I Want To Drown

When I first got that name, “gay,” I felt jubilant. I accepted the name and told people that I was gay. Since I was also bisexual from time to time, I sometimes called myself a “part-time bisexual.” At that time, I lived in the country where I was recognized as racial minority, which already made me “different.” So, through gayness, I thought I could become part of mainstream culture. I put myself out to the public as gay, rather than Asian. That was my assimilation tactics.

After I moved to another country, I learned that people look at gay Asians as nothing but gay ASIANS. Nobody would see me as simply gay. The I-am-gay strategy was supposed to help me integrate into the majority, but I soon realized that all I had done was dig down deep and descend into the status of minority within the minority. That was shocking to know. It followed that when I moved back to Japan to transfer to a university there, I hated the name, “gei,” a ridiculously simple equivalent to the English word, “gay.” Every time I saw the word in Japanese, it reminded me of the visual images typically displayed on the front cover of gay Asian porn DVDs targeted at caucasian populations that I had seen back in San Francisco. “I do not belong to this category,” I thought. Or more precisely, I thought, “I would do anything to avoid being called that name.” Which, also, brought to me the most horrifying idea, which I had always vaguely imagined, that all the people I had met in New Zealand and the United States only saw me as “one of those Asians, who happens to be gay.”

I still see the English word, “gay,” as something positive, something I can relate to. But I loathe the word,“gei.” I wanted to become “just gay,” not “Asian gay.” I still crave the status of “no sign” or “no name,” which is, of course, based on the racist idea that whiteness means transparency and colors carry meanings. Advocates who use such rhetorical expressions as “we are normal” or “we are just the same as you” are the last thing that I want to become, but when it comes to race, I still haven’t found a way to settle and accept my own non-white body.

So the racist me sees the word, “gei,” in a very Orientalist way, while I hold the fear that when I say I am gay, people automatically supplement that statement with the word, “Asian.” I don’t want people to read me as Asian, nor do I intend to reveal my racial category to people who, luckily to me, do not know it. When someone IMs to me knowing nothing about my race, that’s the only time I feel safe to say I am gay. It’s the moment of “ascending” into the status of phantasmic “gayness,” in which the only difference I am forced to take for granted about myself is gayness, and I can say “yeah we’re different, so what?” But when the other person becomes conscious of my race, I shrink and descend. I do not hold Asian pride, I guess. I feel like a suck-up assimilationist who looks down upon other Asians because “they are not as white as me.”

Since gayness was introduced to my life as a potential bridge to mainstream culture, it means nothing more than just an option, something I can easily adopt and belong to, or discard. It is a choice. And choices do not have anything to do with my body. So, to me, gayness is an unreachable holy land (which, probably, no one has ever reached; what’s more, it’s probably just my imagination that there be such a thing). It’s just an useful name. It never gets in my way when I deviate from it. I mean, me and gayness are far too apart in the first place, and there’s no way I can deviate from it in any noticeable way. So, unlike the name, “Asian,” which is strongly associated with my body, I do not hold abhorrence or dread against the name, “gay.” “So what?” would be my stand, and that actually describes my true feelings pretty well. But no matter how many times I tell people that I am gay or gei, I can see that expression’s reflection in the mirror with the contours of my body being freakin’ Asian. Thousands of thousands of words, repeated and paraphrased, will never get me where I feel I should belong, where I can be “just gay.” As soon as people see me, hear me, or touch me, the totality of “I” falls apart. So I hide. I hide behind the closet doors. And when I successfully have my body disappear from the visual field at the scene (like, in email or something like that), that’s when I do communication in somewhat satisfactory way. I get to assume the kind of body that I want.

I hate identity politics. I hate it when people label me. I also hate it when “liberal” people let me choose from labels. I mean, not all names are equal. And if you choose wrong, that name is a one-way ticket to hell. And refusing to choose means you’re nothing. Nameless. Sometimes people even decline your choice, saying, “that’s not what your body is, honey.” And the biggest reason why I hate identity politics is because I am, as I have explained, a twisted white supremacist. I feel torn apart every time someone pronounces that my body isn’t white. It makes me feel like I am less, and thus need to be fixed with better care and more efforts. It also makes me feel exhausted and helpless, thinking back on my enthusiasm to approximate to whiteness which never bore fruit. Saying I am white would only help the world feel less sorry and guilty for labeling me “crazy.” If I were white, and if people saw me as white, I’d be happy to be gay. Gay activism based on identity politics would not bother me, because it’d sound just so irrelevant that I don’t care. And that’s because I chose, and am still choosing, the name, “gay,” based on my own decision. I second Foucault who said being gay isn’t about sex but lifestyle. I enjoy being gay but it doesn’t define me. I have been straight, gay, bisexual and everything in-between in my teen years, so I first-handedly know that sexuality flows and changes. So I play with sexual categories. But race, oh race! Why would I want to “come out and express myself” when it’s not what I want to be and it’s the only racial category to which I seem to have the right to belong?

