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Being gay in Japan – or Tokyo – as a Japanese student

Last winter, in 2018,  I went to hear Judith Butler talk at Todai (she is a famous scholar in queer theory).

One thing I had found interesting was how hesitant she was in answering a question that (sort of) required knowledge in the Japanese context of LGBT.

I thought that was very respectful of her. At the same time, I noticed how difficult it must be for those outside of Japan to understand the actual circumstances of being LGBT and what-not here.

So to contribute in filling this vacuum of information, I decided to share my insight from my side. I need you to acknowledge a few shortcomings(?) though.

  • I am a cisgender-gay; therefore, I do not have the experience of any other sexuality such as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual etc.
  • My personal experience is just that – a personal experience. My Tokyo-Chiba experience should not represent Japan as a whole; nor should it represent the Japanese cisgender-gay. I mean, how the hell can I represent anybody anyways?
  • I’m going to talk mostly in assumptions; no concrete data (but really, we don’t have much data in the first place).
  • Please bear with my awkward English (and if it’s not, that’s great!)

I hope you understand!

 

①People don’t mind about LGBT – but they do.

“I don’t mind if someone’s gay- except if my son is.”

This kind of view, I believe, is quite dominant in contemporary Japan (maybe we see it all over the world. I don’t know).

As long as you’re not a family member of that person, I seriously doubt that anybody would care if you’re gay or not. If you’re transgender or transvestite, matters might differ, but a cisgender gay? Nah, probably not.

 

②Some people don’t realize LGBT is real.

“What, are you gay?” (in a jokingly manner)

The expected answer is always “no”. That’s why people get surprised when they’re told the contrary.

It’s basically a rhetorical question – it’s not a “real” question. The reason why it’s not a “real” question is because the speaker thinks being gay isn’t “real”. They don’t notice that the person in front of them might be gay.

The difficult part is that they are often actually tolerant; it’s just that they’re not prepared to find a real gay person in front of them.

 

③The gap between generations are huge.

The younger (40 and under) people in Japan tolerate gay people fairly well. However, the older (50 and above) do not.

Let me show you why I think so:

The above graph shows the percentage of people who are for same-sex marriage. The bottom numbers represent the ages (18-29, 30’s, 40’s, etc.) of the monitored.

The older you are, the more probable you are against gay marriage. Just look at the gap between younger generations (18-29, 30’s, 40’s) and the older (50’s and above); quite amazing how cohorts can differ this much.

It’s pretty depressing to think that over 40% of the Japanese population is over 50 years old. Seriously.

Of course, support towards same-sex marriage doesn’t necessarily equal gay-friendliness, but it sure is one index to consider.

 

④The LDP includes members who lack knowledge in LGBT issues

The LDP has some members who are notoriously ill-informed of LGBT issues
(And I can understand why; I mean, the average age of our parliament members is over 50 years old. Add that with point ③ and voilà).


The most famous amongst them is probably Mio Sugita.


In the June of 2018, she wrote in an article that “the LGBT do not have productivity” (in the context of whether policies for the LGBT are necessary).

LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita faces backlash after describing LGBT people as ‘unproductive’ | The Japan Times

This sparked outrage among some of the Japanese LGBT and those who are against such views on referring to “productivity” as a reason to (not) make policies.

(At the same time, a video went viral in which you can see Sugita laughing about how the LGBT youth has a higher probability in committing suicide)

Another lawmaker, Katsuei Hirasawa, recently shocked some members of the LGBT community when he said that Japan would “collapse” if everyone became LGBT.

Japanese lawmaker takes fire for saying a nation ‘would collapse’ if everyone became LGBT | The Japan Times

Considering that the LDP is the government right now and that the current regime (Shinzo Abe as of now in 2019 January) is said to be quite conservative, the political landscape is pretty bleak for the Japanese LGBT, I have to say.

It’s only a matter of time.

As we saw in ③, the younger generation is more tolerant of gay people.

I think it’s only a matter of time until Japan becomes LGBT friendly. The process is probably irreversible.

So I guess I’m pretty fortunate to be a young gay man in Japan right now.

I’m hoping for the best.

That’s it for now. Thank you for reading!
This article was brought to you by Subaru Minna.

 

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刹那的に生きられないゲイ東大生。東京大学で社会学を勉強中。 詳しくは→ プロフィールへ