Entry #26 – Being Asian American and Queer

Hi all, Kohaku here. Is everyone okay? How was your week?

Today, I would like to talk about something very important to me, something I have been thinking about a lot recently: the intersectionality of being Asian American and queer. This topic is particularly on my mind because of some of the articles I have read recently. Here are a few of them:

“What It’s Like Coming Out as Queer in a Traditional Chinese Family,” The Stranger
“Question: Why is coming out to your Asian parents hard in Hong Kong?”, The Honeycombers
“‘It gets better,’ but for Asian Americans, coming out can also get complicated,” Voices
“How Cultural Norms Make It Hard To Come Out As Gay To Asian Parents,” Newsy

There were a lot of common threads between these articles, and I found a lot of things that I heavily related to. So today I would like to use my weekly journal entry to speak about this topic at length as it relates to my own life.

My name is Kohaku Toran. I am Asian American, the third and youngest child of two Taiwanese immigrants. I am a writer, a musician, and a student who was at one time suicidal and is still sometimes affected by depression. And I identify as queer and nonbinary. All of these parts of my identity have combined to shape my life in unique ways – ways that are still developing, ways that I’m still trying hard to understand. But I know that writing things down, telling a story, is an imperfect but integral part of the process of understanding. That is the meaning of this journal.

Race and Sexuality

My Childhood, My Parents

I think I had it better than a lot of people. Growing up, the atmosphere in my household was for the most part tolerant and accepting. All three of us children went to a high school with a strong social justice-minded humanities program, a place where systems of oppression like the patriarchy and homophobia were openly discussed and unpacked by teachers and students alike. With this kind of educational background, we were supported by older mentors who preached coexistence, surrounded by close friends who loved us unconditionally, and inspired by fellow classmates who lived out and proud and willing to be true to themselves. It wasn’t perfect – far from it – but it could have been much, much worse. Meanwhile, at home, my parents watched TV shows with gay characters in them, and my middle sister M continuously challenged traditional notions of femininity and masculinity. From a young age, she fiercely rejected feminine-associated traits and behaviors that she did not like, refusing to wear skirts and dresses, for example. When she was a senior in high school she came out to us as bi and then pansexual, explaining to my parents what these words meant. She wore a suit and tie to prom, accompanied by a close male friend. Then she went to college, and came back with a beautiful boyish haircut, tattoos, and a girlfriend.

My parents’ general attitude toward all things LGBTQ+ tended toward passive acceptance, at least in terms of the existence and humanity of gay people. They never really talked about it. I don’t remember them ever saying anything to my face about the gays, whether good or bad. But, like I said, they made their household a tolerant and accepting place. As I grew up, I saw gay characters on TV, I saw my sister come out as pan, and I didn’t think anything about any of it. Because of their parenting, I just unconsciously understood and accepted the existence and humanity of sexual minorities. It was only in high school when I realized that the rest of the world didn’t necessarily feel that way.

I’m not really “out” to my parents as queer. I’m not out to a lot of people, really, but for the most part it’s not because of fear. From the way my parents raised me, as well as my own individual personality, I just don’t feel the need. I’m not hiding anything. If they asked me straight up if I were gay, I’d tell them. If I get a girlfriend, I’d tell them. But I don’t feel that it’s necessary to sit my mother and father down and say, “hey, I like girls.” If I were to do that, their reaction would probably be the same as it was to my sister M: “okay.” My father would nod and keep playing on his iPad. If I said specifically “queer,” my mom might ask, “what’s that mean?” And then after I’d explained this new English word, she’d probably go on about how she doesn’t like labels. Or she’d just say “okay.”

How can I be so sure? Besides their parenting style and my sister M paving the way for me, I remember one particular event in the summer after twelfth grade that truly affirmed my mother’s understanding and love. I was in a doctor’s office, privately talking with my mom’s acupuncturist S about some health problems. At some point in the discussion, S said, “If you have or get a boyfriend, we should talk about that.” Intending only to say that I wasn’t currently interested in a relationship, I replied, “I don’t want a boyfriend.” Immediately S asked, “So you want a girlfriend? You like girls?” I felt suddenly cornered, stammering a noncoherent answer. S smiled down at me and said, “That’s okay too.” I walked out of her office slightly mortified. Still in shock, as I walked with my mother back to the car, I told her, “Ma, [S] thinks I’m gay.” My mother asked, “Are you?” I struggled to find a response for a minute – I didn’t want to have to go into my queerness yet, I didn’t want to explain to her a lot of new words, I didn’t want to put the nail in the coffin when I was still questioning my identity myself. In the end I settled on saying, “I take people one at a time.” And my mother nodded and said, “Me too.”

