Monday, February 21, 2011

Lesbian Existence in Japan: It's Not Accepted or Supported as much as Gay and Trans Existence is (which isn't much)

photograph of Kanako Otsuji is from here
Homosexuality in Japan, from Wikipedia, *here*.
Despite the recent trends that suggest a new level of tolerance, as well as open scenes in more cosmopolitan cities (such as Tokyo and Osaka), Japanese gay men and lesbian women often conceal their sexuality; with many even marrying persons of the opposite sex to avoid discrimination.

Politics and law

Japan has no laws against homosexual activity, and has some legal protections for gay individuals. In addition, there are some legal protections for transgender individuals.
Consensual sex between adults of the same sex is legal, but some prefectures set the age of consent for same-sex sexual activity higher than for opposite-sex sexual activity.
While civil rights laws do not extend to protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, some governments have enacted such laws. The government of Tokyo has passed laws that ban discrimination in employment based on sexual identity.
The major political parties express little public support for gay rights issues. Despite recommendations from the Council for Human Rights Promotion, the Diet has yet to take action on including sexual orientation in the country's civil rights code.
Some political figures, however, are beginning to speak publicly about their own homosexuality. Kanako Otsuji, an assemblywoman from Osaka, came out as a lesbian in 2005. Two years earlier, in 2003, Aya Kamikawa became the first openly transgender elected official in Tokyo, Japan.

Popular culture

A number of personalities who appear on television in Japan daily are gay or transgender, or cultivate such an image as part of their public persona.
In recent years, a small number of artists, nearly all male, have begun to speak publicly about their homosexuality. They often appear on various talk shows and other programmes. Dancer and tarento Kabachan, tarento Gakuseifuku Sakamoto, comedian Ken Maeda, and twin pop-culture critics Piko and Osugi are among these.
Akihiro Miwa, a drag queen and former lover of author Yukio Mishima, is the television advertisement spokesperson for many Japanese companies ranging from beauty to financial products and TEPCO. Kenichi Mikawa, a former pop idol singer who now blurs the line between male and female costuming and make-up, can also regularly be seen on various programs, as can crossdressing entertainer Peter. Singer-songwriter and actress Ataru Nakamura was one of the first transgendered personalities to become highly popular in Japan; in fact, sales of her music rose after she discussed her MTF gender reassignment surgery on the variety show Boku no Ongaku in 2006.
However, some non-gay entertainers have used stereotypical references to homosexuality to increase their profile. Razor Ramon Hard Gay (HG), a comedian, shot to fame after he began to appear in public wearing a leather harness, hot pants and cap. His outfit, name, and trademark pelvis thrusting and squeals earned him the adoration of fans and the scorn of many in the Japanese gay community.
Recently, Ai Haruna and Ayana Tsubaki, two high profile transsexual celebrities, have gained popularity and have been making the rounds on some very popular Japanese variety shows.
Famous LGBT bloggers have began to gain more traction with the Japanese public, even often attracting fans and readers from outside Japan: prime examples being "Agoe" (アゴ江), "Utaguwa" (うたぐわ), and "Gomabukko" (ゴマブッ子).
A greater amount of gay and transgender characters have also begun appearing (with positive portrayals) on Japanese television, such as the highly successful Hanazakari no Kimitachi e and Last Friends television series.

Japanese culture has always been a part of my life. Part of my family is Japanese, and I maintain connection with those family members. They are not part of my white family-of-origin, most of whom I have little to no contact with. I grew up with a general regard and respect for Japan and Japanese people, which was unusual for whites of my generation in the U.S, who used to routinely make fun of Japanese people as "tourists with cameras" and other silly stereotypes. (Do U.S. whites really not go around country-hopping with cameras in hand?) '80s hits in the UK and the US, like "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors were deeply offensive to me and I hated hearing it or having to deal with white people thinking it was thematically funny or a good song. It's fucking racist as hell.

