The Privilege To Say ‘I Don’t’

As I was going through the daily routine of browsing Facebook & Twitter, I found a NYT article, Gay Couples, Choosing to Say ‘I Don’t’, the title of which caught my eye, as I oppose the institution of marriage, and the like-minded people who shared the link in FB/TW seemed content with anti-marriage opinions circulating at last in the mainstream media. Excited, I read on, only to be disappointed, but in a way that was quite unexpected, by the elitist tone of the article.

Whose reality?

The article captures a variety of anti-marriage voices from lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals, most of which I agree with. Yes, the arguments made there are quite convincing and reality-based. But I wonder, whose reality are they based on, really?

The voices quoted in the article are coming from these people: restaurant owners (Brian Blatz and Dan Davis), an artist in New York (Sean Fader), a couple living in Brooklyn (Stephanie Schroeder and Lisa Haas), current and former university professors (Jack Halberstam & his partner, Catharine Stimpson, John D’Emilio, and Mary Bernstein), a retiree (Jim Oleson), a filmmaker (John Waters), a singer-songwriter (Erin McKeown), an East Villager (John Carroll), a New York Medical College student (Eric Routen), and two persons whose backgrounds aren’t disclosed to the reader.

Except the couple in Brooklyn and possibly the artists, the persons/couples quoted/mentioned in the article are mostly on the affluent side of the entire queer population. This socioeconomic bias is especially appalling when you think about the massive activist work that has been done by organizations like Queers for Economic Justice who have maintained close connections to the working-class and homeless people.

I don’t need it, but you may need it

What was most striking about the article for me is, I think, the lack of empathy, or some sort of attentiveness, expressed by the interviewees or the editor for those who do need to use the institution of marriage.

John D’Emilio “sees no need” to marry. Brian Blatz and Dan Davis “[see] little point in marrying.” Jack Halberstam doesn’t “feel the pressure to marry.” Mary Bernstein and Nancy Naples “see little tangible benefit in marrying.”

As someone who has witnessed marriages and divorces in the family, neighborhoods, and friend circles, I know for sure that people get married for various reasons and that there is so much risk-management going on in their minds. And for many people, there does exist a little need, benefit, or point in marrying, and it is a little more complicated than just “the need for external validation” that Mary Bernstein says people wishing to marry have.

The institution of marriage, in complicity with other social institutions such as border control, healthcare systems, social security, etc., is made so that it creates such need, benefit, and point in marrying. Marriage is a package product of the government-owned minority-targeted business in which the flaws and failures in other governmental systems are covered up and kept intact, preventing radical transformations in them and thus saving money.

In the article, Stephanie Schroeder says, “I don’t want to deny anybody the right to marriage,” but marriage is not, and has never been, a personal matter of choice. As opposed to Catharine Stimpson’s idea that “[h]aving the choice doesn’t meant [sic] you have to do it,” having the choice really makes you and almost everybody around you feel that you have to do it.

So basically, the more marginalized you are by the multitude of social institutions, the more point you see in marrying. In the institution of marriage, the most privileged are not married people or heterosexual people, but those who do not see much of either gain or loss from marrying or divorcing, and thus can choose or choose not to marry and divorce when they want to.

The interviewees having or seeing no need, benefit, point, or pressure to marry, therefore, is itself a privilege, the privilege to say “I don’t.” And what’s puzzling is that, these people seem like the kind of people who care about equality, liberation, and stuff like that, and yet they do not sound ashamed or humble at all about this privilege of theirs.

John Waters is quoted to say, “I always thought the privilege of being gay is that we don’t have to get married,” which sort of resonates with what I think about marriage to some degree. But instead of treasuring or protecting that privilege of not having to get married, we must extend that insight to an actual distribution of the privilege to those who do not have it.

Again, marriage is not an issue of personal choice. We must abolish marriage, or at least the form of marriage as we know it today, and by that I mean, abolish the entire social system that creates the need, benefit, and point so that marriage will have no meaning at all.

Queer Anti-Marriage Movement vs. LGBT Alternative Marriages

Another thing I noticed is that, not only are the voices in the article overlooking other realities, the realities of people who do or can marry, the overall tone of the article gave me the impression that the history of feminism is being simplified, and that the roles of women, feminist and married or divorced, in it are simply erased.

