Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Journey of Gifts

posted on the Huffington Post Gay Voices on 12/21/12

Four years ago this month, my daughter fearfully looked across a table at me and said the words that would forever change my life: "I want to transition to be a boy." When I initially heard her request, I remember thinking how the first 20 years of my daughter's life began to make sense: the toddler who pouted at wearing dresses and bows, the elementary school tomboy who only wore pants and T-shirts, the middle school student who didn't seem to fit in anywhere, and the high school cutter who refused to return to school and was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder in which an individual does not feel safe in the world.
But then fear set in. How would I keep my child safe in this world that targets those who are different? How would my child find a place to belong and a career that would accept her -- or now him? And how would my child find love in a society that attacks those who don't fit into a mold and tries to squeeze them into a box that only brings them feelings of unworthiness and rejection . . . .  Read More

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Want to Be a Buffalo

Me and my buffalo
My best friend, Joan, shared this story with me.  And it has stuck and emerged as an image that I want to always remember. . . .
In a blizzard, cows are so frozen in fear, they move away from the blizzard, until they are pushed against a fence and they eventually die.  Fear has caused them to retreat, until they can no longer move back further and then the blizzard covers them with snow .  .  . they freeze to death.
A buffalo sees a blizzard and does not retreat, but moves into the unknown, persevering through the storm.  As a result, the buffalo either moves through the blizzard or continues to push through adversity and survives.
It reminds me of when I am faced with fear, I want to withdraw and often allow the fear I am facing to push me back.  But when I do that the problem doesn’t go away . . . it persists and after a while something inside of me begins to die.  It might be the respect I have for myself, it might be the courage I so often want to bring out or it might be the worthiness I feel for myself to continue on when I don’t know the final result.
But I want to be a buffalo.  I want to use my courageous heart to move into the unknown and continue to persevere.  I want to believe that I deserve to move through adversity and reach my intended goal, because I am capable, strong enough, and believe in possibilities. 
Everything I have accomplished in life has been the result of my belief in what is possible, my vision of the world I want to live in, and the world I want to create for my children and all those in the LGBT community.  There is an old song from one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life.  In it Jimmy Stewart sings, “Buffalo Gals won’t you come out tonight, won’t you come out tonight, won’t you come out tonight, Buffalo Gals won’t you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon.”  I think this will be my new theme song . . . .

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

LGBT White House Reception


White House Photo by Aiden Aizumi
 Ever since we received the invitation from the White House, Aiden and I have anticipated this event.  An LGBT Reception at the White House . . . what an honor!  The morning of the reception, I checked my email.  Hmmm, a Director at the White House asked me to call.  I wonder what that is all about. Curious, I called back and was informed that we had been selected for a private session with President Obama, complete with a photograph.  My heart thumped excitedly as I went to tell Aiden the good news.

Beth, Aiden, Marsha, Ron & Betsy from Savannah PFLAG, and Jody
Then it was off to the PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) National office to meet with Executive Director Jody Huckaby, his deputy Beth Kohm, and other national staff.  A beautiful lunch was provided for us and we met other PFLAGers who also received a White House invitation.

President George Washington's "States" China

At 3pm, six of us hailed taxis and we traveled the short distance to the Southeast entrance of the White House.  Once we passed three security checkpoints, I felt like I was walking through history.  Aiden and I were in the famous building I never dreamed I would step into.  There were grand portraits of past presidents, their first ladies, and the Dish Room where china from former presidents sparkled underneath display case lights.

Aiden in the White House Library

The Red Room
At 4:45pm, Aiden and I were checked into the Red Room, where we waited for that special moment with the President.  About 20 individuals were invited with their guests to shake hands with President Obama and get a photo op with him as well.  When our turn came, Aiden shook the President's hand and said, "Mr. President, it is an honor."  I, holding back emotion, shook the President's hand and said nothing.  We moved closer to pose for the photo.  And then the photo was over.  I turned to the President quietly and said, "I am a PFLAG mom and I want to thank you for making the world safer for my transgender son.  Will you accept this PFLAG pin?"  The President took the pin and and said, "I like to make moms happy."