I’m lucky to have such accepting parents. But I still have fear and tension of being out or bringing a girlfriend around my extended family on multiple axes. On one hand, my father’s side of the family, at least the part that emigrated to America, is largely Christian, and I don’t know how conservative they are, I don’t know how they would react. This is the one part of my family about which the words “I’m not hiding anything” become an absolute lie. But looking along a different axis, I am also afraid of the older generation of my extended family on both sides, those who live or have lived in Taiwan, those who are much more culturally traditional. Taiwan is one of the most LGBTQ+ accepting nations in Asia. Same-sex marriage was just legalized last year – the first Asian country to do so. But legal marriage doesn’t mean social or cultural acceptance. And this is where the intersectionality of being Asian and queer really starts to come in.

Social and Cultural Pressures

Take a glance at any of the articles I linked earlier, and you’ll find basically everything that I’m going to say here. Many Asian cultures in general are community and family-based rather than individualistic; they place more focus on ancestors, family respect and duty, and collective family reputation. There’s not a lot of education about LGBTQ+ people, and not a lot of social acceptance, either. So when I think about “coming out” or being truly myself around the older generations of my family, I’m faced with questions like these:

Are you respecting your ancestors? Are you representing your family well? Are you going to trash our family’s reputation? Are you going to carry on the bloodline? Are they going to disown me or otherwise cut me out to save face? Will I be allowed at the family banquet next winter? If I get a girlfriend, will they let her attend?

And so on and so forth. Some of these questions are more intersectionally nuanced; carrying on the bloodline or family name, for instance, is more relevant to my gay male cousin than to me, and he really struggles with this burden. But questions like these plague us all – my cousin, my sister, me, and many other Asian queer folks out there. It’s an added cultural level that further complicates the whole process of questioning and accepting yourself, coming out to family, and living true to your heart.

Representation

Besides my struggles with questions of family and culture, the other big problem I had (and still have to some extent) is the lack of social representation of Asian or Asian American queers. In the mainstream media in Taiwan, there’s not a lot of representation of LGBTQ+ people; in America, there’s maybe a bit more, but intersectionality is a big player. Yeah there’s gay characters in some mainstream shows and films – but they tend to only be gay white males, and when there’s people of color, they’re almost never Asian. So when I was questioning my sexual orientation and other facets of my identity in the past few years, I kept wondering: What is a queer Asian female-assigned person supposed to look like and act like? And underlying that question, another: Am I queer ‘enough’? Will people accuse me of pretending, of not actually being queer, because I don’t look or act ‘right’?

Lack of representation of the subordinate group is a manifestation of any system of oppression. Minority faces are erased, their voices are silenced, their existence is shoved backstage or downstairs, so that the dominant group can control and rewrite both history and society. So the lack of representation of queer Asian women is a form of oppression and something that I believe needs to be fixed. However, at the same time and on an individual level, I’ve recently also come to understand this lack of representation as a form of freedom for me. There isn’t any particular way I have to look or act or be – I can just be myself. I can be true to my heart without worrying about matching up to media representations of what other people think I’m supposed to be.

Race and Gender Identity and Expression

My Childhood, My Parents

Now I’m going to switch gears and really talk about my experience of being Asian and nonbinary. I decided to separate this section out because it really differs from my experience of just happening to be attracted to girls. In looking at the ways being Asian or Asian American has impacted my life, its intersections with my sexual orientation and my gender identity exist on different planes. Where my parents were tolerant and accepting of gay people, they were more resistant against things that contradicted social and cultural norms of gender, and I don’t know how they’d react if I told them I identify as nonbinary.

As I mentioned before, my sister M really paved the way for me. She rejected a lot of traditional female gender roles. She refused to wear skirts and dresses and ‘girly’ things, she didn’t like shopping or makeup. She went to university, and she went into engineering. She changed to a more masculine-presenting haircut and image. Our maternal grandmother recently found an old picture of her, back when she had long black hair and presented more feminine, and commented to her, “Look, you were a girl then.” She still is – she just expresses in a more androgynous or masculine way. And she taught me that it’s okay to do the same. She taught me that it’s okay to be comfortable in myself, to present myself however way I feel best. It wasn’t easy for her, and it’s still not easy for me. My parents still tried to get me to wear feminine clothes for the longest time. My father would sometimes remark that my knee-length shorts were ugly, that I should wear shorts that are much shorter – like a girl. My mother would still buy me skirts and dresses. My father doesn’t really like my short hair. They didn’t always understand my preferences, they weren’t always the most open to letting me express the way I wanted to express – but I know that on the inside, they were and are still trying, and it’s getting better.

I just don’t know how they would feel about this new term, “nonbinary.” I introduced it to my mother last year, in a somewhat passing side conversation. I mentioned that Apple had released new nonbinary emojis, and used that – I know it sounds ridiculous – to explain to my mother what the word means. I don’t know if she really understands. I don’t know if my father would understand. But for me, for the most part, that’s alright, because like I said, I don’t feel the need to be out, and I don’t care very much about how other people see or think of me. That’s why I don’t care about what pronouns are used to refer to me. But for other people, who need recognition and validation, who need to feel explicitly accepted by their families and others, life like this can be really hard. That’s why education and representation are so, so important. Being Asian or Asian American adds another level of complexity.