Mary Bernstein is quoted in the article to say

For people in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, there was a feeling that L.GB.T. [sic] people can do better than marriage, that relationships can be more egalitarian” when built around untraditional families

Is our queer anti-marriage movement based on the idea that non-LGBT people’s opposite-sex marriages are traditional and thus less egalitarian than that of LGBTs?

So many women, married or single, have fought for women’s rights, for both married and single women. We also know that many of the feminist efforts, including anti-marriage ones, that have existed have been made or joined by a huge number of married women.

If relationships built around untraditional families are going to be more egalitarian, and that is considered better than marriage, what does that make married couples? Are they fools who once felt “the need for external validation”? Were they so weak that they gave in to the social pressure? Or, are they just unlucky to have that bit of need, benefit, or point because they are marginalized in this society the way they are, unlike the people interviewed in the article?

No. Our movement must have at its core, along with our queer voices, the voices of heterosexual and bisexual individuals whose life has been, is, or can be greatly affected by the fact that they can choose to marry. And that means, we are looking to make a large-scale social transformation, the scope of which must include immigration, prison, poverty, sexism, disability, health, aging, taxes, labor, and many other things that affect our lives every day. And that is not just for queer people. Not just for single people. Not just for legal citizens. And not just for people waiting to say, “I don’t.”

Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan

Edit (May 2): If you are using Google Translate or a similar service in order to read this, please do not trust the translation. If you think that Tokyo Rainbow Pride is the main topic of this article, that is not true. The main topic is English-language LGBT journalism.


Although this isn’t intended to be an exhaustive summary of history of LGBT politics in Japan, which I cannot possibly provide given my limited knowledge, I just couldn’t take anymore the shittiness of the news articles written about LGBT politics in Japan.

The most typical, all-too-common article written in English never fails to make the followings clear:

  • Japan lags behind the West. There’s nothing legal about gay partnerships, and people there are afraid to come out.
  • But things are changing. And such changes are welcomed with enthusiasm by all LGBTs in Japan.

And I say, THIS IS BULLSHIT.

I have no idea how authors of such articles could really think that the LGBT politics in Japan might be that simple. Japan is a former colonizer (and has not done much to take accountability, nor does it intend to). There has been a growing influx of immigrants as well as already-existing communities of non-citizens, and former citizens from Korea (whose citizenships were taken away in 1945). Japan has had movements like feminist movements, disability movements, anti-nuclear movements, anti-war movements, anti-racist movements etc. Some of them were radical. Some of them confronted each other and created a massive amount of dialogue about social justice and the complexity and intersectionality of different aspects of human life. The LGBT movement has its long history dating back to the 80s AIDS movement the 60s and possibly even earlier, as a friend of mine pointed out in private email – thanks, J! Japan is now excluding Korean school students from its tuition subsidies, and there are protests against that. And with the knowledge and truth that queer people exist everywhere, whether they call themselves ‘queer’ or not, it’s hard to overlook the diversity of queer people in Japan, who take up different social positions and have existed in every segment of society and thus every portion of movements. In short, the LGBT politics in Japan can NOT be simple.

Nonetheless, the authors of the English-language articles about LGBT politics in Japan just so gracefully ignore that simple fact, and just as gracefully and ignorantly believe that the feudal, conservative, lagged-behind culture is starting, only recently, to recognize the issues of LGBT the same way as the U.S., the U.K., etc. did.

The epitome of this is that the 2012 election’s gay winning candidate was celebrated as Japan’s first openly gay politician. That is simply erasure of contemporary lesbian politicians and older generations of gay political activists. This article or this more recent article has no mention of the transgender politician who has been elected multiple times.