The State Dining Room

Aiden with Actor Matt Bomer
In thirty seconds the moment was over, but the feeling of hope, gratitude, and warmth that I felt from the most powerful leader of the western world will stay with me for a long, long time.  Since that moment, I no longer see Obama as the President of the United States, but I see him as "my" President . . . . because he has done more for my son than any other president that has come before him.  I am proud of "my" President and I hope that he continues to make all of us in the LGBT community proud of the work he is doing.

Beautiful Garden View from Within the White House

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

OFL/LifeWorks Brings Hope to LGBT Youth

Regional Supervisor Abel Cabrera with Teacher Jeff White, Lead Teacher Molly Sircher,
and 2012 OFL Graduate Christopher Thomas receiving Oustanding Achievement Award

Sitting alone in the ER after being physically assaulted for his sexual orientation and disowned by his grandparents for being gay, Christopher needed a place to hope.  He found it at Opportunities for Learning (OFL) Charter School and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center’s LifeWorks Program.  This month Christopher graduated and received an award for being an outstanding senior from his teacher, Jeff White.  Christopher is off to community college and dreams of transferring to UCLA.  I know he will make this dream come true.  Congratulations, Christopher!!

Christopher with Two of his Angels, Molly and Danitza Pantoja

Realizing he was born in the wrong body, this creative and determined student decided to live authentically and courageously as a female.  Not wanting to transition at her current school, she came to OFL and was fully accepted and supported by her teacher, John Sandate.  Aly, a beautiful and artistic girl, also graduated from OFL and is now on her way to FIDM, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.  She will be bringing more beauty and style to the world not only through her presence, but also through her work.  Congratulations, Aly!!


Aly, Aiden, and Me at her OFL Graduation

There were many angels that led the way for these two graduates.  Thank you teachers, staff and leaders for your unwavering belief in Christopher and Aly . . . . it has changed their lives and allowed them to blossom into the amazing individuals you see today.  A special thanks to John and Joan Hall, founders of OFL, who work every day to create a space of empowerment and inspiration for all who enter their schools . . .

John and Joan Hall


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Mother's Hope


Tad & I walked anxiously toward the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis hotel wondering what this evening would bring.  Tonight would be PFLAG's 4th Annual Gala called Straight for Equality.  I was told it would be an incredible night.  And it was. . . .

When I entered the Grand Ballroom, the first thing I noticed were names of companies lighting the side walls. Companies like KPMG, Johnson and Johnson, Barclay's Bank, American Airlines, Marriott, Kellogg and many others.  These were companies that were supporting the LGBT community and these were companies that were helping to make the world safer and more accepting for my son.

Tad and I were guests at the Kellogg table.  Kellogg has been supporting the Straight for Equality Program since its inception, Mitra Chappell, explained to me with pride.  Mitra's job as Diversity and Inclusion Director for Kellogg is to make sure their workplace honors the diversity in their employees who they consider family.  This year they had two tables of employees attending the event, many bringing their partners to experience this wonderful event.  

With New Kellogg Friends
I fell in love with Mark and John who sat next to Tad and me.  John shared how incredibly hard Mark works as the Senior Diversity and Inclusion Director in the Chicago area.  I also met a plant manager from Ohio and some employees from Florida.  Kellogg is making a difference not only within their company, but across the nation.  Every employee I talked to said that they loved working for the Kellogg family.

Mark, Ben and John
As overwhelmed as I was walking into this event, I walked out at the end of the evening with more hope than I ever thought I could feel.  I will never eat another bowl of Kellogg's cereal without remembering the amazing people I met at this company doing such incredible work.  I will never put on another bandage without feeling grateful for Johnson and Johnson and their commitment to equality.  And whenever I stay at my next Marriott hotel or fly with American Airlines, my heart will quietly say thank you for their generosity and dedication.  As a mother, I work each day to make the world more accepting for my son and all LGBT individuals.  Thank you to all the corporations that are saying . . . .we hear your voice and it has become part of our heart. . . .


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dedicated to Kind Hearts Everywhere

Marsha & Tad Wedding Day
When I was young, my wise mother told me "marry a man with a kind heart."  She continued to say that "as your husband grows older, possibly losing his hair and growing a bit out of shape, just like you" if he has a kind heart, this part of him will never change.  I followed my mother's advice and it has made all the difference in my life.

