“An Openly LGBT Politician in Japan!?” Is Not A New Phenomenon

actup.org, which has revived itself last year with new outlooks and aims, tweeted today that:

#Japan’s first openly #gay #politician wins seat http://i.actup.org/fXKkTq #lgbt #politics

This “first openly gay” thing has also been circulating in Japanese language blogosphere, via Japanese language tweets, and listserv’s for the last couple of days, and I have been extremely upset about it because it is SIMPLY NOT TRUE that Taiga is the first openly gay politician in Japan. The article was originally published on PinkPaper.com, “Britain’s leading gay news website,” by journalist Stacey Cosens. Here’s what the article says:

Japan’s first openly gay politician wins seat

Taiga Ishikawa has become Japan’s first openly gay politician after winning a seat in the Tokyo ward assembly in local elections on Sunday.

Stacey Cosens
Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Taiga Ishikawa has become Japan’s first openly gay politician after winning a seat in the Tokyo ward assembly in local elections on Sunday.

Speaking to AFP he said: “I hope my election victory will help our fellows nationwide to have hope for tomorrow, as many of them cannot accept themselves, feel lonely and isolated and even commit suicide,”

“Many LGBTs, or sexual minorities, realise the fact when they are at elementary and junior high schools, many of which are operated by the municipality,”

“As a ward assembly member, I would like to reinforce support to LGBT children at schools.”

Ishikawa revealed he was gay in his book “Boku No Kareshi Wa Doko Ni Iru” (Where Is My Boyfriend?),”published in 2002.

The Toshima race saw 53 candidates compete for 36 seats.

I left a comment to the article, but I’m repeating myself here.

First of all, Taiga is not the first openly gay politician in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that an openly gay candidate running for a seat in a ward assembly for the first time winning is a great thing. I personally know Taiga and I’m really happy for him and his supporters who must have put lots of efforts into his winning the election. It’s great, no question about that. But that doesn’t make him the first openly gay politician in Japan.

Not only are there and have been closeted LGBT politicians, Kanako Otsuji, former Osaka Prefectural Assembly member, has been out as lesbian for quite a long time. She published a book about her lesbian identity during her assembly membership and her name is not only known to LGBT individuals but extends beyond the community.

Aya Kamikawa, member of the Setagaya ward assembly, is a transgender politician. Her recent election marked the beginning of her SECOND 4-year term in the assembly. (Edit: not that I’m conflating gay and transgender, but Aya is definitely worth mentioning when reporting on queer politics in Japan.)

Click on their names, and you’ll see wikipedia entries about them. There is even a category page on Wikipedia, Category:LGBT politicians from Japan which lists Otsuji-san and Kamikawa-san, easily accessible to anyone who knows how to use Google search and how to type “LGBT”, “Japan”, and “politician.”

I am sure that the journalist, Stacey Cosens, is not the only one to blame. Her sources probably include ones from Japan and, as I said in the beginning, the Japanese online LGBT community is also praising Taiga as the first openly gay politician in Japan. But a journalist’s job is to evaluate her or his sources, do research on her own, and publish an article that’s worth the trust from her readership.

This “first openly gay politician in Japan!” thing, both in the PinkPaper.com article and in the Japanese-language LGBT online community, is aggravating because what they are doing is ERASURE OF HISTORY, making it seem like this is somewhat a NEW phenomenon, after decades of oppression finally blossoming! or something. And that is bullshit.

The other reason why I’m concerned about this pseudo-new phenomenon is that, combined with the now popular Taiga-is-the-first (false) statement, the word “openly” has all of a sudden gotten in the past week so much currency in the Japanese-language online LGBT community and been used in a grammatically incorrect way (according to the English grammars, at least), where it is followed by the suffix “-na” which makes the preceding noun an adjective. So the adjective “open”, once turned into an adverb “openly,” is now made into an adjective to mean, well, exactly “open.” This is a tricky process, and I don’t think people just now spontaneously came up with this terminology individually. My guess is that there was some sort of organizing around this new terminology among supporters of the candidates which then spread over the community.

I am not for or against new terms or new frames because language is not fixed but instead flexible, changing all the time, transforming our understandings of the world every day. What I’m concerned about is that by using a new term “openly”, which sounds different from “open” which, to Japanese-speaking individuals, can mean many things, in talking about queer politicians, those in the community are making the recent electoral victories of these homosexual politicians look like a historical turning point for LGBT politics in Japan when in fact it is not.

In this Twitter era, it is ever increasingly becoming easy for the community (as diverse as it may be) to be lured into a uniform framing of LGBT politics. Already, prominent mainstream queer bloggers and activists in Japan are using the new term “openly” so frequently that it almost looks like they have quotas. And to me, that’s frightening.

Oh, another thing I noticed while signing up for an account at PinkPaper.com (you need to have one to leave a comment) is that on the registration form page, “Title” is one of the required information where Mr., Mrs., Miss, Rev., Prof., etc. are the only options, leaving no gender-neutral, non-professional options available to individuals who want to sign up.

As a “gay news website” that they call themselves, I really hope that they’ll stop forcing non-professional potential members of their website to choose a gendered title for themselves.

UPDATE 2012/5/26

A couple of days ago I posted a comment on a Guardian article:

Very, very inaccurate information. First of all, Taiga Ishikawa isn’t Japan’s first openly gay politician. There was Kanako Otsuji, an openly lesbian politician, from years ago. If the term “politician” includes those who have not been elected, there had been more than a few. Second, last month’s pride parade was not the capital’s first rainbow pride event. There have been pride parades in Tokyo for years. The one last month was just another parade by a new organization. Also, there have been hundreds of “events” in Tokyo that dealt with queer celebration and queer knowledge. Seriously, do some research before you write.

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