Queer By Choice and Ex-gay

I have always been sick of the born-this-way rhetoric that mainstream gay activism has so proudly spread all over the U.S. I don’t have anything against those who were born gay or born whatever, but feeling that one was born gay and saying so are two different things.

I understand that the born-this-way rhetoric has served many of the causes for social justice for most gay and lesbian people (and to a lesser degree, transgender people, too) especially during the AIDS panic where the gay-by-choice rhetoric was used against homosexuals as an excuse for the government’s taking no action about the epidemic.

But it also has created another dividing line between queers, between those with coherent identities and those who experience no such thing. And I fall into the latter category. I have been 100% straight. I have been 100% gay. I have been somewhat bi. I have been definitely bi. I have been “probably bi.” I have been somewhat genderqueer. I have been comfortable and uncomfortable around my assigned gender. I have felt lesbian. And I don’t know what I will be in a 3-year, 5-year, 10-years time.

Whenever someone says homosexuality is something that you’re born with, I feel left out. Me feeling left out is probably nothing important to mainstream gay activists, but I can see that we are going to have a problem if we stick to the born-gay rhetoric just because it comes handy at this moment in this culture. My take on nature vs. nurture is that asking the nature-or-nurture question is itself homophobic most of the time. If it’s nature, so what? If it’s nurture, so what? I mean, anti-gay folks have used both of those rhetorics to attack gays!

And I’m telling you, and all other by-choice queers are telling you, that not every gay is born gay. Just fucking accept that and stop saying “we are born gay” as if it were a universal truth.

I don’t buy the by-choice idea, either, to tell the truth. I don’t think our sexuality is that easy to control. By intentionally, consciously trying to change one’s sexuality, she or he may be able to eventually change it some day, but such effort is just one factor that influences his or her sexuality among other things like upbringing, media representations and languages that she or he has been exposed to, etc. etc. I’m not queer by nature or by choice. I just like what I like and I don’t care if that’s based on my biological disposition or environmental influence, and I won’t let anyone to attack me for loving what I love.

I said I’m not queer by nature or by choice, but I was gay by choice during high school. I (stupid me) thought identifying as gay would open a door for me to mainstream (read: white) New Zealander culture. But it turned out that being gay didn’t cancel out my racial difference, but only added crap to my life. So I stopped identifying as gay. So I could probably be classified as ex-gay, even. But I’m definitely queer in its most vague sense. And I didn’t choose to be queer, nor my queerness is something I was born with.

So my understanding of sexuality and gender identity is pretty much in favor of “right now, right here,” which means what one describes herself or himself as, who they feel like they are at the moment. And this has also led me to be shocked by comments made by pro-gay people to attack ex-gay movement.

A lot of anti-ex-gay people say there’s no such thing as ex-gay, and that if someone is gay he’ll always be so (and I’m using the male pronoun here because lesbians are rarely talked about in this kind of context). So, in their view, ex-gays either are liars (gone back in to the closet) or were straight all along since the day they were born. And I DON’T FUCKING CARE!

The reason why ex-gay movement sucks is not because they’re in the closet or they are straight or they identify as ex-gay, but because their politics sucks, their movement is harmful, and their paternalistic view on sexual diversity is annoying. So just stop saying ex-gays are liars, stop denying what they now identify as, and just focus on criticizing their politics, not their identities!

Don’t you remember the time when homosexuals were called liars just because they didn’t come out to everyone they met? Don’t you realize that calling someone’s identity fake is such a hurtful thing to do with which many transgender people have unfortunately been so familiar? I don’t know – some ex-gays might still be gay, or maybe most of them are still gay. They might be liars. But hiding in the closet is not wrong. Most of us have been there, and are still there. What’s wrong about ex-gay movement is what they do by using the ex-gay identity i.e. attacking homosexuals.

By nature or by nurture, exposed or hidden, our (and everyone else’s) identities should not be denied. Scrutinizing identities, whether to find out what’s causing them or to expose the “truth” to the public and humiliate others, is not the direction that I would like queer activism to go. Acceptance is a big word in mainstream LGBT activism today. But I find it hypocritical if we are not accepting of other people’s identities (that may change over time). I really hope that we will soon live in a world where even ex-gays join queer activism and fight for queer rights i.e. a world where people who used to be gay do not get questioned by other queers but can live as our fellow queers who have experienced a “queer” (in the original sense of the word) history of sexual preference changes.

Stop the Arrests! PERMANENTLY!

