Being LGBTQ is hard not because our sexuality and gender identity walk hand-in-hand with instability in mental health (it doesn’t), but rather because the people around us validate their way of living by perpetuating hate speech and violence against us. Because some societies and people still view the others as commodities for their self-gratification. This is especially true in collective, mostly non-Western, societies. In this post I’ll examine through manga the societal pressure LGBTQ individuals face in Japan.
Although manga is art and as such doesn’t hold 100% validity as depiction of reality, it might let us get a glimpse into the society that created it. Let’s take a look:
In Girl’s End (Fujio, 2008) the woman who runs a lesbian club tries to make clear to the newbie employee that it’s not all fun and games. While she says she couldn’t possibly hide eternally, just by loving the same sex she is a source of sadness for others. She’s making a point that she shouldn’t forget it and work seriously while carrying the burden of her choices.
In the final chapter of I won’t tell anyone (Shigisawa Kaya, 2010) two co-workers are in relationship but they aren’t out. The parents of one of the two women have send a melon, a pricey gift, to their daughter’s lover as a thanks for taking care of her and probably to implicitly create an obligation to spill out the truth. When they come into town their daughter leaves her lover to deal with them alone. It’s quite distressing how the parents are afraid of such a romance and how the lover bends under the stress, lies and decides to break up. Beyond the problems their relationship had the emphasis is put in how the parents are hurt and how inappropriate it would be to make these people ‘suffer’.
In Kyou Kara Yonshimai (Nanki Satou & Akira Kizuki, 2013) the three sisters reunite with the person they considered their brother only to hear that their precious sibling feels a woman and wants to proceed in hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery. This doesn’t sit well with them since, in a sense, they lose their ‘brother’. The whole thing is played for laughs but what one could pinpoint to is that, once again, LGBTQ individuals need approval to live their lives. The way the situation is presented, the focus is not on the individual’s feelings but to their surroundings.
All three examples are from fairly recent publications. This might work as a reminder that group consciousness (shuudan ishiki) is still very much present in Japanese society. This mentality pushes for conformity, something which is reflected succinctly in the proverb “The nail that stands up will be pounded down” (deru kui wa utareru). Many people in Japan think that it is better to say nothing than cause misunderstandings or trouble. On top or perhaps as a result of this reasoning, there’s a strong sense of obligation towards family and people on the upper levels of social hierarchy (giri). The creation of family for the reproduction of society seems to be one of those obligations.
As time passes by, more and more people accept LGBTQ individuals if a video by Rachel and Jun (25/11/2013) is to be believed, but this acceptance is one shrouded in silence and prejudice. There’s no real understanding of what gender identity and sexual orientation are (which, to be honest, isn’t exclusive to Japan) and stereotypes still rule. Although Japan has a history of homosexuality, yuri and yaoi magazines, a big LGBTQ shopping and bar district, and pride parades are organized and even honored by the presence of the PM’s wife, that doesn’t mean that they share the same civil rights as heterosexual cis folks. A quote from the start of the video is very telling:
[…] Homosexuality was never a sin or vice—it was just something that was always naturally there. So why should people have to say they’re gay? I’m straight but I’ve never made a declaration out of it. ~bign8153
I’m not trying to make Japan the black sheep since I think it fares a bit better than many Asian countries; I’m just using her as an example since I can access parts of her culture. The same can be observed in some American states and European countries (I don’t have any picture about Africa) among devout Christians, Mormons, Muslims etc. where the moral rules are quite strict and there’s a sense of belonging to a superior being. Of course there are other cases, too, of parents in the countryside who put emphasis on what the village will say and/or see their children as wish fulfilling dolls.
As I mentioned in the introduction, generally, lgbtq individuals’ feelings continue to be treated as non-important or being put second as priorities. I hope this will change in the future both in Japan and elsewhere.
[The book that I consulted in writing this post is Osamu Ikena, Ed. Roger J. Davies (2002), The Japanese Mind, Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, Tuttle Pubblishing.]
P.S.: Happy Coming Out Day!