By Aki Mori
I feel I’ve traveled a long way in a short amount of time with my daughter, Midori. It was only a year or so ago when the term “transgender” first began to appear in our conversations. Since that time, I have progressed through different phases without too much difficulty: awareness, understanding, and support. The next phase on my journey as father is the embracing of Midori’s gender identity. I’m not quite there yet, but I know I’m close and I’ll get there shortly.
Midori has always been an exceptionally beautiful girl. Everywhere we have gone, people have told my wife, Katie, and I how cute or adorable or darling Midori is. Darn it, as her father I was just so proud of it all. I envisioned her growing into an amazing young woman: intelligent, fierce, independent, and gosh-darn beautiful. So when she began expressing herself as a boy, it was hard for me to watch her let go of her natural girlish beauty. It may only come across as shallow and selfish on my part to phrase it this way, but what pains me most is to see her beauty be wasted.
But I am coming along, and Midori gives me plenty of space with her happy-go-lucky personality. With the passing of time I am beginning to treat Midori more and more like my son, even subconsciously in many cases. She is unusually tough physically, so I make her carry the heaviest bags of groceries, or the extra suitcase when we are traveling. She frequently gets injured in judo – and it’s not a big deal to me. I let her punch me in the shoulder as a sign of her affection to me. Mowing the lawn is probably on the horizon.
The singular turning point in my comfort with Midori’s gender identity was a phone conversation I had with my mom, who lives in Ohio. Even long after Midori’s transgender status was established in our household, I had been avoiding the topic with my parents because they are serious Pentecostal Christians. They view challenging situations in life through the lens of a spiritual battle taking place in an invisible realm.
I feared that Midori’s unusual choices would be cause for my parents to pass judgment on my spiritual uprightness as a parent and family protector. When I finally broke the “news” to my mom, her reaction shocked me. Without any pause or reflection whatsoever, her response to me in Japanese was, “So what?”
She was completely supportive of Midori and even surprisingly knowledgeable on the topic. Who knew that programming on Japanese satellite TV could be so progressive? And more importantly, who knew that assumptions I held about my mom’s core values could be toppled like Jenga bricks so late in my life?
My current worries? I think about the difference between gender identity and sexuality. They are separate topics. I am comfortable with the former, but not the latter in the context of my 13-year old child. And yet I know that whenever Midori turns to the internet for information, she will Google umbrella terms like “LGBTQ” or “queer,” which will produce a mish-mash of search results, including ones that are offensive or possibly horrifying.
Similarly, Midori recently expressed an interest in attending gay pride parades. If such events were organized with children in mind, I would have no problem with that. Katie and I are basically left to helplessly trust that Midori will exercise good judgment and apply boundaries for herself that are appropriate. I know these are the same concerns of any parent who has a teenager, right? I get that we’re all on the same bumpy boat ride.
At both the tree and the forest levels, Katie and I are so proud of Midori. Midori’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins also feel the same way, and her little sister, Ayumi, doesn’t care. They’ve always been best friends and there’s nothing to indicate that will ever change.
Midori has a lot to be thankful for. I have a lot to be thankful for. At the same time that we are traveling along separate journeys, we also are on a road trip together. As I mentioned, “embracing” is my next destination on the roadway and I can now see it coming right up around the corner.
Aki Mori and his wife, Katie, moved to the Portland area in 2006 after winning the right to purchase their home in a real estate lottery. They are both thankful to live in Portland. It’s the perfect place to raise their two children, Midori and Ayumi. Aki has been a public educator for 18 years and currently is an assistant principal at a high school in Beaverton.
Editor’s note: I met Aki several years ago when I edited an op-ed piece he submitted to The Oregonian and I regard him as a model educator and parent. He is a family man who exhibits kindness and integrity, and demonstrates respect for others. As the parent of a gay daughter, this piece resonates deeply with me. I don’t imagine it will be long before Aki moves from accepting to embracing his child’s gender identity.
Read Midori’s piece: What it means to have Pride
Tomorrow: Tammy Ellingson, Baby, you can drive my car!