Queer Theory as a Critique of Society: the Closet and Gay Marriage

A guest lecture at Aoyama Gakuin University

On Thursday, December 14, I went to the Shibuya campus of Aoyama Gakuin University to give a guest lecture in a gender & law class (taught in English).

It was a big class, consisting of approx. 140 students, mostly beginners-level ESL speakers. That made giving the lecture quite a challenge for me since I’d have to speak a bit slowly, make sure everyone knew the words and followed the content of the lecture.

That, in hindsight, was quite an educational experience for me. By keeping things simple and slow, I was able to create a much more relaxed atmosphere than in any of my past lectures. Pauses here and there seemed to give the students the time to process the words I was saying, contrary to my baseless presumption that the more words the easier for them to understand. This made me think twice about my QueerESL videos and vlogs where I am trying to be “edutaining” (educating and entertaining) when that may not always be necessary.

Since I made a handout for the lecture and an outline for myself, I thought I might as well share my lecture here off of them. So, without further due, let’s get to it. (Note that during the lecture I paused several times to explain terms in Japanese and that’s not included below.)


There is a field called Queer Theory. It is a perspective with which you analyze things like literature, film, and social phenomena. We have Race Theory, Disability Theory, Feminist Theory, etc. giving us a variety of perspectives other than the dominant perspective that’s White, middle-class, disablist, male-centric, etc. and Queer Theory is one of them. And I’d like to introduce you to it today.

Please raise your hand if you have never met anyone lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer——thank you. Well, from now on, you can all say you’ve met one because I am bisexual. Also, my guess is, you also have probably met someone before who is or might be queer. They just haven’t told you yet. They are in the closet, we say in English.

The closet

Now, why do some people stay in the closet? Why do others come out of the closet? People stay in the closet because they are afraid that people around them might react negatively. People come out of the closet because they are hoping that people around them might react positively.

But in both cases, it’s the society’s homophobia and transphobia that’s making us queers choose whether to stay in or come out of the closet.

Now the question is, whose closet is it anyway? I’m here just being myself but the society assumes that I’m heterosexual and cisgender. The society is the one that’s built the closet around me, around all queer people. We never built it. The society did. The closet seems to function as protection from oppression, but we must understand it as oppression in and of itself. The closet is a form of oppression.

We often say it’s okay to be closeted when the circumstances don’t allow otherwise, as if it were up to each queer person and they had the choice. But staying in the closet or coming out of it isn’t a choice at all.

When we talk about LGBTQ rights and politics, we often think about them as a call for choice and freedom. While it’s important to demand rights and gain respect for our dignity, Queer Theory tries to go deeper, even questioning the very ideas of choice and freedom. What social structures make that choice possible? On what assumptions is that freedom based? Those are the kind of questions that Queer Theory asks.

Gay marriage

Let’s discuss gay marriage to see how Queer Theory might go deeper in analysis, beyond superficial praise of the new legal right.

First, is gay marriage a good thing? Many people think and say it is. It gives us so many benefits, right? But let’s pause and ask ourselves again, is marriage a good thing in the first place?

There are so many benefits when you get married: visa sponsorship, hospital visitation rights, the right to medical decision-making for your partner, inheritance, child custody, financial security, healthcare, pension, etc. Gay marriage advocates often mention them.

But the filp side of good things about marriage is exactly bad things about being single. Why can single people not enjoy those benefits? One of the regrets that many queer people have from the AIDS era is that they were often not allowed to visit their friends in hospital rooms——not just partners, but friends. For many queers back then, the traditional family was not exactly understanding or accepting. For them, their queer friends were often just as important, if not more so, as their families. People sometimes have friendships that are stronger than romantic relationships or family ties. The advocates of gay marriage, however, seem to have forgotten the importance of friendship and what it means for queers, but have instead favored and embraced the traditional family values.

The fact that you can only access the benefits through marriage indicates that there are flaws in other social institutions such as the immigration system, medical guidelines, family laws, welfare and social security, which all favor married couples over unmarried couples and individuals. Advocates of gay marriage argue that the fix to those flaws is marriage, that benefits afforded through marriage alleviate, if not eliminate, the problems people may face because of the flaws.

What that ultimately means is that the more problems you face in other social institutions (i.e. the more marginalized you already are), the more attractive marriage becomes for you.

Marriage, in a sense, is a first-aid kit. It has bandage, anti-infectant, painkillers etc. but it’s not surgery. It’s not a cure, it just helps a bit. On the other hand, fixing the flaws in all social systems is like surgery. That costs the government significantly more money and efforts. You see, the government is saving money by having the institution of marriage in place.

