A Safe Space for Aiden

In 1988, I held in my arms the most beautiful child, I could have ever wished for.  I gave her a name that meant peaceful, in harmony, bright and beautiful.  In elementary school her name matched the life she was living. And though she did not like anything pink, frilly or girly, she was happy and so was I.

Congressman Honda with Marsha AizumiIn middle school where gender becomes very defined with boys’ and girl’s’ locker rooms, boys’ and girls’ sports, my child, who did not fit the gender norms of being a girl, began to lose the sparkle in her eyes and the joy that a year before was ever present. Now when I looked into her beautiful face I saw sadness and confusion.  Although she was considered a tomboy in elementary school, that label no longer provided a pass to move between the boys’ and the girls’ circles.  She didn’t fit in with the boys, who no longer saw her as a sport’s teammate, but as a girl.  And since most boys were looking for frilly, girly girls, the boys had no interest in her.  Then, she no longer felt comfortable with girls who only talked about boys, clothes, makeup, and dances.  My daughter now had no place to belong.

In high school, as a sophomore, my child came out as lesbian.  I thought the withdrawal, the hovering darkness and the depression that even being a golf MVP (most valuable player) only momentarily brought out a smile, would vanish.  But it didn’t . . . In fact things got worse.  Now she became a target for hateful comments and harassment.  And the hardest part for me to face was that she didn’t confide in me because she felt she would become even more of a target.  She knew she could not endure additional bullying . . . she was just barely hanging on.  After two years my child couldn’t take it one day more.  She was diagnosed agoraphobic, a fear of the world not being safe, and she quit attending classes.  Fortunately the school was willing to work with us, and she barely graduated by doing her work from home.  But it was a lonely senior year.  No proms, no senior all night party, no walking at graduation and no anticipation of college.  I later found out those years brought out thoughts of suicide.  The guilt I felt as a mother who did not protect her child was overwhelming, and the sadness I felt filled my soul with a grief that still today I have passing moments of.

Some people shrug off bullying as simply teenage teasing. But I want you to know that bullying and harassment rips at the spirit of our children.  It makes them feel worthless, hopeless and is an emotional pain that some of our young people can’t live with.  Many of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning  (LGBTQ) children lie in bed at night hoping the pain will stop, that  somehow they will be changed by morning.  And when they wake up unchanged, some of our children even hope that when they go to sleep they will not wake up again.  This must stop.

Today my child is my son.  He has transitioned from female to male to be the person who has always lived inside of him.   He has blossomed into a passionate activist for the LGBTQ community because he no longer has to hide the truth.  He can just be himself.  Every day I am grateful to have my son in my life.  I am grateful that he did not lose all hope.  But there are parents in the world who are grieving because they have lost their sons and daughters to bullying and harassment.  This must stop.

I believe we owe all children, including LGBTQ kids, the same access to a safe school environment where their learning can be as inspiring to them as any of their peers.  That’s why I hope everyone will urge their U.S. Representative and Senators to cosponsor and support Congressman Mike Honda’s (CA-17)  H.Res 398, a resolution supporting the designation of October as National Anti-Bullying Month, in addition to The Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. 

Our children should be safe at school, able to reach their highest potential without fear of harassment or bullying. Join me and Congressman Mike Honda in making the world safer for all of our children.

Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ community, on the PFLAG National Board of Directors and author of Two Spirits, One Heart.