By Marsha Aizumi
Last month, I had an experience that both made me stop and evaluate what it means to come out and soar with gratitude to those who would stand up and support in a positive way.
It all began when a high school classmate sent an update email to 15 classmates that lived in the same geographical area about people who were having health issues or were facing other challenges. One of the individuals, Fred, on this email thread, sent a response back about how he appreciated being part of this high school class because though we were different, there was a feeling of connection and inclusion.
I graduated from a conservative, predominantly white high school in Southern California. At the time, I was the only Asian in my graduating class. I did not feel a lot of discrimination, but I did not feel a lot of connection either.
I was just someone who was different and only experienced an occasional derogatory reference to my Asian heritage. But it was enough to make me keep a low profile and study hard, so as not to make waves.
For some reason, after Fred sent this response talking about inclusion and connection, I felt like I wanted to “come out” to the people on this email thread in hopes of bringing more support for the LGBTQ community. I had hoped I would feel a greater connection to these individuals and also bring some awareness to my classmates. And so, I wrote that I had a transgender son and hoped that our class would be kind to LGBTQ individuals, since they knew someone who graduated with them had a transgender child.
One hour later, a person on this email thread asked to be deleted from future emails. Perhaps it was a coincidence that after numerous emails, they asked to be deleted after my response. But I don’t think that was the case. My heart sank, and my first thought was, “Why did I say anything?” I don’t really know these people after graduating so many years ago and have not even attended most of the class reunions. What was the point?” I felt sick to my stomach.
Two hours later, I received a response from dear Fred. It was a lovely email of support and compassion. Fred said that he hoped I would come to a future reunion so we could truly have a reunion. I am not sure if Fred knows what his email meant to me. Perhaps I will send him this article once it is published.
Then, the next morning, I woke up and found another email from a classmate. It began with “I felt compelled, Marsha, to respond to you and your comments.” I stopped reading and braced myself for a lecture on what a terrible mother I was, that God was going to condemn me to hell and how this was Satan’s work to allow my child to transition to be my son. I could feel my heart begin to close up, waiting for the judgment and condemnation to follow.
Instead, this is what Jerry and Linda wrote …
“While we missed you at some of the reunions and haven’t seen you for quite some time, we have been aware of your challenges, and we did see you on the Diane Sawyer special. Bless you and all that you are doing for your son and the LGBTQ community, and keep pressing on. It is people like you who will help ultimately make a difference. We’re behind you. Best regards, Jerry and Linda.”
My sinking heart began to open up, and I could feel tears form in my eyes. In the span of less than 24 hours, two people who I hardly knew gave me words of encouragement and love. Even as I write this, I want to cry. In that moment, I realized what the point in coming out was for me.
Fred, Jerry and Linda see all of me, and I don’t have to hide who I am. I felt a connection to them that I never felt before, and it is based on honesty, integrity and compassion. When I go to a future reunion, they will be the first people I will seek out.
Then, I realized that this is what our LGBTQ children, family members and friends go through when they come out to those around them. The worry of being judged, the thoughts of “Did I make a mistake to come out” and the cold, sick feeling that washes over them with the fear of rejection. I also realized the warmth and connection that can come with acceptance and understanding when someone sees all of you. And a sense of pride in oneself for the courage it takes to come out. It was a roller-coaster ride that day, but it taught me so much.
So, here is my call to action for those who will take up the challenge. If you are an ally to the LGBTQ community, I hope you will “come out” and show your support. I know I have talked about this before, but allies have the most powerful voices.
This week, I got an email from a mother who met with an old high school friend. This high school friend came out to her about her transgender son. She wrote to thank me and others for providing her resources, such as PFLAG San Gabriel Valley API, the book Aiden and I wrote titled “Two Spirits One Heart” and other parents who she could refer her friend to because we were not afraid to be a voice for our API LGBTQ loved ones. Our straight allies can also be someone who can connect their friends in need with resources and support. I am always available to help.
All of us have the power to radically change people’s lives. Fred, Jerry and Linda — three high school friends — changed my life that day. And a mother who was there for her high school friend did the same for another mother.
Let’s use our voices in a respectful way that empowers and inspires others. We can change the world one heart at a time.
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.”