Tags : :
In order to highlight this issues i copy this essay from "Stonewall Japan’s Trans Guide to Japan 2016" wrotten by Skyler Smella. I think it is very detail explanation of culture difference, and especially what different in recognition of transpeople in western countries and Japan.
Transspecific: Differences between Japan and the West An essay in two parts
Note: While the previous sections of the guide have been rather utilitarian and to the point, this section delves into crosscultural sociology and psychology; therefore, it is much more open to interpretation. While I have done my best to do research and find academic articles to back me up, there simply has not been that much writing done on the subject in English. Much of what is written is based on my own personal experience and study in Japan and the US. There will be an inevitable bias from my own limited experience. I’m a bit verbose and rather opinionated to boot. Do take this part as an opinion piece that can help inform expectations, but don’t take it as infallible truth. As they say on the JET program, ESIDEvery Situation is Different.
I would also like to qualify my use of the word ‘Queer’. I myself identify as queer, but I know that many of my readers may not selfidentify or agreed with the term. While I am aware and respectful of that difference, in this section I use ‘Queer’ to mean the wider community of sexual and gender minorities. In my Japanese writing, I use the term セクマイ, a shortening of the term ‘Sexual Minority’ that in Japanese functions similarly to the word ‘Queer’ in the West. However, many Western readers are much more familiar with the latter term. While I use it for the sake of convenience, I am fully aware of the issues present in the use of the word.
‘New Half’ as the Main Queer Narrative
In America’s early aught years, the averaged ‘collective consciousness’ was suddenly given a massive influx of fabulous as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy flounced on to television sets everywhere. In a flurry of grooming tips and hair gel, your everyday American was suddenly exposed to what ‘queer’ was and queer was, according to the massively successful program, a very effeminate homosexual man. This was not the first brush with queer culture in the media for America in fact, depictions of ‘fops’ and ‘nancyboys’ have been ubiquitous. There seems to have always been a word for it, but Queer Eye’s runaway popularity solidified it; when Americans hear ‘queer’, by and large, what they really hear is ‘a perfectly manicured, highlighttipped, limpwrist, cisgender gay man’.
Now, there are certainly queers out there that fall into that category and I say that’s awesome. However, the disparity in visibility between that ‘type’ of gay man and all the rest of the LGBTQ spectrum means everyone else has a little bit less of a space in the cultural conversation and a little less comparative privilege. It’s very good that there is any portrayal of the queer community that is not blatantly negative in the media (even though the only reason the ‘Fab Five’ existed on air was to help straight cismen attract straight ciswomen). But the fact that that is the solidified image that dominates the LGBTQ community in ‘Straight Eyes’ means it is that much harder for the rest of us ‘queer guys’ to be seen.
Trans people in America have certainly felt that reality first hand. As this was being written, only 17 states in the US have workplace related legal protects for transemployees, versus 21 that offer protection based on sexual orientation 1. Compare the advocacy that is being done for gay marriage (even though this means gay and lesbian marriage, note which is used as the umbrella term) to the advocacy for transgender rights in employment and housing. The latter is much more important for basic quality of life and can even be the decider between life and death, but by and large it is eclipsed by the former.
In Japan, the situation is quite different for trans people or at least half of them. Rather than a cisgender gay man being the shared subconscious image of queer, the ‘okama’ takes center stage. Okama literally means ‘kettle’ in Japanese, but is used interchangeably to refer to crossdressing gay men (drag queens) and MtF trans women. There are various reasons why this image might be the ‘face’ of queer culture in Japan. In a rather reserved society, the flamboyance of the Fab Five in their everyday dealings would not go over well in my opinion. However, the stage (and by modern extension, television) is a place removed from everyday Japanese social constrictions in many ways. There is a long history of crossdressing men who are ‘more women than born women’, known as the Onnagata (literally ‘Woman Shaped’) 2. These talented performers acted in women’s roles in Kabuki during the long ban on female actors from the early 17 th century onward (Leupp, Gary P. (1997). Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. University of California Press. P.90).