What’s really happening here is transfer of government responsibilities to people’s private, family life, giving the family the burdens of child care, elderly care, care for people with disabilities, financial support, etc.——things that should be afforded through the welfare state that most nations claim to be.

Marriage is a diversion——don’t look at those problems, just get married and you’ll be fine. Now, what does that make gay marriage? Gay marriage is a diversion even one step further.

Now, to make matters even worse, not all marriages are happy, and you may not get all the benefits anyway. First of all, we have big issues, within the family, of domestic violence and child abuse, be it physical, mental, financial, or sexual. Financially, your partner may lose their job, you may lose yours, you may be working for a bad company that doesn’t give social insurance to its employees, or your partner may even have debts you know nothing about, which you will nonetheless inherit just like you would inherit their assets.

Another thing to note is that the benefits of marriage are potential disadvantages in the case of divorce. Your partner may threaten to divorce you and take your visa away. I know of a woman who was unable to leave her violent husband for a long time because she was on a spousal visa. Your partner may also say things like, “you cannot possibly leave me and live on your own. You have been a housewife for years.”

See, marriage is a bad promise. It’s fraud that the government uses to deflect people’s attention from all the problems in other social institutions. Instead of trying to make gay marriage happen, therefore, we need to fix the problems in the entire systems, so that the benefits of marriage as of today will be afforded, not through marriage, but directly through each of the other systems.

That is just my opinion. Now that you’ve learned the perspective of Queer Theory, you can reach your own. That’s the end of my lecture today. Thank you.


Below is the handout provided to the class. (Everything is written in full sentence, as advised by the host lecturer, to provide a recourse for students who have difficulty understanding spoken English.)


(This post was originally published on my Medium site.)

LGBTQ politics in Japan, gay marriage, and sex education

I was interviewed by a student in the UK and here are excerpts from my answers.

On recent changes in Japan regarding LGBTQ politics

First and foremost, the acronym LGBT has gotten currency in mainstream media. Many people now know what it means or at least have heard of it and have a vague idea of what it is. The downside to it is that the LGBT politics usually gets reduced to either an economic concept to identify a newly found market. or interpersonal mannerism that gives rise to shallow allyship. Second, Twitter has become widely popular in Japan especially among young people who want to stay anonymous, which means many queer people can talk about their sexualities and gender identities on Twitter. Especially these two years, as far as I know, there has been a surge of queer Twitter users who voice their opinions and share their experiences and feelings, not just activists or activisty folks but also ordinary queer people, giving diversity to the online queer community. Third, and this is a bit dangerous to the advancement of the LGBT politics but, conservative, neoliberal politicians are starting to make alliances with LGBT organizations and startup businesses. The force to co-opt queer causes by the right wing is creating a political fissure among queer communities.

On gay marriage

I strongly believe that marriage as a social institution is a diversion from all the flaws in other institutions such as the immigration system, medical guidelines, family laws, welfare/social security, etc. We have so many problems in those systems because they are made so that one is more likely to suffer from their flaws if they’re single. Instead of fixing those problems, which would cost a lot more money, the government has the institution of marriage in place, like a first-aid kit, or a band-aid. So basically, the more marginalized you are, the more attractive marriage becomes for you. Advocates of gay marriage and gay partnership recognition say that gay people should get the same benefits of marriage, but we must fight for those benefits so they go to all people, gay or straight, married or unmarried. Right now, the most privileged are not straight people. It’s those who don’t need to get married but can choose to, who don’t need to get divorced but can choose to. We need to demand changes in the systems other than marriage, so that the benefits of marriage as of today will be provided through those systems instead of through marriage, and that marriage now will have no meaning whatsoever, making it only a symbolic union of persons. Only then can we say we have achieved marriage equality.

On sex education and the lack of mention of LGBTQ

A government official earlier this year, or last year, publicly stated that the national curriculum should not include information about LGBT people because people were not educated enough. That doesn’t make any sense, because people not being educated enough about LGBT issues is exactly reason why they should be educated through school curricula. But for the Abe administration, not educating is the answer. I’m sure there are individual teachers and school nurses who independently create ways of teaching students about human sexual and gender diversity, but it will be years until we finally see anything LGBT-related in Japanese school curricula. One concern, on a side note, is that many non-profits and queer startups and entrepreneurs are dying to make money off of education through lectures, seminars, workshops, teaching materials, textbooks, and many other products. I will be very concerned, when LGBT issues go into the national curricula, that children might be taught an assimilationist view of LGBT politics, a scientifically-unproven statement (e.g. gay people were born that way), or any other misleading, dishonest, and/or state-favoring messages.

