Child Pornography Law in Japan

(This is a repost of an old blog.)

Child pornography is one of the most controversial topics to blog about, especially when a blogger is openly “queer” like me. The long-standing stigma and (wrong) stereotype of homosexuality is that homosexuals are pedophiles. And today, I assume that anyone intellectual enough or marginalized enough can tell the difference between the two. But what I am concerned with right now isn’t the problem of stereotyping homosexuals as pedophilic. I am concerned with how anti-regulation sentiments against restrictive laws regarding child pornography could be both queer (in terms of protecting the right to privacy of queer people including pedophiles who may or may not act on their desire (of course, child molesters and abusers do and should receive legal penalty for their action)) and hetero-male centrism (in terms of only defending pedophilic male heterosexuals‘ right to assume spectatorship in the realm of sexual display). And I’m appalled at how hard it would be if I tried to make and keep it queer since mainstream anti-restrictionism usually goes with the flow while the “flow” is always invariably in favor of heterosexual males.

I must admit that I am against the laws that make it punishable to possess child pornography. There are so many things in what anti-child pornography activists say that I agree with; for example, I agree that as a society we need to protect children from harm, that child abuse and molestation are cruel crimes that occur at every site of creating live-action child pornography, and that producing, distributing, and earning money by selling child pornography should not be done and should be prevented by all means. Period. Production of child pornography is always accompanied by some kind of sexual activity between the child and the crew. Getting money out of such products is totally unethical and unacceptable, just like it is to sell a video specifically intended to entertain viewers in which real murder takes place. Also, distribution of child pornography without earning money from it is problematic because it violates children’s privacy and their right not to be publicly exposed without consent, the violation of which puts them in jeopardy in psychological terms and their social life ahead. But watching child pornography for excitement does not push such injustices any further. Yes, the gaze that they direct at children in pornography might be very twisted and disturbing to some people, but that does not and should not constitute a legal ground for punishing consumers of child pornography. Punishing them does not reduce the number of actual sexual abuse/molestation cases because for the most part, a child molester is the victim’s relative such as a father, uncle, and cousin or acquaintance such as a neighbor, sport team coach, and teacher–and they are usually the same people who make child pornography by videotaping their abusive activities.

So if child pornography is growing, spreading, circulating and ever increasingly easy to obtain and possess, especially because of the Internet, then what we should do is to enforce the laws prohibiting sexual abuse/molestation and distribution of child pornography (profit or nonprofit) in stricter ways, not to bust consumers totally uninvolved in the process of production or distribution of whatever pornographic product he or she may have and enjoy (if they are involved in production and/or distribution, then they must face penalty according to the laws prohibiting those actions, putting aside the fact that they possess child pornography). Gaze cannot be controlled by the state. History alarmingly tells us that when it comes to “fixing” or deflecting deviant sexualities, no attempt has been successful. So in order to protect children from harm, I would suggest the followings: (1) to make harsher the laws against production and distribution of child pornography, as well as, of course, child abuse/molestation where pornography is not produced, (2) to supply some kind of alternative–and I’m thinking about animation or 3DCG pornography–to people who have relied on child pornography for sexual satisfaction and would not be able to access it because of decrease in number of child pornography available in store or on the Internet because of the laws with (now) harsher punishment, and (3) to better educate children, parents, teachers and citizens on child abuse/molestation: for example, teaching protection tactics for children and offering prohibitive workshops for parents to help them understand that their child’s body belongs to no one but the child him/herself and that even if the child seems to enjoy it while having sexual interactions with them, it might leave deep scars in their mind for decades that sometimes cause flashbacks and emotional confusion.

Those things are what we need to do in order to really protect children from harm. In other words, as a society, they are the only ways that public administration can interfere in the matter of sexuality. Criminalizing possession of child pornography, or in other words, criminalizing possession of pedophilic gaze, should not be the answer. Such restriction on having certain desire would be based on the categories of sexuality, which has its history (remember the sodomy laws and spousal exemption in rape laws which honored and advantaged male sexuality within marriage). Instead, we need to focus on reducing real harm like child abuse, molestation and violation of children’s privacy.

