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

Entry #5 – Recent Artist Inspirations

Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a really great week.

For this entry I’m just going to be discussing the music and books that have occupied my free time for the past few days.

Here we go!


Music

~ HYDE

I spent some time listening to some of HYDE’s albums that I hadn’t gotten to until now. I put on Roentgen, and it surprised me how soft it was in comparison to his most recent album Anti (which I absolutely love!). I really liked Roentgen and found it to be a good album to just have playing in the background while working. Listening to it does help me focus somehow – I cranked out three new chapters of Chasing Life With You in a single day! I also prefer the Japanese version of Roentgen to the English, but then, HYDE’s English skills have certainly improved a lot since.

I also listened to his self-titled album, the second most recent. It didn’t hit me as much as Anti or Roentgen, but I feel like it’s an album I’ll enjoy better the more and more I listen to it. It’s interesting to see HYDE’s diversity as an artist evolve through the years.

~ L’arc~en~Ciel

I finally put on a “best of” compilation and gave L’arc~en~Ciel a try. Their music was softer than I expected – I thought they’d be more of a heavy rock group. I also couldn’t feel each member’s power as much as I thought I would. I do really enjoy a lot of their songs, however, and I’d be interested to go through the rest of their discography and learn more about the band members.

~ LUNA SEA

I’ve honestly never been a huge fan of LUNA SEA, but I tried them out again and enjoyed a few of their songs. Put simply, I can understand why they’re popular, and I respect their musical skills, but maybe they’re just not my thing. I’m not averse to listening to them, though. Maybe one day in the future I’ll like them more.

~ DIR EN GREY

My first impression was: this band is disturbing…

Probably, this isn’t new to dir fans!

I couldn’t get through a lot of their songs. Dir is definitely a powerful band with powerful members, and the way they express their artistry is intense. I admire their skills in that respect.

I think I prefer vocalist Kyo’s work in sukekiyo to his work in dir, the same way I generally prefer HYDE’s and Sugizo’s solo works. But maybe this is because I don’t know the other band members very well.

Anyway, I’ll have to rack up some courage before continuing on with dir’s “best of” compilation.


Books

~ goodbye, things (Fumio Sasaki)

This is one of my favorite books! I’ve read it many times, and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s an easy read, though not a particularly fast one, and I like to pick it up every once in a while to keep minimalism fresh in my head.

Take a look at this book if you haven’t yet. If you’ve never heard of minimalism before or are averse to the idea, read it with an open mind. You’ll be surprised how much happier you can be just by living with fewer things.

~ The Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston)

I have to admit, I didn’t love the book as a whole when I first read it a couple of years ago. It’s essentially several short stories tied together with common themes of being a second-generation Asian immigrant, Chinese legends and folktales, and living as an Asian-American woman. While I wasn’t a huge fan, I found Kingston’s style at least interesting, especially her discussion of “talk-stories” and her frequent inclusion of legends, famous stories, and cultural symbols that would easily be missed by someone unfamiliar with them. Outside of that, the book wasn’t very impactful for me.

There is one story in this book that I really do love, however, and it’s the only one I’ve cared to reread multiple times – “White Tiger.”

Don’t get me started on the connection to my name.

“White Tiger” is probably the most female-empowering story I’ve ever heard. Whenever I need special strength, whenever I feel like I have to become a “warrior woman,” I’ll pick up this story and read it again.

If you’re looking for more books from female or Asian authors, give this one a try. Even if you don’t like it as a whole, maybe one of the stories will hit you hard and give you the power to keep on living.

~ After Dark (Haruki Murakami)

I’m steadily working my way through Murakami’s long list of publications. He’s my absolute favorite author, and the themes he consistently touches on are really powerful.

That being said, I didn’t enjoy After Dark as much as I thought I would. It was still a really good book, though – just not one of my favorites of his. The interesting writing style jumped out at me immediately and successfully kept me hooked all the way to the end. I think that was the best part of the book for me – how Murakami was able to express the mysteries and dangers of nightlife through the ways he manipulated the written word. It was impressive and kind of fascinating. I wouldn’t mind reading it again.


I guess that’s all for today. Now I want to listen to more L’arc~en~Ciel for some reason.

What works of art – books, music, or otherwise – have captured your attention recently? Think about it. And maybe, tell me. I’m always looking for new artists to love and learn from.

This week, try out a new artist’s work. It’s important to always be expanding your worldview and increasing your breadth of knowledge through art, no matter your age. I once read somewhere that the day you stop learning, you die. We are all “students” in this sense.

Take care of yourself!

KT

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

Happy 50th Birthday, Sugizo

Here’s a birthday tribute for another musician I really like!

