The inspiration for my columns comes from the people I meet, the experiences I have, but mainly from things that touch my heart in such a way that I feel I am changed forever.
One day as I was driving alone with my thoughts, I realized that what moves me the most are stories. People’s stories give me a window into their world. Their stories teach me by lifting up my awareness without judging how I have thought before. Stories open my heart to be more compassionate to people and communities I am not familiar with. Perhaps that is why Aiden and I have chosen to share our stories through our book, our speaking and, for me, this column.
Stories are personal, and a great story is told with authenticity and vulnerability. When Aiden and I share our story, we may seem calm on the outside, but sometimes we are scared (and sometimes even terrified) on the inside.
We are never quite sure how people will react to what we are saying. Will they walk out of the room, which has happened to us before? Or, will they look at us in contempt, which has also happened, because what we share they can’t accept?
But we trust the people who invite us to speak, and we believe that our experiences can open hearts, allowing us to connect with others who want to learn. This is what motivates us to stand in front of audiences and open our hearts.
At an event at the United Japanese Christian Church (UJCC) near Fresno, Calif., we met families that had adopted children just like us. We met parents who struggled with the coming out of their child, just like I did. We met individuals who shared their mental health challenges, which Aiden has also faced. And we heard one story about a family finding their way back to each other after many years. This was our story as well.
Stories bond us, and they also make us feel there are others in the world that understand what we have gone through or are currently going through … and that makes us feel less isolated and unseen.
This past week, we were also in Portland, Ore., speaking at the Epworth United Methodist Church. Like UJCC, Epworth is a historically Japanese American church and still has many members who are JA.
Aiden and I met Rose, who is turning 100 years young in May. She read our book, “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance,” and wanted to come to our presentation to meet us.
I have heard many stories of the older Nikkei community having a difficult time accepting LGBTQ+ individuals, especially if they are very religious. But here was Rose at almost 100 years of age, who went to church regularly and wanted to learn more. She is someone who has changed my heart forever.
At both, UJCC and Epworth, we were surrounded with rainbow symbols, so I immediately felt a warmth wash over me, knowing that people had intentionally taken the time to create symbols that would make us feel loved.
Rainbow napkins, tablecloths, origami cranes, layered Jell-O, fruit from every color of the rainbow and sushi that had rainbow-colored fillings. The wonderful congregation at Epworth decorated their altar with clear vases filled with rainbow-colored water, and bushes outside of the church were wrapped with different colors of the rainbow, so anybody passing the church knew that this Methodist church welcomed all.
Faith and community leaders set the standard for how inclusive their churches, temples and organizations are. This takes courage because they may lose people that do not agree with them.
But these leaders are fearlessly allowing their voices to be heard. Aiden and I want to thank each of you who have spoken up and created a space for dialogue to happen that will deepen understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity.
We change our communities one person at a time. Hearts are changed when individuals hear stories from people they care about, and they see pain and hurt close up.
What is the story that you have heard that has changed your heart? And what is the story that you are willing to share to change the hearts of others? Listening matters, but so does speaking up.
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
— Jane Goodall
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.”