Rather than being excommunicated, these actors, often young and beautiful, were exalted to pop culture fame and often to positions of high power when powerful officials were ensnared by their charms. Onnagata often played very sexually charged roles and many were a different kind of entertainer by night the crossdressing male courtesan or prostitute that catered to both a male and female clientele. While they were sexualized, their sexuality was not seen as shameful in a society where ‘the floating world’, the entertainment district that allowed the new Japanese citydweller to let loose in any way they pleased, was a needed respite from everyday drudgery. Their beauty was an integral part of society and accepted; they were also highly visible, since their popularity coincided with new techniques in printing that led to the all popular ukiyoe, a massproduced print that often depicted them.
Just as the cosmopolitan of the Tokugawa period ate these images up (and made profits for the actors and the producers of their fan goods), the tunedin of today’s Japanese media are well familiar with the okama image. The new term in vogue is ‘newhalf’, those who present in a way that imitates the gender opposite to their biological sex. Newhalf actors, like famous singersongwriter, TV and movie star Miwa Akihiro, have fans of all gender and sexual persuasions and often appear on TV talk shows and variety programs. ‘New Half Shows’, drag spectacles, proliferate the entertainment districts of Osaka, Tokyo and any city worth its salt. And on the other side of the spectrum, the performers of the Takarazuka Review, a troupe that has been expanding in members and popularity since its inception in 1914, put on sellout shows with its allfemale cast playing characters of both genders. The fans are by and large very female and very infatuated.
The Root of Divergence in Trans Issues Between Japan and the West
It is true that crossdressing performers (especially those of the MtF variety) are well loved in Japan without the stigma that may be attached to them in Western culture. It is also true that while ‘queer’ may be read GLBT in the west, the T comes to the forefront in Japan. However, this is not to say that this country is a wonderland where trans people are accepted into the culture with open arms. To understand the way trans people are treated in Japan versus other places around the world, an advanced degree in anthropology would be of use I’ll do my best with what limited knowledge I have.
A major difference would stem from religion. As Kim Oswalt, transactivist and counselor profiled under the Mental Health subsection of the Medical section, states in her article, Questioning Gender,
The moral and spiritual roots of Japanese culture are different from JudeoChristian roots. Japan has a history of polytheism: many small gods. There are the gods of the mountain, the kitsune fox god, and the gods that live in trees, and even today Shinto priests offer prayers essentially asking for forgiveness from the tree spirits before they cut trees to build a house. It’s almost like a shamanistic root that goes back beyond Buddhism, and they still live in Shintoism and shamanism. Monotheism can foster the notion that “my god is right and yours is wrong,” or doesn’t exist. But if your god is a god of the mountain, and mine is a god of the trees, we’re probably going to get along fine because mountains need trees and trees need mountains. Spiritually speaking, this is a very pluralistic society. People get married in a church, and on the same day they may go to the Shinto shrine, and when a relative dies they'll go to the Buddhist temple. On a wedding day, if they want to put on a kimono and then switch to a white lacy dress nobody’s got a problem. The more the merrier. My inkling is there’s something here that makes life a bit easier for transgender people than in the U.S. They're not told that they’re going to hell for being transgender. God does not hate them; you don’t hear that here in Japan.
Japanese society seems to embrace contradiction and celebrates juxtaposition at least in its aesthetics if not in the culture at large. People seem to have no problem playing with ‘image’, something you will see evident in the scores of students who trade in their uniforms for every manner of crazy fashion on the streets of Harajuku each weekend. The idea of crossdressing in ‘leisure spaces’ is not at all stigmatized. In fact, at many high schools throughout Japan, the Drag Contest (for both teachers and students) is a timehonored tradition. Having the same event in England or America might lead to the school’s closure, but locals from the community often come out to celebrate their youths donning the opposite gender on stage.
