Experience

Awakening to My True Identity

Val Bourassa


Kade Mitchell, Minneapolis

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kade. What was life like growing up

Kade Mitchell: My parents both came from abusive households, which led to a chaotic upbringing for me. I can’t remember a time when my parents weren’t fighting. As an only child, I often played the mediator between them, trying to fix both my parents and the situation. Though they never got violent, their fights were intense and frightening.

How did these experiences shape you?

Kade: Communicating for my parents, I felt, was a way for me to stay safe. Because of these experiences, however, I frequently thought I had done something wrong, and was deeply fearful of abandonment. Later in life, this fear manifested in my romantic relationships; I would act as a caretaker of the other person, thinking that if I did this or that, I’d be worthy of their love and respect.

I also had significant existential questions about my life and identity. At the age of 7, I started to feel as though the body I was born into wasn’t quite right, but I had no words to express what I was feeling so I shoved them down. My peers also teased and bullied me, so I learned to be quiet and blend in.

How did you deal with all of this?

Kade: Because I deeply lacked self-worth, I experienced severe anxiety and depression as a teenager. I didn’t understand who or what I was, so I started drinking and smoking marijuana at around 17. After my cousin died due to complications from an eating disorder, I ended up going down a similar path that would consume me for the next seven years. My suffering and anxiety were so intense that during my first year of college, I could hardly leave the house. I was binging on food and forcing myself to throw up multiple times a day. I was truly hopeless and had given up on myself.

The more people I introduce to Buddhism, the more profound I realize it is. It’s not easy! But striving to deeply care about another person has helped me learn how to care about my own life. As a result, my life has completely changed.

When did you encounter the SGI?

Kade: I was 22. The woman I was seeing was an SGI member, and I visited an SGI-USA Buddhist center with her. I wanted nothing to do with the practice because the high life conditions of the members were so foreign to me. I was more comfortable around chaos and dysfunction.

At this time, my eating disorder was in full swing, and I was getting high every day and drinking excessively to numb the shame I felt. The great lack of respect for my life and those around me led to drunk driving being commonplace for me. Although I managed to avoid the repercussions of this behavior, I felt trapped and didn’t know how to dig myself out of the hole I was in.

What inspired you to begin practicing Buddhism?

Kade: After the relationship ended, I found myself chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in moments of struggle over the next two years. And then my best friend was introduced to the SGI. Out of her compassion for my life, she invited me to Buddhist meetings. I declined her invitations for about a year, but at the end of 2009, I attended a district discussion meeting with her.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo had been planted in my life, and although I was negative about it at first, the seed grew. I could tell that my best friend had been chanting for me because when I finally made it to a meeting, that was it! I received the Gohonzon a few weeks later. In hindsight, I wish I had received it years before!

What happened next?

Kade: Within six months of chanting to the Gohonzon, I manifested the courage to come out as a transgender man. Before then, I didn’t value my life or have the confidence to be true to myself. Each time I thought about coming out, I had so many doubts, thinking: No, no, I can’t do that. I’m going to be discriminated against or rejected. But when I received the Gohonzon, I felt there was no other way—it just had to happen.

When I was first transitioning, I felt I had uncovered my true identity as a transgender man. But the more I developed my Buddhist practice by studying SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement, sharing Buddhism with friends and participating in SGI activities, I began to realize that my deepest identity was that of a Bodhisattva of the Earth, with my own unique mission to fulfill.

Can you describe the connection between awakening to your gender identity and your identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth?

Kade: When I realized my true identity was as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, all of the suffering I associated with being a transgender person completely went away. I began tapping into a deeper sense of strength and conviction in my worth, regardless of what was going on in my environment.

SGI President Ikeda writes: “When we awaken to our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, incredible strength wells forth from within; all obstacles we encounter become obstacles we have voluntarily chosen to take on so that we can help lead others to enlightenment. And by overcoming those obstacles, we fulfill our bodhisattva vow to help others become happy. Obstacles exist so that we can achieve our mission.

“Nichiren teaches us to fundamentally transform our attitude toward adversity—from a self-pitying, Why me? to a proud and confident, Yes, me!” (December 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 40).

As I recognized my self-worth, I developed the confidence to start a small business that makes gluten-free pizza crust. We sell to local restaurants in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. I feel that the reason I have this business is so that more people can learn about Buddhism and President Ikeda through my life. Recently, one of my former employees received the Gohonzon, and another business owner I connected with also received the Gohonzon.

Congratulations! What is the benefit of sharing Buddhism for you?

Kade: In my 10 years of practice, I have helped 24 people receive the Gohonzon. It is beyond words to see someone transform their karma and overcome their negative tendencies through this practice.

The more people I introduce to Buddhism, the more profound I realize it is. It’s not easy! But striving to deeply care about another person has helped me learn how to care about my own life. As a result, my life has completely changed.

What is your life like today?

Kade: For the first time, I can honestly say that I’m happy with who I am and the life I’m living. I no longer abuse alcohol or drugs. I no longer suffer from an eating disorder.

I was always desperate to find love and was seeking happiness in romantic relationships. I felt I couldn’t have the relationship of my dreams because I’m transgender. Through my practice, however, I have transformed this tendency and disbelief at the most fundamental level. I now have the most beautiful and harmonious partnership with an amazing woman.

Seeing the change in me, my parents decided to join the SGI and received the Gohonzon in 2016. I have learned how to love, respect and appreciate them, and our relationship has completely shifted.

What is your determination moving forward?

Kade: During my last year in the young men’s division, I’m determined to raise capable young men’s leaders in all chapters throughout my region, which encompasses Minnesota and North Dakota. I’m also determined that my business will go nationwide this year, so that I can continue widening the network of people who will connect to the SGI and Sensei through my life.

This is a time in society where transgender people are still being discriminated against, ridiculed and abused. Through my Buddhist practice with the SGI and seeking Sensei’s guidance, I have learned that my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth is to show people the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo by winning in all areas of my life—with my business, with my parents and with my partner. All the fortune I have in my life is a result of all the efforts I have made in my Buddhist practice. I live with the deepest sense of appreciation for the SGI, Sensei and my fellow members!

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