(We, however, must not forget that what can be done legally is not all we can. Critique can play a significant role in opening up the ways that we critically interpret, evaluate, and judge child pornography in non-restrictive ways. It can produce many counter-arguments against the ways children are portrayed and represented in child pornography without appealing to state power that might enact censorship or criminalize possession of child pornography, which would give them monopoly over cultural representation of children’s sexuality.)

The above is the argument that I made in my other blog in response to the Japanese parliament’s reformative proposition of child pornography laws. The World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents (November 24, 2008) reached an international agreement that all participating countries would undertake to criminalize the possession of child pornography including cartoons (animation, comics, 3DCG, etc.). The parliament decided not to include bans on possession of animation/comic/3DCG child pornography in the bill but apparently they wanted to. Fortunately, though so for only a little while I guess, the parliament is going to be disbanded pretty soon and all the bills currently up will be turned down. But I’m sure the bill will come back on the table sometime soon if not immediately. So I made a Twitter account (LINK–requires Japanese language compatibility) specifically designed to deliver related news, articles, academic papers and blog entries that I think will bring some insight for people who find the bill dangerous.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as I will explain later), there are so many people on the Internet that explicitly protest against the bill. Online forums are flooded with anti-reform comments including ones celebrating the disbandment of the parliament. This seems like a phenomenon that Cass Sanstein calls “cyber cascade”, creating echo chambers and accompanied by another phenomenon called group polarization. That means, for example, people first respond to something (like a news article) and search on the Internet using terms such as “problem child pornography reform” and “importance child pornography reform,” but putting words like “problem” and “importance” in the search box already reflects their initial response to the news, and websites that show up are the kind of websites that they wan
t
to read, allowing them indulgence and interactions with other people who also hold the same or similar views with them, which makes it more likely for them to agree with each other and believe that their opinion is flawless. And that sometime leads to extremism.

But there’s nothing one can do to prevent or stop a cyber cascade once it’s started. But several attempts have been made to slow down cyber cascades, among which the most relevant would be this. When anti-feminist backlash gained so much popularity and some influence on real politics between 2002 and 2005, a famous blogger and friend of mine, Chiki Ogiue, created a comprehensive web page (Japanese) where he provided correct information about feminism and what was called gender-free movement, the two of them being two different things while overlapping each other in some aspects. And the web page became good resource for Internet users to bring up in online forums and use for better understanding of what was going on. Chiki thinks that the decay of the online backlash in 2005 had nothing to do with the web page, but it definitely played a role.

But the question is, why is it that cyber cascades in Japan have never happened in favor of feminism or queer activism? Putting aside the problem of cyber cascades being misinformed and narrow-minded, how come we have never had a feminist or queer cyber cascade? It’s easy to imagine that such a thing would be similarly misinformed and narrow-minded, but let’s just say it’s okay for a moment and ask, why always conservative? Because it’s easier for the average person to be conservative? Because conservatism can be spoken about in everyday language and thus easy to jump onto? Maybe because many feminists and queer activists are not brave enough to take a definite stand but willing to take time to take into account more things than they can handle within the length of their life? Well, I don’t have any answer. In fact, it could be very dangerous in many ways when a cyber cascade of that kind (feminist/queer) occurs; for example, one particular feminist idea might be picked and celebrated in the cascade, whose opposing idea, also feminist, is completely discarded and disrespected by those flowing in the current of cascade. Or, perhaps more probable is that some feminist idea gets picked and all the queer ideas (even ones shared by many feminists) are ignored, or vice versa. So it might be a good thing that there’s no feminist or queer cascade.

But the Twitter account that I opened is my attempt to somehow create a queer cascade, or more precisely, make the anti-reform cascade currently going on into a queer one–or, if that’s just too optimistic, just put a little bit of queer twist into the cascade. And I am doing this because (1) now is one of those rare times that there is a huge flow of ideas that some (but not all, I know) feminists and queer activists can actually agree with and there are so many people who support the ideas, and because (2) without queer intervention, the anti-reform cascade would most likely end up being yet another heterosexist, male-centric defense against egalitarianism that attempts to protect marginalized people (women, children, foreigners, disabled people etc.) from erotic male gaze that has historically been by all means defended and even promoted by various cultural artwork, especially pornography. So what I want to do is to make people in the cascade realize that what they are doing is not, and should not be, only to protect male heterosexuals’ right to have pedophilic fantasies, but also part of a larger movement of queer and feminist nature and thus supported by queer and feminist theories, whether they like it or not.

