"Never bring shame to our family name," I remember one of my elders telling me when I was 10 years old, as he talked about our long line of proud ancestors, which dated back to samurai times. Almost 50 years later, when my daughter came out as a lesbian, that same voice echoed in my head, reminding me of the honor of our family name. This elder had long ago passed away, but his words lived on.
For months, that voice drove me into the closet. I couldn't say the word "lesbian"; in fact, it made me cringe. Publicly I walked around feeling dishonest, carrying a secret I wasn't ready to share, and privately I cried as I searched to learn what I had done wrong to cause my child to be gay. I was lost, I was alone, I had no idea how to support my child, and so I quietly criticized myself for my failure as a mother; I was ashamed.
When my daughter revealed to me that she wasn't a lesbian but was actually a transgender male, even more fear and sadness entered my life, mostly for my new son's happiness and well-being: How would my new son find someone to love him and a society to accept him?
I turned to PFLAG, a national organization that brings support, education, and advocacy opportunities to parents, family members, and friends of people who are LGBTQ. PFLAG helped me tremendously as I looked for information, worked to raise my awareness, and discovered new ways to support my child. And yet there was always a missing piece for me that had to do with my Asian Pacific Islander heritage.
Non-API people didn't understand the breadth of my family circle. They couldn't comprehend how my ancestors were still part of my life and how bringing dishonor to my family name would bring dishonor to all of them: to my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, those who lived thousands of miles away, and those who, like that elder who spoke to me so long ago, had already passed on. Non-API people didn't understand the shame I felt, how deeply it ran, and how much I didn't want to publicly discuss something that was so private.
But with support, education, and patience I faced my feelings, and my family faced the challenges and found our way. This journey from fear, sadness, and shame to a place of unconditional love helped me get grounded in my commitment to my child, allowed me to spend time reflecting on the kind of mother I wanted to be, and encouraged me to seek out others for support and knowledge. And that love also led me back to connecting with my roots as an Asian-American mother.
I saw for the first time how my parents, who were put in relocation camps during World War II, were subject to the same prejudice, fear, and hatred that the LGBTQ community faces now. Aiden's grandparents didn't do anything wrong during the war but were discriminated against because they were born Japanese. Aiden didn't do anything wrong, but he is discriminated against because he was born in a body that didn't match who he knew he was.
Recently I walked with a group of PFLAG parents in a Pride march for the first time in many years. As I proudly waved my sign, declaring my love for my transgender son, the people that stood out the most to me were the API individuals who lined the parade route. I could see some taking pictures of the API PFLAG parents and others turning to their partners or friends pointing at us as if to say, "Look, there are API parents who support their children." One Korean PFLAG mother, Minsook Brady, said that in past years some of these API children have run into the street to hug her as she marched. As API parents, we are their hope that their own parents will one day support and love them, as Minsook and I love our sons.
My love has also driven me to work with the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, which is developing resources for the API parents of LGBTQ individuals. I am so proud of the materials we are working to provide, which I know will have a huge impact. For example, we are creating a one-pager to start API parents on their journey to understanding their LGBTQ kids, and it will be translated into 19 different languages! This type of outreach is unique, necessary, and has the potential to help thousands of API families who might never be reached otherwise. I look forward to sharing it with the many API parents and family members I am meeting on my own journey, and am thrilled that the two organizations I turned to for help are working together to make sure that no matter where a parent turns to seek support, they will find it.
My dream is that other API parents will see their amazing LGBTQ children, courageously and authentically willing to share their whole selves. And then I'd like them to attribute this courage to their parenting and love those children fully, willingly, and unconditionally. After all, we see our greatness as parents through the character of our children, and it certainly takes strength of character to come out as LGBTQ! My dream continues with the hope that those parents will then march, as I did, in Pride celebrations across the country and around the world, and know that they are honoring their ancestors as I honored mine.
Until then, I will continue to march for my son, representing API parents who have yet to discover and embrace their LGBTQ children. It will take the courage, strength, and love that they have taught their children to march alongside me. But I believe it will be one of their proudest moments, as it has been mine.
MARSHA AIZUMI is the proud mother of a transgender son. She is a member of the PFLAG national board of directors, president of PFLAG San Gabriel Valley API in Southern California, and an educational consultant for four school districts. Marsha is the author of Two Spirits, One Heart, a memoir about her journey from sadness, shame, and fear to unconditional love and acceptance. In 2014, Marsha received Congresswoman Judy Chu's Community Service honor. Marsha has spoken to over 100 organizations around the country, sharing her story of love and hope.