During the early years of our marriage, Tad & I were not always patient partners and good listeners.  We have gotten better over the years, but we have had to work hard. Communication has been the key.  For those of you who know Tad, talking is not his favorite pastime.  I, on the other hand, can chat for hours, analyzing and discussing a topic at length.  I have learned to talk less and he has learned to talk more.  We even have a special signal when he can't talk or listen one more minute . . . a simple wink means "I am at my limit."  Sometimes, I don't see the wink and then he has to wink and point to his eye.  

Marsha & Tad Christmas 2011
In the end, I have loved this man, because of his wonderful heart.  He has been my rock through transitioning as a mother of a lesbian daughter and then transgender son. And his heart has shared many unforgettable moments with me and both of our sons. Ironically a heart has no gender . . . it just is. So, one day I hope people will support the marriage between two hearts . . . then sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion wouldn't matter.  This is a world I dream of for all . . . 

The Union of Two Hearts


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Teachable Moments

 
Last week, my educational consulting took me to the mountains of Colorado to observe and make recommendations on a work study program in Allenspark.  Thirty-five high school students came to live for ten day on a ranch .  Each day they worked on the ranch and studied about Colorado history, rode horses, and reflected on how they could leave their mark on the world.
 
One night I heard from a chaperone that some harassment was going on with two brothers and one student who they thought might be gay. During one of the activities, one of the brothers made an insensitive gay comment.  I turned to the older brother and said gently, "Please don't say things like that.  I have a gay son and it hurts me when you talk like that."  The big, burly student looked down at me and sincerely said, "I am sorry, Marsha."  At the close of the activity, the facilitator praised students for their participation and also challenged them to be more compassionate supporters of their fellow students.
 
 
Later that night, the two brothers, who made the gay comment, were seen talking with the student they had been harassing.  They were apologizing for their comments and explaining they meant no harm.  Without direct prompting, these two boys had taken it upon themselves to be more caring and kind.   I returned back to my room after hearing this story, my eyes filled with tears.  Never underestimate the power of your words spoken with love and acceptance. 
 
Each of us has the ability to change hearts and minds . . . .  . . . .


 

Monday, February 27, 2012

I AM ENOUGH



In two weeks, three separate events came into my life to cause me to pause and reflect about myself and my life.  My reflections began when I met and heard Brene Brown, a vulnerability and shame researcher from the University of Texas, speak at an event.  Later that week I listened to a mother's tearful struggle with her daughter coming out.  And recently I watched an emotional eulogy on YouTube given by Kevin Costner at Whitney Houston's funeral.

In all cases, what I took away from these seemingly random events was how much I and others battle feeling worthy.  Whitney, with all her beauty and talent, could not overcome her battle. Most parents and LGBT youth face this conflict when they have to come out to themselves and others. And I know I battle my feelings of inadequacy every day, having to remind myself that no matter what happens today, I am a good mother, wife and human being.  Can I be better . . . Yes . . . but for today I was the best I could be.

Brene Brown shared if we all just said "I am enough" and believed it with our whole heart, then we would embark on a journey that was filled with more love, joy and belonging.  This is not to say that we can't strive to achieve higher goals and dreams.  That is part of life as well. But can we accept that at this very moment we are enough, so our sense of worthiness will allow us to be happy in the present, appreciating all that we are and all the we have.

So today, no matter how many things get checked off my neverending list of "Things to Do", no matter how much I weigh when I get on the scale or how many more age spots appear on my face when I look in the mirror, I will tell myself I am enough.  And if the little voice inside my head, says "No, you are not," I will dig deep into my courage and my compassionate heart and boldly answer, "Yes I am . . . ."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Inspired for Another Year