I myself personally couldn’t care less about male heterosexual fantasies about young girls. I wouldn’t raise my voice and say I’m against the reform bill if that were the only thing we are going to defend. But I’ve gotten my ass up, thinking that this attempt, if successful, would create a society a little bit more inclusive of our queerness. In other words, what I am trying to do is to use the cascade for the sake of queer mobilization.

I don’t know if that’s gonna work. I don’t know if other queer activists and feminists will agree with the idea. So, yeah, wish me luck.

Tokyo Pride Parade 2010

Here are the photos of the messages on my boards I carried around at the parade.

“Not Everyone Can Walk This Long”

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“Safety and Rights to Sex Workers”

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“WANTED: Not Gay Marriage But Safe Society For Everyone”

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One of the floats, and the only women-themed one at the parade this year, was created in the name of “celebration of marriage” (they actually used the French pronunciation for “marriage,” i.e. “mar-riah-je”). Not a few friends of mine got enraged and organized (link to their blog in Japanese) a small group of people to walk in the float with placards with anti-marriage (not anti-gay marriage) messages and make their voices heard not only by the bystanders on the sides of the street but also by the people marching with us.

Their messages included:

  • Marriage = Discrimination!
  • We Don’t Need Recognition by Marriage!
  • Marriage Leads to Poverty!
  • Lesbians Can Be Single Women!
  • Equal Social Security for Sexual/Gender Minorities!
  • Abolish Romance!
  • We Claim The Night Back!

I also loved the attire they chose to wear. The sounds they made, words they spoke, the way they walked, the giant puppets they carried around, etc. etc. They were so awesome and powerful that the entire group almost looked like they were practicing some kind of ritual to cast a curse on somebody. I certainly believe that their performance was the highlight of this year’s parade.

Here’s the video:

Mother: Part 1


How is it that just because I am sexual minority my understanding mother must be a “wonderful mother” to whom I “should be grateful”? I AM grateful to her not because she knows some queer theory and feminist thoughts which may make others believe that she’s studied for the sake of her son, but because she is and has always been smart, independent, supportive (financially and as a friend), and “taught me” feminism.

She was a feminist even before I was born. Her circumstances FORCED her to be one. And there’s a happy side and sad side to it. Indeed I am lucky, my fairly lucky circumstances are built upon my family’s history of marginalization. If someone tries to reduce her words, ideas, and activism to the love of a mother, that’s fucking degrading and disrespectful, and downright misogynous. Mothers, not because they’re mothers but because they are human beings with wisdom, knowledge, and their own experiences, are capable of various things, just like many others are.

Billy Elliot and Me

From September 8 to 12, I was in London. The flight connecting from Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow, London was delayed for a good 14 hours and me and another presenter, Sonja, were sent to a hotel by heavy loaded buses. But that was the only thing that I hated about my trip, and that hotel turned out to be a luxurious one anyway.

On the night of the 11th, two of my co-presenters and I went to see Billy Elliot the Musical. The boys were cute, the dancers did a pretty good job, and I loved the ballet teacher and the particular accents the actors had (due to which, unfortunately, I probably understood as little as 50-60% of what they were saying, though).

But towards the end of the story, I found myself having to wipe my tears off my cheeks because I was too sad. I was sad not because the story was touching. I was sad because I realized that I was that Billy boy, of course metaphorically. I’m not as cute or talented as Billy, but we have so much in common in terms of upward mobility.

Going through his coming-of-age, his life largely revolves around the fact that he wants to dance. That’s fine. But the dilemma on his family’s part only resolves at their understanding of his will to continue dancing. The money the ballet school costs, the needed separation of the son from his family, the lives of local people left behind by Billy and remaining the same old routine… they are all compromised and made into minor issues compared to the promising child’s bright future.