Social and Cultural Pressures

A lot of the cultural struggles and questions I listed above for sexuality also apply for gender. In a culture that is so based around family and reputation and fitting in, it’s hard to be yourself if that means standing out. Gender roles in traditional Asian cultures at large are pretty defined. One of my personal biggest challenges was getting through cultural activities in Chinese School. In one year, my class was supposed to do a pop dance, and it was pretty gender neutral, so even though I hate dancing, I participated – and ended up as lead dancer, on account of being the only one who did the homework and actually learned the dance. Even though I didn’t like it at all, I got through it. But the following year (and maybe the year after, I don’t really remember) we were supposed to do a traditional Chinese dance, wearing qipao. For those unfamiliar, a qipao is a very feminine close-fitting dress. And I absolutely, absolutely hated the idea of wearing one, let alone going up on stage with it and waving around a fan and dancing. I couldn’t see a way out of it – it’s not as though I could have gone up to my teacher and said “I’m nonbinary” and she would have let me sit it out. I don’t know if there’s even a word in Mandarin for nonbinary gender. In the end – and I’m not very proud of this – I used my bad shoulder as an excuse to not have to do the dance. My shoulder probably wouldn’t have been that much of a problem for the slow type of dance we were supposed to do, but I said that it hurt, and I got out of it. “Bad girl,” they might have said if they knew. “Shameful.” “Disgrace on your family,” yada yada yada. (That’s an exaggeration, obviously, but what if it wasn’t just a school dance?)

Representation

And what about representation of gender-nonconforming (whether identity, expression, or both) Asians/Asian Americans? Little to none, though in some sense that’s debatable. Conceptions of femininity and masculinity in Asian cultures aren’t always the same as in the West; Asian men are often depicted or described as naturally Western-feminine, and looked down upon for it. So seeing images of guys who looked more “feminine” to me was in itself a form of representation. But in my questioning of my identity, I was personally searching for more representation than that. For something bigger, something more meaningful, I really had to dig. What came up was Japanese visual kei.

I’ve talked about vkei a lot before on this blog and elsewhere, but for those unaware, visual kei is a Japanese musical style that emphasizes the visual appearance and expression, typically in ways that result in gender-nonconforming costumes, hair, makeup, and so on. I remember the story of how the all-male members of X Japan, old vkei giants and one of my favorite bands, were once criticized for dressing too feminine – so the next week, they showed up dressed as princesses. Hearing stories like these, of musicians challenging traditional conservative gender norms, thrilled me. I loved getting into various visual kei artists, watching videos of their concerts, exploring their different modes of expression, because for me, this all meant representation. It meant representation and it meant empowerment, and it was something that at the time I was hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Vkei is still my favorite music, its artists still my favorite and sometimes the only artists on my daily playlists, and I’m still slowly and steadily exploring this style.

Visual kei was what gave me, personally, a reflection of my gender-nonconforming self and all the ways I could be free to express the way I wanted to be. But the fact that I had to dig hard and come up with an Asian musical genre to make up for the lack of representation of Asian queers in America says a lot. Gender-nonconforming folks of all races and backgrounds, as a whole, do not receive much representation at all, and this needs to change.

Closing

This is my story of my life so far and how the intersectionality of being Asian and queer has shaped it. What I want to hear now are your stories. If you’re Asian, or queer, or both, or if you know anyone who identifies as such or has been affected by these identities, I want to hear what you think about this topic. Leave a comment or an email. Let’s talk about it!

Take care of yourselves and have a great week.

KT

Entry #25 – Recent Artist Inspirations

Hi everyone, it’s Kohaku. I hope you all had a good week.

There’s certainly a lot of tension in the world right now – in all kinds of places, for all kinds of reasons. The U.S. and Iran, Iran and the Ukraine, Taiwan’s elections, Hong Kong, North Korea – just to name a few. I really wish that humans could just learn to love one another, to do away with war and violence, to tolerate and coexist. Do you think it’s possible? Can we save ourselves? I really wonder sometimes.

Anyway, as promised, I’m going to talk about my recent artist inspirations today. I think art is incredibly important for people to get in touch with their emotions and develop strong connections with each other. Art can teach us love and peace, tolerance and coexistence, creativity and sensitivity. So, I always try to continuously expose myself to new art and artists, and at the same time I make an effort to pay attention to what goes into my own art – whether that’s writing, photography, painting, or anything else.

Most of what I’ve been doing recently has to do with music. Here are the music artists that I’ve mainly been listening to recently.