However, the thing to remember is that while there is space for gender flexibility in this society, it is compartmentalized in an altogether Japanese fashion. By and large, the place where trans people are celebrated is created by lighting and stagemagic. Like the West, those seen as new half are often relegated to the role of ‘entertainer’ someone to laugh with or at, to be enjoyed but never taken seriously as someone who could step out into the light of day. Many of these performers are not what western culture would label as trans at all, but are cisgender people, both homosexual and heterosexual, who enjoy the art, the ‘image’ of drag. Often crossdressing gay men (and gay men as a whole) are lumped into the category of okama or new half even if they identify as cisgender. In contrast, trans women who have never worked in the performance industry in their lives being assumed to be entertainers or even prostitutes, is also true. Even those performers who do actually identify as the gender they use to entertain often take off their true expression as they leave the theater and put on a costume as they enter the ‘real world’.
Why, in a society that seems so accepting, in a country where violent crime is so rare, would trans people feel like they have to hide? One of the most striking differences between Japan and the West, the one that permeates all aspects of life, is not that of religion but of basic societal structure. You may notice that when Japanese people introduce themselves, not only does their family name come before their personal name, but that may in turn be preceded by their company’s name, their department, and even their specific job title. This makes for very long selfintroductions, but more than that, it reveals an integral feature of Japanese life. The basic social unit in Japan is the group, the uchi, defined not in relation to the individual but to other outside groups, known as the soto. The individual certainly exists in Japan, but from the earliest age, Japanese are taught to sublimate their individual needs and selfish desires for the good of the group as a whole.
A telling anecdote illustrates this point. I have a lot of experience in preschools in both the US (where my mother was a PreK instructor) and Japan, where I volunteered at kindergarten and day care centers in Akita prefecture. I was sitting in during lunch, where even children at the age of three and four learn to serve themselves from the communal food. One of the children was carrying their bowl to the table and fell, scattering rice everywhere. Now, in my experience young Japanese children’s energy level rivals or even surpasses that of their American peers. However, where as in America the other preschoolers would probably take little notice and run right over the food in hyperactive glee, the previously raucous room instantaneously stopped everything. Three year old children put down their lunch, beelined it for the cleaning closet and started helping their fallen peer clean up without prompting. They had clearly practiced this before.
In my time in Japan, this lesson in the importance of the ‘good of the group’ has been repeated over and over, at all levels of society. This emphasis on communal wellbeing above the idea of individual pursuit of happiness may stem from the many natural disasters Japan suffers as an island on the Ring of Fire, a geographic fact that would mean annual devastation even just a hundred years ago. For communities that could be wiped out by fire, earthquake, tsunami, or landslide in a day, being able to rely on one’s neighbor could mean the difference between life and death. The ironclad ties between group members, especially familial groups bonded by blood, also must be strongly influence by Confucianism, which first came to Japan via China and Korea around the 3 rd century. Confucianism became the basis of Japanese social structure, delineating the culture’s model for social and political order. It focused on personal interaction, explaining the responsibilities and duties relevant to the five basic hierarchical relations: master–servant, parent–child, husband–wife, elder sibling–younger sibling and friend–friend 4. ‘If everyone knew their place and performed their duties diligently, there would be peace and prosperity!’, this new philosophy dictated. From this moral code (and that of its NeoConfucian interpretation in the Tokugawa period), the concept of giri, social duty or obligation, was formed. The delineations Confucius espoused were defined along the line of age but also along that of biological sex. As Confucian thought wove itself into the fabric of life, so too did the gender roles harden into rigidity. A woman was to diligently serve her husband, a man was to diligently serve the Emperor, and the Emperor was to diligently serve his people. In all of these roles, creating a family with (lots) of children is considered essential. Therefore, to go against these expectations by refusing to marry due to homosexuality or refusing to act in the proper gendered way due to gender variance was seen as not fulfilling one’s giri, or social obligation to their group. Japan is a country of boxes in boxes the family uchi exists within the occupational uchi which exists within the geographical uchi, which is housed in the overall group identity as YamatoJapanese. The individual is expected to fulfill their role for the good of all of these groups. In turn, failure to live up to expectations is seen to effect and reflect poorly on each uchi one belongs to, so it is really the society as a whole that you have let down.
