This month, the Gardena Buddhist Church LGBTQ+ group called Ichi-Mi had a premiere of a short documentary called “A Profound Silence.” This film reminded me of the LGBTQ+ voices that have been silenced not only in the Buddhist community, but also in other spaces as well: in homes, at work, with friends and in Christian churches.
These voices have stayed silent for fear of rejection by our Japanese and Japanese American community and those that our LGBTQ+ individuals love. It also reminded me how important it is not to “gaman” or say “shikata ga nai,” both of which imply that we must tolerate or accept.
I am not saying that these words are not appropriate in some situations, but I believe that our actions and words need to be weighed carefully because in some cases, it can make a difference to those we care about.
In the film, “A Profound Silence,” Rev. John Iwohara, a Gardena Buddhist Church minister, says that the LGBTQ community is “made up of our kids, our uncles, our parents … and so we have basically been discriminately against our family” when we don’t stand by them and show up for them.
In the beginning when Aiden and our family encountered so much silence from the JA community, we were not sure if we were being rejected or accepted. I remember that whenever I had to speak in front of a JA audience about our journey, I was afraid to make eye contact with people, not wanting to see their looks of disapproval and disdain. I searched out people I knew who would smile or cry with me. Those connecting with my emotions felt like my “village.”
When churches and temples began to have events lifting up the LGBTQ+ voices, as well as the voices of families and allies, I began to feel safer in faith spaces. Being rejected by the world has made me more cautious in certain settings, but the more the silence is being broken, the more I am willing to venture out.
Just in the last month, Aiden and I have spoken at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose. Also, I have been able to attend LGBTQ+ events sponsored by three Methodist churches: Faith UMC, West LA UMC and Centenary UMC, along with Gardena Buddhist Church’s premiere of “A Profound Silence.” Silence can be chilling … visibility can bring a ray of hope.
I can relate to how fear can paralyze us from speaking up. Fear stopped me from getting support and resources when Aiden first came out. Reaching out to others or often standing up in the middle of a questions-and-answer session, vulnerably sharing my fears and hopes took courage.
I still remember the trembling of my hands and the quivering in my voice at the start of our journey. But reaching out for support led us to people and organizations that helped to turn my fear into optimism and possibilities. Those in the religious community have helped me to heal from feeling unworthy of God’s love.
My husband owns a hair salon, In Vogue Hair Design, in Montebello. In the beginning, when Aiden was transitioning, Tad said it was hard to talk about all the changes that were happening to our family. Would he say the right things? Would his clients accept him or would they leave his salon?
But slowly, he gathered up the nerve to talk about his journey. He found that some people were curious to learn more about his experience as the father of a transgender son, and some people even shared that they had someone in their family that was transgender.
But there was one person who didn’t agree because of their religion. However, that one person, for reasons unknown, changed the way they thought. Was it because Tad had the courage to talk about Aiden? Or was this part of his client’s journey of acceptance and knowing the father of a transgender person brought a personal face to the issues. Whatever the reason, my husband had not been silent … .and I believe that made all the difference.
Thank you to all the churches and temples who are no longer being silent, but lifting up their voices to tell our family and so many other families that they are not alone, they are welcome and they are loved. You are making a difference, too.
To check out “A Profound Silence,” please visit www.gardenabuddhistchurch.org/ichi-mi.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”