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Japan: Coming-Out Letters

COL coverThe Japanese LGBT community has come a long way to claim its position in society today. However, aside from those flamboyant celebrities on TV who satisfy viewers’ appetite for entertainment, the voices of sexual minorities are still rarely heard or amplified – perhaps more so in the case of those who support and share their life with them.

“Coming-Out Letters” is a compilation of letters exchanged between lesbian and gay children and their parents, students and their teachers, edited by two prominent Japanese LGBT activists, RYOJI and Sunagawa Hideki. What distinguishes this new publication from much of the LGBT literature previously published is that it exposes not only the experiences of the children/students but also how parents and teachers faced, handled and overcame their children/students coming out to them. Since its publishing in December, the book has inspired many bloggers to share their responses to the book as well as their personal thoughts and experiences.

Fushimi Noriaki, a gay writer, sums up his impression of the book:

カミングアウトとは一方的に少数者の側がするものではなく、それを受け止める側とのコミュニケーションのことを言う(べきだ)。本書はそういう意味では、初めてカミングアウトを立体的にとらえた一冊になっている。差別に置かれながらも可能性に開かれている日本のゲイやレズビアンの「いま」を、見事に映し出しているだろう。

Coming out is (or should be) spoken of not as something the minority does in an arbitrary way, but as communication with the receiving side. In this sense, this book is the first to stereoscopically capture people's coming-out [experience]. I think it wonderfully exposes the “present” of Japanese gays and lesbians who, even while confronted by discrimination, have a space of possibilities opening before them.

Other bloggers shared their personal views and thoughts on the topic. Blogger Yu considers what the act of coming out means to him:

ともあれ僕は、家族にはカミングアウトできていません。クリスチャン・ホームだから、っていうのも、理由の一端になきにしも非ず。ですが、それよりもむしろ大きいのは、両親の「孫に絵本を読んで聞かせたい」という希望、両祖母の「孫の結婚式が見たい・ひ孫の顔が見たい」という希望を、昔から浴びて育ってきたから。です。
そしてなによりも、自分がこんなにも愛されて育てられてきたことを、心の底から実感しているから。いつか言わなきゃ、いつか言わなきゃ、と、思いながらも、言えないまま、ここまで生きてきました。[…]

Anyway, in my case, I haven't been able to come out to my family. I cannot deny the fact that coming from a Christian home is one of the reasons. However, more so, I think it's because I grew up with my parents wishing “we want to read books to grandchildren” and both my grandmothers wishing “want to see my grandson's wedding, want to see great-grandchildren”.
And above all, it's because I feel from the bottom of my heart that I grew up with so much love. I have lived my life until now always thinking that I have to tell them, I have to tell them some day.[…]

[…]
自分が誰のことを好きなのか、誰と生きていくことを願うのか。
子どもが誰のことを好きなのか、誰と生きていくことを願うのか。
本当は、ただそれだけの話。でも、自分の/子どもの生の核にも関わってくる、大切な話。
だからこそ、言いたい。だからこそ、言えない。だからこそ、話をしては悔やみ、話を聞いては怯える。
それが、カミングアウトをする、ということなんだと思う。

でもやっぱり、ただ苦しくて切ないだけが、カミングアウトする、っていうことじゃない。

[…]
Who do I like, who do I wish to live with.
Whom your child likes and who he/she wishes to live their life with.
The truth is, it's just about that. But this is something important that comes down to the core of your and your child's life.
That's why I want to say this. That's why I cannot say this. That's why I regret after telling, and fear after hearing.
That, I think, is what coming out is about.

But still, coming out is not just about bitterness and heartaches.

[…]
こんな自分だけど、あなたと一緒にこれからも生きて行きたい。
どんなあなたでも、あなたと一緒にこれからも生きて行きたい。
そんな風に互いを想いやり、確かめ合い、新しい関係を、これまでの関係を、これからも生きていくこと。
そのことを深く刻みこむことが、カミングアウトをする、ということなんだと思う。

This is the way I am but I want to live my life with you for years to come.
Whatever kind of person you are, I want to live my life with you for years to come.
To think about and recognize each other, and to live with new relationships and old relationships.
To chisel these things deeply in my heart, I believe, is what coming out is about.