The new pride parade, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which only started last year, has been treated as if it were the very first pride parade in Japan. And that is not true at all. Tokyo has had pride for a decade (organized by a group separate from the recent one, which was disbanded a few days after the recent pride was held this year). Sapporo and Osaka have held pride multiple times. Nagoya joined the history of pride last year. Let me tell you——yes, the most recent pride, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, is the very first pride in Japan that is shamelessly commercialist, neoliberalism-friendly, war-friendly, and corporate-friendly. The list of booths who made presence at this year’s pride include Israeli Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, the U.K. Embassy, IBM, an insurance corporation, a wedding agency, Google, the city of Tokyo (its welfare branch), and Phillips Electronics. I saw a tweet during the pride saying the ambassadors’ from those embassies spoke on stage. Who were greeted with this:

No to Occupation, No to Osprey
“No to Occupation, No Osprey” – a tweet by @ r_i_m_y_o_n_g

The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans. Which was used in protest against Israel in this way:

"No to Israel" - a tweet by @uokoba
“No to Israel”, “Against war” – a tweet by @uokoba

In Japanese-language Twittosphere (or Twittersphere, according to Oxford Dictionaries o_O), there were criticisms about the sponsoring of Tokyo Pride Parade (the one that got disbanded this year) by foreign-owned large corporations.

The Pinknews ran an article about the latest parade, strangely with the concluding sentence about the Walt Disney Company policy selling gay weddings and Tokyo Disney following suit. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, all three articles tagged with “Japan” on Pinknews are about the lesbian couple who did the wedding at Tokyo Disney.

All of 3 Pinknews articles about Japan.
All of 3 Pinknews articles about Japan.

Each of the articles has the following sentence.

In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, their wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK

In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK

However, in a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the news was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay rights activists. – LINK

But if the authors had done some more research, they would have found out that in Japan, there is a huge number of people opposing the system of marriage, especially in conjunction with the family registry system (koseki), including queer and feminist individuals who show their opposition to marriage publicly. There are academic articles like this.

What I don’t understand is why these Western editors so much like to think of Japan as undoubtedly conservative, of its LGBT politics as undoubtedly so immature that everything that’s aligned with mainstream LGBT agenda would be appreciated and greeted with enthusiasm by local LGBT individuals who, in the authors’ dreams, have long waited to be liberated by the Western mainstream gay efforts. They are, in constructing LGBT politics in Japan as such, erasing local history and ignoring dialogues taking place among queers in Japan.

Look——I don’t even like Japan. It’s a country where I was born, and grew up until 16 years old. Still, that doesn’t matter, I don’t like it. I don’t like what it does to Korean residents, what it doesn’t do for queers, how they treat asylum-seekers, how they prioritize corporate interests over peoples’ interests, etc. etc. This country is full of shit. But there are people here struggling to change that. And the way some of them are trying to change it is way more complicated than waiting for a White savior to conquer and liberate the marginalized populations. And the change is taking place. It has always been taking place. Taiga Ishikawa isn’t the first openly gay politician. This year’s lesbian couple’s wedding was not entirely “greeted with enthusiasm.” The Tokyo Rainbow Pride is only new in terms of commercialism, affinity with corporate capitalism, and its indiscriminate teaming up with state violence and wars. Wake up, English-language journalists. For gods sake, do research.

ADD (May 13, 2013 Japan time)

Found a really annoying article about the pride march that took place in Tokyo earlier this year. Had to leave a comment. And here it is.

I’m a queer activist from Japan and here I’m talking to progressives only. I’m not gonna talk with anti-gay conservatives. I’m against gay marriage for a wholly different reason than theirs.

OK, I said it. Now to the main point of this comment – the “gay pride marchers with banners” at Tokyo Rainbow Pride were not “demanding marriage equality in the land of the rising sun.”

Okay, so, this phrase is annoying in many ways. First of all, what the hell is the “land of the rising sun”? What kind of ancient world does the author live in? For gods sake, New Zealand is the first country to see the sun rise in the beginning of the day. The rising sun rhetoric has been used by those in Japan with power in order to make the people proud of themselves so that manipulating them and fashioning them into soldiers and suicide weapons would be easier. So using the rhetoric today carries a lot of colonial connotations.