At SWAAY I found out about this new campaign calling for a moratorium on arrests etc. of sex workers until the end of the Olympics.

Stop the Arrests Campaign is calling for a moratorium on arrests, detention and deportation of sex workers in London with immediate effect until the end of the Olympic Games.

But what happens after the end of the Olympics?

Yes, those “clean up efforts” suck. But loosening the law enforcement for a short period of time can be as dangerous to sex workers as tightening it up for a short period of time.

In my opinion, these things may happen.

GOOD:

  • The existence of sex workers will be more visible to people than usual, INCLUDING the massive number of athletes and tourists in town. As the number of potential customers will rise (increase in demand), sex workers will have greater bargaining power, which means higher prices.

BAD:

  • This will generate a tourist fascination——the “London + Olympics = Paid Sex” image——, from which London and the Olympic Association will ultimately benefit.
  • As sex workers will feel safer walking around and picking johns, the police will have a greater chance of collecting information on sex workers’ profiles, whereabouts, and services, which all will be useful as soon as the moratorium is lifted at the end of the games.

My primary concern is the second point about the police. I believe that this moratorium, if carried out, needs to be a permanent policy. This isn’t an absurd idea. Some cities do have permanent policies not to arrest sex workers while the law remains that prostitution is criminal. I don’t see why this can’t happen, or why the people doing this campaign do not expect it to be possible.

MAKE ROOM FOR ME ONLY WHEN I ASK YOU TO DO SO

My mom and I had just gotten on the train when I spotted a space on the bench seat only big enough for my mother to sit in. I said, “go on and sit down,” to my mother. She sat and the three people on the seat moved along a bit (you know what people do when they want to pretend to be considerate). I smiled at them and said, “don’t worry.”

With the three persons sitting still a bit apart from each other, my mother was convinced that they could make room for me, too, so she said, “you can sit, too,” patting on the space to her right. And I said, “I’m fine,” because the space still looked a bit small (I have a big body) and a 30-minute ride, standing, would not be much better than one with sitting in that little space. But my mom said, “but room has been made for you. Come on and sit.” And the three persons moved even a bit farther to make more room for me, while not looking at me or my mother. I thought that was a bit offensive.

I really didn’t want to sit. But I didn’t want to embarrass the persons who had made room for me, either. So I quickly decided to act evil, so that it would be clear to everyone that the awkwardness was my fault, not their well-intentioned mistake. So I said, jokingly, “no, mom. I would have to curl up a bit and keep my arms in front in that small space if I sat. Really, don’t worry.”

Immediately, one of the persons on the seat stood up and left, without a word (not to mention any smile), into another car. Then the rest of the people on the seat immediately moved along toward the now empty area, and now, the space I was being offered was twice as big as a regular seat. I was embarrassed. And apparently, my mom was embarrassed, too. She looked like she was almost starting to cry. She looked at me and whispered, saying, “please sit down.” I was very pissed off. I looked at her face and, without saying anything, frowned, trying to show her how much I didn’t appreciate her trying to make me do this——sit down in that now very spacious space that was not, and had never been, necessary. She looked down, burying her face into my coat she was carrying.

Less than a minute later, she looked up. I was starting to feel bad for her, although I was still angry. I asked her, “do you want me to sit down?” And she said, “yes.” So I sat.

By the time we arrived at our station, everyone else on the seat had gotten off the train. I was still pissed. We left the station, bought some food at a store near it, and came home.

I still don’t know how to put my anger into words. I don’t even know if what I did was wrong. I had never felt that embarrassed.

Fake (?) MLK Quote and Its Inappropriateness in the Context of Osama bin Laden’s Death

ORIGINALLY POSTED ONLINE MAY 3, 2011.

The following quote has been and still is circulating rapidly on the Internet, even spreading beyond the English-language online communities.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

My initial reaction to this when I saw it in my friend’s Facebook update was, “yeah MLK might say that if he were alive, but would it be appropriate for him to say this in the context of Osama bin Laden’s death?”

As it turned out, after lots and lots of online research (too many bin Laden references!!), I found these webpages:

So, since I have been unable to find any source pointing to the realness of the quote being MLK’s, I have decided that the quote is fake.

But the quote being fake does not make the quote any less important or worth giving a thought to. I am sure that to many Americans, most of whom are celebrating this historical moment of the death of the terrorist of the century (so far), this quote allows them to think of what it means to treasure human life.

However, whether or not the quote is authentic, I do not believe that the quote is appropriate in this context.

