posted on QAS E-Zine, Vol. 2 (2013)
A reflection on a mother’s journey as she accompanies her child’s transitioning from female to male and the place that church communities played in this journey. Also, this mother shares her hope for the future as more Asian LGBT families try to reconcile their spirituality with both the Asian and queer aspects of their lives.
I am a Japanese American mother who was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church at the age of seven, attended a Japanese American Methodist church throughout middle and high school, but wasn’t involved in church during college and my early years of marriage. Things began to change as my children starting growing up. I wanted them to be connected to God. I wanted them to have some religious foundation, so that as they became adults, they would know God and be able to make a choice on how he would be a part of their lives. So we began to attend a neighborhood Lutheran church.
In the beginning, it was a community that we felt fairly comfortable in. Most of the congregation was Caucasian, but they seemed to accept having Asian families a part of their church. We loved the pastor’s sermons and his kind ways, but the more we got involved in the church the more uncomfortable I became. This church talked about love, but I began to feel their love was conditional. I attended a bible study class and someone said, “We must no longer be tolerant of homosexuality. It is a sin.” There was anger and strong conviction in his voice. I thought to myself, if God was all about love, why was there so much hatred in that man’s voice? My children would come home and question why the church didn’t like gay people. “Papa has gay people that work at his hair salon. They are nice and have good hearts. Why does the church say bad things about them?” my daughter would ask.
A few years passed and we continued to attend this church. My daughter was now in high school and she had come out as lesbian. Her coming out was neither planned nor readily accepted. She had blurted it out in the middle of an argument that we were having. I was stunned. I did not want my daughter to face a world that was unsafe and prejudiced against her. Fearing for her safety and future happiness, I hoped this “choice” she was making would only be a temporary phase, and so for the next few months our family walked around, trying to avoid the subject. My daughter began to dress more masculine and cut her hair short. The avoidance of her sexual orientation continued to drive a wedge in our relationship. I was ashamed. If I was a good mother, how could I let this happen? Then one evening at the end of a Sunday church service, a visiting minister in the kindest, gentlest voice asked my daughter to come back to church when she found herself. The message ... if you are gay, you are not welcome here. She was devastated and so was I. Our family left the church.
A few years later my daughter came out as transgender, a boy living in a girl’s body. She wanted to transition her body to be in alignment with her brain. By this time, I had become more educated, and knew my child did not have a choice. She was trying to find the place where she was in alignment with her thoughts and feelings, but the thought of her changing genders threw me into a new world of confusion and fear. How I wish we had a church to turn to for comfort during those years. For a period of time I was angry at all churches and angry at God. Why had both abandoned us during the time of our greatest need?
We didn’t set foot in another church for many years. And my transgender son, once a very spiritual being, no longer feels he needs a church to be connected to his God. Aiden has a very personal relationship with God. Aiden’s God loves him unconditionally, allows Aiden to talk to him when he needs to, and my son sees heaven as a place where all of us will be together again when our earthly life is over. Until more churches embrace the concept of unconditional love, I don’t believe my son will return to the church. I, on the other hand, am still searching for a place to feed my spiritual side. I want to find a sacred space of both love and acceptance.
Being Asian, the mother of a queer child, and spiritual, does have challenges for me. I feel that most of the Asian churches are not very accepting of the LGBT community due to their conservative nature, so I am not drawn to them. I would love to find an Asian church, where my cultural background and spiritual yearning will be fed without judgment about my transgender child. Attending a church that is welcoming also feels a bit different, since there are not very many Asian faces. For some reason Asian faces comfort me and make me feel a kinship that does not exist in non-Asian spaces. But things are changing and so am I.
In June, Aiden and I are speaking to a number of Asian churches who have decided to sponsor an event around our story and our recently published book, Two Spirits, One Heart. In our book, we share our journey as Aiden transitioned from female to male and I transitioned from being the mother of a daughter and son to being the mother of two sons.
These churches are proceeding very cautiously, because there are church members who will not be supportive. But I applaud the efforts of some of their members to bring this information to their church and raise the awareness of those who are willing to listen. I think it is a courageous thing that they are doing and I am thrilled to be a part of it. It will be the first time that Aiden and I will set foot in a place where the intersection of our Asian, queer and spiritual sides will be publically discussed. I believe it is going to be a very special day.
Sometimes the place where all these parts of my son and me intersect is very complicated. Can we bring all of these pieces to one place without feeling like outsiders in the process? Can we be Asian and spiritual in a queer space and/or queer in an Asian and spiritual space? All of these spaces seem to have their own perceptions of each other, and many times these perceptions are not the most positive. But in the most perfect of worlds, here is what I hope for. When I go into an Asian space, I dream that I can talk about having a transgender son and not feel ashamed. I can talk about my spiritual side, whatever that may be and whatever church or spiritual teaching I follow, and I am accepted for the spiritual path that I have chosen to create my connection to my God.
When I go into a queer space, I hope that my Asian background is embraced, being the mother of a transgender son is supported and the LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) community does not feel that we have chosen the easy way out to be accepted in society. Many LGB individuals believe that transgender people take the easy way out of transitioning so that they won’t be discriminated against, thereby abandoning and rejecting the LGB community to become a “normal” part of society. Transgender people do not reject the LGB community, as they just want to live in integrity with their own thoughts and feelings. My son did not transition so that he could blend into society or run away from the discrimination of being a lesbian. My son did not transition to receive male privilege due to the fact that in our current world men have more privilege than women. He has chosen to transition to bring into alignment his thoughts, his heart and his body. He has transitioned so he can live his life as the man that has always lived inside of him.
I also hope that if I find a church to attend, that the queer space will not look at me with suspicion for my need for spirituality. So many LGBT individuals have been shunned by their churches that when they see a person connected to the church, questions arise as to how they can be spiritually connected to an institution that does not “walk their talk.” In my journey, I have now found churches that do talk about love and embrace all with love. They are walking their talk.
And finally, I dream that when I go into a spiritual space, I will not be judged as being a terrible mother, because I allowed my son to transition into the body of a person who has always been inside of him. I also dream that I am valued for my Asian background and all it brings. I dream of a church as a place in which I will once again find comfort, acceptance and love. This would be the world that would feed my soul and allow all that I am to be supported and recognized. And this is the world I work every day to create, so that my son will be safer and more accepted for the man that God made no mistake in creating.