May 9, 2019 at 12:22 pm PDT | by James Wen
Transman James Wen honors motherhood

James Wen is a trans activist and the son of Howard and Mona Wen. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Dear Mom,

Remember our annual family tradition of visiting the Jefferson Memorial in the spring to see the cherry blossoms?  The flowers seemed to always bloom around Easter. And on some occasions we would attend Sunday service and then drive from our Chinese Christian Church across the Key Bridge into Washington, D.C. to enjoy this yearly sight to behold!  

The magnificent blooms adorning the cherry blossom trees varied in its pink color year to year, as if to say they had all survived the same winter and awoken into a new spring. We had a ritual of hilariously attempting to look for the same tree that we took in last year’s family photo, though truthfully it could not be found again.  Yet we pretended that it was.

Here, I begin my Mother’s Day tribute and send you my love.

You were 35 years old and I was 4 years old. You were just learning how to cut hair, and I was not afraid until the haircut I showed you, a picture of a little boy, was clearly not okay with you.  

You were 20-something and I was not yet to be born.  You attended a finishing school and I was not even in your imagination.

I was rendered invisible and you were sure you gave birth to a daughter. Not a tomboy, not a rambunctious child, not a free creative spirit, and most certainly not a boy.  You gave birth to a girl and that was that.

Some people stereotype Asian people as reserve, mild and not opinionated.  Right…. Mom, for you, that is called a myth, and the reason why Dad would call you a Tigress Queen, referring to your Chinese horoscope.  

Yet you managed to stay married for 48 years. You had your choice of suitors but you always told me that the reason you stayed married was because you knew Dad loved you.  And when I separately asked Dad why he stayed married, he said, “Because I love your Mom.” You and Dad were grounded in his enduring love for you.

I remained invisible until I was 40 years old. Only by happenstance did I learn that a greater transgender community existed at age 46. At 41 years old, someone once close to the family decided to call you and Dad to out me. I remember sitting on the edge of my girlfriend’s bed listening to my stereotypical stoic and logical Asian dad sobbing as I confirmed the truth—that I was his transgender son. Then I listened some more—trying to stay with him in that moment and not disappear inside of myself.

Mom, thank you for helping him to see me. I remember our first lunch together, post-revelation, at your dining room table. On any other Saturday afternoon, I would have been helping you to prepare the meal, set the table, and wash the dishes. But on this visit, and every visit thereafter, I would be invited into the house and seated across from my Dad while you prepared our lunch and then served us.  

Thankfully, I was still welcomed into your house, but Dad would not begin recognizing me until you suddenly passed away, just a few short years later. I still find it incredibly painful to remember your death, let alone to write about it, so we will just not go there today.

On this Mother’s Day, my thoughts also turn to our community’s mothers. There are many in Los Angeles, including Chela, Michelle, and Gina. And there are mothers who lovingly teach others to be activists such as Karina, who holds a special place of honor and Bamby and Maria, who recently got married at my church, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Faith, cherry blossoms and trips to D.C. spawn renewed hope as we also give thanks to our foremothers before them.  

In 2011, I found my way to my first Transgender Law Center Summit. It was there that I learned about Stonewall and listened to Miss Rocket share about our history and the transgender movement.

Shortly afterward, I attended my first transmen group meeting. Alexis Rivera was our substitute moderator in lieu of her transbrother, who was not available to lead the meeting on that particular day. It wasn’t until 2015 when I re-engaged with community that I learned more about Alexis’s life calling and her local and greater contributions.

Mom, these are only a few of the fierce Mothers in community. They live all across the United States and they have collectively given birth not only to new generations of leaders, but also an incredible movement about the respect and dignity of people.  

Mom, like you, Mothers in community know just what to do for their family, how to heal wounds, how to forgive, and how to move forward. They are fighters and they are lovers of justice and peace. They know how to share their knowledge and how to keep strong, even when faced with adversity. They are storytellers and they also know when to let loose and have fun!

So Mom, although you are no longer here, I am reminded of your spirit through the many Mothers in community.  I love you and wish you and the very long list of Community Mothers, a Very Happy Mother’s Day!

Much love, James.

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