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.

Not Enough

From the beginning, we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people. Schools reinforce social comparison using grades, test scores, and certificates until it becomes almost secondhand. As soon as a test is handed back, many students begin to ask their friends, “What did you get?”

We are taught to feel good if we have higher grades and more rewards than our peers. But it doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me feel sick.

Whether in school or not, the things we use to compare ourselves to each other are completely arbitrary and are rarely indicative of actual effort, intelligence, or character. For those who end up on the lower end of the scale, often unfairly, this system rams down their throats a single message: You are not enough. And that message is toxic. That message can kill.

I often say that I take human beings one at a time. That’s because every single human being is different. Comparing us all to each other, and comparing us all to a single arbitrary standard, just doesn’t make sense. I’m tired of looking at the people around me and thinking, they’re smarter, they’re more beautiful, they’re more interesting, they’re more creative, they’re better than I am.

Some Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, have a teaching roughly equivalent to this: if there are seven million people, there are seven million different ways to live. As long as you are not harming others, live true to your heart, and let others do the same.

I have to remind myself of that a lot.

For instance, I have to remind myself of that when I feel like I don’t “qualify” to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Because the typical narrative is that gay people have always known they were gay, and being gay is a huge part of their lives, and non-cis folks have always felt non-cis and experience severe gender dysphoria and being non-cis is also a huge part of their lives. That might be true for a lot of people, and that’s totally valid – but none of that applies to me. For me, my gender identity and sexuality are just small facets of the very complex human being that I am. I don’t feel the need to come out to people or make a big deal out of it. I don’t care if other people know, I don’t care what pronouns are used to refer to me – the only thing that matters to me is that I have a better understanding of myself. That’s just my way of life. And I’m tired of feeling like I have to compare my way of life to others.

I’m tired of making that comparison and deciding that I’m “not enough“.

No Labels, Please

In the morning I have a medical appointment. The doctor sits me down and talks to me while taking my pulse.

“… How is your appetite?”

“Fine. Normal.”

“… How is your sleep?”

“It’s okay.”

She’s polite and casual, like always. She still treats me like a kid, which frustrates me, but I know she means well. I try to answer her questions honestly and look around the room while doing so to avoid her gaze.

At some point in the conversation she says, “If you have a boyfriend or get one, we should talk about that.”

“I don’t want a boyfriend,” I say. The words come without thinking.

Her eyes widen immediately. “You want a girlfriend?” she asks.

I can feel my face flush. “No, I mean –”

I struggle to find words to correct both of our mistakes. I want to tell her that I just meant I don’t want to be in a relationship with anyone. I want to tell her that I don’t care about a person’s gender – I take human beings one at a time, and I hate being assigned absolute social labels like ‘straight’ or ‘gay’. But there’s a language barrier, and an age gap, and I don’t think she’ll understand.

“You like girls?” she asks me.

“I don’t know, sometimes,” I say, just trying to find the simplest reply.

“That’s okay, too,” she says, smiling at me from above.

I leave the room slightly mortified. I wonder if she now thinks I’m a lesbian. I wonder if her opinion of me has changed.

The Importance of LGBTQ+ Representation in School Curriculums

Members of the LGBTQ+ community, like many other target minority groups, often have to deal with a noticeable lack of representation in textbooks, classes, and other educational resources and settings. Most people can agree with me on this, but some go on to ask, “Why does it matter? Why does my child have to learn that this historical figure was a lesbian? Why do they have to learn about the gay liberation movement and gender studies?”

Those are all valid questions, and, inspired by my lovely friend’s presentation on this topic, I’m going to try to answer them. Here are four reasons why I think LGBTQ+ representation in school matters.


1. It Normalizes the Community

I’ve heard people say that they think being LGBTQ+ is a “liberal trend,” something relatively new to the history of humanity. And in an extremely cishet-normative society that has done an extraordinarily good job of editing and rewriting historical narratives, that kind of thinking is understandable. But it’s just not true.

Representation in school can mean a lot of things. It can mean lecturing on LGBTQ+ history, or just having a class about what it means to be LGBTQ+ and introducing students to our community’s terms and vocabulary. It can mean showing a documentary that illustrates the lives of some LGBTQ+ people, or just a film that includes a gay couple. It can mean having an LGBTQ+ student, staff, and faculty panel where they speak about their experiences, or just having gender-neutral bathrooms available. It can also mean that in class – any class, say, when you’re studying a historical figure in APUSH or reading some author’s book in English Lit – your teacher says, “By the way, this person was bisexual.”

It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But representation proves to society and individuals that LGBTQ+ people are capable of great things, that we’ve contributed enormously to human history, that we’re real people deserving of respect just as much as anyone else. It proves that we aren’t social deviants, that being cisgender and heterosexual isn’t the “norm”. We’re here, and we’ve always been here.


2. It Counters the Typical Narrative of LGBTQ+ History

I was lucky enough to have a social justice education. It was wonderful and eye-opening and it changed my life. But there was still a lot of room for improvement. We spent just two weeks on the LGBTQ+ community – two weeks that overlapped with AP exams, so many students weren’t even in class – and the history we learned was very, very limited.

The typical narrative of LGBTQ+ history goes something like this: “So there was a lot of persecution, then there was Stonewall, then we got AIDS and died tragically.”

For a questioning, closeted kid, this is extremely depressing to hear.

We need role models. We need hope, proof that we can be something other than dead, proof that we can change the world and leave behind a lasting legacy.

When teachers start saying “by the way, this author was lesbian, and that historical figure was gay, and that musician was intersex, and that artist is trans,” that poor closeted kid can start thinking, wow, that’s amazing. I can actually be something. I can be a great author or musician or scientist, I can make history, I can do something with my life and people will remember me.

This kind of thinking can change someone’s life.

Sometimes it can even save it.


3. It Helps People Who Are Questioning

The process of exploring your gender and sexuality is difficult and often isolating. It’s hard trying to find resources, it’s hard finding a label to describe who you are, it’s hard coming out (or not), it’s hard to learn to love yourself.

But when schools and teachers put in the effort to represent the community and be inclusive, all of this can become a little bit easier. I was infinitely thankful to discover a gender-neutral bathroom on my campus. And those two limited weeks of education on LGBTQ+ topics gave me the vocabulary to express myself and allowed me to reject much of the self-hatred that often comes with questioning your identity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still hard. It’s so, so hard.

But representation makes a small difference, and that difference matters.


4. It Gives Hope to the Next Generation

We always say that our children are our future. So what do we really want our future to look like?

Like many people, I’m dreaming of a society where discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t exist. Of course this will be difficult to achieve, but one of the biggest changes we can make is restructuring our education system to include LGBTQ+ representation. Because the children who are in school right now will go on to become our next politicians, artists, scientists, lawyers, filmmakers… and many will go on to raise children of their own. If we can teach this generation to be loving and inclusive and to care about the rights and histories of LGBTQ+ people, they’ll teach the next generation to be that way, too. And it won’t be as difficult the next time around.