To live in a society/community strongly influenced by Western modernism (including the West) means to be forced to pay penalty when you fail to follow the categorical imperatives based on the academic discipline of biology. In a queer context, it would be to pay penalty for not acting, identifying and performing sex like you’re supposed to in biological senses.1 But not all cultures have adopted Western modernism, or at least, there have been modifications at the time of introduction. The same is true for seemingly Western regions like the U.S. and Western Europe. When I was a high school student in a town called Ojai, CA, it felt as if there had not been categorical imperatives based on race. The town is mostly populated by caucasians and I only knew one Japanese resident a few miles away from the dormitory. Nobody spoke Japanese. But I felt more accepted and free than I did in Bay Area where I went to college. Friends groups were not divided along the racial lines. Classmates were more curious and respectful about cultures
that were not of their own. They saw differences and accepted them, while also finding joy in having things in common with other races. I wouldn’t say things were perfect in Ojai, but surely much better than any place else I’ve been to. It was as if my being Asian had been put aside, invisible, but called for when it was convenient for me. Being Asian was, for the short one-year period of time that I spent in Ojai, shrunken to the size of being gay. I could control the display of Asian-ness, sometimes disavowing it, and sometimes summoning it, just like I would be able to with my gayness if I were white (or so I wish).

I’m not saying I am human before I’m gay or Asian. All I’m saying is that no single label can override others and triumph as the defining feature of the person that I am. I want my features to be detachable, or at least controllable in terms of output flows. But reflection in the mirror moves the slider up on the mixer, resulting in the amplifiers blowing up. Life is like a cheap mp3 player; you never hear details but high frequency tones, superficial and ornamental. And ordinary people don’t bother getting a set of high quality headphones for their p2p-shared free music. My highest tone is racial. It’s what people notice first. I mean, I know there’re so many positive messages out there about being Asian. For example, I admire Margaret Cho and Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh). Sometimes I wish I were more like them. Asian pride seems like a beautiful thing to embrace. I wish I were proud of my race. It’s not entirely because of societal racism that I’m not proud. The deep-rooted cause for self-degradation is my own racism. I mean, why else do I want to be “just gay” while I completely understand that “just gay” means “white gay” and that that idea is based on racist bullshit? Like I said, being “gay” is a detachable part of me. I chose it. I bet on it. It’s a label that does not represent me. It never speaks for me. If I detect some unexpected noise from it, I’m happy to discard it. It’s a mask that I wear. Never tells what’s behind it. Race, on the other hand, seems to travel through the speakers, randomly hit the walls and come back at me even louder, so loud I can’t hear myself.

Categories of human beings are partly the aftermath of the Enlightenment. Like I said, we are forced to pay penalty when we fail to follow the categorical imperatives. But they also kindly offer you “different” categories, into which to classify you when conventional categories do not seem to work for you. The Western thoughts, especially those of Christianity, pretty much require you to have an identity, deep-seated yet explicable, waiting to come out. Good identities and bad identities: bad ones only need to be confessed and corrected. But I don’t believe in identity. Sexuality flows. Gender identity changes over time. Bodies grow and age. I swirl in the sea of melting pot. But there’s one thing attached to my leg, an anchor, weighing me down so that I won’t drown. And that thing… is race. It doesn’t seem to let go of me. It seems static. Never changes. Reminds me of who I am supposed to be, who I don’t want to be. I want to drown.

Now, let me ask you this again; why would I want to come out?


  1. But biology itself is a set of ideas constituted through language. Biologists, just like other natural scientists, gather up data that are diverse and scattered, in order to get a larger picture of overall tendencies or divide them up into categories that they give names to and study the tendency of each of them. I do not hold anything against scientific methodologies, because they sometimes bring good to society (like medicine). But people seem to believe in biology more than biologists themselves do, thinking that biology is the language that describes nature precisely. Which causes me so much trouble personally. I am too tired to get up my ass and talk back when someone says, “hey, that’s what biologists say,” grinning like they are guaranteed victory. 
Masaki C. Matsumoto
Queer & feminist writer/YouTuber in Japan. To know more about Masaki, visit About.

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