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Masaki C. Matsumoto: English-Speaking, LGBT, Queer and Feminist in Japan

Queer Eikawa

Image from Masaki Matsumoto's Queer Eikawa Facebook page.

Queer and feminist activist Masaki C. Matsumoto acts a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world, and is able to discuss LGTBQ+ issues — in English — from a Japanese perspective.

Masaki's long-running  blog Gimme a Queer Eye dates back to 2004, and features posts, in English, about a variety of topics — including the changing legal status of LGBT people in Japan — and links to side projects like Rad-queers Speaking English For You, which Masaki introduces by saying:

Ever felt sick of English-language LGBT journalism that, no matter how many times we radical queers around the world denounce it, continues to portray and represent queers in non-English-speaking regions in often racist, ethnocentric, colonial, progressivist, and quite shallow ways with a hint of Messiah Complex? I have.

Masaki regularly expresses frustration about how LGBTQ+ politics in Japan is portrayed by media outside of the country, and clarifies:

The most (stereo)typical, all-too-common article written in English never fails to make the following clear:

>>Japan lags behind the West. There’s nothing legal about gay partnerships, and people there are afraid to come out.

>>But things are changing. And such changes are welcomed with enthusiasm by all LGBTs in Japan.

Masaki helps clear up the confusion via a vlog hosted on YouTube, called Masaki's QueerESL. “Feeling a bit disappointed in text as a medium/format for communicating ideas to the public,” Masaki says in the introduction to the channel, “I started making videos about LGBT, queer, and feminist issues!”

One of Masaki's latest vlogs is “5 Things You Didn't Know About LGBTQs in Japan”:

Sokka shot first, a member of the United States-based online community MetaFilter, made a post on the site that linked to a recent interview that Matsumoto did with Anime Feminist, a website that examines anime and manga through a feminist lens. It had previously been noted on MetaFilter that Anime Feminist “would be well-served by presenting Japanese criticism in addition to their own Western perspectives”; Masaki did not disappoint, providing both English- and Japanese-language transcripts of the interview.

In the interview, besides talking about his background (he's lived in the US and in New Zealand, and now operates a bar in a rural area outside of Tokyo), Masaki also makes a few observations about what kinds of different LGBTQ+ communities and intersections exist in Japan, and shares his feelings about whether LGBTQ+ people are well represented in Japanese pop culture (for the Anime Feminist interview, Masaki provided both the Japanese and English-language text):

ちなみに、実は私は、正確な表象なんていうものがあるとは思っていません。私たちはとても多様なため、LGBTQ+のうちどの小グループを取り出しても、それを正確に描き出すなんてことは不可能です。しかしそれは、偏見に基づいて描いてもいいということにはなりません。そんなのムカつくし、そもそも作り手の創造性の欠如です。

On a side note, I do not believe in accurate representation. We’re so diverse that it’s impossible to depict any of the subgroups of LGBTQ+ and be accurate. But, that doesn’t mean you can depict us based on the stereotypes. That’s annoying, and not very creative anyway.

When asked about his impression of yaoi/BL anime and manga, which presents queer male relationships for a target audience of heterosexual women, Masaki says:

やおい/BLは大好きなんです。多くの男性同性愛者と男性異性愛者がやおい/BLを嫌悪していることは知っていますが、やおい/BLは素晴らしいということを言わねばなりません。[…] それでも私にとってやおい/BLは自分のアイデンティティの基礎になっています。やおい/BLがあったことで、自分が両性愛者であることを受け入れることがだいぶ楽になったと思います。その点で、私はやおい/BLのクリエイターの皆さんに感謝しています。

I must admit I love them. I know many gay men and straight men loathe yaoi/BL, but I have to say, they’re awesome. […] Yaoi/BL still is the basis of my identity, which helped me accept my bisexuality greatly. I am grateful to all yaoi/BL creators for that.

As for how everyday life is different for LGBTQ+ people in Japan compared to the US or New Zealand, Masaki says:

差別的な人間として振舞うことが「楽しい」一方で、受け入れることは「つまらない」ことなのです。実際にあなたが心の中でどれだけ支援していようが、どれだけ差別的なことを考えていようが、関係ありません。ただ差別者のように振舞うのです。「オカマはキモい」と言うのです。罰ゲームとして男同士にキスをさせるのです。他にも何でもいいです。それは「面白い」ことで、誰も文句なんて言わないんです。だって文句を言ったら「つまらない」人になってしまうから。メディアすら、自分たちの作ったコンテンツに含まれる同性愛嫌悪やトランス嫌悪に文句がついても、ろくに真剣に受け取ったりしません。

[In Japan] it’s ‘fun’ to act like a bigot. It’s ‘boring’ to be accepting. It doesn’t matter how much of a bigot or an ally you may be underneath. Just act like a bigot, say ‘fags are kimoi‘ [gross], have a man kiss another man for a batsu game, whatever. It’s ‘funny’ and no one complains, because if you complain, you’re ‘boring’. Even no media company takes it seriously when they receive complaints about their homophobic and/or transphobic programs.

The whole interview is wide-ranging, and provides many insights into Masaki's own perception of LGBTQ+ culture in Japan.

Throughout the interview, as well as on his blogs and in his vlogs, Masaki is always careful to note that his observations of Japan are his alone, and that “he speaks for himself, not for some imaginary Japanese LGBTQ+ monolith.”

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