bookplate from both authors
  • Ebook
  • Your name in the back of the book
Choose this reward
$100  + shipping
4 pledges

Read with a Friend

Two first edition hardbacks with bookplates signed by the authors.

PLUS:

  • Two ebooks
  • Up to two names in the back of the book
Choose this reward
$105  + shipping

Trans Circle

A ticket to a trans circle with Mariko. This is a safe virtual space for trans people to come together and share their stories.
LIMITED TO 20.

PLUS:

  • First edition hardback with signed bookplate from both authors
  • Ebook
  • Your name in the back of the book
Choose this reward
$1,500  + shipping

Patron

Be one of the book's biggest supporters by pledging at our Patron level.
LIMITED TO 5.

PLUS:

  • First edition hardback with signed bookplate from both authors
  • Ebook
  • Your name in a special list at the front of the book
Choose this reward
$POA 

Corporate Patron

Unbound can create bespoke packages to suit supporters' needs.

Please contact support@unbound.co.uk to discuss sponsorship and other options for corporate patrons.

PLUS:

  • Your name in the front and the back of the book
Choose this reward

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get my book delivered to?

We deliver to most countries worldwide. Enter your delivery address during checkout and we'll display the shipping cost when we know where to send your book.

How do supporter names work?

Every person who pledges to help to make a book gets their name included in a supporter section as a thank you as long as they pledge before the list closing deadline. If you want to add a different name, this can be changed in your account after you have completed your pledge.

Will the book and rewards that I receive look the same as the images shown on the Unbound website?

Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.

Still have a question? Visit our Help Centre to find out more.

Trans in Exile is Tenzin Mariko's journey from Buddhist monk to transgender youth icon, against the backdrop of Chinese oppression and a changing Tibetan diaspora.

At 9 years old, Mariko was taken to a monastery with her younger brother after their parents split up. The boys learnt to study - and keep secrets. Seven years later, she escaped. But outside, things were not much easier. The world saw a monastic boy - shaved head, red robes, prayer beads in hand, while in private, Mariko was a woman who loved experimenting with make up and shaking her hips to Shakira.

Then, unexpectedly while attending a wedding dressed up as a woman, her secret was uncovered and her life completely changed.

The traditional Tibetan community didn't know how to deal with Mariko, let alone the concept of trans identity. There were threats of physical violence and demands from her gurus that she disrobe, pushing her to go into hiding. But, Mariko could not - would not - suppress her true self. At the Miss Tibet 2015 finale, she astounded the crowd by performing onstage, as Mariko.

A culture cannot remain static, nor can the people who inhabit it. Trans in Exile is a story about the pain of abandoning one existence, the joy of forging a new one, and the exhilaration of finding freedom while doing so.

It is a story about integrating tradition with contemporary influences told from the perspective of a former monk who has blended her Buddhist values with her true identity as an openly trans woman.

Above all, it is a story of a person and her nation, transitioning together, in beautiful synchronicity.

Image credits: Design by Mecob. Images © Shutterstock. Photograph from author's own collection.

Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.

Support this project

Quick select rewards

  • Tenzin Mariko avatar

    Tenzin Mariko

    Natasha Khullar Relph avatar

    Natasha Khullar Relph

    Tenzin Mariko is a dancer, performer, model, and speaker. She is the first Tibetan as well as the first, and it is believed only, Buddhist monk in history to come out as a trans woman. In Dharamshala, which is the home of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama and the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Mariko is considered a hero and an LGBTQ+ icon.


    In 2015, she headlined the Miss Tibet competition when she came out on stage, both literally and metaphorically, for the first time.


    In 2018, Mariko was named brand ambassador for the Tibetan National Women’s Soccer Team. In 2019, she made her first appearance on the TEDx stage, where she shared the story of her life and the journey that led to her very public coming out.




    Natasha Khullar Relph was born and raised in New Delhi, India, which is where she first became a journalist, contributing to The New York Times, ABC News, and CNN, and a freelance correspondent for TIME magazine.


    Natasha's work has been included in The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology: True stories from the world’s best writers (Lonely Planet, 2016), Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas (Harvard Business Review Press, May 2013), Voices of Alcoholism (LaChance Publishing, April 2008), and Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul 2 (HCI, June 2004). She is also the author of eight non-fiction indie titles for writers, including Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page (Amazon.com, 2016).


    Natasha divides her time between India and the UK and currently lives with her partner and son in Kemptown, Brighton, home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the world.

  • Chapter 1

    When you look at me, you don’t see me.

