Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mike Honda Has A Transgender Granddaughter; She's Lucky She Wasn't Born Into A Republican Family


Frank Townsend Bow was born the same day as me-- February 20-- but half a century earlier. He served as a conservative Republican congressman from northeast Ohio's 16th District from 1951 until he died in 1972. When he died, Richard Nixon wrote that he was--
deeply saddened to learn of the death of Representative Frank Bow of Ohio. In over 20 years of outstanding service in the Congress, Frank Bow earned respect as a man of energy, principle, and dedication. As ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility, repeatedly taking his stand against excessive Government spending.
I never met Bow. But I knew his grandson, Michael Bow, very well. Just before the Congressman died, I returned to Amsterdam after a couple years in India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka... I found a job in the meditation center de Kosmos. And I met Michael. De Kosmos' world and Michael Bow's world couldn't have been more different. Back to that is a second.

Today I heard Rep. Mike Honda on Chris Matthews' MSNBC show talking about respecting transgender children-- like his own granddaughter. Honda is 73 and has virtually nothing in common with Frank Bow. Where Bow was obsessed with lower taxes on the wealthy, Honda is a steadfast progressive who has been working to make the lives of ordinary working families better. Honda was on TV celebrating his transgender granddaughter. Frank Bow and his family paid Michael Bow an annual stipend to stay out of Ohio and out of the U.S. so that the congressman wouldn't be embarrassed. 

Michael was gay-- really gay. He presided over a trashy gay salon, a kind of polar opposite of my meditation center. Michael and a bunch of Americans and Brits, some of whom took women's names (Michael was Michelle Le Bow, for example), behaved outrageously. They wore clothes that were at least as much women's clothing as men's clothing. It was a fascinating subculture and a shock for someone wrapped up in the relatively strait-laced world of meditation as a lifestyle. Michael's dad was a senior executive at Chrysler. He didn't want Michael around Ohio either. The checks that came from home supported not just Michael but 4 or 5 friends. There were candles everywhere and red and black fabrics hanging from everything. Shabby chic is probably how best to describe the setting.

Once or twice a week I took a break from my life in the meditation center and hung out with Bow and his crew. Sometimes I went with them on free trips around the Mediterranean, where a London-based sugar daddy owned tourist villa developments (and a plane). I don't know what the Republican grandfather and father thought of Michael-- although I can imagine-- but they were willing to pay him a very substantial amount of money to stay away. He was anything but closeted-- the only state of being Republicans find acceptable for gays-- but as long as he was thousands of miles away from Canton, Ohio, no one had to worry about it. Very different from Mike Honda's family situation.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) made headlines in February for the seemingly simple act of tweeting a message of love for his grandchild, an 8-year-old girl who happens to be transgender. Now Honda's daughter and son-in-law, Travis Phillips and Michelle Honda-Phillips, are telling others about the experience of raising a transgender child.

"Her name wasn't always Malisa," Honda-Phillips told NBC Nightly News. "She chose her name when she was very young. It just felt right to her."

Honda-Phillips said she and her husband noticed something unique about their child at just 18 months old. "She always wanted to role-play as the girl," Honda-Phillips recalled to NBC. "All her toys and all her presents were always from the girls' section, you know, everything was pink. Her self-portraits have always been with long hair and as a princess. She's always wearing a dress in her self-portraits."

The parents always accepted their child for who she is, even though doing so wasn't always easy. "It's a hard thing to go through, because... you want to be supportive of your child, let them do what they want, explore, express themselves," Phillips admitted. "But at the same time, you think, 'Okay, what are other people going to think, right? How are they going to react?'"

"It was a challenge to get there, to not care about what people thought," Honda-Phillips affirmed. Rather than act defensively or combat their daughter's wishes, the parents chose to educate themselves instead. Eventually, Honda-Phillips said, "it all clicked."

  The couple likely learned that being transgender was not a "phase" for their daughter, but rather-- as studies confirm-- a consistent gender identity. And allowing their daughter to express her gender identity made a world of difference for the whole family.

"They didn't understand at first, then they started to understand and let me be who I was," 8-year-old Malisa told NBC.

"It was almost like night and day," Phillips recalled of his daughter's transition. "She became who she is on the outside and everybody is now recognizing that. She felt so much better because now that weight is lifted, that stress, that frustration."

Their only regret, Honda-Phillips admitted, was the thought that their daughter "lived so long as someone she didn't feel she was inside. We never wanted our children to be anything other than who they believe they are."

Today, they are living proof that when every member can be the most authentic version of themselves, the entire family benefits. As Phillips put it to NBC, "She's a happy kid and that's the biggest thing I know I want, is for her to be happy."

Malisa's situation is unfortunately not the norm: As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, for example, largely due to the rejection of their family. Malisa and her family are showing what it looks like to accept transgender children for who they are, and setting an incredible example for what will hopefully one day be the norm.
After I left Amsterdam and moved back to the U.S., I never did see Michael Bow again, although I've been back to Amsterdam several times and have run into several of his old crew and other acquaintances. And I can't find anything online about him. I hope he's as well-adjusted as Malisa appears to be, but that probably isn't too likely. Conservatives, and who people immersed in conservative values, never are. Take conservative Republican transgender person Bruce Jenner.
The more shocking revelation for many, however, was Jenner's admission that in addition to identifying as a woman, he also identified as a conservative Republican.

"Are you a Republican?" a stunned Sawyer asked the former patriarch of the Jenner-Kardashian household. "Yeah," Jenner reticently responded. "Is that a bad thing?"

"Neither political party has a monopoly on understanding," Jenner told Sawyer, who advised him to ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for help championing the cause of transgender people.

"I would do that, in a heartbeat," Jenner retorted. "Yeah, why not?"

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