Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How it Feels to Finally Start Blooming While Simultaneously Challenging the Social Norms of a Foreign Country (Marvelous)

How does it feel to be a small part of something bigger, even when you’re on the other side of the world? I found myself asking this question more often than usual once I started attending the Diversity Club meetings on a regular basis.  For those who might be confused, the Diversity Club is really the LGBTQ Club at AIU, however because the school claimed that the latter is too political, the former name is used officially.

Size doesn't matter as long as you sell it.
Truthfully, I wasn’t ever active when it came to LGBT rights before coming to Japan, and perhaps that’s simply because there are so many battles being fought by the community that I felt very insignificant and useless. The primary struggle in Japan for non-heterosexual individuals is different from those in the United States. Whereas Americans are fighting for marriage equality, healthcare, and job security, the Japanese are fighting for visibility, a service I know that I can offer. Despite my glaring foreign qualities, the members of the club accepted me with open arms, as if I was one of their own, a feeling which I’ve rarely experienced. In fact, I’ve felt far more valued and appreciated in this club compared to the same club at Beloit, and recently I’ve been entertaining the thought that it’s because the people in Japan are aware of the similarities between the lack of visibility for LGBTQ peoples in Japan, and PoC-LGBTQ peoples in the United States, which I can’t say for many students attending Beloit.

The beautiful beginning of one of many gender boards.
Speaking of visibility, as more and more people participated in the gender board activity where they placed stickers where they identified on the board during the AIU festival, I noticed that there were many people who didn’t identify as heterosexual and their gender expression didn’t fit into the binary, yet very few people wanted to discuss the matter of visibility and equality. Yet, many people were willing to write encouraging and inspiring thoughts on the rainbow message board in our exhibition room.

The various messages of the rainbow.
So, while I wasn’t an active participant in the conversations during my time in the exhibition room, I did glean that perhaps most Japanese people prefer to ‘stay hidden’ and play the part that society wishes them to play, and in a country with a declining birthrate, they feel as though their desires are second to the nation’s needs as a whole?

Although I couldn’t play an active role in the exhibition room other than asking people to come inside so the Japanese members of the club could speak with them, I was able to be useful outside in the large festival crowds. Armed with height, a frohawk, a rainbow on my face, and a rainbow board promising discounts around my neck, I think I was able to bring visibility to the club and the message that we seek to spread, which is more than I think I could’ve done if I had remained in the United States.
These signs made me even more popular. Take my picture, Tokyo, I'm the next superstar.
How does it feel to be a small part of something bigger, even when you’re on the other side of the world? Marvelous.


Reid said...

I'm really glad that you found a place at Akita that you feel belonging in! I wish Rikkyo had an LGBTQ association, but unfortunately there isn't one. I've noticed a a similar lack of comfort from Japanese people talking about issues related to marginalized identity when I try and talk about disability for my research project, though.

Jeremy Sullivan said...

Truthfully, I was surprised that there is an association in Akita that is dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Japan, but I'm quite happy that we aren't as small of a club as one might think.

I've also noticed a type of hesitation from the Japanese students pertaining to identities that we consider to be marginalized. However, I've seen that more awareness is starting to spread about stress and anxiety disorders when they speak about the education system or working for Japanese companies. So hopefully the society will warm up to the idea of talking about and helping those that don't fit the social 'norm' in the not-so-distant future.

Jonah Shlaes said...

This is so amazing and really encouraging that you found a forum in Japan that's open minded about something I'd honestly predict to be a lot more hush-hush. And it's really interesting that you feel more open to taking an active role in Japan than back at Beloit; maybe it has something to do with the collective idea that everyone is hiding how they actually feel (very Japanese) while at the same time identifying with a hugely western-developed concept of LGBTQ identity (which is expressed in a very different way than Japanese norms).

And read, I 100% agree with you on people hesitating to talk about any sort of marginalized identity. Mental health is just not discussed here, from anywhere I can see at least. The only people I'm open with about emotional health here are other international students, so I wonder how much Western rhetoric and ideas change how Japan perceives and talks about these issues.