When you think of meditation, a few things might come to mind: peace, tranquility, struggling to sit cross-legged—but queer politics? For Buddhist teacher and male-to-female trans woman Caitríona Reed, it’s all part of the dharma. And at Manzanita Village, a retreat center tucked away in the mountains two hours outside Los Angeles that she cofounded with her longtime partner, Buddhism has never been so queer.
At Manzanita, so named for the little apple trees that populate the property, you’ll find traditional workshops like meditation and mindfulness, incorporating teachings of Zen and Vipassana practices. But you’ll also find retreats for the politically minded, such as Sanctuary, a two-year training for activists, and Circles, an inclusive retreat for anyone questioning traditional gender roles.
Reed describes Manzanita Village’s approach to Buddhism as “our own lineage, a nonlineage, a queer lineage.” It resists definitions and boundaries, just like living queer is about living outside binaries of straight/gay and male/female, she says. As such, Manzanita Village is not advertised as an expressly LGBT retreat center. “We don’t confine our work to just issues of identity politics. The practice of Buddhism leads us toward freedom, understanding, and love, and beyond limitations—beyond ‘them’ and ‘us.’ It’s transgressive.”
Born in the United States in 1949, Reed grew up in the United Kingdom and has been a Buddhist teacher since 1981. She received authorization as a Zen teacher from the great Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1992. Shortly thereafter, she had a realization: “As a teacher encouraging others to live more honest and authentic lives, it was increasingly difficult for me to deny a basic fact—that I was a woman.” Reed transitioned in 1996.
A hypnotherapist, performance artist, poet, and photographer who covered the 1970s punk rock scene in London, Reed says her teachings are ordinary. “It’s simple: Everything is interconnected, and everything we do counts. That means we are responsible not only for our personal shit but in the world at large. The power and transformative effects of meditation are huge, both on and off the cushion, inside and out.”