~ YOHIO

I think YOHIO is incredible. His singing voice is great, in English and in Japanese, and the amount of effort and creativity he puts into his music videos always impresses me. He’s very young, too, and with the quantity and quality of the content he continues to put out, he’s quickly shaping up to be one of my favorite visual kei artists. I’m looking forward to his new album!


~ RADWIMPS

RADWIMPS never ceases to amaze me. Not visual kei, but I first got into them after watching 「君の名は。」 years ago, and have been steadily working through their discography since. From upbeat soft rock jams, to the annual introspective pieces based on 3.11 like 「夜の淵」 and 「カイコ」, their variety of songs and general style and lyrics really appeal to me. Recently I discovered some of their older songs, as well as a lot of songs I’ve just never listened to. I was stunned after viewing the music video for 「光」. It’s a great song, plus LGBTQ representation… there goes my heart. Here’s the MV below:


~ Yellow Fried Chickenz

I started listening to some of their songs again. I think YFCz was a really interesting band. I loved the diversity and quality of the members, and really enjoyed hearing dual vocals. Some of their songs sound a bit crazy, and it can seem sometimes like the musicians were really just fooling around and having a good time, but then out of nowhere they’ll hit you with a tragic heartthrob like 「Mata koko de aimashou」… Look that one up. The video makes me cry!


~ Kiyoharu / Kuroyume

Most recently, I’ve been listening to Kuroyume and vocalist Kiyoharu’s solo works. I love his voice, and the overall sound and style of the band. I can’t say anything much more than that yet, since I haven’t listened to very much for very long, but I’ll be working through their discography in the coming weeks. Kind of late to the party, but it’s never too late for music!


That’s all I can think of for right now really. I want to keep finding more artists to listen to, as well as diving deeper into the works of the artists I already love. How about you all? Who have you been watching, reading, or listening to recently? What’s going into your art?

Take care of yourselves. Lots of love and be at peace.

KT

Can't Wait Anymore

waiting for you, I take
       time off the ends of my life
       shaving down the rough edges
that for us, translated into being “normal”…
       today
              as I wake
       the moon still gazes in my eyes
       breathing patience for my one true life
but I can’t wait, I say
       I can’t wait anymore
I’ll walk the glass-strewn path that equates to “me”
       if it means being happy
              if it means we can be happy
together someday, today
in a world that will share our love
       a world that will take the look in your eyes
              the pain and sadness of a product that didn’t pass quality control
       and turn it into open hearts
       open hearts and open arms –
for this world I’ve been waiting for, I can’t wait anymore… 
but I’ll wait for you.
once I’m there, I’ll wait for you.

「VANGUARD: Flagbearer of Nocturnal Skies」

Last Dawn

at the edge of eternal night,
at the end of a sparrow’s flight,
I’ll be waiting, waiting for you.
playing
        chasing
                talking
wading
we’re burning in the light of day,
living our lives without a say,
still struggling to find the way
        but at the edge of “come what may,”
I’ll be waiting, waiting for you.
        as if we could understand our own reflections
        our own shadows beneath our feet
        our bodies laying in the street
well they never, never saw us.
and if they never saw us,
what could we have done?
        turning towards a future we cannot grasp,
        putting our destinies on silent timelapse,
        we chase the dreams we never had –
and when we wake up and open our eyes,
there I’ll be waiting, waiting for you.

and you looked into my eyes

bracing autumn winds —
as if we were, I smiled,
trying not to cry;
and you looked into my eyes
and you told me to let go.

ride the barrier with me ~one day, freedom~

gazing at you through the veil of my laughter,
I can’t help but think that you’re beautiful…
I wish you could see and believe it, too
spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
just tell me, who says we can’t love each other?
riding the barrier to freedom, we are
we’re not hurting anyone but ourselves
this doesn’t concern anyone else
and they can’t control love, can they?
spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
I love you…
but what a stupid word that is!
four letters to contain all of the feelings in the world,
it’s absolutely laughable
maybe in another language I wouldn’t hate it so much
but we’re all humans after all
so I guess I shouldn’t ramp up my expectations?
spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
I love you…
someday, the world will understand me
I want to embrace you and hold your hand,
please believe it
how beautiful you are to me
anyone who says you’re worthless or ugly or stupid
just doesn’t have the strength to see,
the imagination to feel,
the will to give you love
spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
I love you…
someday, the world will understand me
and we can live as we were meant to be.

