By Aki Kame
AFO Guest Contributor
Aki Kame is a writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. They come from many homes, many coasts, most influentially the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Japan. Aki is a queer, trans, genderqueer, mixed-race person of color who at a young age, found their creativity as a voice in a silencing world. They’re background in community organizing and activism led them to discover that their passion for social justice, could manifest through their art as well as in protest. Writing became a gateway to accessing a world inside themselves, and a tool to document the magic of their community from lived experience.
I Am My Beloved
As a child, I never imagined that I would find all of these parts of myself, carefully tucked away, only to be unlocked through doors I never expected to open. I had no idea that coming out as queer would lead to the understanding of my gender, or that being trans was going to have anything to do with being Japanese. I grew up between two countries, two cultures, two families, and I would argue, a few lives. People think that because you call yourself a queer, trans, mixed person of color... or because I’ve been lucky to find words to describe some of my experience, that I somehow know who I am. What I don’t think they realize is that I am who I am held by, I am my beloved, and finding that has been a journey.
This is a story about the time I stood in front of a room of 250 former co-workers, most of them my Asian elders, sharing about what being trans meant to me. I normally decline most requests to speak about my own experience to non-profits. After the exhaustion of leading so many “lgbt 101” and “how to not be terrible” trainings, my patience for people’s ignorance and tokenization has long since depleted. The reason this was different, was because I was speaking alongside my trans sisters, to my family.
This agency was special to me because it was a “by and for” API social service agency where I worked side by side with API folks from over 60 different countries to support our community, from babies to elders. I had never felt more a part of a family in my life. Like family, there was conflict, pain, and growth. The whole time I worked there I was only “out” to a couple of the interns closer to my age, and I definitely never spoke about my family, other than the sugar-coated memories of them I could still pass off to strangers. Like family, I pulled away when I didn’t think I would be accepted as transgender, and many of my close colleagues wondered why I had lost touch. And there I was years later, sitting in front of all of them, on a panel, about to share some of the deepest shadows in my heart.
Unlike when I came out to my parents, my voice was shaking the entire time. Sweating, flustered, I couldn’t figure out why this was so intense to me. I’d spoken on panels and led workshops, shared my experience so openly for years, but for some reason I was being shaken to my core in front of a bunch of people who had shown me nothing but love. We answered all of the generic questions about gender and what being transgender meant to us. It wasn’t until the final comments that I was hit with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew very well that I wasn’t telling the whole story, and this could be an opportunity to clear the air and bring some semblance of healing to a family that’s still growing in a society that still hasn’t found a place for us.
I shared that being transgender, to me, wasn’t what a lot of people like to hear. Realizing in my twenties that I could no longer live the way I was, sent me through years of agonizing self destruction, hiding, and ultimately the loss of my family. I was kicked out of my house as a teen when I came out as queer, rejected by my parents, cut off from my baby brother... It felt like being adrift at sea. My Japanese mother: a destructively proud, conservative Japanese woman from Tokyo, instilled in me throughout my entire childhood to be a good, Japanese girl just like her. She also knew that the one thing she still had left in her power to take from me was my identity. She told me I was never allowed to see or talk to my Japanese family ever again...she even flew to Tokyo at the same time as me last year to intercept any attempt I may have made to visit them. I was an embarrassment to her, “your grandparents would be crushed if they ever learned about what you’re doing”. She blamed raising me in the States, she blamed my lack of a stable life, she blamed me for ruining her life. So she did everything she could to ruin mine, and try to take away who I was.
This is why working at a place with other API’s, young and old, who spoke to me in Japanese and fed me at lunch like any auntie would, who included me, respected me, and held me when I was still figuring out who I was, meant a lot more than they may have realized back then. I looked across the room and many of those same people were holding back as many tears as I was in that moment; I felt held and loved by some of the very people who had little idea what kind of family they were to me.
They made me realize that being trans didn’t mean I was no longer Japanese. They did so without demonizing my mother, and it felt like we all held a moment of grace for her as they reflected on how easily they could have done this to their own children, had they not crossed paths with me. They knew as much as I do, that my mom gave her whole young adult life to moving to this country to give me a life better than hers. She did her best to shield me from the racism she survived everyday, to protect me from the soldiers on base I was never supposed to talk to, and to make sure I spoke just enough Japanese to be able to talk to my grandparents. It’s kind of ironic that I’m the only one of my siblings who can speak Japanese, and am the only one forbidden from contacting them.
I still run into people who were there that day, and they hug me and tell me how special it was that I shared my experience with them. I think QTPOC have so much internalized oppression around being told we’re a burden that we often don’t share our truth, but it’s little leaps of faith like this that remind me that our words create waves. The immense outpouring of support and tears and appreciation for sharing my experience that day is something I will never forget. I am who I am held by. My expected lifespan is too short to not surround myself with people who love and see me...I am my beloved.