(This post was originally published on my Medium site.)

Related content

[Interview] Masaki C. Matsumoto, queer and feminist activist

Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan

The Privilege To Say ‘I Don’t’

My Interview on Feminism, Queer Activism, and Representation in Japanese Pop Culture Is Now Online at AniFem

Amelia Cook, Editor-in-chief at Anime Feminist, contacted me after I posted this video on YouTube.

Amelia said she wanted to interview me for the AniFem website, and I agreed, part of the reason being it’s a new website and yet they promise to pay all writers starting 2017. That should not be a big deal, but it kinda is when so many writers around the world are underpaid or not paid at all. That, and I just liked the idea of creating a sort of like an online hub where you can find lots of queer and feminist information, resources, critiques etc. about otaku cultures.

You can read the entire interview here:
[Interview] Masaki C. Matsumoto, queer and feminist activist

News: “Same-sex partner code proposition: Shibuya ward’s “human rights” double-standard?”

Translated by Masaki C.

Same-sex partner code proposition: Shibuya ward’s “human rights” double-standard?

Different stances on sexual & gender minority and the homeless

In March, the Shibuya ward council will submit the bill that if passed would allow the local government to issue partnership certificates to same-sex couples who would then be recognized as having a relationship equivalent to a married couple. There is no doubt this ordinance is of an exceptional value in that it will protect the human rights of gender and sexual minority (LGBT) individuals; however, it is also important to note that the ward has been kicking the homeless out of its public parks. Such a contradiction that seems to many to be a human rights double-standard is causing confusion among some LGBT individuals. (Author: Chiaki Sawada)

LGBT is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. There is no legal recognition for same-sex couples in Japan, and same-sex couples, who thus do not belong to the same koseki, the family registry, face disadvantages in finding an apartment and attempting a hospital visit to their partner. The proposed bill would allow issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples and seeking cooperation from citizens and local businesses.

While I feel tempted to praise the ward’s great awareness of human rights, the question arises as to how the ward has been treating the homeless people in its jurisdiction. In 2010, when NIKE Japan, the big sports-goods manufacturer who had obtained the naming rights for the ward’s public park formerly known as Miyashita Park located near JR Shibuya Station, embarked on its renovation plans for the park, the ward government forcibly removed the tents that were inhibited by homeless people. In 2011, it restricted access to the park during the night and locked the gates around the New Year season, interrupting the soup runs provided by support groups.

We still see many homeless individuals around the park today. One 52-years-old man says, “they’re kind to lesbian and gay people, all the while sweeping bad-looking people like me under the rug or even downright excluding us. Why can’t they even ignore-tolerate (translator’s note: the exact word in Japanese is “mokunin” lit.trans. as “silent approval”) our use of the park during the night and soup runs?”

Daisuke Kuroiwa of the support group Nojiren (Shibuya Free Association for the Right to Housing and Well-being of the HOMELESS) says in anger, “we have so many dreadful experiences with the local government. The ward and the members of the council are supposed to take equal care of the social disadvantaged. But they are biased and I can’t help questioning their sense of equality.”

A question by a council member Ken Hasebe at the June council meeting in 2012 became the catalyst for the partnership bill. Hasebe worked as the mediator for NIKE Japan and the ward and played quite a part in the park’s renovation project. Interviewed by Kochira-tokuho-bu (a team within the Tokyo Shimbun), the council member responded, “exclusion of homeless people is not what I want. The ward has provided public assistance and self-support programs, but unfortunately things remain as far apart (translator’s note: the exact word is Japanese is “heikousen” lit.trans. as “parallel lines” and the sentence is missing a subject, making itself ambiguous and the translation may not be accurate). I am suggesting that the ward staff try seeing things through homeless people’s eyes. I’m trying to get Shibuya diversified but having many homeless people around is not a good thing. I will demand the ward enhance its support systems.”

Izumi Yonezawa, a transgender individual, on the other hand responds to the diversification plans of Shibuya, saying, quite skeptically, “to be tolerant of no discrimination is to understand that we are all equal human brings who live in all sorts of different circumstances. Protecting the rights of gender and sexual minority people and saving the lives of the homeless are of equal nature, but perhaps Shibuya ward thinks otherwise. I can’t help but suspect that they may be using gender and sexual minority people for public relations purposes.”

Yuki Tsuchiya, a lesbian activist, sharply criticizes the ward, saying, “I do not feel comfortable when the government shuts out homeless people from Miyashita Park while proposing human rights bills like this. I am suspecting that, rather than as a human rights issue, the LGBT population was discovered as a fashionable trend coming from the West that provided utility value for the staging of Shibuya as the “it” city.”

