“I knew what I was doing and I knew who I wanted to be. I would just keep going, never giving up”


Trans In Exile is an upcoming memoir currently being Crowdfunded for publication. It depicts Tenzin Mariko’s journey from Buddhist monk to transgender youth icon. Through exploring how Mariko blended her Buddhist values with her true identity as an openly trans woman, it carries a message not only of transition of self, but of community as well. Mariko partnered with writer and award-winning journalist Natasha Khullar Relph on the book. 

When asked about what inspired Mariko to share her story on the page, she shares her desire for her older self to be able to look back at the impact her younger self had on the world. The duo met when Natasha was interviewing Mariko for an article she was writing for South China Morning Post and knew that Mariko was speaking honestly, but still felt that she was holding back. They kept talking and connecting, a trust was built and it’s clear they both care deeply about this collaborative project. 

The transgender community is deeply misunderstood around the globe, but at the time Mariko came out to her Tibetan community, which is known to be a conservative, most people didn’t know what the word trans meant. How did Mariko navigate this? “First of all, I’m one of the luckiest transgender people. I’m Buddhist, first of all, and second of all, I’m Tibetan and our community in exile is quite small.” She shares that she’d been struggling to come out and show herself in the community. They wondered what she was doing wearing certain clothes. She also felt exiled from LGBTQI society as well. There was a double sense of isolation as people thought she was pretending to be a woman. “I knew what I was doing and I knew who I wanted to be. I would just keep going, never giving up.” She reflects that “being Buddhist is about the fact that people are not going to harm you. They might physically hurt or bully you. But it’s not about them wanting to come and kill me. So that’s also a good thing about being Buddhist.” Mariko kept going and doing good things for her community. “That’s why I think I’m one of the luckiest transgender women to come out and it’s a positive sight. In these few years, people can accept me. People are loving me. Literally within a year or two.” Mariko remembers reading about how 2021 was the deadliest year for the trans community since records began. With this in mind, she continues to feel lucky and blessed.

Mariko managed to live her truth without leaving her religion or community, which can be an extremely difficult task for all LGBTQI people. Does she have any advice for readers who may be struggling to find harmony between their faith, culture and identity? “This question is not only about LGBTQ people, it’s about all the human beings to be honest, going to your roots, because you should never forget your roots. You should be proud of where you came from, first of all, and, when this community is not treating you good, let them and make them understand who you are,” she says. “I was trying so hard to fit in as a woman but still I’m trying to be a fit in this community, in this world. It’s about human, it’s about humanity, you just need to be a good person, just try to help people.”

I’m inspired by Mariko’s journey and her determination to live authentically and nurture transformation in the world around her. When she opens up about how she created space within her community first before walking out into the world, I am deeply moved. “I am always pleased to come back. I’m settled here today, a well respected person. Now I can walk anywhere. And if somewhere doesn’t want my voice, I am always welcome back in my community.” 

Trans In Exile is being Crowdfunded by Unbound. If you’d like to offer your support and get Mariko’s inspiring story out into the world, you can do so here


DIVA magazine celebrates 28 years in print in 2022. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable. 

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