A Night Song

if I could hear your voice again
if I could see your face
if I could gaze into your eyes
who knows what I would do for you
the days when I could take your hand
and hold it gently in mine
if only I could still remember
the feeling of your embrace, this time
there’s a world out there that I can see
just beyond your sunrise song
it’s waiting now for you and me, but
but you’ve left that path behind, and I
I could never blame you now
I want to chase, you, down
show you the promise of tomorrow
share all my love with all of yours
‘till I’ve nothing left to give
if only they would let us live
I couldn’t reach you if I wanted to
and they knew how much I wanted to
but dreams will be dreams, and after all
I didn’t dare wake up from mine
I wasn’t as brave as you, you see
and I wasn’t as damaged, maybe
I just held on faithfully
guess I was too blind to flee
and still,
and still
there’s a world out there that I can see
just beyond your sunrise song
it’s waiting now for you and me, but
but you’ve left that path behind, and I
I could never blame you now
I want to chase, you, down
show you the promise of tomorrow
share all my love with all of yours
‘till I’ve nothing left to give
if only they would let us live
so you said

As If “You And I”

like the shifting sand
the time blurs into my eyes —
as if “you and I”…
chasing our reality,
in this world we make our own.

Prison Break ~one human happiness~

falling just like a single strand of hair
      in this world
where horizon lines are like prison bars
where we cannot help but see the same stars
together, we bend their definitions
expanding what it means to be alive
      we heard them say
She would not force his judgments onto you
So we promised to start living what’s true
And slipping into this borderless dream
I had a taste of joy in fantasy
      from day one I kept
Reaching for your hand though you could not take it
Well, without a band I could not shake it
I saw the universe without boundaries
As it was still reflected in your eyes
      and in the end I knew
that even if the world still hated you
we would get the payment that we were due
exchanged in one human happiness, this
time, we’d have all that we needed again
      so one day in the near future
you can be who and what you want to be
and you won’t have to look far to find me
I know that right now it’s far-fetched, but I

dimensions of love

dimensions of love –
side-by-side to sleep or wake,
we gaze at our skies;
like incandescent feathers,
your heart-shattering presence.

Falling For You

dreaming
         reaching
this was never meant to be
calling
         falling
if it’s just you and me
I can’t see
the world I tried to find
never existed in my time
         so just breathe
              I’ll leave
‘cause once you chased me down the shore
I knew I couldn’t ask for more
no, I couldn’t ask for more
if you knew that I was falling for you
and if that meant anything to you
well, on this day, if I may
         I guess I’ll say it, I
I’ll keep it to myself this time
dreaming
         reaching
this was never meant to be
calling
         falling
if it’s just you and me
if it’s just you and me,
you’ll see
but I’ll keep it to myself this time

non-existence

waiting for the song
to tell me what’s in my heart —
whisper from the wind;
I call out for a love that
was never mine to cherish.

Nocturne of a Dreamer

sitting at the edge of dawn,
waiting for who knows how long
the first bird shares her siren song
         and we –
in this intangible moment we
         go off into infinity
stepping into the unknown that is our life.
as though we could have stopped them,
         and made this place our own
as though we could have met them,
         and bent our fates anew
we chase each dawn from night to day,
each following our own loving way –
         then searching for the words to say,
words that might still change the world someday.
reaching into open arms, we gaze
         at these reflections of our own blind eyes
         at our opposite horizon lines
and we say, “we will not go.”
we say “this is not the end.”
because here, the sun is rising –
         hear, the sun is rising –
and today
with nothing else to do
         and no other path to take
we follow it into eternity.

Ritual

“Just follow me,” she’d said, and I’d followed her without looking back.

Today is our one-year anniversary. Technically, we’ve known each other for much longer, but exactly one year ago, we’d made it official. Sometimes it matters to make things official – something about the formality, the gravity of it, the sudden sense of responsibility. I don’t know. I’m not the type to wonder about stuff like that. I’m just saying that today is our one-year anniversary.

In the morning she surprised me with flowers and my favorite breakfast foods; in the afternoon I surprised her with flowers and a lunch reservation at her favorite restaurant down the way. Our apartment is filled with flowers now, and we’re stuffed with great food that took a lot out of our wallets, but no matter. Rituals are important, and flowers and food are ritual.

Tomorrow I’m going to surprise her even more. I have all kinds of things lined up – presents I’ve made, experiences I’ve ordered and reserved. I can bet she has more surprises for me, too. And that doesn’t come from any narcissistic, self-important heart I might have; we both just have a penchant for surprising each other with gifts, especially on important days like our one-year anniversary.

Anyway, right now, we’re cuddling on the couch. She has her head buried deep into my layers of polos and button-up shirts – it’s been incredibly cold lately, so don’t you judge me – and I have my arms around her. That’s what’s happening, nothing more, nothing less. People don’t touch each other as often anymore, that’s what I think. Hugging, holding hands, touching, cuddling. Never see it. Especially among people who aren’t in a relationship. Isn’t it sad? We could all use some more of this stuff, don’t you think?

So there we were, all cuddled up on the couch, and after a while of this my girlfriend suddenly lifted her head up and looked me in the eyes.

“Haku,” she said.

“Mmm?” I replied.

“I’m glad I met you.”

I smile a little. “I’m glad I met you, too.”