Creating Change 2012 Workshop
It was a trip of a lifetime . . . my entire family attending the 2012 Creating Change Conference, where Aiden and I presented a workshop called  A Mother, Her Transgender Son, Their Journey to Acceptance and Love, supported by Papa, Stefen and Mary.  The success of this workshop came as the result of all five of us working together.  I couldn't have done it alone.  Participants shared that they walked away from our presentation determined to be more patient, more accepting and showing up more with their parents.  Moving from fear to love is not easy but I believe it is possible, if you speak your truth with compassion and vulnerability. I felt like our family was part of creating change.
Proudly Watching Aiden Speak
There were many highlights at this conference . . . .our whole family attending together, the Day Long Institute for Asian Pacific Islander, eloquent and emotion filled plenary speakers, but what moved me the most was the number of young people I met who hope to bring equality to cities, states and countries around the world, while many of these young people are not even fully accepted by their own families.  It is my hope that the work I do this year will allow more families to embrace their courageous children and accept them for the truly amazing human beings that these young people are.  I want parents to speak with pride about their LGBT children and their work.
Congratulations to Ernesto Dominguez, my dear friend, who won the Paul A. Anderson award and wrote me the sweetest note which I carry in my wallet to remind me of the work that still needs to be done.
Ernesto Dominguez (on the left) receiving Paul A. Anderson award from Russell Roybal
Thank you Sue Hyde, Russell Roybal, Darlene Nipper and Rea Carey at The Task Force for the vision and heart you put into this conference and the work you do throughout the year. And thank you PFLAG and NQAPIA for supporting my passion to bring stronger more loving connections to API families of LGBT young people as we spent time together planning and dreaming how to move closer to this goal. 

Our family left Maryland more inspired, more empowered and more determined to create change.  I can not think of a better way to begin this new year . . . .

Leaving Baltimore Excited to Create Change in 2012


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Beginnings



January is the month of new beginnings for me . . . a clean slate, a time to dream and a time to be inspired.  I had a conversation with a dear friend that I wanted to share with you, because it represents so much of what inspires me every day to work hard for the LGBT community.

My friend is a highly respected individual in his field of work, which is dominated by men.  He is in his forties, is married, and has two beautiful children.  He was also born in the wrong body and has struggled most of his life wondering what was wrong with him.  For years, he literally thought he was insane.  He prayed for God to change his body to be female, then he prayed for God to make him “normal”, and when neither of those happened, he prayed for God to let him die.  Eventually, he stopped believing in God.  For years and years, he lived his life alone and in fear -- fear that he was insane, and fear that others would find out that he was monumentally different inside.  My heart cries when I feel how much he has suffered.

This year, my friend is planning to transition his body to female.  The past nine months have been a horrendous challenge for him.  His marriage of 14 years is in jeopardy.  He flew back home to tell his parents of his plans.  He was so scared of their reaction that he almost turned back; he was surprised, but ever so grateful for their acceptance and support.  They don’t understand all his thoughts and feelings, but they know that they love their child; and for now, that is all that is important.
He is also going to discuss his transition with the top leaders of his company.  He knows that without their support, it will be difficult for the rest of the company to support him.  This is another terrifying act of courage.  What if they don’t accept him and he loses his job after transitioning?  Unemployment is rampant among transgender people, given the social stigmas associated with being transgender; losing his job, which is a critical element of his life, would be devastating.
He also faces very painful, somewhat risky, and phenomenally expensive surgery that is not covered by insurance.  Even after surgery, it is likely that he will not look particularly “feminine”, so late at night, he wonders whether the surgery will be “worth it”.  Will people look at him in horror or mock him because of how he looks?
But despite these near-paralyzing fears, he is transitioning, for himself, in 2012.  He hopes his marriage will stay intact (he still loves and is still attracted to his wife), but he has no control over whether she can be attracted back when he transitions.  He and his wife have gone through couple’s therapy; he is in a transgender support group; and he now sees that with his decision to transition, he must allow his wife to make her decision to find her future happiness.   He also has a very unselfish goal of being part of and helping to drive a paradigm shift in society.  Perhaps his act of courage will permit others to find a way to live in alignment with who they are.  And he hopes his highly visible “coming out” in his field of work will shows others that transgender individuals can be intelligent, caring, and contributing members of society, regardless of what they look like on the outside.
I applaud my friend and I support her bravery.  She is making the world safer for my son and for her children.  And as a mother, I am ever so grateful for my friend’s spirit and her willingness to show the society that it is neither sexual orientation nor gender identity that is a determining factor of a person’s worth . . . it is the heart and character of that individual that makes all the difference.