A butterfly named Midori

Editor’s note: Two years ago in this space, a brave 13-year-old told her story of coming out as queer and her father wrote a companion piece expressing his support. Both writers are back this year along with another family member, the 12-year-old little sister, to reflect on themes of identity, judgment and acceptance.

By Midori Mori, 15 | The best of both worlds

Midori is at-ease and all smiles with life as a high school student.  

Because I run in multiple social circles, my father has always told me I represent the queer community well…that is, if they even know I’m queer. Among the guys, they just see me as “another bro.” And honestly, because there’s some sort of rawness I treasure in friendships with other boys I don’t really have the heart to correct them at the moment when they refer to me as “brother” or “main man.”

This only became controversial when many of my older friends from middle and elementary school knew me to be female while my newer connections were left unaware of my past. Now I am lucky enough to have the option of a gender-neutral bathroom at my school, but it also just so happens to be located in the most crowded part, putting me at a high risk of being spotted.

To deal with this on the rare occasions I need to use it, I try to go in between class periods avoiding crowds, wearing a hood to keep facial recognition minimal, and quickly cramming myself in before anyone notices. This is usually the part where I have to slap my hands blindly on the walls of the bathroom in the dark in an attempt to find the light switch, tripping over the edge of the sink in the process.  

To many, it seems like a waste of energy to keep up this charade, but at the end of the day, I love the way I get to live my life. Sure, being queer has its stigma, and I understand that. But I see it as my opportunity to get the best of both worlds.

Often times we say to ourselves that if someone were to leave us after hearing the truth, they weren’t worth it anyway. But what if all people needed was time to let down their walls a bit before knowing the truth? Chances are if I had come out straight away as queer to my friends, half of them would’ve left on the spot. But after a while, many of the people I meet know me to be someone they can depend on, laugh with, and get a hand from when needed. My only hope is that if this whole cover-up fails one day, they would find the label queer worth so much less than the other impressions I have left on them.  

***

By Ayumi Mori, 12 | A star I couldn’t stop following

Ayumi and Midori always celebrate with sushi, following an ice-skating or judo competition.

As our experiences widen our perspectives, we as humans begin to mature.  I wasn’t always aware that not everyone would be kind or good; over time, life just showed me this.  It didn’t help that my sister, Midori, was such an admirable and considerate person. I was convinced that everyone should like her. 

I grew up thinking that she was perfect.  She had every desirable quality I could think of.  What could I do? I was her little sister.  Even though she tended to dress more masculinely and had more muscles than your common girl, I was always proud of that.  She was a star I couldn’t stop following.

Midori and I entered a Chevy’s restroom.  A woman and her three daughters followed shortly after.  The three girls started whispering amongst each other.  I didn’t question ‘why’; girls would be girls.  Midori on the other hand, began to harden her posture as she stepped into a stall.  After coming out of the stall, the three girls snickered and gossiped more intensely.  When their mother caught sight of Midori, her eyes widened and she hurried her girls out quickly. 

Midori was not oblivious to the woman’s actions.  I watched her look down at the ground, and it hurt to watch her try to disappear.  I began to feel indignant towards these people who made Midori ashamed of being herself.  In encounters like these, Midori blamed herself.  Only then, was I starting to grasp Midori’s constant situation.  Even though I was the younger sibling, I took it as my responsibility to confront those who were quick to judge.  

Much like a quote I once read, I view Midori as a butterfly: “Butterflies can’t see their wings.  They can’t see how truly beautiful they are… ”  As the topic of college emerges and her departure from this house is nearing, I can’t be there by her side forever.  I constantly fret that she will change her personality should enough people get beneath her skin.  I just hope that one day she will get a glimpse of the wings she was given.

She truly is a butterfly.

***

By Aki Mori, 50 | A father’s joy and assurance

Celebrating Father’s Day with Ayumi’s homemade strawberry mousse cake.  From left: Aki, Midori, Katie and Ayumi.

