June is PRIDE month, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to feature one of my dear friends, Eric Arimoto. He has been such a committed advocate for the Japanese American LGBTQ+ community, since we met. I love how he has returned to the JA community to bring visibility and voice, as well as healing and hope, as a volunteer, organizer and mental health therapist specializing in LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy.
This is Eric …
Hello JACL community. My name is Eric Arimoto. I am a 56-year-old, fourth-generation, Japanese American, gay dude who uses the pronouns of he/him/his. I live in Long Beach, Calif., with my partner, Paul.
A native Angeleno who grew up in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw district, I left home at 18 to join the U.S. Army, where I came out of the closet and started my first relationship with a fellow soldier in 1984.
I came out to my family in a Christmas card announcing that I “have always been gay, always knew that I would grow up to love a man and that I am finally happy.”
For 20 years, I designed and manufactured furniture. I am 25 years sober. As a result of years of psychotherapy, I returned to school in my 40s and got a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
Today, I work with the Department of Mental Health with the Sheriff Department’s Mental Evaluations Teams, providing support and referrals to people experiencing mental health crises. I also have a private practice specializing in providing trauma-informed, LGBTQ affirmative therapy for individuals, couples and adolescents.
I never intended to come back to the Nikkei community. Growing up playing basketball and baseball with CYC, going to Little Tokyo to visit my grandmother, going to community events, picnics, Nisei week, etc. accentuated how different and alone I felt.
The silence surrounding homosexuality in our community was stifling, terrifying and enraging.
I never felt welcomed. Certainly, I didn’t have any role models to light the way toward having a positive self-image, pride in my identity or any reasonable hope of being accepted as a Japanese American gay man.
Being gay, for me, dictated that I navigate the white-dominated gay community, assimilate to their ways of doing things and thinking.
In 2012, I was doing exactly that when I met Marsha and Aiden Aizumi, who came to my internship site to talk about their journey as a Japanese American transgender son coming out to his mother.
Within minutes of their presentation, I was sobbing. I was not conscious of how I longed to be healed of the split in my sense of self and the alienation from my birth community.
Soon after meeting Marsha, she asked me to participate in an API PFLAG group that she was organizing, which led to an invitation to Okaeri’s planning committee.
For me, Okaeri, like grace, came when I least expected it but most needed it. I didn’t have to choose one part of my identity. Rediscovering the JA community, I see how decent, kind, self-less, thoughtful and loving we are.
To be honest, during the organizing of the 2014 Okaeri convention, I was uneasy, felt out of place and had no idea what I was doing there. But on the day of the conference, when over 200 people showed up who looked like my family, aunties and uncles, grandparents and people I grew up around, I allowed myself to believe that our community is finally dealing with their fear and shame related to LGBTQ identity.
I’m still a sort of hybrid JA/banana kid. But I stick around the village and do this work because I know that there are so many other Nikkei LGBTQ folk, allies, family members out there who have yet to hear the welcoming call of Okaeri.
Today, I am a proud Japanese American gay man who has been embraced by my family and community. I thank all of you who have loved, accepted and supported me on my journey. It feels so good to be back home. …
I love and admire Eric so deeply … his honesty, his fierce advocacy for the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community and his own journey to integrate and find acceptance for both his gay and Nikkei identities. I hope you have enjoyed his beautiful story and felt his amazing heart.
If you would like to celebrate Pride Month with your Nikkei LGBTQ+ friends, family and allies on June 25 from 7-8:30 p.m. PT, please join us at Okaeri Connects’ PRIDE Happy Hour. To register at Eventbrite, visit https://OkaeriConnects-June252021.eventbrite.com/ to be sent the Zoom link to attend.
I will be there and would love to see all of you join us to be a visible support and share what you are proud of in your life!
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”