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.)

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。

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.”

Stop the Arrests! PERMANENTLY!

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

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

But what happens after the end of the Olympics?

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

In my opinion, these things may happen.

GOOD:

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

BAD:

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

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

‘Mother’ Is Not All She Is

When we queers feel loved and accepted by our families, we often see it as a beautiful thing, maybe even as one of the most desirable moments that can happen in a queer person’s life. We usually feel happy for the queer kid when we hear stories like the book by Cheryl Kilodavis. And, yes, indeed, I’m happy for queers whose parents are understanding. And I am very grateful to my very own mother who is super cool with my queerness and is an organizer of the monthly drag pub event. But I hate the stories of understanding parents——especially mothers——, the typical narrative of them being shocked at first and then gradually becoming tolerant and understanding of their kids.

I mean, yes, they exist——but why is the mother in these stories always “shocked” and “struggling” and, eventually, “over it” and “accepting”? I mean, living in the U.S. or any society that is westernized to some extent, mothers are more likely than ever to know someone who is queer themselves, more likely than ever to have been to gay clubs, queer marches, or at least been exposed to portrayals of queers on TV and in film, not just flamboyant figures who are the object of ridicule, but also those well-received ones like Ellen DeGeneres. Besides, what about working-class mothers? What about ethnic minority mothers? What about disabled mothers? You know, those mothers who have experienced marginalization themselves first-hand. Even white, able-bodied, heterosexial, cisgender, middle- or upper-class mothers have experienced (to varying degrees) some form of marginalization because of their gender (I know fathers have, too, depending on their class, ethnicity, etc. but let me focus on mothers at the moment).

I myself have a mother who used to be geisha and a hostess at hostess clubs. My grandmother who is incredibly accepting of my queerness for a 85-year-old used to be geisha/a sex worker, too. And they had known their queer neighbors long before I came out——even long before I was born. I’m not saying me coming out to them had no impact on their life, but it was totally additional, yet another queer element of their life introduced by me. They lived in poverty, experienced/witnessed sexual exploitation and violence, had friends/neighbors who were queer, spent some time with them and had good and bad memories of them, have occasionally thought about the lives of queers, and have had their own politics to pursue (anti-workplace sexism, anti-domestic violence, etc.). It is only natural (though, I hate this word ‘natural’) that they weren’t shocked to know I was queer, and that my mother incorporated queer politics in her activist scope.

So, neither my mother nor grandma fits into that category of the shocked-then-accepting mother. Was I lucky? Yes, I was. But were they lucky? I’m not sure about that, because they have become who they are today due to the marginalization they had to face as young women. What really bugs me about the shocked-then-accepting mother figure is that it totally overlooks the possibility that ‘mothers’——along with being mothers——are all sorts of various things, be it a sex worker, a politician, a low-wage factory worker, a single mother, a domestic violence survivor, a wheel chair user, a survivor of rape, an ex-girlfriend of a queer person, a daughter of a gay father, a sex education specialist, a feminist, a bisexual woman, a lesbian, an MTF trans, an FTM trans, etc. etc. Mothers are mothers, but that’s not all they are. They have their own experience with queerness, whether they like it or not. The figure of the shocked-then-accepting mother is based on the popular idea that reduces women with a child or children to the narrow definition of ‘mother’, who lacks autonomy, agency, and life-outside-motherness.

Which is annoying.

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.