She reaches up to touch the side of my face; I close my eyes, savoring the touch. Then, as usual, she starts to play with my hair. Long and brown and curly, some typical nondescript girl’s hair. She twirls it around her slim fingers, studies it for a while in great concentration. I watch her and wonder what it is about my hair that she could possibly find interesting.

Well, when you think about it, there’s a ritual contained in that, too. She knew it, and I knew it, and that’s all that ever mattered. Right?

That’s all that ever mattered.

Prison Break ~one human happiness~

falling just like a single strand of hair
     in this world
where horizon lines are like prison bars
where we cannot help but see the same stars
together, we bend their definitions
expanding what it means to be alive
     we heard them say
She would not force his judgments onto you
So we promised to start living what’s true
And slipping into this borderless dream
I had a taste of joy in fantasy
     from day one I kept
Reaching for your hand though you could not take it
Well, without a band I could not shake it
I saw the universe without boundaries
As it was still reflected in your eyes
     and in the end I knew
that even if the world still hated you
we would get the payment that we were due
exchanged in one human happiness, this
time, we’d have all that we needed again
     so one day in the near future
you can be who and what you want to be
and you won’t have to look far to find me
I know that right now it’s far-fetched, but I

Girls’ Day Out

She lay on her back on the bottom of the boat, eyes closed, hair spilling around her shoulders in glowing curls. I slowed down my rowing and gazed over at her. She said nothing for the longest while, content to simply lay back and relax, and I tried not to disturb her. We glided through the water in companionable silence.

After some time had passed she began to speak softly. “You can hear it…”

“Hear what?” I asked.

“The rhythm of the sea.”

She opened her eyes and looked at me. I smiled.

“The rhythm of the sea, huh? I haven’t any idea what that sounds like.”

“Don’t be a goof. You live right near the ocean.”

She sat up and looked around us – the wide expanse of clear water, the forested shoreline still not too far away. The scenery was beautiful, as always, but I was only looking at her. And she knew it.

She turned to meet my eyes and smiled slowly, softly. “My mother’s not going to approve.”

“Your family’s like that, huh?”

“A lot of people are like that. Are you tired yet? Let me take over.”

I acquiesced, handing over the oars. As we switched places in the boat I stretched for a moment to relax my arms. She started rowing, in her usual quick, steady rhythm, always faster than me. I sat down and watched her.

“What kind of food did you bring?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise,” she replied.

I laughed. “Oh, good. I hope I’m not allergic.”

“Don’t worry, you aren’t. I made it myself. And it’s not like I’m trying to kill you… at least not yet.”

“Not yet?”

She shrugged in her soft, playful style. “We’ll see after today, won’t we?”

I rubbed the back of my head. “Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re joking.”

“Don’t underestimate me, Haku. I’m always joking.”

“Isn’t that like when people say every day is opposite day?”

She grinned. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I stood up and looked behind us at the distant shoreline. “We’re probably far away enough,” I said. “We can eat now if you want.”

She cut her oars into the water to stop the boat. “I’m not hungry yet, though. Are you?”

“Not really.”

“Why don’t we just lay here for a bit?” she suggested.

“Okay, sure.”

We got down next to each other and put our heads back. The sky above was a light hazy blue. I stared into it appreciatively, but soon I couldn’t help feeling disappointed.

“It used to be prettier,” I told her. “At night, too.”

“Pollution really knows how to mess with a girls’ day out,” she said. “Hold my hand?”

I took her hand. We both smiled into the sky.

“Do y’wanna adopt?” I asked.

“Gods, yes. Let’s have two!”

I was a little surprised. “Okay, but why two? Why not one or three?”

“Well, three is fine too. But at least two – one for each of my parents who are going to disown me when we get engaged.”

I choked a little. She turned her head to look at me.

“Haku, I can’t tell if you’re laughing or crying…”

“Both,” I said. “Let’s have two, then. And then we’ll see if we want more.”

“You’re lucky your parents aren’t like mine.”

“I know.”

Really lucky.”

“I know.”

“Well, no one can help that.”

She smiled, then lay back and closed her eyes. “I could just fall asleep here…”

I gazed at her resting face happily. What a day, I thought to myself.

If we at least could be happy with ourselves, we’d be okay, wouldn’t we?

ride the barrier with me ~one day, freedom~

gazing at you through the veil of my laughter,
I can’t help but think that you’re beautiful…
I wish you could see and believe it, too

spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?

just tell me, who says we can’t love each other?
riding the barrier to freedom, we are
we’re not hurting anyone but ourselves
this doesn’t concern anyone else
and they can’t control love, can they?

spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
I love you…

but what a stupid word that is!
four letters to contain all of the feelings in the world,
it’s absolutely laughable
maybe in another language I wouldn’t hate it so much
but we’re all humans after all
so I guess I shouldn’t ramp up my expectations?

spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
I love you…
someday, the world will understand me

I want to embrace you and hold your hand,
please believe it
how beautiful you are to me
anyone who says you’re worthless or ugly or stupid
just doesn’t have the strength to see,
the imagination to feel,
the will to give you love

spending time with you, I’m so happy
I’m so glad I’m alive
if I have the power to make you happy, even a little,
isn’t it more than responsibility?
I love you…
someday, the world will understand me
and we can live as we were meant to be.