Former Toshima ward council member Taiga Ishikawa, the first openly gay officeholder in Japan, appreciates the initiative taken by Shibuya ward. “They are there for LGBT people, listening carefully to what they have to say. They did not make the proposition for the sake of fashion,” says Ishikawa. He continues, “I hope that Shibuya is going to be kind to all sorts of minority populations. If they understand the LGBT issues and not homeless issues, it is saddening and disappointing.”

*Text hand-copied from the photo uploaded by @tomiyukix.

Translator’s comment

While I agree with the author in most parts of the article, there are some nitpicking that I have to do.

1. Regarding the expression, “of an exceptional value in that it will protect the human rights of gender and sexual minority (LGBT) individuals”: First of all, the ordinance will mean nothing to most transgender people, and second of all, for LGB individuals, too, the ordinance will not guarantee their human rights at all. So, all in all, it is not “of an exceptional value in that it will protect the human rights of gender and sexual minority (LGBT) individuals” when it’s only beneficial to a small fraction of LGBTQs.

2. Regarding Taiga Ishikawa mentioned as “the first openly gay officeholder in Japan”: When Ishikawa was elected, another gay man was elected, too. His name is Wataru Ishizaka, and I wonder why Ishikawa always gets a lot of media exposure as the gay pioneer politician while Ishizaka doesn’t. Also, if we stick to the English sense of the word “gay” as referring to both female and male homosexuals, then Kanako Otsuji of Osaka was the first openly gay officeholder in Japan.

3. It is not clear why Taiga is so positive that Shibuya ward “did not make the proposition for the sake of fashion.”

同性パートナー条例案 渋谷区『人権』使い分け?

性的少数者 対応に違い 野宿者

 東京都渋谷区は同性カップルに「結婚に相当する関係(パートナーシップ)」と認める証明書を発行する条例案を三月議会に提案する。性的少数者(LGBT)の人権を保障する画期的な施策だが、一方で区は公園から野宿者(ホームレス)を閉め出している。人権の二重基準にも映るこうした対応に、LGBTの人びとからも戸惑いの声が漏れる。(沢田千秋)

 LGBTとは、レズビアン、ゲイ、バイセクシュアル、トランスジェンダーの総称。日本では同性婚が認められておらず、同性カップルは賃貸住宅の契約や病院での面会で、戸籍上の家族でないことを理由に不利益をこうむっている。条例案では同性カップルに証明書を発行。区民や事業者にカップルを夫婦と同等に扱うよう求めるという。
 渋谷区の人権意識の高さをたたえたいところだが、疑問なのは区の野宿者らへの対応だ。JR渋谷駅に近い区立宮下公園で二〇一〇年、区から命名権を取得した大手スポーツメーカー「ナイキジャパン」が公園整備に乗り出した際、区は公園にあった野宿者用のテントを強制撤去。一一年の整備後は夜間の立ち入りを禁じ、年末年始も出入り口を施錠。支援団体による炊き出し作業に支障が出た。
 いまも公園の周囲は野宿者があふれている。ある男性(五二)は「同性愛者には優しく、見栄えの悪い自分たちは臭い物にフタか排除。公園の夜間利用や炊き出しくらいはせめて黙認してくれないか」と訴える。
 支援団体「渋谷・野宿者の生存と生活をかちとる自由連合(のじれん)」の黒岩大助さんは「渋谷区からはひどい目に遭わされてきた。区や区議は等しく社会的弱者に対応すべきなのに偏っており、その平衡感覚を疑う」と憤る。
 パートナー条例のきっかけは、一二年の区議会六月定例会での長谷部健区議の質問だった。長谷部区議はナイキジャパンと区との橋渡し役を務め、宮下公園の整備事業に一役買った。「こちら特捜部」の取材に対し、同区議は「野宿者の排除は望んでいない。区が生活保護や自立支援プログラムを提供しているが、残念ながら平行線。職員に野宿者と同じ目線に立つよう提案している。渋谷のダイバーシティ(多様性)化を目指しているが、野宿者が多くいるのは好ましくない。区には支援を強化するよう求める」と話した。
 一方、こうした「渋谷のダイバーシティ構想」について、トランスジェンダーの米沢泉美さんは「差別を許さないということは皆、同じ人間で、さまざまな事情を抱えつつ生きているという視点を持つこと。性的少数者の権利擁護と野宿者の命を守ることは等しいはずだが、渋谷区にもその視点はなさそう。区の宣伝材料として、性的少数者が利用されているのでは、とすら思える」と懐疑的だ。
 レズビアン活動家の土屋ゆきさんも「宮下公園で野宿者を閉め出す行政が、人権施策を打ち出すこと自体に違和感がある。人権問題としてのLGBT問題ではなく、おしゃれな渋谷の演出のために欧米発のファッショナブルなトレンドとして、LGBTに利用価値を見いだしたのではないか」と辛らつに批判する。
 いっぽう、日本で初めて自身がゲイであることを公表した公職者である石川大我元豊島区議は、渋谷区の取り組みを評価する。
 「LGBT当事者に寄り添い、丁寧に耳を傾けている。決してファッションで条例を提案したのではない」とした上で、「すべてのマイノリティーに優しい渋谷であってほしい。LGBTを理解しても、野宿者を排除するなら悲しくて残念だ」と語っている。