Another blogger, Akaboshi, shares his thoughts as well:

僕のような同性愛者が近親者にカミングアウトをためらう時って、「拒絶されて自分が傷つきたくない」のと同じくらい、「相手を傷つけたくない」という気持ちが働くのではないかと思う。同性しか好きになれないという自分の本性から、逃げ続けた思春期の経験がそうさせる。自分ですら大変だった思いを、なんで年老いた親に背負わせなければならないのか。そういう思いがあることは否定できない事実だ。もともとは社会に蔓延するホモフォビア(同性愛嫌悪)が原因なのだけど。

When a homosexual person like me is hesitant about coming out with their close family, I think the thinking is as much that “I don't want to hurt them” as it is that “I don't want to get hurt”. This is a result of my own experience during my adolescent years continuously escaping from my true self, a self that can love only a person of the same sex. Why do I have to impose a hardship that was already difficult enough for me onto my old parents. I cannot deny the fact that I have these kinds of feelings. The source [of the problem], though, is the prevalence of homophobia in society.

カミングアウトってものは、する相手との関係が近ければ近いほど、もしも壊れてしまった場合のリスクが大きい。だから失敗した場合にフォローが出来るかどうか自信が持てない限り、躊躇するのは仕方のない事だと思う。それを「だらしない」とか「意気地なし」とか強者の論理で責めたてるのは勝手だけど、世の中強い人ばかりではないことを、僕は自分を通して知っている。強くなってしまうと見えなくなってしまうことも、あるのではないかと思ったりする。同性愛者に生まれついたということだけでも結構シンドイのに、なぜ「カミングアウト」という行為をせねばならないという重圧まで背負い込まされなければならないのかと、本音では思ったりすることもある。

The closer you are to the person you want to come out to, the greater the danger there is to the relationship. So unless you are sure about how to handle the situation in case you fail, I think it is natural to be hesitant. You can take up the argument of the strong and criticize my saying this as being “coward” or as “wimpy”, but I know from my own experience that there are not only strong people in this world. I think there are things that you can't see when you become strong. Being born as gay itself is tough enough, why do I have to take on the pressure of having to go through the experience of “coming out” — this is what I think in my heart sometimes.

On the other hand, yejin compares her experience of being and “coming out” as zainichi:

マイノリティが抱える葛藤という点においては、「在日」とも共通する課題や問題を感じて、共感することが多々ありました。

しかし、彼らにとって大きな問題は、おそらく誰にとっても一番身近で、もっとも自分のことを理解してもらいたい、受け入れてもらいたいと思う相手である親に対して、なかなかカミングアウトできない、しても受容されないという現実があることだと思います。

ゲイやレズビアンの人は、強固な一般的社会通念という壁にはばまれ、うちのめされることが多いのではないか? 傷ついて誰にも明かせず自分を肯定できず生きているのではないか? そう思うと胸がしめつけられます。

In terms of the struggles of minorities, I see a lot of similar challenges and problems relating to Zainichi, so I felt a lot of sympathy.

However, their problem perhaps is the fact that they cannot easily come out to their parents, by whom they want to be understood and accepted the most, and that even if they do come out they are not accepted.

Doesn't it seem that gays and lesbians often get thwarted by an impregnable wall of social notions? Doesn't it seem that they live their life unable to tell anyone, unable to be positive about themselves? When I think about these things, it breaks my heart.

何より自分を生んで育ててくれた親や、親しい友人たちを偽り、本当の自分を隠し通し続けるのは、心に大きな負担を背負って生きることだと思います。

でも日本社会は決してセクシャルマイノリティにとって優しい社会ではないと思います。親しい友人に対してであっても、いざカミングアウトしようとすれば、様々な反応を想定して心の準備をするに違いありません。

私も私なりに、友だちに「在日だよ」と話す時にはちょこっと勇気出してみたり、様々な反応に対する心構えをしたりします。それはそんなに深刻なものではないけど、間違いなく、いっこいっこの反応に対して自分の在りようを探ってきたかなーと思います。

More than anything, to have to continuously hide your true self from your parents, who gave birth to you, and from your close friends — this is like living with a huge burden on your heart.

However, I don't think Japan is a society that is friendly to sexual minorities. When trying to come out, even to close friends, I bet they have to prepare for every possible reaction.

In my case as well, when I tell my friends “I'm a zainichi”, I need a little bit of courage and have to prepare for different reactions. It's not really that serious or anything, but certainly I would like to think about how I should be in response to each possible question.

Special & warm thanks to Yu, blogger at Yuyu jiteki(悠々自的。), who kindly advised me on the topic and helped me put together the blog entries for this post.

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