A grandfather's hope for the future

  • by Mike Honda
  • Wednesday March 11, 2015
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I am the proud jiichan, or grandfather, of three beautiful grandchildren: my two grandsons and one granddaughter.

Being a grandparent is one of my most rewarding life experiences. I am able to relive the joy of raising my own children. I enjoy seeing my daughter raise her children with the same grace and love she learned from her mother. I am given pure and unconditional love only grandchildren can give. Yet, even though I try to offer guidance to my grandchildren in hopes of being an inspiration, I have come to realize that it is them who have become my role models, helping me see the world through their strength, innocence, and hopeful worldviews.

Eight years ago, my second grandchild was welcomed into the world and assigned male at birth. We soon learned that this child was someone truly special. The following years of toddlerhood brought about situations that would have our family begin to question society's views on binary gender. At about 18 months, the child announced to my daughter's family, "I'm a girl," and asked to be called "daughter" and "sister." An affinity for stereotypical girl things and clothes became apparent, and at about age 3, with clarity and confidence, a family announcement was made: "I want to be called Malisa." She was welcomed by the family to be true to herself, but made the choice to present male in public for the next few years.

One day at preschool, a classmate asked Malisa why she liked to play dress up and wear "girl-things." Having overheard this conversation, her teacher was moved to tell my daughter about Malisa's perfect response. The teacher's voice, full of joy and admiration, relayed the conversation and said the confident response summed up what all people should want children to feel: "My mom says I can wear whatever makes me happy." For her eighth birthday present, I was honored to be able to gift her something many 8-year-old girls wish for, regardless of what they are assigned at birth: pierced ears. It is moments like this that make being a grandparent so special and I was honored to be there for her.

Over the years, given the freedom to be true to herself, she has matured into an amazing young person. Her comfort in knowing who she is, and her desire to be understood and accepted as a female, became consistent, persistent, and insistent.

I admit it was not immediately comfortable learning to use a new pronoun and name, making the inevitable mistakes that come with understanding something new, and finding the strength to push my personal fears of a more difficult life for a loved one aside. What made it easy was Malisa's vibrant, yet shy, smile flash across her face when she first heard me call her by her affirmed name. That made me see that loving her was all she needed. It's that simple. It was the validation of knowing her family supports her and allows her to be true to what she has known as far back as she can remember – she was born a girl.

I, myself, continue to become a stronger ally by asking questions, listening, and having an open heart. It is the gesture of embracing differences and not fearing the unknown. It is realizing that support and acceptance is essential to helping an ever-growing community of young people finding the courage and confidence to be themselves.

Recently, I chose a simple act of public affirmation by tweeting about my support and love for Malisa. By sharing our experience, my hope is to start a public conversation for families and society about acceptance and support for transgender children and adults. This conversation will in turn bring awareness of bullying and depression leading to the terrifying statistics surrounding transgender homicide and suicide. My tweet has been viewed over 1.2 million times. That's 1.2 million opportunities to give a child the courage to express who they are. The hope of encouraging a parent, grandparent, or sibling the courage to start a necessary dialogue so their family knows they are supported. To remind people of the courage it takes for someone simply to express who they are.

My family and I are overwhelmed by the response we have received with thousands of comments, messages, and tweets thanking us for sharing our story. We have read touching stories of parents and grandparents of transgender children who appreciate Malisa's courage to be a role model. Families have reached out asking for resources to help them begin their own journey. Others have realized that it is okay to admit they know very little about the transgender community and now want to learn. Every step toward knowledge is a step forward for the community.

Mutual respect is an element of humanity. It's one of my guiding principles in the formation of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus: (https://antibullyingcaucus-honda.house.gov/). Respect comes through recognition. Malisa, and the many other individuals like her, deserve not merely tolerance and acceptance, but recognition of their affirmed gender identity. I hope our journey becomes an inspiration – a source of courage – for children, parents, and friends to recognize individuals, like Malisa, for the beautiful people they are.


Representative Mike Honda is an eight-term congressman from the South Bay area. He represents California's 17th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Cupertino, Fremont, Milpitas, Newark, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and one-third of San Jose.