We All Have the Power to Change
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Kaydence. What was your life like growing up?
Kaydence Reed: I grew up in a strict religious household, where I struggled to reconcile my sexual identity with my upbringing. I wanted to fit the mold, but being gay made that hard to do. When I came out to my family at 13 years old, my dad and stepmom kicked me out of their home. I moved to Austin, Texas, to live with my mom.
When I started high school, I met my best friend who began inviting me to Buddhist meetings. A few months into the school year, I lost my older sister in a car accident.
Experiencing such trauma left me wondering: “Why me? Why is my sister gone? Why doesn’t my dad love me for who I am?” I felt marked for suffering and out of place, a feeling that remained with me through college and right up to the point when I first started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
What made you decide to begin practicing?
Kaydence: In 2015, I was living in New York City, when I went to my first Pride parade. I stayed for all of 30 minutes. Gay marriage rights had just been won, and all I could think about was how I was an imposter who didn’t belong. I wasn’t skinny or pretty enough, and I felt isolated with no friends of my own.
Around this time, and nine years after first hearing about the practice, I finally accepted my friend’s invitation to attend an introduction-to-
At the meeting, the people were friendly and shared inspiring experiences, but I was hesitant to receive the Gohonzon because it seemed too good to be true. Yet, after chanting and going to more meetings, I noticed my life moving forward. So, on August 16, 2015, I received the Gohonzon.
How did your life change from there?
Kaydence: I joined the Soka Group, a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group, and for the first time in my life, I was embraced just as I was. Through this training, I learned how to take responsibility for my life and contribute to the happiness of others. I also became a unit young men’s leader and began supporting others in their Buddhist practice.
My district became an incredible source of support. Each time I faced an
obstacle, the members warmly encouraged me and gave me the confidence to use my practice to break through my struggles. When I arrived at a district meeting, I felt safe, like I was coming home.
By the time the Pride parade rolled around the next year, I was no longer a scared and lost boy. I was a courageous Buddha with a community and a sense of belonging.
Each time I faced an obstacle, the members warmly encouraged me and gave me the confidence to use my practice to break through my struggles. When I arrived at a district meeting, I felt safe, like I was coming home.
What a wonderful transformation. What goals did you start working toward?
Kaydence: I chanted to change my family karma, to value my life and to support others. A senior in faith shared that if I wanted to change something, it was up to me. SGI President Ikeda writes: “When we change, the world changes. The key to all change is in our inner transformation—a change in our hearts and minds. This is human revolution. We all have the power to change. When we realize this truth of life, we can bring forth that power anywhere, anytime and in any situation” (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 38).
Taking these words to heart, I determined to do my human revolution. For so long, I used my problems as an excuse for not taking ownership of my life. But as I chanted, I began to see the role I played in each situation I found myself in.
When I was struggling at work, I chanted earnestly for the happiness of my supervisors who angered me the most. My prayer helped me see that I was seeking affirmation but not reciprocating. When I acknowledged my supervisors’ strengths and encouraged them, our work environment became one of mutual support and compassion. Because of my transformation, I forged strong ties with those individuals, and my salary at work doubled!
The same thing applied to my family: If I wanted family unity, it was up to me. I determined to communicate with my family more regularly, and meet them where they were, without judgment.
Even though I felt negativity toward my father, I mustered the courage to call him consistently. Our conversations were brief and mostly about the weather, but these were causes toward solidifying our relationship.
As your faith deepened, how did it change the way you faced your struggles?
Kaydence: For years, my mother had health challenges, including depression and addiction to prescription drugs. She was the center of my universe, and we spoke almost every day. When her health worsened in 2016, I felt afraid and unsure of how to support her. My seniors in faith assured me that every activity I did for kosen-rufu was a cause toward my mother’s happiness, given our inextricable bond as parent and child.
I shared Buddhism with my friends and helped three people begin their practice. I also did my best as a chapter young men’s leader. I learned that caring for others and helping them practice were the best ways to pull myself out of my own suffering.
Instead of trying to “save” my mom, I realized I needed to simply love her just as she was, in the same way she did for me when I came out to her as gay. My biggest lesson was learning that my happiness was not dependent on my mother, but that by me becoming happy, I could support her in becoming happy.
In early 2017, my mom had a series of strokes, leaving her immobile and unable to speak. She went into hospice, and in March 2017, my mom passed away. No words can describe the pain I felt. But my Buddhist practice and Soka Group training helped me have confidence that I could manage her medical decisions and final arrangements after she passed. Losing my mother also caused me to reevaluate my own gender identity. A few months later, I pulled forth the courage to begin living my life as a transgender woman.
How courageous. How did you adjust to your new life?
Kaydence: I felt like I was back at square one, filled with self-loathing. I had finally gotten comfortable with my identity as a gay man. My safety net had been pulled out from under me. I felt ugly and broken with no desire to be a chubby, 6-foot-tall balding woman.
In my deepest suffering, I called that same best friend and shared how I was struggling to value my life. She reminded me of my mission to use my struggle to encourage countless others.
I knew I had to strengthen my Buddhist practice. The next day, I reached out to my district members for support. Although I was anxious about telling my co-workers, friends and family that I was transgender, I felt no worries about telling my district members because of the safety and security I felt in the SGI community. In fact, I just casually shared the news with them, and although they may not have understood the terminology or process of transitioning, at all times, I felt their heart and desire for me to be happy. During my last Soka Group shift before I transitioned, the young men’s division members called me by my new preferred pronouns and didn’t skip a beat in supporting me in the same way they always had.
How incredibly moving. How are things going now?
Kaydence: In June 2018, I began transitioning. The care of the SGI community had never felt so strong or present as it did during this vulnerable time.
In the transgender community, the question, “Who have you lost?” is quite common (after coming out to family and friends). As I told each of my loved ones, I was met with warmth and kind words. Finally, the day came when the only person remaining was my dad. I was prepared for the worst-case scenario.
When I told him, he responded by saying that I would always be his child, and he would love me no matter what. He encouraged me to please make sure this was the right decision for my life.
This proved the power of my Buddhist practice in the biggest way; it was truly remarkable that I was able to build a relationship based on mutual respect that was strong enough for my father to accept his transgender child. In hindsight, I can see that he was simply reflecting the self-respect I had developed through my Buddhist practice.
Incredible, Kaydence. What did you learn from this experience?
Kaydence: This Buddhism teaches that we choose our sufferings so we can prove the power of the Gohonzon through taking action to fulfill our unique mission. I now know that I chose to be born into this exact body with these specific challenges, so I could be an advocate for all my trans brothers and sisters, especially the big girls!
Because I know what alienation feels like, I can make those around me feel safe and welcome. Because I have known deep maternal love and weathered the loss of it, I can understand the sufferings of others. Because I transformed my deep self-loathing into appreciation for my life and a capacity to love, I can show others how to do the same.
Mostly, I’ve learned that what President Ikeda says is true—we all have the power to change.