As a white Jew, I had to contend with the term "JAP" being used both derogatorily against people from Japan, not uncommonly uttered by white WWII vets stationed in East Asia, and as a term for "Jewish American Princess", which is anti-Semitic, sexist, and classist.

There remain many stereotypes of Japanese people in the U.S, and U.S. whites remain largely ignorant about East Asians, often confusing people of one nationality with another, with little concern or care. I hear whites say "Chinese" when they mean "Japanese" and vice versa, and there is little to no protest about such anti-East Asian racism here. The U.S., in other words, remains a very anti-Japanese society, in my view.

The history of human rights in Japan is quite different than in the U.S. While the white West has invaded and occupied aspects of Japanese life, most especially its economy and through military presence, Japan has kept its own culture distinct from the dominant white U.S. culture. As the dominant U.S. culture is pro-genocide, pro-gynocide, and heavily invested in ecocide as well, this determination to stay distinct is good, I think.

But this doesn't mean that Japan is a model society for girls, women, or lesbians in particular. Girls are exploited and sexualised in ways that are not even done so routinely in the U.S. Men are very entitled in Japan, including the white men who visit and live there, to have visual access to girls and sexual access to women. Marital rape isn't prosecuted. Battery is unchecked. Social services, including welfare for the unemployed, don't exist as they do in the U.S. And they exist inadequately in the U.S., except for the wealthy and for U.S. mega-corporations which, if they should go broke due to miserable managing, will find a government willing to give them billions of dollars in resources to support their survival and re-emergence. The poor have no such "luck". Corporations, it seems, do not need bootstraps with which to pull themselves up. They have bailouts instead.

This post concerns one particular group of oppressed women in Japanese society: lesbians, and the struggle for lesbian existence in Japan. Please click on the title to link back to the source website at Japan Today.
Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006


Invisible minority

Japan's lesbian community in dual struggle for rights, acceptance

The mysteries surrounding this group have too often become false myths that stereotype the lives of lesbians. Very common is the belief that women become lesbians because of some traumatic experience they've had with a man.
"That's no more valid than asking a straight person if they had a bad experience with someone from the same gender and then become heterosexual," says Kim Oswalt, a Tokyo-based psychotherapist.
"Straight people know they are straight at a young age -- maybe even before having a sexual experience. The same could be said for lesbian and gays -- they may know their orientation at an early age.
"Internalized homophobia is when gays feel like they have to look and act straight to be invisible because there is a culture of repression," says Oswalt. "I have my doubts that the politics of assimilation strengthen the voice of any marginalized group."
On the other hand, even if someone is out of the closet, it's not easy to identify a person's sexual orientation by how they look.
Every Wednesday night, a snug and mellow little Shibuya bar hosts a night called Chestnut and Squirrel, or "kuri to risu" in Japanese. The air is filled with the smell of what organizers call "dyke food," the sounds of ice clinking in so-called "dyke drinks" and the chatter of over a dozen international women.
They may all be there for one common reason, but not one looks much like another.
Within the lesbian "community" are several pocket communities divided by members such as political activists, party girls who are into cruising the bar scene, career women or lesbians with children.
"Sometimes people think that just because two people are lesbians, they're going to get along," says American EV. "But the truth is, I'm not defined by 'being a lesbian.' I'm myself. Being gay is part of who I am, but it's not all of who I am. We all have something in common, but it's just one thing that we have in common. It's not a hobby, like 'I'm gay on Wednesday nights but I scuba dive on Saturdays.' "
Lesbians are all around. They're our nurses, our teachers and our Saturday scuba diving buddies. They're even our friends and our sisters. They just blend in really well, sometimes to the point of invisibility.
"Minority, minority, minority," says Olivia Moss, who wrote her thesis for Cambridge University on Japanese lesbianism in the 1990s.
"For foreign working women in Tokyo, the minority of being foreign, within the minority of being lesbian, within the minority of being a working woman, means that it's no surprise we're 'invisible' on a large scale.