Second, marriage equality was not even the theme of the event. It was mentioned by some who spoke at the event, and I’m sure there were participants who wanted marriage equality. But the voices we heard at the event were much more diverse. A few years back, at pride, one participant had a sign that said, “F*** the imperial system.” Another participant’s sign said, “God bless no marriage.” Yet another, “Not marriage, we want visas.” There was also an internal protest against one of the floats themed “marriage [mar-riah-j]”, and the protesters had signs that said, “marriage is the gateway to poverty,” “We don’t need recognition through marriage,” “I am lesbian, married or alone,” “F*** the whole family system,” etc.

This year’s event also saw a multitude of voices and opinions, very diverse, very controversial. When the ambassadors’ from embassies of the U.S., Israel, etc. spoke on stage, they were greeted with signs that said, “No to Occupation,” and “No Osprey.” The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans that said, “ISRAEL,” and someone added, “NO TO,” at the top, making it their political statement, NO TO ISRAEL. There was also someone who had a vertical flag that said, “I oppose war.” I wrote about those protests at http://gimmeaqueereye.org/entry/173 (“Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan”) if you’re interested.

I am not only annoyed by the English-language LGBT journalism. I am also furious about the local media who don’t know shit about queer lives and experiences. But I am very aggravated by the English-language journalism because I know for sure that authors, editors, and whoever is responsible for contents must know that there is a diversity of opinions within any queer community. Queer activism in the US (and other English-speaking countries) has seen so much diversity, so many controversies, and battles so ugly. I sometimes wonder if those writers who write about LGBT politics in Japan simplifies it so that their fantasy of one united community of queers is protected. I say, f*** you. Japan isn’t your wonderland. It’s got a long history of rights-based movements, liberation movements, backlashes, and political lobbying. LGBT politics in Japan cannot be that simple. It cannot be as simple as English-speaking journalists want it to be.

ADD – 2:30PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I don’t know what’s going on. I first posted a comment on the Japan Times Today website. I had to edit it many times so the auto-foul words detector would accept it. And then a couple hours later I got an email from Japan Times Today saying they had removed my comment because it was “offensive/vulgar.” So I posted there the link to this blog post where I copy-and-pasted my original comment. And within an hour it was gone, too. So I left another comment (which looks like my first comment, which isn’t true), explaining the above, and said,

“I’m not trying to advertise my blog here, but if you want to hear a voice of a queer activist in Japan that has something to say about the rhetoric “the land of the rising sun,” and about the narrow definition of queer politics as a demand for marriage equality, you can do so by googling “read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan.””

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 14.34.11

ADD – 3:03PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I. Can’t. Believe. This. Japan Today edited my comment, and deleted the parts where I explained what happened to my previous comments. This is against all the values that journalism should embrace. This is not acceptable.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.03.49

ADD – 3:18PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I just left the following comment.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.18.06

ADD – 3:24PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

And they deleted my comment again.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.24.15

ADD – 10:00PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I finally decided that I didn’t want anything to do with Japan Today anymore, and so asked them to delete all my comments, including the half post that I had posted and they chopped up. Below is the last comment I left. A few minutes later, they took down the both two comments (EDIT: with one email notification about the deletion of the second one. Classification: Off Topic).

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 21.57.20

See, I do not care if what they did was in alignment with their “moderation policy.” I mean, first of all, they were not even following their “policy” when they deleted my 2nd and 4th comments and didn’t send me notification emails (I received their email regarding the deletion of my 1st comment). And, second, the policy sucks. It states the moderators can edit readers’ comments, and their decision is final, not negotiable. I mean, deleting someone else’s comment is one thing, but editing it brings in a whole different dimension. It takes parts of a comment out of context, puts them in a wrong (or at least, unintended) context, and betrays the ethics of journalism (which is, by the way, betrayed all too often). The policy also states that readers cannot post any comment discussing comment moderation. And that is fucked up, since there’s no other way a poster can complain about comment moderation when it seems wrong. And I’m not saying they violated their moderation rules. I’m saying their rules and enforcement are wrong.

On a related note

[contentcards url=’http://www.animefeminist.com/interview-masaki-c-matsumoto-queer-feminist-activist/’]

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.

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….

It’s Texas, not America. It’s Scots, not the English. It’s a Black girl, not us Whites. It’s the Arab world, not our civilization.

