by Marsha Aizumi

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I used to believe that reaching out for support was a sign that I was not competent. I thought an intelligent, capable person could think through the situation, weigh their options, then come up with the best possible solution to their problem. Now I realize that my ability to reach out for support is a sign that I am strong and brave enough to recognize that I cannot solve all problems by myself. I need help.
I learned this through my journey with my lesbian daughter. Her coming out thrust me into an area that I did not fully understand. I felt lost, alone, and frightened by what the future would hold for my child. And as hard as I tried to figure out the best path for our family, the more fear, confusion, and guilt entered my life. Coming from an Asian background, I did not want to share all the negative feelings I felt with others. This was a private family matter that I needed to deal with. So I went online and read articles. I ordered books. I spent weeks doing research, but all the words brought me neither clarity nor peace of mind. At that point, I resigned myself to needing help. I was struggling and losing hope.
During my research, one organization kept appearing . . .  PFLAG. It seemed like it was the only family support group for parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. I decided to push past my comfort zone and attended one of their meetings. I went to my first PFLAG support group alone, since my daughter and husband did not want to attend. I walked into the meeting and saw a large number of people milling around, some chatting with each other and others like me seeming uncomfortable.
The meeting began with the reading of the rules, such as confidentiality, proper language, respect, and openness. Then we began to introduce ourselves, one by one. We weren’t forced to share anything or even give our full name, but I decided that if I had come this far, I was going to vulnerably share why I was here. Tears started rolling down my face even before I began to tell my story. I shared my fear for my child as she seemed so lost and falling deeper into depression. I expressed my guilt and shame for not doing a better job as a mother. But mainly, I cried, because in my heart I felt that my life would never be the same and a sense of hopelessness and terrifying uncertainty seemed to surround me.
As we continued on with the introductions, a gentleman a few seats down turned to me and spoke with the most gentle and compassionate voice. He said that as afraid as I was, I had entered a community that would nurture and care for me and my family as we navigated this unknown path. As much as I wished his words to be true, I had my doubts but was willing to give it a chance.
PFLAG’s focus is on support, education, and advocacy. As a new PFLAG mom, I found that having people who had traveled this path successfully and shared their stories freely gave me the support I needed to believe I could be successful as well. My PFLAG chapter also had DVDs and books that I could check out to learn more about my child and the challenges we might have to face. Another helpful part of PFLAG were the announcements of local events where I might meet with other parents and learn more, such as movie showings, conferences, workshops, and guest speakers. Outside of PFLAG, I met with other PFLAG moms, by phone or in person, to ask questions in a more private setting. This helped me greatly, since I could get details firsthand from another parent and have a dialogue that was personally directed to alleviate my fears.
However, what I missed when I first went to PFLAG was seeing other Asian Pacific Islander (API) parents who shared some of the same cultural similarities that I had. I believed this was so important that I co-founded an API PFLAG in the San Gabriel Valley. Although we have monthly support group meetings, we have smaller, ethnic-specific events called Afternoon Teas that are less intimidating. We even provide translators if needed. Gathered around a table with tea and sweets, families share with just one or two other families some of their fears and challenges. It is an intimate group that lends itself to a more private feeling, so the guilt and shame prevalent in API families is not shared with a large group of people, adding to more shame.
Sometimes even the Afternoon Teas are still too public. For these families, we have one-on-one sessions called a Family Circle. I have met with a family at a coffee shop or at a restaurant. I have talked with mothers across the country on the phone or through email. Just having a supportive voice who can direct you to resources, listen to your fears, and share how they were able to navigate this unknown journey is so important.  PFLAG chapters across the country provide that voice.
Today, that frightened and confused mother is part of my past, and I am an advocate for the LGBTQ community. Five years after my child came out as lesbian, she announced that she was born in the wrong body and wanted to transition to be my son, I was more ready to navigate this path. The first organization I turned to was PFLAG.
My family is connected today in ways that I never believed possible. We communicate more than ever before, have a greater appreciation for each other, but most importantly, we love each other openly and honestly. Aiden’s transition was a transition for our whole family, and through this process we became better family members and human beings.
Brene Brown says, “Courage is telling the story of who you are with your whole heart.” PFLAG provided me the space to be that brave. My life is richer and more meaningful than I ever dreamed possible. I have written a book and I speak around the country with my son. I have met some of the most wonderful people who have given me hope that Aiden will live in a safer, more accepting world. It has been a most incredible journey and it began when my son courageously said, “This is who I am.”

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Marsha Aizumi is a speaker, educational consultant and author of Two Spirits, One Heart, a memoir which chronicles her journey from sadness, shame and fear to unconditional love and acceptance as a mother of a transgender son. She is one of the founders of an Asian Pacific Islander PFLAG in Southern California and currently sits on the PFLAG National Board of Directors.

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