Add to this the population who are able to be 'out' at work, and the minority chain just goes on and on and the numbers decrease with the chain."
As Japan has yet to pass same-gender rights or antidiscrimination laws, most women don't fully come out, thus feeding the myth that lesbians don't exist in Japan.
"There's a fear among both foreign and Japanese women that it wouldn't just be taboo but there's a risk of losing your job or of alienating yourself from the so-called straight society," says Moss. Though Kanako Otsuji, an Osaka lawmaker, took a step forward by coming out publicly at last August's gay pride parade in Tokyo, Japanese lesbians have long been lacking public role models.
In 1980, well-known pop singer Naomi Sagara saw her career collapse as she was banished by the public after her former partner announced she was a lesbian.
"I didn't come out until I was 32," says Chu, who is lovingly referred to as Momma and has been helping organize "dyke weekends" (thrice a year get-togethers in Saitama) for over 10 years, as well as hosting food and drinks at Chestnut and Squirrel for four years.
"It's all about repression. I only knew about Naomi Sagara. She was lesbian and it was bad news. But then KD Lang was so cool. When I saw her sing at The Grammys, I thought 'I'm lesbian!' It was finally time for me to consider my sexuality. It must be a visible positive image for women to want to come out."
Chu says lesbian activities hit their peak in 1994, coinciding with the American feminist movement, when leaders of groups in Japan all worked together.
She says since then it has calmed down and because groups have different agendas they have gone their own ways.
Recently Japanese lesbians have been going their own way, with an increasing number choosing the Internet, rather than public places, to meet other women.
"The Net is different from meeting in a bar. I want more. People have lives and experiences, not just parties," says Ayano, who has been meeting Internet friends around Chiba for daytime activities like horseback riding and swan watching since September.
For some, following the personals on the Internet has compromised the strength of lesbian communities.
"Women can lead double-lives and that counteracts what the possibilities can be. It's easy to find a relationship on the Net by speed dating, but you end up closeting yourself and it affects the structure of that minority group. So then we don't fight for visibility because we've disappeared," says Moss.
"We need to encourage a community where women can express themselves. I feel like the foreign community has a moral obligation to care, contribute and support.
"It's time to work toward building self-awareness within our own foreign lesbian community -- and find ways of breaking down any barriers between ourselves and other communities."
But because of language barriers, the transitory nature of foreigners and the lack of same-gender spousal visas, there are different agendas for the foreign and Japanese lesbian communities.
Perhaps one of the challenges is how to respect the different agendas while at the same time building a strong political base.
Until a broader spectrum of visibility exists, public blindness remains and stigmas are continually reinforced by images of lesbianism brought to the mainstream.
"There are still many who believe in that there are virtually no lesbians in the real Japanese society," says Maki Kimura, a staff member of the Kansai Queer Film Festival and partner of Otsuji.
"A market where feminine lesbians are objectified and consumed as objects of sexual desire by heterosexual men, say through pornography, has developed.
"There are also a great number of lesbians who marry men due to economic concerns, partly because wage differences are still large between women and men in Japan.
"Even though we describe it as a community, there is not enough sharing of information with each other. Except for personals on the Internet, it's a big problem that there is virtually no media to link Japanese lesbians," says Kimura.
"I want to cut off the vicious cycle of discrimination and prejudice. The more we become visible, the more a systematic change favorable for us will be fostered."
Lesbian links
PA/F (Performance Art/Feminism): Space monthly events in Waseda include performances, fashion shows, speeches by prominent members and contributors to the Japanese lesbian community.
LOUD: Resource center and rights group for lesbian and bisexual women in Tokyo 's Nakano district; weekly events and information service.
The Kansai Queer Film Festival is trying its best to reach all the remote parts of Japan (currently in Aomori Prefecture) and welcomes any support for festival fundraising
Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade

The U.S. Male and Queer Obsession with "Censorship" of Pornography will not end, no matter how much pornography there is!

photograph of Catharine A. MacKinnon is from here
This post is about a review I recently read of a book by an author whose name is spelled (emphasis added by me) CathArine A. MacKinnon. The excellent book on law and women's liberation is titled Women's Lives, Men's Laws.

