By Marsha Aizumi
I always believe that when things repeat in my life, it’s a sign that I need to pay attention. Recently, I met a young artist named Jason Chu, who talked about the difference between someone performing and a true artist. He defined a true artist as one who vulnerably creates his or her work. I didn’t truly understand what he was trying to say until Aiden shared with me a song he thought I would like.
Last month, Aiden and I were booked to give the keynote for a huge speaking event — our largest one ever. About 900 people were gathering for an interfaith and intercultural breakfast. I was nervous on two levels: first, because of the sheer number of people we were addressing, and secondly, because it was going to be a large number of churches, temples and non-LGBTQ organizations.
The California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ) was the host organization, and it wanted to introduce the topic of being transgender to groups and individuals, many who knew very little about the subject. It was going to be a different audience than what we are used to speaking to.
I am not a morning person, so getting ready for this breakfast at 5 a.m. had me moving very slowly, both because of the hour and the audience I would be facing very soon. But when Aiden has a song he likes, he puts it on repeat. So, as my nervous self was getting ready, I heard these words playing over and over again … “When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out, This is brave, This is proof, This is who I’m meant to be … THIS IS ME!” At 6:30 a.m., I walked over to the Long Beach Convention Center with a spring in my step ready to share our story from my heart.
At the interfaith and intercultural breakfast, the song that was performed was … yes, you guessed it … “This Is Me.” Actually, the night before, Aiden and I spoke to a group of young people — both queer and straight — and they were some of the youth singing onstage. When they sang, all I could see was the joy in their eyes and the pride in their faces as they stood before us claiming their place. There were many people in the audience reaching for their napkins to dab their eyes, including me.
One of the things I do when a song speaks to me is I go to YouTube to watch some video clips of the song or search for the lyrics, since I can’t always understand every word. The following week that was what I did. Here is the clip I found … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLFEvHWD_NE. By the way, it has almost 14 million views.
Watching Keala Settle perform this song live for the first time with the rest of “The Greatest Showman” artists showed me the power of bringing your vulnerability to your art no matter how scared, no matter how uncertain you are.
You can see the moment when Keala lowers the music stand and steps “into the ring” to declare that she’s here and she’s all in. From that moment on, she brings every single person in that room along with her. Her vulnerability is contagious, and it invites others to bring their whole heart to their art.
This year, 2018, will be 10 years since I sat across the table and saw the fear in my child’s eyes when he told me that he wanted to transition to be my son. These 10 years have brought me some of my greatest moments of adversity, but also some of my greatest moments of learning.
I know that in the beginning, I did not want to step into the arena of advocacy. I was too afraid of people’s judgment, criticism and rejection. I am a different person now.
When I speak, I cry when I feel the pain and cry when I feel the joy. When I write, I hope you feel I am speaking my truth, and it is coming from a place of realness and compassion. It is in these moments that my vulnerability shows me that I am stronger and more courageous than I ever thought I could be.
“Look out cause here I come,
And I’m marching to the beat I drum,
I’m not scared to be seen,
I make no apologies, This is Me!”
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.”