Beaten and burned, a gay man was found dead in Cumnock, Scotland, possibly for being gay, although the attacker’s motive has yet to be investigated. I have seen some online responses to this incident describing how it was shocking. This reminds me of the now-almost-vanishing stereotype of Scots being brutal, savage monsters.

Earlier this year, a transgender woman was attacked and had seizure, with bystanders just watching her hit and dragged on the floor. It was a very brutal attack and it was painful to watch the video footage. It also made me go, “oh shit,” when I discovered that the suspects were Black female teenagers and that the first person to offer the victim any help was a middle-aged White woman. I wrote a short response here.

“IMMIGRANTS ≠ YOUR HOMOPHOBIC OTHER” – that was my sign at the Pride Parade this year. I am not an immigrant, nor are my parents. I was born in Japan. But I think I share some of the experiences that Asian queers face in the U.S. like, being frequently asked whether my parents know my sexuality/identity. I say yes, and they go on and ask, “are they cool with it?” Another version is this: “it must be so hard to be queer in Japan.” There you go. Bang. Slap in the face. I get hurt. Anyways.

I am constantly appalled at how White, self-identified liberals can ignorantly assume that everyone else is lagging behind them in accepting freedom.

In Germany, as Butler says here, there has been some sort of collaborative effort between White-centric queer organizations and the government to harshen the immigration policy to narrow the path for immigrants to live in the country. The idea behind the campaign is that immigrants are homophobic and transphobic, incapable of accepting the values of the West.

I, too, first-handedly have heard people say that Black people are homophobic, that some people are too poor to think of others, or that I won’t like it in Texas if I move there. They fail to see that I myself come from a small town in Japan, grew up surrounded by poor people, and am racial minority in the U.S. I feel more comfortable around people like that than White “liberals” like them.

Nevertheless, until recently I held the view that the Middle Eastern culture was monolithically homophobic and transphobic. I have come to know the simple fact that the Middle East is just too big to make any generalizing statement about. Laws vary. People vary. Values vary. Knowing virtually nothing about the region, I have decided that I should be the listener, not the speaker, trying to learn, rather than tell, how things are in the Middle East. All I know, and thus all I can say about the Middle East, is that things are more complicated than many people in the Western world like to think, and that the Middle East is diverse. Some people still struggle with grasping that simple fact.

Hate crime is not the only indicator of homophobia and transphobia, but queers get killed everywhere. Not just the guy in Cumnock and the trans woman in Baltimore and gays in the Middle East (“except Israel!” say morons). It’s high time that we acknowledged that fact. Queers are killed just everywhere. Through physical violence. Through suicide-provoking bullying. Through governmental neglect.1

It’s time we stopped outsourcing homophobia and transphobia to Middle Eastern people, to Blacks, to immigrants, to working-class people. “Outsourcing” because all cisgendered, heterosexual individuals ultimately benefit from transphobia and homophobia through the privileges that they produce.

This outsourcing is harmful in many ways. It divides up racial minority communities because it places queers of color in an odd place between White “liberals” and “anti-queer” people of color. It puts working-class queers against their own cultures, families, and friends. It encourages White “liberal” queer activists to play the missionary role in helping the more oppressed out. It discourages people of color from joining queer activism. It allows Whites——or more precisely, those who are politically, socially, and culturally privileged (which consist mostly of Whites anyway)——to feel innocent, despite the fact that they are accomplices when they keep silent about injustice, get “shocked” at injustice, and feel sorry for the oppressed who are oppressed by someone else other than themselves.

If anything bad happens in the Middle East, the privileged say it’s because the Middle East is lagging behind the West. If anything bad happens in the West, they say it’s not their problem but someone else’s, outsourcing to Blacks, immigrants, etc. the dirty work necessary to keep their society heteronormative and cis-centered and thus advantageous to all privileged people like themselves.

We must stop this. We must acknowledge that not only the violent attackers but we ourselves are all responsible for what happens to queers and those otherwise oppressed and harmed.

I am not addressing this to just the highly privileged. I am also addressing this to, say, gay men chuckling about how straight men are misogynous, lesbian women laughing about how gay men identify against drag queens and other effeminate types, leftists criticizing the “social structure” that oppresses queers without reflecting on their own homophobia and transphobia, and queer elites looking down on LGBT activists to whom identity politics is still relevant.