In this volume, C. A. MacKinnon has collected some brilliant discussions about law and liberalism; the notion of equal rights and what equality for women in a male supremacist state really means; on racism; on a very wacky version of postmodernism; on the male supremacy and male domination embedded in the practices and systems of sexual harassment, prostitution, pornography, and sexual assault; and she also discusses the history of psychotherapy and sexuality. I find chapter 19 especially thought-provoking and in need of greater discussion within society.

Here's the table of contents [source website is *here*]:


Section A. Changing the World for Women
1. To Change the World for Women

2. Unthinking ERA Thinking

3. From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway?

4. Law in the Everyday Life of Women

5. Toward a New Theory of Equality

6. Law’s Stories as Reality and Politics

7. "Freedom from Unreal Loyalties": On Fidelity in Constitutional Interpretation

8. What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said

9. Keeping It Real: On Anti-"Essentialism"

10. Of Mice and Men: A Fragment on Animal Rights

11. The Power to Change

Section B. Sexual Abuse as Sex Discrimination
12. Sexual Harassment: The First Five Years

13. Reflections on Sex Equality Under Law

14. Prostitution and Civil Rights

15. The Logic of Experience: The Development of Sexual Harassment Law

16. On Accountability for Sexual Harassment

17. Beyond Moralism: Directions in Sexual Harassment Law

18. Disputing Male Sovereignty: On United States v. Morrison

19. A Sex Equality Approach to Sexual Assault

Section A. Theory and Practice
20. Sex, Lies, and Psychotherapy

21. Liberalism and the Death of Feminism

22. Does Sexuality Have a History?

23. Speaking Truth to Power

24. Mediating Reality

Section B. Pornography as Sex Discrimination
25. Civil Rights Against Pornography

26. Pornography as Defamation and Discrimination

27. From Silence to Silence: Violence Against Women in America

28. Pornography Left and Right

29. Vindication and Resistance

30. The Roar on the Other Side of Silence



I'll note that here's a kind of HISteria common among men who adore control and domination of women more than respect and liberation for women, that results in the most ludicrous accusations and falsehoods presented by misogynist men as a kind of secular gospel truth. Needless to say, men lie a lot not just to GET what they want, but to KEEP what they already have. What men already have is a well-established position over and against women, structurally, economically, socially, sexually, and in every institution in the this country--and most other countries as well.

In most places that have free computer access, pornography is something men, certainly, already have access to in abundance. It is estimated that at least one third to one half of all traffic on the Internet is men searching, viewing, and downloading industry pornography which is pimp-produced material selling society the idea that all women are wh*res by nature, desire to be raped as forcefully as possible, and want to be humiliated and degraded. One can see why this industry must be challenged by feminists, and hopefully also by het men and queer people who care give a damn about women's liberation.

Read on, and you'll see what I mean about the reviewer not being able to get right the part about pornography and what MacKinnon has to say on the subject. (Do you suppose the reviewer actually read those chapters at all?)
Women's Lives, Men's Laws
As an activist and legal scholar, MacKinnon has been a prominent force in feminism since the mid-1970s, when she pioneered the legal claim for sexual harassment. Her latest volume brings together 29 essays that show how the juridical legal system empowers men at the expense of women. In tortuous academic prose, MacKinnon offers thought-provoking commentary on a wide range of subjects, including the ERA, abortion, Brown v. Board of Education, the history of sexual harassment law and the intersections of sexism with racial inequality and animal rights. ""Interrogating how animals are treated like women, and women like animals, and both like things, can shed reciprocal light,"" she writes in her essay ""Of Mice and Men."" Elsewhere, she wonders whether the law should ""rationally reflect society or change it? From whose point of view?"" MacKinnon's cause celebre-her arguments for the censorship of pornography-runs throughout the volume, but this controversial thread may weaken the book as a whole. ""Pornography,"" in her view, consists solely of visual images illustrating the subordination of women. And she appears to be unduly dismissive of women who watch or make pornography or who oppose its censorship. MacKinnon also seems to believe that there is little difference between actual violence and violence that is modeled, staged or faked. Readers who vehemently disagree with these interpretations may be annoyed to find them cropping up repeatedly but, for others, this book serves as a provocative, startling window on the battles currently being fought in some of the most contested areas of American law. [source: here]