It struck me when the ballet teacher told Billy’s father that he should support Billy because he’s talented and has got a future. Good things keep piling up and he successfully gathers up the money for tuition. I don’t know if Billy is going to repay him (and the laborers who contributed) after he develops his dancing career. He probably will. But it’s not only money that is invested in his career. It’s more about the time they would have spent together if he had stayed home, the working-class culture they would have shared, and the future that his father would have envisioned for himself.

I have a mixed feeling regarding Billy’s upward mobility. Just because one is talented doesn’t mean he will be successful. There are tons of things that get to be sacrificed for the sake of his (possible, sometimes scarcely promised) success. And Billy gets to have everyone join the Support Little Billy club.

What irritates me is, ultimately, that I am also that boy who gets support from a formerly working-class family. The investment in my future is massive (not only financially). For one thing, my life has been violence-free unlike the lives of other members of my family. And it’s not a natural consequence of the change of times, but is utterly artificial——someone had to work hard to stop violence. And watching Billy Elliot got me thinking about how I would/could repay them.

I am working towards a Ph.D. degree. That will take at least 6-7 more years. And after Ph.D., when am I going to get a full-time job that pays me well enough for me to support my family PLUS repay them? But if I give up on my academic career at this point (or at least after the M.A.), what good will that do? Our family (mother, grandmother, and me) depends on my mother’s income only, and even if I get a job and start earning some dough, she won’t be able to quit her job. She’s got a mortgage loan that will last until 24 years later. I am more than willing to pay about half of it, meaning I will have to get a good-paying job in 12 years. I see that’s possible, despite the scarcity of academic positions (or am I too optimistic?). Only then can she quit her job and go back to school. Yes, she wants to go back to school. She wants to study abroad. There’s no way she can go abroad and study for even 3 months without quitting her job. So when she does go abroad, she needs to quit it.

And…, when am I going to be ready to let her do that? It’s now (or soon), if I decide to seriously look for jobs that pay me well. It’s next year, if I decide to stop developing my academic career after the M.A. It’s within a 6-7 (or more) years time, if I decide to stick to my goals. I am still not sure because——what about her goals? She sacrificed her teen years for her parents’ sake. She sacrificed her adulthood to date for her ex-husbands, kids, and parents. The three options above basically boil down to: “how long and how much more do I make my mother sacrifice?” In 10 years, she won’t be young.

My grandmother often says she devoted her whole self to her harsh and demanding parents. My mother’s life was similar, but in different ways. I’m the only one that, say, got exempted from that chain of child sacrifice. I’m not going to have children; so the chain will be cut eventually. But why am I enjoying the cut one generation ahead? Can’t even imagine what it took my mother to cut the chain (of poverty, violence, etc.) for my sake. Why did she have to do that? Why is she the last person to suffer? Why am I in graduate school? Why did she have to ascend to a high position at work? Why does she happen to be queer-friendly? Why? Why? Why?

I am Billy Elliot. He represents what I hate about myself. He represents the sacrifices my mother’s made. He represents her decision to disinherit me of the family legacy of violence and poverty. It utterly hurts. It hurts that my relative freedom stems from the pains on my mother’s part. But I am not brave enough to do anything to change things at the moment.

Don’t leave ’em alone, but don’t bother, either.

At Below the Belt, Someone (I’m sorry but I can’t find their name) posted an entry on class divisions and the invisible working-class in queer community. Granted, economic disparity within queer community, or at least gay community, isn’t really represented in the media or quite existent in our urban-washed cultural consciousness, and that’s a problem, no doubt. I, however, do not necessarily find it attractive to have scientific data covering those who do not fit with the stereotypic gay image.

There are so many reasons why some people’s faces do no appear in our vision. Like the original blogger says, some may find it impossible to come out at work or school or in their rural town where homophobia and transphobia prevail. Some may fear stigma and violence. Hence the original poster’s comment, “if the working class person does not live in an area that is accepting, s/he is more likely to not publicly identify, even if they privately do so.”

But there are dozens of other reasons, too. They may be too poor and thus busy to care in the first place. They may be happy enough in the closet. They may not identify as L or G or B or T or Q or anything that derives from the urban imaginary. They may cherish the local and choose it over things urban, thus not inclined to migrate to urban areas. They may find everyday negotiation with friends, families and colleagues more attractive, bringing richness to their life as a working-class person with working-class people surrounding them. Or they simply don’t like the gay culture at all and prefer more countryside-ish social occasions where homosociality does not always lead to homophobia (I guess we all know that, don’t we?).