First of all, would MLK consider Osama bin Laden “an enemy”? I think not. MLK was a prominent activist in the African American civil rights movement in which he and a massive number of Black people, who were disadvantaged and discriminated against severely, gradually gained rights and respect from the white-supremacist society. Who would have been his “enemy” in this historical context?

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend,” said MLK. The enemy in the context of the civil rights movement is the one that’s got the upper hand in violence. Then, it’s only natural to think that by “enemy” MLK would have meant “white supremacist.”

Now, when War on Terror is used as a rhetoric that backs up so many anti-Muslim campaigns and public hatred towards Middle-Eastern people in general, do you think that MLK would be happy to be quoted in today’s context where the quote is used to mean, basically, “well, bin Laden is our enemy but we don’t take pleasure in his death”? The question is, who is “we”? If those people who are quoting MLK think that the “we” includes MLK, then I would say they’re utterly wrong.

Indeed, MLK did say, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” But let’s call that first “violence” in the sentence V2, and the second V1. So it goes: returning V2 for V1 multiplies violence. And whose violence is V1 here? It seems to me that many people think that the 9/11 was V1. But that is absolutely bullshit.

There is no way of tracing back all the violent incidents throughout world history, but based on range, length, and effect, I would say V1 was the series of (physical, economic, and social) violence exerted on the lands of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, including the support of Israel, by the Western world and the United States in particular. The 9/11 is V2. What Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda comrades did was “returning violence for violence,” which, by the way, of course, as we have seen in the last decade, resulted in multiplication of violence (mostly done by the U.S. and its friends).

Even if the quote is MLK’s, I do not think that American citizens deserve to quote it. I believe that it is to be quoted by people in the Middle East in trying to end world-wide violence. I am not saying that Middle Eastern people are responsible for the world-wide violence and thus must stop it——in fact, it’s obvious that in MLK’s time, too, even though his anti-violence words were addressed to Black people, it wasn’t Black people but white supremacists that should have stopped attacking Blacks violently, and so, likewise, it is the Western world especially the U.S. that must stop its violence in the Middle East.

Quoting MLK (or pseudo-MLK) does not make a person quoting it any less responsible or guilty for the violence done by the United States. Let’s not defend Osama bin Laden as if he had started the whole thing. Instead, we must blame the U.S., blame the U.K., blame Japan, blame all other countries who have sent troops to the lands of Middle Eastern people, because it is we that responded to V2 by V3.

CORRECTION

No, MLK did not say “returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” Instead, he said “returning hate for hate multiplies hate” and “violence multiples violence” (see this for proof). This does not make my above statements any less plausible, but I apologize for the misquotation.

Another Transgender Hate Crime? Of Course the Assailants Are Blacks!

(This a repost of an old blog.)

Hate Crime: Young Transgender Woman Beaten Into Seizure At McDonald’s | The New Civil Rights Movement reports:

A young transgender woman who was in a Baltimore, Maryland area McDonald’s was beaten by two teenagers on Monday, April 18, as she was trying to go to the restroom. As the incident began, a McDonald’s employee filmed the violent attack, which you can see below, and later posted the video on YouTube and reportedly to his Facebook page. The video shows McDonald’s employees did nothing to stop the attack, and actually laughing. The McDonald’s manager did little more than yell, “Stop!” Only one customer, a middle-aged woman — who subsequently also got pushed and kicked — made any attempt to aid the young transgender woman.

This news is very upsetting. I saw the video of the attack and, while I usually have to watch any kind of video at least twice because my ability to focus attention on one thing is somewhat limited, I could not watch it again. It was full of violence and the pains documented by the video are extraordinary.

But there’s another thing I am concerned about, at least equally but possibly with greater worry. And that is the use of the term “female black” to refer to the suspects, which you can see in the police record here (PDF).

I wonder why the suspects are described as “the two female black suspects” as many times as four when “the two suspects” is totally sufficient.

“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.

Crawling on the Rainbow Band

Sometimes I suppress my urge
to cut the rainbow band on my wrist
just so carefully, along those lines
where colors meet, where we meet

Sometimes I caress my nails
hoping someday they’ll shine like pearls
’cause they’re the only body part I love
where colors meet, where we meet

But we never meet
we never see each other
instead
we look away
away,
from all the shit that’s better off
unreported

We don’t have much in common anyway
do we
We don’t mean that well when we say we care
do we
We don’t all dance, we don’t all dress
we don’t all eat, we don’t all sleep
now, do we

You’re the color red
and I’m the color green
you’re always the first color
and there’s more colors down below me
but on the wrist, we face other ways
red and green, we face other ways

Sometimes I look at myself
and think of my other fellows
who don’t look like you, talk like you
but talk like me, and live like me

Sometimes I want to forget
so I can hold myself together
just so carefully, like holding a bubble
where colors meet, where we could meet

I don’t have the right to consume the misfortune of people in Japan

(This post was originally written as a response to a friend of mine’s Facebook post. Minor modifications have been made.)