What we see is that the reviewer is rather determined to make a truth claim that has no relationship to reality at all in the U.S., which is where the author lives and where the laws are that she discusses in the book. What's the obsession about? "CENSORSHIP"!! Why? Because it functions as a useful distraction from the actual issue, which is how industry pornography undermines women's quest for liberation in liberal-to-conservative societies. That is what Catharine MacKinnon discusses, but she never once talks about "CENSORSHIP" as a proposed or attempted feminist practice. So why, then, does the reviewer make it seem like when she brings up the subject that's fundamentally what she's concerned about?

I'd say to perpetuate one of several lies about radical feminists--which is that they want to take all the men's and all the queer people's pornography away. As if that were even possible! As if the market isn't flooded with both. As if there isn't something called "the Internet" which is most traveled by people looking at pornography!

The discussion in the U.S. about feminists wanting to BAN pornography, or have the federal government remove it is completely absurd and silly, and downright delusional: there is no means in the U.S. by which such a thing could occur: there are no legal mechanisms, and no possibly strategies employable to stop the proliferation of online pornography. This reminds me of Men's Rights activists claiming that they are in jeopardy of losing all their children. As if men don't control women and children, generally. As if men's laws don't serve men, generally. As if men aren't obtaining custody even of children they abuse. As if men aren't getting full custody of children from women they've been battering, in front of the children. And it's like white men worrying about American Indians taking away all "their" land, as if such a thing were legally possible, or even doable by any means at all.

Let's review the comments in the review above:
MacKinnon's cause celebre-her arguments for the censorship of pornography-runs throughout the volume, but this controversial thread may weaken the book as a whole.

And on which pages are those arguments "for the censorship of pornography"?? The reviewer can't say, because they aren't in there.

And so the discussions that are in the book don't "weaken" it, if you understand the book to be an incisive analysis and challenge to all the many ways men determine and undermine women's status and human existence in law and in life.
"Pornography," in her view, consists solely of visual images illustrating the subordination of women. And she appears to be unduly dismissive of women who watch or make pornography or who oppose its censorship.
She has legally defined the term as graphic material which is male supremacist and in which men sexually subordinate women in pictures and/or words. The definition isn't "in her view" so much as it rises out of what industry pornography actually is in society. Go look. See if this a "a viewpoint" MacKinnon is fabricating out of thin air. She's referring to what exists, materially. She's not willing to indulge in liberal fantasies that "pornography is in the eye of the beholder" when, frequently enough, semen is in the eyes of the women exploited and raped in pornography as a way to demonstrate men's social-sexual subordination, degradation, and humiliation of women and girls as a distinct political class of human beings.

She's noting that what women do that they call pornography doesn't have much to do with the industry as a whole, which is run by men, by male supremacist/misogynist and racist pimps, and always has been.
MacKinnon also seems to believe that there is little difference between actual violence and violence that is modeled, staged or faked.
She "seems to believe" this, or DOES she believe this? Again, one wonders if the reviewer bothered to read the book at all. MacKinnon is not vague or evasive on these subjects. You don't get to be a constitutional law professor with an accomplished record of fighting for women's human rights by indulging in abstractions and imprecise language. "MacKinnon also seems to believe" is abstract and imprecise, however.

So the next time you hear any U.S. man or queer person talk about U.S. feminists wanting to ban pornography, please remind them of something called "reality".