Of course people are still people, with personal needs and wants, individual aspirations, and narcissistic tendencies inherent to humans everywhere. This ego has a name in Japanese the honne, or one’s true feelings, desires, and preferences that make up the Self. In order to protect the group’s wellbeing from being undermined by this egotism, the tatemae, the façade one puts on for interacting in society, is created and enforced. The kanji for tatemae, 建 (to build) and 前 (before), reveals the constructed nature of this psychosocial concept that allows the individual ego to exist, safe and tucked away, while still fulfilling one’s duties to the group. But the pressure to conform and to live up to so many expectations, answering to so many people including, in Japan, your ancestors, can cause an inordinate amount of stress. That stress can over time strain and even break the dam of tatemae and send a flood of honne spilling out were everyone can see.
Therefore, there are spaces where ‘we are free to be you and me’ built into the structure. These social safety valves exist to take off some of that gargantuan pressure. They are the characters goods that festoon schoolkids and salarymen alike, allowing people to unobtrusively differentiate themselves in a sea of uniformity. They are Japan’s unapologetic and inyourface drinking culture, letting people allow their true feelings to show in a space where chalking it up to the alcohol means it is stripped of the loss of face and disharmony consequent to other situations. And they exist too in Japan’s massive and diverse entertainment sector, the most varied in the world. While the Japanese may be asked in the name of giri to gaman and endure a host of difficulties ranging from long hours of school and work to an unsatisfying marriage, in the hours between responsibilities, they are free to indulge in the escapism of their choosing. The variety of video games, pornography, movies, host(ess) clubs, and other escapes is testament not only to Japan’s impressive mastery of capitalism but also to its lack of judgment in this regard. ‘Different strokes for different folks’ is embraced wholeheartedly and nothing is taboo as long as it is confined to a certain time and place.
Gender variant behavior and nonheterosexual orientations are seen just another aspect of the honne. It’s not something to bring up in polite conversation in fact, not something to bring up at all in most cases. Still, as long as it is relegated to times that don’t interfere with one’s responsibilities as a shyakaijin, a member of the working world and therefore a contributor to the group (a prerequisite to being accepted as an adult), it is considered acceptable, even encouraged. This attitude does not view queerness/LGBT as an identity, an important aspect of who you are as a person. Who you are is defined in terms of what groups you belong to. Who you are is a member of your workplace, family, community, etc. Who you are is a contributor to Japan, the same as everyone else in schooling, training, or work. Being queer is something you do. Want to be a different gender? Want to love the same sex? As long as you do it on your own time, in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t interfere with who you are as a responsible member of society, there is no problem, no judgment.
In the West and especially America, where the cultural narrative is that of the rugged individual forging out alone to achieve His Manifest Destiny on the desolate prairie, things are a little different. ‘‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’’ is one of our founding features. In Japan, happiness in life is certainly pursued as well, but the concept of what happiness means is more that of harmony than of personal gratification. When writing about culture some degree of generalization is unavoidable of course, according to location and community, things will differ. But by and large, Western society is as staunchly individualistic as Eastern ones are communal.
In the West, where the basic social unit is the individual, being queer is a matter of who you are. There is a lot of solidarity in that identity. People who are labeled minorities can find strength in others that bare that label and with identity politics, can find a platform and a voice to fight with. However, LGBTQ people don’t often get to bare that label by choice. The major drawback to queerness being a part of identity is that it is seen as something essential your gender identity, your sexual identity, that’s who you are, how people see you first and foremost. Even if you are the most closeted person in the world and no one ever finds out you are one of them, it is still a cross you have to carry. It doesn’t matter if you never even act on your desires. If you are attracted to members of the same sex or if you want to transition to a different gender, by virtue of that desire alone, you are a queer in most people’s eyes. You cannot escape it even if you celebrate it, it is an identity you cannot simply choose or refuse. If you are anything but cisgender and heterosexual, you are automatically part of the LGBTQ community. While that means solidarity with others who share similar traits, it also means a world of hurt from other individuals and a society that equates being LGBTQ with being essentially wrong, essentially deserving to be punished. Many would blame this on Western religion and one can understand that reasoning. Many of the worst atrocities committed against LGBTQ people have been done in the name of God. But more than religion, which is structured similarly to society at large but given a celestial mouthpiece, it is this essentialism so intertwined with how we define reality and ourselves that is to blame. Essentialism has been highly influential since the time of Plato and Aristotle, when Platonic Idealism and Aristotle’s Categories proposed that all objects are the objects they are by virtue of their substance, that the substance makes the object what it is. Diana Fuss, LGBTQ rights activist and feminist theorist, brings this notion into a 20 th century context when she summarizes Essentialism as, ‘‘a belief in the real, true essence of things, the invariable and fixed properties which define the 'whatness' of a given entity’’ (Fuss, Diana. Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. New York: Routledge, 1989. xi. Print.).
