Pacific Prospective features the research of graduate students.
By Michael Oeckel - oeckelmj [at] gmail.com
At first glance, the 2012 Presidential election in the United States may seem to have nothing to do with gay rights in Japan. But President Obama’s reelection may have a significant impact on the future of same-sex marriage in the States, which is likely to create ripple effects in Japan.
Scholars who have researched gay men in Japan have often pointed to the lack of a political gay and lesbian identity there. Many people avoid labeling themselves ‘gay’ because this still evokes ideas of hentai (perversion); Japanese media make little distinction between cross-dressers, transvestites and homosexual men. ‘Gays’ are not only perceived as feminine, weak and womanly, but they also cannot get married or produce a family in the traditional sense. Many same-sex attracted men describe marriage as something ‘ordinary’ Japanese do—and some go as far as to get married to women out of duty.
Gay rights in Japan will only progress further if gayness is normalized; that is, if a gay marriage can be seen as equal to a ‘traditional’ one. For this to happen, the vocabulary used for same-sex attraction must be delinked from words like hentai.
As the first US President to publicly support same-sex marriage, Obama’s reelection has increased the chances for federal recognition of such marriages in the United States. This will likely have spill-over effects: Japan has more cultural interaction with the States than with any other country that has already adopted same-sex marriage. Obama’s stance has been cited as a cause of the recent decision by Tokyo Disney to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies on its grounds.
Just as international trends towards gender equality led to the adoption of sekuhara or sexual harassment laws in Japan, a new global discussion of same-sex marriage brought on by normalization in the States increases the chance for action in Japan. A political victory in the United States may help same-sex attracted Japanese to take on gay-political identities that in turn pressure their government for change, as women’s groups did in the past.
Michael Oeckel received his BA in Asian Studies from Temple University, Japan Campus, and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Policy Studies program at UBC.
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- Mickey Mouse Follows Obama in Backing Gay Marriage, The Guardian, May 2012
- Is There a Japanese ‘Gay Identity’? Culture, Health & Sexuality, Oct-Dec 2000