Entry #2 – Times Are Changing. Children Are, Too.

Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a great week. Let’s all say hello and give August a warm welcome.

I think this journal entry will turn out to be a little long. Sorry if you think so, but I have a lot to say!

I wanted to start out talking about the music and musicians I’ve been into recently. I’ve gotten into HYDE’s solo work this past week, and I actually really love his style. I think he’s an incredible artist. He sings very well in both English and Japanese, and he’s very effective at conveying his worldview through song lyrics, visual elements, and depth of sound. 「MAD QUALIA」is one of my favorites in terms of mixed-language lyrics and subject matter. So too is 「WHO’S GONNA SAVE US」, which has an extremely thought-provoking and even disturbing music video. 「SET IN STONE」, while I can’t call it a “favorite” because of its theme, is a thoughtful, artistically explosive cry against gun violence. Similarly,「TWO FACE」for me is reminiscent of how I and those I know have grappled with depression and other mental illnesses. What really does it for me, though, is the English version of 「ZIPANG」. Granted, the Japanese version is stunning as well, but the English one completely exceeded my expectations. I haven’t made it through all of HYDE’s discography yet, but you can bet I’ll be working on it next week!

I’ve also been listening to a lot of GACKT’s older songs and concert videos. He’s been my favorite singer for a while now, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to pay attention to the members of his backup band – Chachamaru, for instance, who plays lead guitar and also frequently sings backing vocals. I know I’m late to the party, but he’s really an incredible guitarist, and he sings pretty well too! Also… he’s just really pretty…

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about visual kei as a whole and the impact it’s had on me as an individual. I’ve said this before, but I currently identify as queer and non-binary, and I think it was really lucky for me that I got into j-rock and visual kei just as I was beginning to explore my gender identity and sexuality. It was extremely empowering for me to see artists who were willing to challenge their traditionally conservative society on so many levels. I was amazed to see guys who weren’t afraid to present themselves in a more androgynous or feminine way, guys who weren’t afraid to express their genuine emotions, guys who weren’t afraid to touch and kiss each other on stage, even if it was just fan service. From when I started questioning to where I am today, this kind of thing really does mean a lot to me. I still have a long list of visual kei bands and artists I’ve yet to listen to, and I want to look into some female artists as well. (I say that as if I have all the time in the world to just laze around listening to music all day…)

Well, anyway, this talk reminded me that I wanted to mention LGBTQ+ rights and representation in Asia. I’m ethnically Taiwanese, so I was really proud and excited when Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage this past May. But at the same time, I was really sad. A lot of Asian countries are dragging their feet on this, and rights and representation are typically severely lacking. However, this past week I did read an article about Japan’s recent elections that gave me a bit of hope.

As in basically every other Asian nation, same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Japan – if I remember correctly, there’s a clause in the constitution that states something to the effect of “marriage shall only occur under the consent of both sexes”. Sexual orientation is also not protected under anti-discrimination laws, and even though gay sex has at least been legal for a while, LGBTQ+ folks remain largely suppressed. Well, I’m not up to date on modern Japanese politics, so don’t just take my word for it – go search it up and educate yourself! And if I’m wrong, let me know. But anyway, I read that in the recent elections for parliament, Japan elected its first openly gay male lawmaker, Ishikawa Taiga. I don’t know much about him, so I can’t necessarily say he’s a good politician or anything (if such thing even exists). But, I’m really happy in terms of representation. He sounds like he’s determined and dedicated to the fight for marriage equality. The current prime minister and ruling party are opposed, but, we can hope.

I also read that in this same election, Japan elected its first two severely disabled lawmakers – one with ALS, and one with cerebral palsy. I’m really happy about this, too. Maybe, attitudes are beginning to change in Japan on not just LGBTQ+ issues but disabilities as well. Just because someone is in a wheelchair, requires medication, needs a caretaker, or thinks about things in a slightly different way, doesn’t mean they are incapable of living fully and making their voices heard. Physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses – we all have something, and really, at the end of the day, who’s to say who can and can’t participate in society?

On this note, I want to mention my friend E. It was her birthday yesterday. She’s my junior, so I try to look after her and take care of her as much as I can. I can teach her things to help her navigate her life situation, but she also teaches me things in return. I think that people should not just take care of their juniors better – they should be more open-minded to learning from those who are younger than them. This is really, really important. To the older generations, don’t be so quick to label today’s youth as lazy, arrogant, disrespectful, stupid, or overly sensitive. Remember that they are growing up in an environment entirely different from the one that you grew up in. Try to imagine that.