I am not saying urban queer politics should not intervene in local struggles faced by queer people, but it seems very wrong to frame them in the urban imaginary where being out is a privilege and remaining in the closet is a sign of restriction or oppression. What underlies our struggles as queer individuals, rural or suburban or urban, is not that some of us cannot come out, but that we need to identify and come out as a comprehensible name in the first place to become visible and understandable. To me, that’s one of the big issues that we queers are collectively confronted with. If we fail to acknowledge this kind of collectivity that hovers over all of us, the term “queer” starts to seem meaningless, failing to bind together sexual/gender minority peoples coming from diverse economic/ethnic/disability/etc. backgrounds, because that’s how diverse we are.

So, while it’s important for some of us to attempt to take into account the invisible queers in our scientific research, which will richen the literature which people will have access to and learn from, we should nevertheless use our imagination to think about local contexts that shape the invisible queers’ identities, allows ways of negotiation that are different from urban ways of negotiation, and provides them with different ways of enjoying life. This of course has its own dangers, because it easily slips into mere cultural relativism and pluralism, making little room for understanding of inter-regional interactions. But my point is, it is precisely that very inter-regionality that we must look closely at as a site of construction of urban/rural dichotomy. Every time we say things like “queers in rural areas have less freedom,” and especially when we say them in the presence of rural audiences (e.g. on TV) i.e. at the site of inter-regional interaction, it becomes a part of the construction of urban/rural dichotomy. My point rejects both the idea that each region has its own context and the idea that it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re queer. Refusing to go neither way, we should create a path that leads us to a kind of collectivity that works for everyone no matter where they are–and that “no matter where they are” doesn’t mean we’ll preserve and extend the urban framework to understand ourselves, but we’ll somehow undermine the urban imaginary itself, destroy it to some extent, to really account for our diverse experiences as queer–no matter how little “queer” means to us.

Unhappy Queer In Denial – I Am Not Who I Am And That’s Fine, Thank You Very Much

People say, “happiness is all that matters,” “it’s fine as long as you’re happy,” “I just want you to be happy,” “you gotta make yourself happy,” and all that shit. Don’t get me wrong, I know what they mean. They’re nice people, probably the nicest kind of human beings. But it just annoys me when they say such things as if we had to be happy to gain freedom. I feel the same kind of aversion towards the Be-Who-You-Are discourse. Why can’t we just have the right to pretend like something else AND be free?

Look, I’m not happy. I don’t like who I am. And that’s fine. Period.

I wonder what makes them assume the right to decide whether or not it is okay for us to live depending on the level of happiness that derives from our life. Failing to prove happy will always lead to an educational, paternalistic lecture on how we should be proud of ourselves, how our life can be “healthier” if we listen to them. I think they, rather than we, have problems with life. I want to say, “mind your business,” precisely because they apparently gain something through lecturing us–and I think what exactly they get is a covering that obscures their own unhappiness.

The epitome of such discourses of theirs is when they comment on sex work. Lots of people say they think it’s okay to do sex work as long as the sex worker feels comfortable doing the kind of work they do. But how many people in our society feel totally comfortable at work, with no complaint or any kind of risks they take? I am not saying that work is always accompanied by sweat or (physical/psychological) damage, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t enjoy working. I think improvements in work environment and social security are very important no matter where you work. I also think that work isn’t necessarily a beautiful thing to do, and I believe in basic income. All I want to say is that they should just back off and think about the very line they’re trying to draw between sex work and other kinds of work before they start to venture to judge sex work as if they had the right to do so.

In the queer context, lots of coming-out narratives tell us that “cool” people say they don’t mind because they’re happy for us being happy and who we are. So if we’re not happy, or if we aren’t in actuality who we are (e.g. in denial), will they not accept us as whole beings? We do have the right to be queer AND unhappy. We do have the right to be queer AND in denial (of, say, racial categories we’re assigned). We do have those rights, just like everyone else.