    This is not your fault. You’re not supposed to see me. That is the purpose ofour attire, for us all to look the same and be the same, a solid sea of red that you can look through and look past, but not look at. When you look at me, you don’t see an individual, but a representation. You see the manifestation of the image in your own head. You see me as you’ve been told to see me.

    This is not your fault.

    You don’t see me because we’re not meant to be seen.


    ***

    The pre-dawn moonlight drops over the empty streets of McLeod Ganj, or Upper Dharamshala as it is sometimes known, washing it in a silver light that makes it feel not quite earthly. The snow-covered mountains twinkle like diamonds in the distance, and the Himalayan cedars reach up to the sky as the prayer flags tied around them flap in the wind. We are 6,800 feet above sea level.

    Soon the shutters of the shops will open, the metallic din ripping through the stillness, little murmuring voices turning loud, deafening. In the summer, they come from neighbouring towns, from the rest of India, from the rest of the world. Little Tibet, it’s called, or Little Lhasa, this town where I now live. It’s a tourist destination,a tiny blip on the map that people come to visit from thousands of miles away. They drive their cars up the winding roads but there is little parking, and so they rent motorbikes or scooters for the day. They stop at the roadside cafes and have dumplings or thukpa for breakfast. They record videos, click photos of homes that have Tibetan flags flying proudly on the terraces. They come to see the scenery, these tourists. They come to see the temples; they come to see the Dalai Lama. And they come to see us, our monasteries, our routines, our red robes.

    I wore one of those red robes years ago, as we walked down the hilltop in groups, an anonymous monk that blended in with all the others. We weren’t people to the visitors who gawked at us, sometimes open-mouthed. We were monks. I understand now that there’s a difference. People have desires, families, emotions. Monks don’t. We’re required to give it all up. Renounce. Restrain. Relinquish.

    I arrived at the monastery when I was nine years old. Did I have any dreams before then? I must have. But not after. Never after. Monks don’t dream. What would be the point?

    If you’d seen me then, that year when I was sixteen, wrapped in red and lost among the sea of Tibetan faces around me, you’d see me just as you saw the rest of them. Crimson robes, shaved head, prayer beads in hand. I recited my prayers faithfully, attended daily teachings at the temple, and woke up before dawn. I was intimately familiar with the silver light of daybreak. The silence, it can be peaceful.

    It can be piercing, too.

    How can you be trained in a life of oneness and still feel so incredibly different? They looked like me; I looked like them. You wouldn’t have been able to tell us apart.

    Yet, I had a secret they didn’t. Something that could wreck my entire life, a certainty I couldn’t afford to let out.

    I enjoyed dressing up as a girl.

    It wasn’t a question of identity, not then. My identity wasn’t, and had never been, a question: I was a monk. I’d been a monk since I was nine years old and I believed I’d be a monk until the day I died. I never doubted this, never questioned it. It wasn’t ever a choice I had, and it wasn’t something I’d ever worried about.

    I thought of my robes as a uniform for a job I must do. Some women wore pencil skirts or pantsuits, others robes; each piece of clothing enabling them to do the task entrusted to them. And later, at night, when their work was done and they were alone, they could change into something more comfortable. A cotton dress, a linen jumpsuit, satin pyjamas. That’s how I thought about it then.

    Some women took off their bras at the end of a long day. I just happened to put mine on.

    Read more...
  • It looks like Tenzin Mariko and Natasha Khullar Relph have not made any updates yet. Check back soon!

  • These people are helping to fund Trans in Exile: My Journey from Tibetan Monk to Trans Woman.

    User avatar

    Wilhelmena Allin

    User avatar

    Becca Wright

    User avatar

    El Redman

    User avatar

    Aliya Gulamani

    User avatar

    Ian Challis

    User avatar

    Jack Downey

    User avatar

    Feder Balzer

    User avatar

    Imogen Ely

    User avatar

    Nicholas McHugo

    User avatar

    Samuel Dickinson

    User avatar

    James Gregory-Monk

    User avatar

    Alex Doyle

    User avatar

    Ria Patel

    User avatar

    Dimple Agarwal

    User avatar

    Hannah Kumārajīva

    User avatar

    Sean Crooks

    User avatar

    Dario Tamburrano

    User avatar

    Rachel Green

    User avatar

    Bill Kohn

    User avatar

    Isabelle Joyaux-Gentot

    User avatar

    Charles Maria Tor

    User avatar

    Katherine Gleason

    View more