Focus on the ‘invariable’ and ‘fixed’ part of that sentence. If someone does an action in the West, it is a reflection of who they are as an individual, the product of a set, predefined identity that may have been determined even before birth. If you are a woman who wears men’s clothing and acts in a masculine way, it is because you are a ‘dyke’. You being a dyke is a fixed attribute and your masculine presentation only acts to ‘reinforce’ or ‘give away’ this static fact. When you are denied a job, denied housing, assaulted or even murdered, as trans women are 16 times more likely to be compared to the ‘average American’ in the United States 5, it is not because you did something wrong. It’s because you are something wrong. In Japan, where Plato and Aristotle were not heard until relatively recently, very little is seen as ‘invariable’ and ‘fixed’. Philosophically, it was Buddhism, specifically the esoteric Buddhism of the Heian period (7941185), which most influenced Japanese thought. According to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
‘‘Esoteric Buddhism did for Japanese philosophy what Plato and Aristotle did for Western philosophy. It laid out a set of assumptions and a Problematik that had a profound influence on the thought to follow. Two assumptions were particularly influential. First, esotericism has a distinctive view of the relation between part and whole. The whole is recursively manifest or reflected in the part. It is not that the parts constitute the whole nor that the whole is more than the sum of its parts; rather, since the part is what it is by virtue of the whole, if we truly understand the part, we find the whole imprinted in it. In Shingon Buddhism’s case, for example, since any individual thing is an expression of the cosmos as Dainichi, when we truly understand the part (the individual thing), we encounter the whole (Dainichi) as well. (6)
As you can see, this way of viewing reality is diametrically opposed to classic Western thought. In the philosophy that still defines Japanese society in same way Aristotle and Plato still define the West’s, in the part, the whole is present and conversely, the whole is encompassed by the part. Zen Buddhist theory adds that ‘‘form is emptiness, and emptiness is form’’. To put it a bit less mystically, the individual (person, object, concept, etc) and everything outside of it is essentially the same thing while they may seem to differ, the truth is that these differences are constantly fluid and that at their very essence, they are simply aspects of the same great oneness. As Oswalt previously points out, this is exemplified in how the Japanese feel very comfortable switching from traditional Shinto garb at a shrine to white wedding wear at a church on their wedding day. While this would seem mutually exclusive to a Western eye, to the Japanese couple, they both are functionally similar (celebrating the union) and are therefore simply aspects of the same thing.
