Often the most beautiful gifts we receive happen by chance. I believe these gifts happen because we are giving with no expectation
of return — we are sharing our hearts unselfishly. Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” Here is a wonderful example.
At the beginning of May, five of us representing PFLAG San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islanders (API) traveled to the UC Santa Barbara campus for a Queer People of Color conference. We were there to do a panel workshop called “Family: An Asian American Pacific Islander LGBTQ Perspective,” which looked into the challenges and ways our families have navigated this journey of coming out.
It has been difficult for all of us, and some of us are still faced with challenges. As the first and only API chapter within PFLAG, a national organization that supports parents, family and friends of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) individuals, we try to be a visible face and voice for the API Community.
One of our panelists, the aunt of a transgender nephew, had never spoken in front of an audience like this before. Alex was visibly nervous. In fact, she forced her daughter to come with her on the four-hour roundtrip drive, so she would not be alone. When Alex walked into the area where the conference was taking place, she saw about 300 chairs set up for the lunch keynote program. She immediately reacted and said, “I hope that isn’t where we are speaking, because if it is, I can’t do it!” I assured her that we would be in a smaller room, so she didn’t have to worry.
After lunch, we walked into our assigned classroom. It had about 40 chairs set up, and I could see Alex was less nervous by the number of chairs, but more nervous by the workshop time drawing near. API young people began to flow in. Three Vietnamese mothers of LGBTQ individuals from Vietnamese Rainbow of Orange County (VROC) also joined us. In the end, we probably had about 35 people.
The workshop began by each of us sharing our story: our families, our challenges and our positive experiences. When Alex began, her voice was quivering.
Her anxiety was palpable, and so as the moderator, I interjected that this was the first time Alex was doing something like this and she needed our support.
The audience began to clap for her, appreciating the courage, the authenticity and the generosity of this auntie. Ironically, she had come to support her nephew and these LGBTQ young people, but in this moment, they were supporting her.
Our workshop was well-received, and there were many tears throughout our presentation. Some in attendance said it was an emotional workshop just seeing parents who were supportive of their LGBTQ children and hearing about some of the feelings their moms or dads had to overcome.
Oftentimes, LGBTQ children do not understand the depth of fear, sadness and shame that parents have to confront in order to move into an unconditional loving and accepting space. Recognizing these barriers often brings more compassion and understanding into the hearts of the LGBTQ children. I always tell the LGBTQ kids that parents need to be encouraged by our children . . . for it is often our children that help us through this journey with their love.
The next day, I received a thank-you email from Alex. In it, she said, “The event made me realize lots of things that I wasn’t aware of. It’s funny that I thought I was supporting my nephew by speaking in public, but I ended up getting more support than I realized I needed. Most importantly, on our way home, my daughter opened up and said a lot of things that were on her mind. I always thought we were close and she could tell me anything, but I was wrong.
She was afraid of hurting my feelings and kept quiet. . . . I’m very glad I forced my daughter to come with me and forced myself to speak in public. It was terrifying but so worth it!!”
I have always believed we model best for our children by being our most courageous and authentic selves. At the QPOC conference, Alex modeled stepping into an area of fear and uncertainty with vulnerability, honesty and courage . . . and that gave her daughter permission to do the same. What a beautiful example of parenting at its highest level. What a beautiful gift to give to your child.
NOTE: If you or anyone you know needs support on API LGBTQ issues, please visit PFLAG SGV API at www.sangabrielvalleyapipflag.com or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a wonderful network of API parents of LGBTQ children that are ready and willing to support you and provide you with resources. You are not alone.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and the author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”