Japan tsunami and earthquake: 30 children sit silent in classroom after parents vanish | Mail Online.

Ok. I almost cried. I almost cried not because of the devastation that those people in those stories and photos are experiencing, but because they are now a target of the Western pornographic gaze. I mean, look at that picture of ‘an old Asian woman standing in the rain’ – how photographically well-crafted it is! Oh my god, it surely provokes some emotional, sympathetic, um, hard-on (figuratively).

Those things (stories and photos) may be authentic, but if we stumble upon this kind of article and spend a few minutes actually reading and looking at such photos, we need to ask, why do I ‘want’ to know? What is this desire that I have that drives me to look at these horrible photos?

Oh, and “the Japanese are too proud to ask” is just beyond laughable. There are numerous organizations and rescue teams, including those from outside Japan, working in evacuation centers and helping those stuck in places get out, etc. I’m sure there needs to be international cooperation, but people in Japan don’t need that Ken guy to speak for them.

And to assume that those affected by the disaster are all ‘Japanese’? The NGOs in Japan already started (and finished some) translating resources into Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, etc. because they know that foreign-born residents are also facing the same tragedy and in need of resources and support. And some NGOs are affiliated with international organizations. Ethnocentric, Orientalist people like Ken and nationalist Japanese right-wingers are the only ones who don’t acknowledge/approve the diversity of people who live in Japan.

I want to say to those reporters, don’t sell photos and stories——what does that do anyway? it’ll just please the global audience who want to see ‘other’ peoples’ tragedies so much that they pay for the Western media. The only thing people outside of Japan who cannot physically go help them can do is to make donations and tell friends to do the same. I myself cannot afford to go back to Japan. So I made donations (here and here).

And I refrain from watching or looking at any kind of photography or videos that portray just how much ‘Japanese people’ have suffered because I don’t have the right to consume their misfortune.

*update*

When the first earthquakes hit, I also looked up info about how many people died, how massive the tsunami were, and even looked for videos of tsunami totally eating up the sea shore. And, to be perfectly honest with you, I was fascinated. And the moment I caught myself being fascinated by looking at those things, I realized I was part of the Western, pornographic gaze that consumes the Other. And I decided to distance myself from it, at least as much as I could.

It’s pretty much the same situation in Tokyo, actually. The mainstream media have been mostly focused on portraying the tragedies of ‘the local farmers, poor children, and hardcore survivors’ as something unreal and cinematic. Fascination seems to be the primary driving force of the mass media, wherever you go, I guess….

Gay Marriage: Why I Don’t Like It——or Why Anyone Who Doesn’t Support It Must Fight Against the Notion of Citizenship

There is no doubt you can get all sorts of benefits and rights through marriage. I myself will not stubbornly stick to my anti-marriage belief if I really need to marry someone for, say, the purpose of surviving. I will even let myself take up a job in the marketing industry who utilizes gayness as a commodity, if there is no alternative. To me, survival always comes first and always before my political beliefs. However, in fact for precisely that reason (that I will put priority on my life), I should not act as if there were no problems in the marriage system or the LGBT marketing. When I take part in those things, I should not feel I have the right to. I should be ashamed.

However, I can not necessarily picture myself getting married and all of a sudden my life getting better. To some people, marriage is a gateway to poverty. Not everyone has a stable job. You probably don’t. Maybe your partner, too. Marriage as a safety net does not fulfill such function anymore, although most people believe that marriage is the solution to lots of issues like lack of access to social security and non-citizens’ immigration-related burdens. This is exactly why I do not attack pro-gay marriage folks just because I don’t support what they believe. But personally, I believe that anyone, married or unmarried, should be able to lead a safe, stable life.

Yes, there are people who want to get married but cannot because it would be illegal. That’s no good. But more importantly (at least to me), there are people, including those who cannot get married, who are single and live unsafe, unstable lives. Moreover, there are people who are married and live unsafe, unstable lives.

I agree that the ban on gay marriage is discriminatory. But I have things that I am more concerned about which I believe to be more pressing than gay marriage. Everyone’s got her or his own priority so I am not trying to convert anyone here, but I do not think I can fight the fight for a better legal system for partnership together with those whose first and foremost goal is to legalize gay marriage.