  1. Queers also get killed in other ways. Through taxes. Through unemployment. Through criminalization of sex work. Through sexual violence. Through hate crime based on race. Through insufficient government support for people with disabilities. And on and on. 

UChicago Safety Issues and Student Privilege

Updated May 25, 2011

The Saferide Program at the University of Chicago provides free transportation for its students, employees, faculty members and other affiliated individuals from 5 p.m. through approximately 3 a.m. To take Saferide, one has to either call the operator or find one of the vehicles running around the campus. Last year, some UChicago students put together a petition to the Saferide Program, asking for service improvements to further ensure students’ safety. They explained that there had been instances where the Program operator did not pick up the phone at all, put a caller on hold for so long that the caller gave up and walk to her or his destination, and took more than 30 minutes to pick a student up when the student had been told to wait for only 15 minutes. The petition was in fact more or less a reaction to the neighborhood’s recently heightened security alerts due to recent violent incidents on and near the campus.

As a student of the University of Chicago, I am just as concerned about our security as my fellow students who felt scared enough to take such action. But the fact is, I do not feel represented by the petition at all. Thus, I could not sign it. My security concern is not limited to the University community but extends beyond the campus, and when you think about the economic diversity in the entire Hyde Park, using / being able to use convenient services like Saferide is a huge privilege. Granted, our student fees do go to Saferide, but how many people can actually buy safety like that? Having money to be spent on betterment of one’s safety is definitely a privilege.

Each Saferide driver is supposed to ask all passengers to show her or him their UChicago ID card. And I have seen quite a few people denied access to a ride on Saferide because they “failed to provide” a UChicago ID, as well as many people who did not even bother trying to get in. As a student myself, however, only 1 out of 10 times am I asked to show them my ID. Such ratio is, based on my observation, pretty much the same for other students as well.

What does this mean? It means that UChicago students and the rest of the Hyde Park community look different, or at least, we are in principle supposed to look different. And what kind of people are we talking about when we say “the rest of the community” who do not look like us? They are predominantly African-American, some of whom, I have seen, would have to ask someone for change in order to get access to public transportation if denied access to UChicago vehicles. That is common sense to those who understand the economic reality of Hyde Park. However, staying ignorant of such economic reality throughout their years at the University is not impossible at all. Most students here spend only a few years on campus (varying from 2-months summer programs to a 5+ year PhD programs). To most of them, safety is their safety, not that of the whole community.

My concern is, first, the ID display requirement is doing nothing but reinforce the economic polarization between UChicago students and others. Second, the security measures employed as of today do not take into account the racial and economic diversity of the students.

The Saferide Program is operated by the University (Department of Transportation and Parking) who took over the operation from the University of Chicago Police Department in 2007. This means that, unlike the 171, 172 buses that are run by CTA, there would be no economic harm even if they stopped enforcing the ID display requirement and checking “suspicious” individuals’ ID cards. The number of passengers may increase as more people would be able to take Saferide, but very slowly, unless the University decides to make a huge announcement to the neighborhood about the end to ID requirement (which they wouldn’t). And most importantly, as the University has expanded its campus onto the southern side, local residents have suffered the relocation, separation from families and friends, and rise in rent. Providing Saferide services to local residents, to me, seems like a necessary part of the University’s compensation for the loss that it has caused them.

Well, even if you don’t agree with any of the above, you know it’s friggin’ COLD in winter to the extent that everyone deserves to be provided sheltered transportation!

On the second point about student diversity – coming from a marginalized family background myself, I do not feel included fully in the petitioners’ “we, students” tone. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Minority students come from diverse backgrounds where most of us have been taught not to trust police officers, security guards, and other professionals who say they are protecting us. True, we don’t feel safe when transportation services are not adequate. But some of us will still not feel safe when safety is guaranteed only for student-looking students (read: typically white, middle-class, able-bodied, with no mental disability). Ultimately, we are not safe until the entire community feels safe and protected.