To illustrate, today’s children are growing up in the face of climate change, school shootings, mass gun violence, political corruption, rising hate crimes. They are growing up with a 24-hour news cycle and journalism that heavily prioritizes tragedy. They are growing up in an age where internet and technology make it incredibly easy to educate themselves on all of the current genocides occurring in the world (do you know how many? search it up), as well as incredibly cruel human rights violations in the present and the past (look up the report Human Rights Watch has on your country), and all of the terrible things humans have done to each other throughout history. They are growing up with school textbooks that bluntly recite hundreds of years of humanity’s failure to learn from our mistakes. They are also growing up with all of the consequences of the careless ways older generations treated and continue to treat our environment – climate change is not the beginning nor the end of it.

This is not to say that other generations have not faced some of these issues, and it’s not to say that the issues today’s youth are facing are any “worse” than the ones other generations have faced. I didn’t grow up in a different time, so I can’t make that kind of subjective judgment. But the issues now are undeniably different, and I think older people would do well to remember that. Times have changed – children have changed, too. So, if you’re of an older generation, I ask you to please make an effort to be more open-minded toward those younger than you. If the youth are protesting, if they are voicing dissatisfaction at something or someone, if they are demanding change, listen. Be respectful. Try to imagine what it would be like to be a young person today.

A lot of people seem to have trouble with this. The other day I read an article about Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old activist who became famous after her school strike for climate caught the media’s attention. I’ve been following her activities for a while now, and I really respect her a lot. But this article detailed the ways in which a columnist named Andrew Bolt attacked her in writing – calling her names, falsely representing autism (Greta is on the spectrum), and using her mental disorders as well as her youth to ridicule her and those who support her. I found the language he used extremely disrespectful, rude, and thoughtless… really, I was repulsed.

Question: on the day Greta Thunberg turns 18 years old, will you suddenly start listening to her because she is now an “adult” and therefore “worthy” of your respect?

Please, stop judging people for their age. It’s just a number and really means little in this society where many adults act like children themselves.

Another question: if Greta Thunberg did not have Asperger’s, would you listen to her then?

If you do not know what Asperger’s is, please search it up. It does not make someone incapable of rational thought and decision-making. It does not make someone unworthy of fully participating in society and making their voice heard.

Not in this article but in others, I’ve also heard people accusing Greta of allowing herself to be politically manipulated by those older than her. This too I find kind of ridiculous.

Third question: at what age do children suddenly develop critical thinking skills and free thought?

If you’ve heard any of Greta’s speeches, or read about her at all, you can see that she is incredibly coherent and very well-educated on the climate crisis, probably more so than most adults. Just because she is a vocal sixteen year old, does not mean she is being politically manipulated.

Besides – climate change is not a political issue.

Neither is any part of HIPPCO (look this up!).

Neither is human rights.

This week, practice being more open-minded. Listen to those younger than you, and be willing to learn from them. Also practice educating yourself. Live with the intent of learning something new every day. Right now, go to your search engine, and type in “japan’s recent elections.” Type in “climate change.” Type in “Hong Kong protests.” Then read all of the articles you can – even the news sources that you know reflect a different political opinion from you, even the scientific journal articles that sound like they’ll go way over your head. Don’t depend on other people to spoon feed you information from their biased perspective. Fight your own hidden biases by never, ever forgetting the value of self-education.

And, as always, take care of yourself.

KT

“I’m Not Gay.”

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I was at a dear friend’s house the other day. Her younger brother Brandon was home, and he had also invited a friend over, a male friend we’ll just call Matthew. My friend went upstairs to clean her room, so it was me and the two boys. I didn’t talk to them much, not knowing what to say.

After a while Brandon had to duck out to take care of something, so Matthew stood up and hugged him and went to the door to say goodbye. Then, as soon as the door closed, Matthew turned around, saw me watching him, and said quickly, “I’m not gay.”

For a moment I was surprised. But after that all I felt was a deep sense of sadness.

I was sad, because we live in a society wherein men are told they cannot show any form of affection to their same-sex peers, and if they do show affection they are immediately labeled as gay. And I was sad because whether or not Matthew actually identified as gay at the time, he felt it urgent to clarify to me that he was not, because he knew that being perceived as gay could threaten his safety.

I just looked at him and shrugged and said, “So what if you are?”

But I wish I had also said, “Compassion doesn’t dictate sexuality.” I wish I had said, “It’s okay to show affection towards your friends, and it’s also okay to be gay.” I wish I had told him he was safe with me either way. And I wish I had applauded and thanked him for being willing to show emotion in a society where it’s violently suppressed.

I didn’t have the right words at the time, but I do now. So, Matthew, here’s to you. And here’s to all the gay teens, and all the questioning teens, and all the guys who daily demand the right to show affection to other guys without it being judged as a component of their sexuality. Keep on living, just the way you are.