I am not saying that securing a stable life is such an important thing that wanting to marry is always less significant and must wait. If you want to get married and you can’t because of the same-sex status of you and your partner, that’s downright discrimination. But I choose not to spend my energy or any resources that I have on taking part in the gay marriage agenda.

This probably is due to my own upbringing and my relationships to class issues. Among all my friends, relatives, and other people I personally know, foreigners, single mothers, and workers in the sex industry whose lives are far from being secure totally outnumber those who lead a stable life and whose only concern is that they cannot get married.

Newer friends of mine, i.e. my friends in California, Tokyo, and Chicago, probably have no idea what my life back in Northern Kanto (Japan) was like, because if you look at me right now, my life totally looks middle-class (which, in fact, by the way, is not true——if it had not been for the full-tuition scholarship, I would be working multiple jobs in a local town in Japan). But that does not mean that my family, neighbors, friends, and those in my social network back in Northern Kanto are also middle-class or have middle-class cultures.

I recognize the danger in prioritizing the issues that confront the people who are immediately around me, since it makes it really easy for me to overlook the pains and inconveniences experienced by people whose lives I am not familiar with. But, while I try to avoid that, I also believe that if I fail to care about people surrounding me, I will never be able to sincerely care about anyone else, either.

Therefore, to me, social security comes before marriage. Marriage should not be a solution to social security issues.

Now, that automatically holds me responsible to fight against the notion of ‘citizenship’. Why? Because at the moment, marriage is the most accessible means of obtaining a citizenship or permanent residency in most of the developed countries, to which, of course, same-sex couples do not have access. By prioritizing social security over gay marriage, I am already guilty of contributing to the postponement of the wider opening of opportunities for homosexual non-citizens to legally establish residency. If my scope of ‘better social security’ falls within the confines of the notion of ‘citizenship’, then my decision not to rigorously support gay marriage becomes utterly unjust.

A Talk with Prof. Chalidaporn Songsamphan

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 12, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. HTML / PDF

Pornography

Chico Masak (CGS staff, CM)

What would you say your stand on pornography is?

Prof. Chalidaporn (SC)

I think we should look at pornography as a form of sexual fantasy, which each individual should have the right in their private time to enjoy. But the problem is, when you look at pornography in detail, you’ll see complex relationships between pornography and so many other things. And pornography itself is so diverse. So it is very difficult to have a stand on it. Instead, you have to look at particular cases and details. You’ll probably have a different stand on each one. We tend to want some kind of theory or explanation to which all similar cases can be reduced. But it doesn’t work that way. We have to be very specific with everything.

CM

Do you think there should be any difference between the way we see pornography and its problems and the way we see other forms of art like painting?

SC

For me, there should be no difference. But the problem is, sex has a very special meaning in our culture. Pornography is looked at very differently, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Remember Foucault’s example of punching someone in the face and inserting a penis into a vagina. These two acts have totally different meanings because of the position of sexuality in our cultural consciousness.

Defining Pornography?

CM

But pornography itself can be quite fuzzy in definition. For instance, it is not clear if the comic genre, boys love a.k.a. BL or what’s called slash, is pornography or not. It certainly serves that function for some people. So there’s always this demarcation problem of what’s porn and what’s not.

SC

The line, constituted through our understanding and interpretation, is actually moving all the time. Whether something is pornographic or not totally depends on how you look at it. Anything could be pornographic.

CM

But how do we negotiate with other views on pornography?

SC

We should acknowledge that various different interpretations exist. People like Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin tend to prescribe certain beliefs, saying, this is good and this should be like this. We should stop being judgmental and recognize the differences first, and then, the question is, how are we going to live with those differences?

State Power v. Critique

CM

Legally speaking, do you think there should be any state intervention in the distribution of pornography?

SC

The problem is, the state would need a very clear definition of what is porn and a strong idea about what we should do about it. When you have this kind of clarity, it closes the doors to other possible interpretations. That’s the problem with law. No debate. No negotiation. What a dangerous society! People should be able to talk about sex as a social activity. We should leave room for argument and discussion.

CM

Then what can we do as individuals to fight such representational injustices?

SC

I think the most important thing is to express your opinion and disagreement with the particular phenomenon. Just because you respect freedom of speech, it doesn’t mean you cannot say anything against pornography. You probably want to take an element or two from the work in question and express your discomfort with them. As for child pornography, some people say they don’t agree with the element of forced sex. And if someone disagrees with you, then they have to come up with their own argument, some reason, against you.