Fifty years old today, Sugizo plays lead guitar and violin and sings backing vocals for visual kei rock bands Luna Sea and X Japan. He also works with several other groups and is a renowned solo artist. He’s absolutely brilliant on the violin, and he does charismatic guitar improv on stage. His recent experiments into electronic-type music are also great, and I love his latest studio album Oneness M which features a different vocalist on each track. The video below, uploaded by Youtuber Daniel Branco, is track five, “Meguriaerunara,” on which Sugizo collaborated with vocalist Teru from the rock band Glay. Give it a listen:

Besides his music, Sugizo is also very well-known for being an activist for environmental sustainability, world peace, and human rights. Many celebrities, in Japan and elsewhere, don’t express their views on these issues and try not to get involved in anything that might be political or controversial; however Sugizo is not afraid to express his thoughts on what is important to him and what he believes should be important to all of us. Among other activist events, he has frequently participated in Peace on Earth and Earth Day Tokyo, and recently he powers his guitars and equipment on hydrogen fuel cells. He was also part of Sakamoto Ryuichi’s “No More Landmines” campaign, project Stop Rokkasho, and Greenpeace’s campaign to stop whaling in Japan. Further, he has been involved with volunteer and memorial work for the victims of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and he has performed various times at camps for Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

What I admire most about Sugizo is how he consistently uses his art as a tool for activism. This can be seen in many of his songs such as “Enola Gay,” “Pray for Mother Earth,” and “No More Machine Guns Play the Guitar,” which I quoted previously in my post Stop the Killing. His work pushes me to use my writing, music, and artwork to advocate for the issues that matter to me.

If you like violin, or even if you haven’t listened to violin very much, here’s Sugizo’s beautiful performance of “Synchronicity” at a 2008 concert, uploaded by Youtuber EINxSOF:

Give some of his music a listen and see what you think! Happy 50th birthday, Sugizo – keep on doing what you do best, inspiring your fans to stand up for what is right.

Happy 46th Birthday, GACKT

If you’ve read my About page or blog intro, you know that GACKT is my favorite singer-songwriter. He turns 46 today, so I thought I’d briefly talk about who he is and why I respect and admire him!

Mainly considered a rock or pop artist but very difficult to define, GACKT is known for his previous work as the vocalist of the visual kei rock band Malice Mizer. Visual kei is a Japanese musical style that emphasizes crazy make-up, hair, and costume, and sometimes a frequently changing androgynous appearance. (My favorite band, X Japan, is one of the founders of visual kei). While part of Malice Mizer, GACKT became close to the band’s drummer, Kami, and also became known as a very powerful vocalist.

After several years and for several different reasons, GACKT chose to leave the band to start his solo career. He was on his solo debut tour when his friend Kami died in his sleep from a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Greatly affected by his death, GACKT dedicated the song “U+K” (Kami’s initials) and the live performance of “E’mu~for my dear~” to Kami, and to this day he still visits his grave twice a year on his birthday and the day of his death. GACKT spoke openly about this years later at the screening of his single “P.S. I Love U”, where in an interview he explained that the deaths of others push him to continue struggling through life, and that since Kami’s death he has been determined to live without regrets. Roughly ten minutes of this touching interview with English subtitles can be found below, with all credits to YuzuTranslations.

GACKT has become a very famous solo artist, currently holding the male record for the most consecutive top ten singles on the Oricon charts. He also works as a film writer, actor, playwright, voice actor, is a frequent guest on several T.V. shows, and has a dedicated global following. He is close friends with several famous Japanese celebrities such as Hamada Masatoshi (Downtown), Yoshiki (X Japan), and Miyavi, and his backing band has consisted of well-known artists such as Chachamaru, Ju-ken, and Chirolyn.

In terms of musical style, some of GACKT’s songs are heavy rock, some are ballads, and many are combinations of the two. His lyrics are known for being extremely emotional, poetic, and oftentimes philosophical, exploring issues such as the flaws of humanity — i.e. why we repeatedly go to war and create tragedy for ourselves when we can be loving each other instead. After 9/11, he wrote “Juunigatsu no Love Song,” which is a beautiful anthem for those who love the world at peace. GACKT often blends traditional Japanese instruments with modern rock instruments, as can be heard in “Returner (Yami no Shūen)”, creating a very distinctive sound that I personally enjoy a lot. He also sings a great vibrato and conveys a depth of emotion that many singers can’t quite reach.

What I most admire about GACKT is how much thought and effort he puts into everything he does. Incredibly passionate and perfectionist, he works very hard, planning and practicing events down to the smallest detail. As a result, his concerts and live shows are always fantastic, and he consistently turns out new music. He is very gracious to his fans, often arranging private trips for his fan club, and is extraordinarily supportive of all of his staff, band members, and backup dancers. He is also known for always having great things to say about topics like friendship, love, and finding meaning in life. In the video below, also subtitled and uploaded by YuzuTranslations, he encourages a hesitant caller to take her relationship one step further with the woman she loves.

I hope you can see why I respect him! If you haven’t heard of him before, please give some of his songs a listen. Many are on Youtube and many have English subtitles so that you can read along. Translated lyrics and notes for most songs can also be found here, with all credits to Amaia.

Happy 46th birthday, GACKT!