Sunday, July 10, 2011

Who am I to say?

I am Toby. I came to Japan on the JET Programme on August 6th, 2006. I was 26 years old. I couldn't speak Japanese at all, except for the personal introduction recommended to us by the JET pamphlets.

I was extremely excited to begin this new adventure of teaching English in Japan, though I was quite worried about what my social life would be like since I was a queer girl stepping outside of her comfortable sphere of the gay friendly Bay Area of San Francisco, California.

On the first 3 days of Tokyo orientation, I was a nervous wreck. I wanted to learn as much as I could about teaching, living in Japan, and learning Japanese culture. I was also worried about making friends, as I didn't know a single person in the JET programme or Japan. I was completely alone.

I was extremely delighted when I found the Stonewall group at my Group B Orientation. I attended the presentation and listened to all the advice given by my sempai. Later on, the "night out" was scheduled. This night out conflicted with the "night out" given by my prefecture, however I decided that I would eventually get to meet all of them, so I chose to go out with the Stonewall group to Nichome.

Ultimately, I was glad to have made that decision. I met alot of cool people out that night, and was surprised to see the difference of gay night life from what I was accustomed to in San Francisco. Nichome is much smaller than, let's say, Castro. The lesbian bar that we visited was near empty and the streets, not-so-crowded. After all, it was a Monday night. However, I was able to bond with several of the members of the group and establish some good friendships that would last over the next few years.

Although I had a wonderful time, and enjoyed every minute of the brightly lit walk through Shinjuku, mesmerized by the night view of Tokyo's busiest district, it didn't come without consequences. The next day, most of my prefecture seemed to have become best friends with each other overnight.Everyone seemed to have already bonded and made plans from the night before, and I can't lie to say that I felt left out.

However, after some time, I was able to make a lot of great friends with the neighboring JETs in my prefecture.

During the presentations, there was a lot of concern from people about whether or not to "come out". The advice remains the same 5 years later, come out to those you know and trust, and take some time to gauge the surroundings before you share that part of your personal life. It was easy to come out to fellow JETs. Especially now, most people are open, accepting, and have experience with having gay friends. However, that's not to say that there wasn't the occasional pitfall. I had been outed to by friends to people I wasn't yet ready to out myself to, such as common Japanese friends. Also, I found that a few of the overzealous religious JETs struck up some uncomfortable conversations, which I could easily defend since I deal with the same things from many of my family members.

Yes, I've come out to my family. It was not an easy journey, as it happened before the current stage we are in now, in the times of changing legislation and the "it gets better" campaigns. Although, you should be aware that in Japan, many Japanese gays are NOT OUT.

I've talked about this with many, a many of my Japanese friends, both male and female. Though I know a few who are out, who even have married with foreigners, have even started families, it is still not common when I compare the statistics of those people I know. This topic interests me greatly, and I'm a "listener", so I've asked many people about their views and experiences regarding "coming out".

I hate making blanket statements about topics such as these, so I won't. However, a lot about gay culture in Japan on the topic of being "out and proud" can be learned by joining a Gay Pride. Every parade has a section of marchers that march behind a sign that says "No photos allowed", in this section, many are wearing sunglasses, costumes and veils that show that they don't want to be outed in the public sphere. This section of the parade always has a large amount of people.

That being said, coming out in Japan is harder for people in Japan than it may be in other countries. Although it is not against the law, or even discouraged by AJET Stonewall, it is something to pay attention to.

As for other topics at the Stonewall presentation, people asked questions such as the following:

1) How do I find my local gay community?
2) What kinds of gay related events are put on by Stonewall?
3) What about Bisexuality in Japan?
4) What cultural differences exist in gay relationships in Japan?
5) Who can I talk to if I have a problem, but I'm too shy to share it with my straight friends or prefectural advisor?
6) How do I respond to offensive remarks regarding my sexuality?
7) What is the etiquette in a Japanese gay bar?
8) What are some of the "must know" gay-related words in Japanese?
9) How do I navigate the Japanese gay websites?
10)What do I do when I'm introduced to my boyfriend's/girlfriend's parents?

I added a few questions to the list of things that I had eventually wondered after living in Japan for a while. I think it would be good to have a message board on the Stonewall website where these questions can be posed, and other members are free to answer and give their lived-through advice.

Also, I plan to become more involved in talking about gay life here on my blog. I was quiet about my lez life here on my site for a long time. I wrote very carefully because I was paranoid for my employers, the JET programme, to find it. However, I no longer work for them, and I am slowly becoming more comfortable to share my personal stories and all the things I've learned from living and dating in Gay Japan for 5 years.

Since 2006, I've attended countless gay events, eventually partaking more in lesbian events. In 2008, I started dating my girlfriend who opened my world in so many ways. I've met so many awesome LGBT folk here who have also taught me much about life in Japan. I'm not going to lie, what they tell in you in orientation about culture shock, is very much true, and I've gone though some very dark and lonely times, however, I've also experienced some of the best times of my life here in both regular and gay Japan. I look forward to meeting with you all and sharing whatever I can to help you get along in this fabulous country.

Remember, all of the things you find here in my blog are just my opinion and aren't necessarily endorsed by Stonewall AJET. I'm just a girl, just a human, is all.

Stay Tuned: for more posts answering these questions and translations of relevant news regarding gay news, events, politics and more. I've studied the Japanese language extensively since I moved here, speaking nothing. I went through all 3 of the CLAIR provided language texts. Despite that, I still lack in language skills when it comes to chatting in a bar, but my point always comes across, and i'm often understood. I now practice Japanese by studying off of social sites, such as Mixi, Bianbian, and Spindle. I am working on learning more "natural" Japanese. It's my goal to translate news and event info for you, as well as making frequent posts on gay-related Japanese language "must-knows".

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