Author Topic: How a Buddhist Transgender Male Found Inner and Outer Peace in Iowa  (Read 1673 times)

Offline Dharmakara

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Behind closed doors everyone has a private life but Norio Umezu, 30, wished his could go beyond the walls of his bedroom.

When he was a kid he would sneak pants and button-down shirts into his bedroom, close the door, and relish in a reflection that he was more comfortable with than his reality.

“Part of my early life history is that I strove to please others,” Umezu said. “I heard in church that I was supposed to be selfless, to ‘be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all who were weaker than myself’ and how I practiced that was to try and please others. I wanted so badly to be seen as ‘good.’”

Now 30, Umezu is one of 700,000 people in America who identify as transgender, according to a 2011 study by University of California at Los Angeles.

The battle between the public and private self is one Umezu slowly began to fight starting in 2008 and on his journey he looked to the tenets of his Buddhist faith to guide him.

The son of Kodo Umezu, a Japanese immigrant and bishop in the Buddhist Churches of America, Norio’s Umezu’s Buddhist upbringing affected his transition by providing a framework for understanding non-binary identities.

“My dad gave a sermon on how we label things and how our vocabulary isn’t really perfect in explaining the world as it is. As I’ve experimented with sexual orientation and gender identity, I’ve learned not to be so attached to labels,” Umezu said. “I remember my dad gave me a paper and he asked ‘what is the front of this paper’, and then he turned it around and said ‘are you sure that’s the front? What about now?’”

Umezu, a San Francisco native, entered a hair salon in Oakland in 2008 as a trans male and he felt so welcomed he never wanted to leave. For the first time in his life he was taking a step toward transitioning and after a few unsuccessful and sometimes judgmental experiences at other salons he finally felt at ease.

“I wasn’t questioned, what I wanted wasn’t questioned. It was more about how can I help you get that thing you want,” Umezu said.

That thing he wanted was a buzzcut.

“If you’re perceived to be female, cutting your hair above a certain length is generally not approved,” said Umezu. “It’s very public and personal at the same time.”

Still, Umezu stresses his transition goes beyond the physical manifestations that came after years of struggling with an assigned gender label that contradicted who he’s always known to be.

“I realize that as I transitioned my whole idea of gender has dissolved more and more,” Umezu said. “I think I’ve always gravitated toward more masculine traits in private so transgender is the best word to articulate what my gender and experience is.”

The process of disengaging from the boy/girl binary into a more Buddhist-inspired self-created identity within the trans experience has helped him breakthrough.

“I’ve thought about my gender transition more as an ‘inviting in’ rather than a ‘coming out’ and it was part of a larger healing process I was engaged in. Needless to say, it’s been a multi-layered process,” he said.

The catalyst for that process began when he started working as the Programs Co-Director at Community United Against Violence (CUAV) located in San Francisco in 2008.

“I got the job and it kicked my butt. In order to work at the organization and to ‘be good’, I had to confront the choices I was making in my life and really look at what I wanted my life to be like,” Umezu said. “It stirred up a lot of neglected feelings within me, like the truth about my gender identity.”

He recently moved to Des Moines and has yet to officially change his name and gender marker due to the high cost (about $500) and notes the discrimination trans people face when applying for jobs.

“I have to come out as trans because the name on my documents is not the name I used to apply,” Umezu said. “Most companies don’t want to deal with it. They don’t want to have to bother with it.”

According to the 2015 Human Rights Campaign report, the transgender community reports unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole and trans workers are four times more likely than the rest of the population to have a household income below $10,000.

He hopes to find a job in Iowa similar for an organization similar to CUAV and has become increasingly involved in Buddhist networks as he finds them to be  “LGBT and trans inclusive.”

These networks have become more valuable now that he’s left the famously LGBTQ-friendly Bay area.

“Having recently moved from the Bay Area to the Midwest, I see that it is harder to find community here and stories shared on mass media platforms really do help remind me that I’m not crazy,” he said.

In September of last year he married his long-time love in a non-denominational ceremony. His father gave a speech but Umezu says his acceptance of his transition is still a work-in-progress.

“In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism there is this idea that you can never truly see reality as it is, you can only see your perception of reality. So his reaction was basically ‘I can’t see you as you are, I can only see you as I see you. Who you are is not how I see you.’ He’s working on it,” Umezu said.

But Umezu himself finally feels like he’s come full circle, emerging from the confines of his private sanctuary and fully embracing his trans identity.

“As I’ve started growing into myself more, I’ve really started to see being trans as a gift. I think it has helped me become a better version of myself. My gender transition process has helped me learn how to sit with complexity and uncertainty better,” said Umezu. “It’s helped me to see how there are immeasurable forces at work shaping the course of our lives, and it’s deepened my appreciation for the support it takes for anyone to show up fully for life every day.”

Source: RYOT

Offline Galen

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This is a beautiful story DK. It made me cry with Joy

I'm going to send it to my email contacts

Thank You

Offline Provider

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Did you know that crying has "anger" (dosa citta sikkha) as its cause?  --  --  Anumodana!  --  Virtual Dhamma - Vinaya Vihara  
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