(Photo above courtesy of Kade Mitchell)
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. 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 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 weed at 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.
When did you encounter Buddhism?
Kade: I was 22. The woman I was seeing was an SGI member and I visited a center with her. But, I wanted nothing to do with the practice because the positive lifestyles of 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.
What inspired you to begin practicing Buddhism?
Kade: After the relationship ended, I found myself chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at low points over the next two years. And then my best friend joined SGI and began inviting me to Buddhist meetings. I declined her invitations for about a year, but at the end of 2009, I finally accepted.
What happened next?
Kade: Within six months of chanting, 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, sharing Buddhism with friends and participating in meetings, I began to realize that my deepest identity was that of a Bodhisattva of the Earth, with my own unique mission to fulfill. In my Buddhist tradition, a Bodhisattva is someone who decides to take on suffering and challenges so they can overcome them, with the purpose of inspiring others. I was born a transgender man in a society where we are discriminated against because I have a mission to advocate for the dignity and value of all humans.
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.
As I recognized my self-worth, I developed the confidence to start a small business that makes gluten-free pizza crust. Recently, one of my former employees and another business owner I connected with started to chant.
Wow. Why do you feel compelled to share Buddhism?
Kade: It’s amazing to see someone transform their life 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.
For the first time, I can honestly say that I’m happy with who I am and the life I’m living.
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 placed my happiness in romantic relationships. I felt I couldn’t have the relationship of my dreams because I was transgender.
After seeing the change in me, my parents decided to join the SGI. I have learned how to love, respect and appreciate them. Our relationship has completely shifted.
What’s next for you?
Kade: This is a time in society where transgender people are still being discriminated against, ridiculed and abused. My mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth is to show people the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo by excelling in all areas of my life.