Child Pornography and Feminism

CM

I wonder what difference there is between the anti-child pornography that’s going around today and the anti-heterosexual pornography movement by MacKinnon and Dworkin. When I wrote the article, “Child Pornography and Feminism” (CGS Newsletter 011), I said that we were sort of jumping on the bandwagon to search for a quick, legal solution to child pornography. And there’s not as much opposition to it as there was to Dworkin and MacKinnon when people thought that there was no problem in pornography. Today, when it comes to child pornography, we sort of assume that it’s something inherently bad and we don’t really question our thinking. We should ask ourselves, is representation problematic or not?

SC

Yes, but you have to look at this issue very carefully. The existence of child pornography aggravates many middle-class people because the middle-class sexuality believes in the category of “children” as sexless, so pure and sexually innocent that they need to be protected in order to mature–and that’s a myth. Many laws have been passed because they were allegedly for the purpose of protecting children from sexual abuse by adults. The problem is, no one really cares about how we define the category. Feminists have been questioned numerous times to the extent that the identity category of “woman” itself has ceased to be convincing. We should question the category of children, too, asking, how do we differentiate between children and adults? There is no clear-cut definition or indicator that we could agree on. So when you talk about child pornography or child sexual abuse, people at the same table most likely disagree on many points. They probably have totally different images of children. Going into details like this can be a very threatening experience for the middle-class, and that is why it is so easy to put forth policies and laws “for the good of children” because you’ll most likely convince the middle-class.

CM

Yeah, like Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law in California. By the way, when I think of child abuse, I always think of the law in the U.S. back in the 1890s, which said that a wife had to serve their husband sexually whenever they were required to. I think the motivation for working towards the prohibition of child pornography is the concern for the power relation between adults and children. Then, why shouldn’t it have been illegal for men to have sex with women when there was a huge difference between what men had and what women had in terms of power…

SC

I think, to them, consent is the most important indicator for differentiating forced sex from consensual sex.

CM

But if we accept that children cannot consent because of adult-child power relations, women must also have had no ability to consent due to harsh gender inequality.

SC

Actually, liberal thinkers and philosophers did not really think that women could consent. John Locke, for example, said women and children did not have the ability to reason, and that they must be represented by the male head of the household. It must not even have been a tiny problem for those liberal thinkers because they were not looking at women as the right bearers in the first place.

CM

It’s very interesting because now we understand that children and women are both put into the same category as immature, deprived of rights, and nonconsensual, but…

What Kind of Sexual Diversity Are You For?

Naomi Suzuki (CGS staff, NS)

But women have no protection from the middle-class. What could be the difference…?

SC

What you said is another concrete example of the diversity of the ways people look at sexuality, because many people can accept many things that may contradict the hegemonic sexuality, but there are so many other things that they are still upholding. So when people say they are for sexual diversity, you should ask them what kind of diversity they’re talking about. People say heterosexual pornography is a form of sexual fantasy, and that we should allow individuals in our society to have the right to freedom of expression and freedom to consume it. But as soon as those individuals start to prefer child pornography, they are denied the same right. Many of us fail to see the contradiction here.

Activism of Our Time

NS

To me, it seems like you two have very similar takes on this issue. What would you say is the difference between both your approaches? Like when you actually take action…

SC

If we have to decide to take action, our stands might be different or very similar–it depends on the specific case. The point I’ve tried to make today is that we can be inconsistent because when you look at pornography in a very specific way, each case has its own meaning since each case has its own details. You cannot use the same theory to explain them all. You can be anti-censorship AND disagree with the acts you see in child pornography. I think that’s one of the strengths of social movements of our time–people can work together when they agree with each other, but when they don’t, they don’t have to, or they can still agree to disagree. Given such flexibility, we have to think carefully, define what we are talking about, and ask other people what they mean by, let’s say, “child pornography” because they might be thinking of different things when they seem to be talking about the same thing.

NS

The World Congress III and advocate groups seem strongly united with one another. But each member of these groups must have different opinions and definitions of child pornography, right?

SC

When they do political activism, they may suppress different ideas within themselves. But if you just let them work on that and draft a certain law, the differences will come up anyway. When their ideas become concrete about the issue, they will start fighting because drafting a law creates lots of debates. And at that stage, people cannot overlook the obvious disagreement among them.

CM

Well, it’s been very fun talking to you, Dr. Chalidaporn.

SC

It’s been fun. Thank you!