Coming Out, Returning Home

By Caitriona Reed Storms roll over the mountains, filling the winter sky. When they have gone, the days are bright and cold, and the sky astonishingly blue. It's hard to imagine the stillness of summer, the uncompromising midday heat in August. Winter is beginning, but my spring has arrived.

This year I came out of the closet as transsexual. All my life I wanted to express myself as a woman, live as a woman, speak, move, celebrate life, as a woman, but I was born a boy-child. Shame and fear held me in a kind of perpetual hibernation.

If I made any choice last April, it was to let go of fear. My Buddhist practice was always an attempt to discover what is simple, real, and nourishing. As a teacher, I havealways insisted that we be authentic, that we simply be ourselves. My own advice caught up with me! And, to my amazement, my practice has found its fulfillment.. .. My shame, my fear, and pretense which deadened me have dissolved. Miraculously, I inhabit my own body, my own life-as a teacher, a friend, a human being. I feel whole. For years I thought that if I spent more time meditating, if I was sincere, dedicated, and truly selfless, this "problem" would go away. I was certain that if I expressed myself openly as a transgendered person, I would lose my credibility, my friends, everything. As a Dharma teacher I was pretty certain I would also be out of a job. Strangely, none of this has happened.

I live as a woman. My driver's license says Caitriona Reed, "F." To my surprise, people do not shun me. Though I am a "big-boned gal," strangers call me maam. If I have come out as transsexual, I have also come out as someone capable of being whole, free, and open. I am reclaiming my body, and my life. May we all find the means to do the same!

The support of friends in the Ordinary Dharma community, the broader community of the Order of Interbeing, my peers and fellow teachers, and even of my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has been unexpected, generous, and deeply touching. "Thank you. Now I feel free to be just as I am," was one response. My friend and teacher Joanna Macy, speaking on the telephone, with tears in her voice, exclaimed, "Now we all have to come out!" Thay simply asked, "Shall we call you Caitriona now?"

I am happy in ways I never knew before, not because my desires have been fulfilled, but because, mysteriously, I seem better able to embrace both my own suffering and yours without a rigid distinction between the two. The drama that oppresses us has become a little less solid and the beauty that nourishes us a little more palpable.

After the winter rain, the spring promises abundant wildflowers. Larkspur and wiid lupines are vivid in my mind's eye. The towering yucca; the clamor of birdsongs in the morning. In the evening, those same songs, slightly different, echo in the canyon. The songs help me feel safe, part of the world, part of this landscape. Last summer's dried grasses will disappear under new growth, yet without them there would be no new growth. Just as the seasons come and go, the person I was, am, and will be are not different nor entirely the same. In the end, my notions of gender and identity di sappear like mist and I am left standing, simply as I am.

Caitriona is pronounced Katrina. It is the Celtic/Irish name my mother was to have given me.

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Dharma teacher Caitriona Reed, True Jewel, lived the first part of her life as Christopher Reed. With Michele Benzamin-Masuda, she founded Manzanita Village retreat center and leads the Ordinary Dharma Sangha in Santa Monica, California.

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