One of my regular joys during Midori’s first year of high school was picking her up after school on those afternoons that she had club activities.  As she saw me pull into her school parking lot, she would stride forward with a smile on her face, often wearing one of her trademark snapback caps.  I loved listening to her wide-eyed, amusing stories as we drove home.  On one rare occasion, however, she didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of conversation, and so I sensed that something was bothering her.  

She proceeded to explain how her teacher had inadvertently put her in a predicament when she asked all the students to go wash their hands at the restroom, prior to participating in a cooking activity.  Midori does not inconvenience others with talk about her gender expression or gender identity: her longtime friends know her as a girl from elementary and middle school, while many of her newer acquaintances relate to her as a boy. 

So on this particular afternoon, she was presented with a no-win situation.  She risked some level of scandal, whichever restroom she would have chosen, including even the school’s gender-neutral restroom which would have forced her to separate from her friends.  Ultimately, she coped by momentarily escaping. 

That conversation hurt.  I wished I could help her more as a father, but by that time I had long come to realize that when it came to challenging social situations, Midori’s own instincts had easily proven to be more trustworthy than any of my own that I could offer her. 

True to form, the awkwardness of that particular restroom incident was short-lived.  It seemed that way to me, at least.  It’s difficult to know for sure because optimism and confidence seem to come so effortlessly for her. 

One might remark that I could talk to Midori more to clarify her feelings, but I have seen that she and Ayumi share everything with each other.  They are each other’s preferred advisors, and that gives me both joy and assurance.  Midori is charting her own path, and I have no worries.  

***

  • Midori:  Midori lives with a happy-go-lucky mindset.  The term “passion” only scratches the surface of her love of Judo, which she has competed in for seven years. When finding herself against the crowd, she takes it in stride and remembers her father’s words: It’s OK to be unconventional.  Midori will be a sophomore in high school this fall.  
  • Ayumi:  Ayumi is an extreme introvert, but has a strong sense of when to speak up.  She observes her surroundings because she knows: Everything you see and experience is art itself.  Ayumi will be in 7th grade this year. 
  • Aki:  Aki used to think he was a pretty remarkable guy.  But after experiencing helplessness, he has learned to appreciate the support of others where he didn’t before.  He and his wife Katie are trying to figure out how to celebrate their 20th anniversary next year.  He is an educator in Beaverton, Oregon.

Editor’s note: I met Aki several years ago when he submitted an op-ed piece to The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion section. I noticed in his bio that he had taught in the school district serving Union City, California, the working-class suburb where I grew up across the bay from San Francisco. Turns out his wife also had a Union City connection, having attended the high school I would have gone to had my family not moved to a neighboring community. And now we are all connected as parents of a gay daughter.

Tomorrow: Michael Granberry | Fear and loathing between a farter and a fatso

5 thoughts on “A butterfly named Midori

  1. Always interesting and great to read about the lives of the Mori family. All are wise beyond their years. Must be good parenting, through the generations 🙂

  2. I loved the pieces from 2017, and I love these just the same. You are an incredible family and a true inspiration. I hope that you all continue to write about this experience because I (along with many others) would thoroughly enjoy keeping up. Enjoy the new school year, and thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Your family seems so grounded and balanced, something I missed growing up. Adolescence is a difficult time for all of us, but it’s clear Midori and Ayumi are navigating their paths solidly with the parental guidance and love from Aki and Katie. Too many parents express judgment where none is needed or desired.

  4. What a family of writers! And all of you are so courageous. Yes, it is hard to live an unconventional life. But I’m finding it harder and harder to be a sheep. Better to put one’s own stamp on this life – it’s the only one we have! I would like a piece of that mousse cake!

  5. So special to hear from the Mori family again this year. Thank you for sharing your lives, adventures and perspectives again. Your lives are helping to shape the vision and values of others including me. Ayumi, you may have been quiet up to now , but you have a strong voice please keep using it.

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