Of course living day to day life without any sort of fixed categories would be very hard. Since Japan is a country made up of people, not Buddhas, Confucianist thought exists as a way to help structure the daily dealing of life. But even though people are separated along the lines of age and gender, it is with the knowledge that these things are not in reality mutually exclusive they are just divided in such a way to help society run smoothly. The fact that Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintoism can all exist in harmony in Japan is in itself testament to how the Japanese are much more concerned with results than ideological consistency. In this inclusive background of thought, it is the result of the individual’s actions on the whole that are important, not some sort of ‘essential’ nature of the individual that can be viewed as right or wrong. Right or wrong are seen as two aspects of the same whole it is the functional results of actions on that whole that hold weight. It is my personal opinion that this pluralistic way of living leads to a healthier, happier society. Still, don't go extolling the virtues of the rising sun just yet. Japanese society has its issues. It may be criticized for the inhumane pressure it places on its members to be ‘good team players’, constantly sublimating their own interests for the sake of the often viciously hierarchical group. This hierarchy is supposed to be a mutual relationship where loyalty and obedience from the inferior is rewarded by benevolence and protection, but in a reality without laws to enforce that ‘benevolence’, this often leads to systematic violence. The oppression of women in Japan is a good, sobering example, where as of 2010 women earn 30% less than men in the same position, twice the average of other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (7)
Also, this pressure to fulfill your giri means that while you can do as you please with impunity as long as it doesn’t slip into the light of day (or in the case of ‘new half’ performers, as long as it is in the service of entertaining the masses), you can never be truly ‘out’, living consistently true to what you feel in your heart, without societal censure. For example, you can be the most flamboyant drag queen on the weekends or at the bars as long as you have a wife and kids and a job well paying enough to support them. Responsibility to society includes the responsibility to create a family that can bear many children for the state (and Confucius didn’t leave any room for samesex families who adopt). The man takes care of the woman and children monetarily, the woman is a ‘Good Wife, Wise Mother’, and the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. In the Japanese language, there is no way to express 'different' (違う) without also saying 'wrong' these words are one and the same. So basically, fulfilling one’s social responsibility as a Japanese citizen is, for those who are not in the cisgender heterosexual majority, means living a parttime life and a full time lie.
In the Western essentialist mindset, your queerness is viewed as an intrinsic feature whether you act on it or not. The danger and discrimination the LGBTQ person faces is often incurred regardless of whether they let their queerness interfere with their 'social obligations'. Since the queer is already relegated to the outskirts of society based on who they are, there is little pressure to conform to the culture that actively excludes them. Plainly put if you lose if you do and lose if you don't, why play their game at all? Generally people are either all in (the closet, desperately hoping no one will find out who you really are) or all out (of society, but also the closet that keeps you from living they way you want to live). From this outside position, the LGBTQ community has been able to form and then advocate for a more fair playing field where they can be included.
However, this is a marked reversal of the issue queers face in Japan of being too included in the group expected to go about life in the same way everyone else is even though they have desires that often directly clash with their expected role. That said though, while there is not as much of a community and support for those who outright reject society's demands, at least Japanese queers have the ability to choose the kind of halfacceptance detailed in the paragraphs above. Even for those who do break with society and forsake their giri, violence is rarely the consequence. Of the OECD countries, Japan has the second lowest homicide rate, with the police reporting 1 in 200,000 citizens murdered (8). In the United States, that figure is 10 in 200,000, making it the third highest rate (exceeding the OECD average) (ibid). For trans people, the chances are exorbitantly higher.
Legally, transgender people in Japan have less rights and protections than their Western counterparts. However, the discrimination they face is also not nearly as dire. A transgender person may be ostracized by their family, friends, and coworkers when they refuse to confine their gender identity to proper, unobtrusive contexts. But while they may have to endure cultural censure and economic violence, the group harmony ethic dictates that those in the InGroup cannot risk destabilization by acting violently against them unless they want to risk their own place in society as well. Being trans* is wrong because it interferes with the neat social constructs that allow Japanese society to run smoothly, not because it is an inherent sin.
Even now, those social constrictions are being loosened, finding a place for transgender people within the system. Most recently, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that children born of married couples where the husband is a postop transsexual can be registered as legitimate children even though they were conceived through artificial insemination and don’t have ‘true blood relations’(9). The ability for these couples to start a socially condoned family is huge. In a country where forms are facts and legality reigns supreme, this and the landmark GID bill in 2003 that allowed for gender change on the family register (koseki) de facto admitted postop trans people into the In Crowd. But even before that, Aya Kamikawa, the Tokyo municipal official who triumphed the cause, was elected to office in the most populous district in Tokyo as an openly transgender woman. By no means am I saying that the work is done in securing transgender rights. Japan, like the rest of the world, has a long way to go before trans people can live their lives with the security and human decency afforded to their cisgender peers. But the ideas that form the basic foundation of Japanese society are a strong and stable platform that, with time, will be more than capable of supporting us as we build toward that future.
Last Edited By: jackmolay Jan 14 17 3:47 AM. Edited 1 time