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Hoshina Seki Describes Path as a Trans Woman

It was always meant to be. That’s what my life is all about. But let me unravel how this Japanese American was asked to write this article. 

First, I do not know why. I am transgender, and my samsara, the continuous cycle of life, death, and rebirth, keeps going on. This means I’ll return many more times until I get it right. 

About nine months before the United States declared war on Japan, I was born in a hospital in New York City. Then, 14 months later in May 1942, my father, Rev. Hozen Seki, was arrested and taken to Ellis Island by two FBI agents. 


A month later, he was moved to Fort Meade in Maryland, then a month after that, to Fort Missoula in Montana, and then to the Kooskia Internment Camp in Idaho. Three years later, in 1945, he was sent to a camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally released in January 1946. This was the fate of most Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the United States during World War II.


Wartime in New York

All during the war, my mother, brother, and I stayed in New York City, living in an apartment above the Hondo of the New York Buddhist Church (NYBC). 


Even though we were Japanese Americans, we weren’t sent to an internment camp because we lived far from the West Coast. My mother, Sangha members Stanley Okada, who was the church administrator, Zeiichi Nobumoto, and Rev. Newton Ishiura kept the church open and held Sunday services. Many Jodo Shinshu Nisei soldiers from the 442nd Infantry Regiment attended NYBC before being deployed to the European front.


My brother Hoken and I were temple kids. Hoken was six years older and very protective of me, his little brother, as we were often called “Japs” and subject to other racist remarks. He got into a lot of fights.  


My parents kept most of the letters they wrote to each other while dad was at camp. What suffering they both endured. Mother was caring for us, and father could not help or support his family. When I read some of those letters, I could feel their pain. When my father returned, I was 5 years old. We were finally a whole family again. 


As a temple kid, I attended all Sunday services. My mother played the piano during the services. On Saturdays, I attended Japanese school at the church. 


My father and mother always said, “You are the minister’s son; you need to set a good example for the other kids.” 


However, my parents realized I was no ordinary boy. That something was bothering me. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what it was. 


Instead of trying to find out, I just blocked it out of my mind, but it would not go away. The result was I did poorly in school because I had a hard time concentrating. I hung out with all the school rebels and started drinking in my teens. I graduated from high school but dropped out of college.


Meanwhile, Hoken continued to excel in all his studies. He went to Columbia University, became a lieutenant in the Coast Guard, graduated from Harvard Law School, and was a successful attorney. 


At the same time, I bounced around, taking courses at Harvard and working in the Cambridge bookstore. When I returned to New York, I got a job at Bloomingdale’s in the advertising department. I took courses in visual arts to learn graphic design and advertising. However, my identity issues continued to be a problem without a solution.


Identity Issues

There were many people who tried to help me. My mother, father, and brother wanted to help, but couldn’t because I would not let them in. Sangha members knew I was different, but respected me for being the minister’s kid. 


I was angry and confused. I needed professional help but didn’t know it. I thought getting married would solve my problem. So, at 22 years old, I married Josephine (Jo), a non-Japanese woman with three young boys, Louis, Vincent, and Ralph. I was not prepared for parenthood, and my identity issues continued to haunt me. 


Before marrying, my father warned Jo that I was not who I was. He knew my identity issues and the difficult road that was ahead for us. I was rebelliously separating my relationship with my parents.


Until then, I felt I was living in one world, and everyone else was living in another. I felt freedom with Jo and our boys. The working of Other Power moved me to attend Sunday service with my new family. Sangha members welcomed us, and my parents were skeptical at first, but seeing me bringing Jo, Louis, Vincent, and Ralph to Sunday service gave them a change of heart. They became supportive and accepted my new family. Eventually, we began spending a lot of time at their home, and while we were in between apartments, we even moved in with them.


All looked good on the surface, but my identity issues surfaced, and I told Jo. Instead of kicking me out, she said I needed to get help immediately. She arranged for me to see a therapist at the local hospital. That was the beginning of my long journey to discovering who I really wanted to be.


When I look back on my life, I remember my father telling me that I was the type of person who must learn things the hard way. He was so right. But the working of Amida was with me all the way.


Amazingly, I ended up having a successful career working in upper management at one of the largest media companies in America and then working for a couple of international companies; I waited until both my parents died before undergoing transgender surgery. Along the way, a lot of people suffered because of me. I think Jo knew deep down inside, yet it took me many years to accept myself. 


Never Doubted Faith

How grateful I am to have been born into a Jodo Shinshu family. Never doubting my faith was my life’s constant denominator. When I finally came out, my temple Sangha members welcomed me. Most temples have a couple of ladies who are the unsung heroes. They cook, clean, care for the resident minister’s needs, and visit the sick. One such hero is Ruth Funai; she was there for me before and after my surgery. Dr. Gordon Bermant and his wife Geri visited while I was recovering. I will never forget all the other people and temple ladies who helped me. 


Before transitioning, I was involved with several BCA committees. When I became a woman, BCA and the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) welcomed the new me. Thank you, Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, Rev. Kodo Umezu, IBS President Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto, Rev. Elaine Donlin, Rev. Brian Nagata, Edythe Vassall, and everyone else who accepted me as a woman.


President of ABSC

Today, I am president of the American Buddhist Study Center. My father established the American Buddhist Academy (predecessor of the ABSC) in 1951. 


We are still carrying on his mission of introducing Buddhist wisdom and Japanese culture for a better world. We published “Leaves of My Heart” by Lady Takeko Kujo and dedicated it to the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations. 


Our American Buddhist Study Center YouTube channel includes historical videos with Rev. Dr. Taitetsu Unno, Rev. Dr. Mark Unno and others. We are now setting up an LGBTQ+ group on the East Coast that will include BCA temple members from New York Buddhist Church, Seabrook Buddhist Temple in New Jersey, and Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Virginia. Rev. Kurt Rye is helping us. This coming spring, we are planning a book fair with children’s and poetry haiku readings at the ABSC.


Looking back over the past 83 years, I feel my journey was just how it should have been. Many teachers have picked me up from one misstep to another. I am humbled and grateful to them all and thankful to share my story with you.


Namu Amida Butsu.


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