OPINION: I’m a Japanese American mother and a fierce advocate for my trans son

by Marsha Aizumi | PFLAG National
Thursday, 20 May 2021 09:50 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Transgender rights activist waves a transgender flag as they protest the killings of transgender women this year, at a rally in Washington Square Park in New York, U.S., May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Demetrius Freeman

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The families of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBT+ people benefit from support from within their communities and in their primary languages

Marsha Aizumi is the co-author of Two Spirits, One Heart with her son, Aiden.  She serves on the PFLAG National Board of Directors and is a supporter of the Family Acceptance Project’s resources in Asian languages

I saw my baby girl for the first time in a photo that came from Japan.  Three months later, on Labor Day 1988, I held her in my arms. She was all I dreamed she would be and, although she didn’t come out of my body, that day she was born out of my heart.  I loved her completely, imagining the life that we would share together.

However, what I have discovered on my journey is our children come to us with their own roadmap.  And so my life became a series of moments that were both frightening and empowering, challenging and celebratory. 

My little girl never felt like a girl.  She was a happy, social, joyful tomboy.  But a dark cloud covered her middle school years, as she struggled with her gender identity. Coming out as lesbian in high school did not change the darkness that surrounded her. Instead, it brought a larger shroud of blackness filled with cruelty and abuse. Suicidal thoughts entered her life.

Five years later, she found a tiny flicker of hope. It was one word: transgender.  That hope became her guiding light and transition became a word that offered her a way to finally feel whole.

But, as my child struggled, I struggled as her mother.  At each coming out, I was thrown into my own despair. I felt ashamed of being a bad mother and I feared for my child’s life.  But I listened to my heart and listened to my child Aiden. Then, I looked for places that would provide answers.

I first discovered PFLAG, a U.S. organization that supports, educates and advocates for families of LGBT+ people, like mine. It showed me what could be possible and gave me resources to dispel my fear. Then the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) gave me research-based information on creating a positive and supportive environment for my child.

Today I am no longer a quiet, Asian mother, but a fierce advocate for the Asian LGBT+ community. I co-founded the first PFLAG Chapter supporting the Asian Pacific Islander community. I started a Japanese and Japanese American LGBT+ group, Okaeri, which means “welcome home” in Japanese. At Okaeri, Aiden says the intersection of his Japanese and  trans identities are seen and valued.  He truly feels welcomed home.

Meanwhile, this month, the Family Acceptance Project is releasing Asian language versions of one of their groundbreaking resources. For a parent to have access to information in their first or primary language, particularly in Asian communities where it is rare or non-existent, will be invaluable.

But our work is far from over.  At the moment, there are 34 states trying to legislate how trans children can participate in sports and 22 states where gender-affirming medical care for minors could be banned or restricted, according to Freedom For All Americans.

Not being able to play sports in the gender they identify with or have access to medical treatment that they so desperately need, will affect trans youth already disproportionately plagued by depression and suicidal thoughts.

In addition, Asian Americans are being targeted and so I worry about Aiden now being attacked for being both trans and Asian.

When I mentioned this to him, he responded, “But mom they are hurting people like you: women and older people.”  Now, not only does he have to be vigilant for himself, he also must be concerned about me.

So, what can one person do to change the trajectory of all that is happening in communities of color or in the transgender community?  We can call and write to our legislators. We can support organizations who are speaking up for us.  And we can educate ourselves, so we can educate others.

My son is alive today, not just because I stood beside him, but because those who did not know him stood up for him.

I don’t want others to judge him because he is trans, adopted, or Asian.  I want people to look into his beautiful, amazing heart and say, “This is a person who is making the world a better place.”

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