I must immediately add that, as a UChicago student, I do have the privilege——the privilege to be educated, to be protected, and to get access to libraries, air-conditioned buildings, University-owned/sponsored transportation, etc. I can never speak for non-UChicago-affiliated people who live in Hyde Park. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility not to look away from this weird relationship we as students have with the rest of the community, with privilege attached to us and not to the others. We have a responsibility not to try to maximize our security at the expense of others. By “at the expense of others,” I mean demonizing “strangers” on the street. Those “strangers” are humans, typically African-American, who live here, and may have even lived here for their entire life, surviving the expansion of the University and thus dislocation of their relatives/families/friends/selves.

Yes, Hyde Park is not the safest town in the world and UChicago students have all the right to be afraid, to ask for protection, and to feel safe——but so does everyone else.

I think I’ll finish by quoting from one of my favorite scenes from the movie, “Hairspray,” where African-American student Seaweed takes to one of her mother’s dance parties a white boy (Link) and two white girls from school (Tracy and Penny):

Motormouth Maybelle: Well, looks like y’all took a step outta bounds.
[to Seaweed]
Motormouth Maybelle: Who’ve we got here?
Seaweed: Mom, I want you to meet my new friends. This here is Link, Tracy Turnblad…
Tracy Turnblad: [interrupts] This is just so afro-tastic!
Seaweed: And this young lady right here, is Penny Pingleton.
Penny Pingleton: I’m very pleased and scared to be here.
Motormouth Maybelle: Now, honey, we got more reason to be scared on your street.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427327/quotes

SUCH “HOMOPHOBIC” COMMUNITIES

So the passage of Proposition 8 (which I do not think needs any explanation since many people are talking about it, even here in Japan, which makes me feel that a disproportionate amount of attention is being paid to one proposition of one state of one country——not that I don’t care, just in case) has been largely attributed to the increase in number of Black voters who supported Barack Obama. The figures that people have obtained from the media look very fishy to me, but that’s not exactly what I am worried about. What I find very sad and problematic is that, if——and this is only “if”——the entire Black population in California were that homophobic, why should those gay and lesbian people who blamed them for the passage of the proposition not have been quick to respond to the figures (no matter how false they are) and take some action, or at least be alerted, to care for lesbian and gay people who lived in such “homophobic” communities? A personal friend of mine, a White middle-class teenage gay boy, said that he thought that Black people should have been more empathetic to gay people, that they only cared about themselves. Well, that’s you, young man.

If I Were a Gay Mormon…

Gay ‘kiss-in’ slated for Mormon church

Okay, first of all, I must admit that I haven’t read much about this incident (the two men getting arrested, not the kiss-in) and that a few tweets from LGBT-related accounts and this single article linked above are the only source of information I got of the story. So what I am going to say may not be appropriate or even based on facts.

But it really makes me think of gay Mormons who secretly have homosexual desire (and may or may not act on it) and get into even more trouble because of the planned kiss-in’s. If I were a gay Mormon, closeted and maybe obvious and yet totally or partially accepted by his or her religious community (and that sometimes happens, by the way), potential homophobic reaction that the churches might make in opposition to the kiss-in’s would totally devastate the history of, and the efforts that they’ve put into, negotiating and working towards complicated (and thus often not satisfactory) yet livable tolerance in the community.

Of course, I’m not saying that gay activism or queer activism should not interfere in religious matters, but it seems very risky and dangerous for us to jump into the bandwagon to go out and say, “whether you like it or not, we’re here.” It’s true that we’re here, but where does this “us” come from? I am assuming that most of the people who will attend the kiss-in’s are not Mormons. They are from the outside. If what we learned from the incident is that gay expression isn’t allowed in the religious establishments, then what we should care about is the people within the Mormon churches whose queer expression and behavior are probably oppressed and degraded. We should have contacted or at least tried to reach sexual minority Mormons and listened to their stories before heading to the churches to kiss each other.

That is exactly the same thing that came to mind when I learned that many queer people blamed Black populations for passing Prop 8. What we need to do when we learn that there is a community very homophobic/transphobic/anti-queer, is, not to go out and blame them, but to think about our fellow queers within the community.

I Want To Drown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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