【紙面の写真を公開したツイート】

翻訳者のコメント

この記事の趣旨には大賛成だけど、念のため重箱の隅をつついておきます。

(1)「性的少数者(LGBT)の人権を保障する画期的な施策」という表現。まず(a)トランスジェンダーの多くの人にとっては全然意味ない施策だよね、というのと、(b)LGBにとっても、これで「人権を保障」したつもりになられたら笑っちゃうわよね、という点。一部のLGBT他しか恩恵を受けられない施策を「性的少数者(LGBT)の人権を保障する画期的な施策」って言っちゃいかんよ、と。

(2)石川さんが「日本で初めて自身がゲイであることを公表した公職者」とのことだけど、(a)同じタイミングで石坂わたるさんも公表したし当選したよね、というのと、(b)「ゲイ」は英語圏では男女問わず同性愛者のことなので、本来は大阪の尾辻かな子さんが初だよね、というのが気になる。

(3)石川さんが「決してファッションで条例を提案したのではない」と断言している根拠がわからん。

Compilation of Negative Responses to Akie Abe’s Participation in Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2014

(Ms. Akie Abe on the right. Photo source.)

The Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which I talked about last year on this blog, marked its 3rd anniversary on April 27, 2014. Its commercialization and increasingly neoliberal, militarist, and conservative crystallization of LGBT politics have become almost intolerably, grotesquely obvious. I could go on and on about sponsorships and participation of embassies and corporations at the Pride, but today I am so devastated by the participation of Prime Minister Abe’s wife, Ms. Akie Abe at the Pride, that I am almost in a shock state.

Of course, many individuals responded positively, affirming Ms. Abe’s action despite Prime Minister Abe’s right-wing inclinations. But there are quite a few tweets responding negatively. And it’s important for us to reassure ourselves that not all of us are happy with LGBTQ politics becoming a conservative cause.

So, here’s some of the comments posted on Twitter by those who take issues with Ms. Abe’s appearance at the Pride. And I’ll provide translations along the way. (Note: LDP is short for the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by PM Abe.)

They say the wife of Prime Minister Abe joined the Rainbow Pride parade. I think this shows the true nature of the issues regarding how the policies of the LDP and Prime Minister Abe are “tricky and troublesome” (yakkai) and why the principles of neoliberalism entail such “solicitude” (kizukai) for minority individuals. It is not the case that the wife is better than the husband.

It seems that Prime Minister’s wife came to the Rainbow Pride. This shows how much the LDP knows its every move. No wonder they are the semipermanent ruling party. An academic says they want the wife to be Prime Minister instead, but that’s a naive view that I can not agree with.

So even Akie Abe and Hirotada Ototake joined yesterday’s Rainbow parade? The event seems more festive than ones about nuclear power, but I would feel very awkward marching in a demonstration with people like them.

Learn what? RT @gonoi: Members and supporters of #LDP have a lot to learn from the attitude of Ms. Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister, who joined the Rainbow Pride. RT @TOKYO_DEMOCRACY Rainbow Pride AIDS …pic.twitter.com/3zVFsgVXNb”

From this, it seems like the LDP’s double standard is tolerated… well, they seem to be ok with Israel, so. RT Tokyo, la first lady Akie Abe … http://larep.it/1ki5bVH pic.twitter.com/lZDItZvsjU #TRP2014

https://twitter.com/jyonaha/status/460309014551621633

I wish they had asked, “Do you think your husband will someday come to pride?” RT @rekopekopako At Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, we interviewed Ms. Akie Abe!! #TRW2014 #lgbt #lgbtq pic.twitter.com/MDcuNhqsbW

Add (April 30)

Since some people just can’t stop nitpicking, here’s my tweets regarding this post.

“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.