Fuelled by the introduction of same-sex partnership systems in various municipalities across Japan, the conversation surrounding LGBT people and sexual minorities has become prominent in recent days. But as a matter of fact, a similar level of prominence was also attained over a quarter of a century earlier, in the 1990’s.
Originating from a special issue of a magazine called “CREA”, which published a feature in February of 1992 titled “Gay Renaissance 91”, there began a so-called “gay boom”. One of the individuals behind this gay boom was Otsuka Takashi.
From the 1970’s Otsuka began participating as a gay personality on the radio program Snakeman Show. In the 1990’s, he worked as an editor on publisher Takurajima Book’s three part series, Gei no Okurimono (ゲイの贈り物), Gei no Omochabako (ゲイのおもちゃ箱), and “Gei no Gakuen Tengoku (ゲイの学園天国) which went on to become best sellers, and has helped to spread positive information regarding the gay community through other literary works. At his bar, “Tac’s Knot”, opened in 1982 in Shinjuku, Otsuka is seen by his patrons as a mentor figure.
After all of these years, how do the current developments surrounding LGBT people around the world in Japan appear to Otsuka? We decided to take a moment to speak with him.
■The 1990’s Gay Boom
ーーWhat were the conditions surrounding the 1990’s gay boom, for which your were at the forefront of?
As a gay person, it felt as if I had been waiting for that moment. From the end of the 70’s through the 80’s, my work as a gay personality for the radio show Snakeman Show was able to reach many gay individuals. In addition, commentator Noriaka Fushimi published Private Gay Life (プライベート・ゲイ・ライフ), and many lesbian individuals also began to express a desire for their own type of media. The gay boom was built upon this foundation, so I think it went well.
ーーNow, LGBT is used to refer to these groups, but at the time, “gay” was the only term that was in popular usage at the time, right?
In the latter half of 1970, I made a conscious effort to use the term “gay” when I was on the radio. In those days, the term gei boi (ゲイ・ボーイ) had a strong implication of of men who wore makeup. Therefore, many gay individuals preferred to use the term “homo” in referring to themselves. The people who used the term “gay” in reference to themselves were those who had come in contact with news of the gay liberation movement in the United States.
ーーHow did you become involved as an editor of the three-part series?
That began after I spoke with Fushimi of Takarajima Books. He told me, “There are many people who have knowledge about the LGBT community, so if they could combine their efforts, don’t you think we could make something great?”, and I proceeded in speaking with the editor, Oogura Higashi. His reaction was “We’ve been waiting for you!”
I had a lot of fun working on it. There were many expressive LGBT people working on the project, and we had a lot of fun. However, I didn’t have many close lesbian friends at the time. Fushimi already had these kinds of contacts, so we were also able to include content about lesbians.
The term LGBT still wasn’t in use at the time, but during the gay liberation movement, Fushimi had the idea that the term “gay” also included lesbian individuals, so we were united in our front to be inclusive.
I think that Takarajima Books chose to publish it because they believed it would sell.
I think this is around the time where the media, as well as straight individuals, began to believe that gay people were all ‘onee’. The first volume of the series Gei No Okurimono, sold quite well. However, the third volume, Gei no Gakuen Tengoku, didn’t sell so well. That’s because at first, everyone thought “wow”, and became quite excited, but after they realized that we weren’t all ‘onee’, they lost interest. That’s my impression of the 90’s gay boom <laughs>.
ーーIt kind of resembles the conditions surrounding the LGBT market nowadays, doesn’t it.
That’s why it would be good if the current movement doesn’t fade away like the gay boom did. I wonder if the current LGBT market is big enough. While wedding, rental and travel services are beginning to turn their attention towards gay individuals, the people who use those services will mostly be those who have come out. A business cannot be a business if it doesn’t see the faces of its customers. LGBT people becoming able to live openly and businesses creating a market for these people are like two wheels of the same cart.
That’s why it is important that we first overcome the issues surrounding coming out. I think that until more LGBT people are able to live openly, an LGBT market shouldn’t be so zealously anticipated <laughs>.
■The Gay Liberation Movement and Gay Boom, Acting in Concert
ーー“The Provincial Training and Accommodation Institution for Young Men Incident”※ occurred in 1990, and the trial occurred in 1991, the same year that Gei no Okurimono was published. What effect do you think this had on the gay liberation movement and gay boom?
※In 1990, the gay and lesbian association “OCCUR”, was denied of their request to be treated indiscriminately by the “Tokyo Provincial Training and Accommodation Institution for Young Men” after facing discriminatory treatment from the organization running the venue. After this, OCCUR was denied further requests to use the facilities, on the grounds that they were “having a negative influence on young people”. In 1991, OCCUR sued the facilities on the grounds of the denial being a human rights violation. in 1997, OCCUR was decided as the winner of the case.
By the institution refusing OCCUR to use their facilities, I think that supporters of the gay liberation movement in Japan really had something to rally behind. By not letting go of the issue and bringing it to court, I think we came to see what was capable.
ーーAt the time, awareness of the gay liberation movement was low even amongst gay people, correct? The lawsuit against the “Provincial Training and Accommodation Institution for Young Men” even elicited mixed opinions among the LGBT community as well.
It was said that the gay liberation movement was only for ugly people <laughs>. Part of it was that there was a perception that only unpopular people were doing it.
When I opened a bar in Shinjuku in 1982, the majority of the people who patronized 2-Chome at the time thought it was natural that they would sooner or later get married to a women. How one would continue to enjoy the gay lifestyle after getting married was often talked about in bars, and to think of having a long-term relationship with another man was absurd. No-one could even imagine same-sex marriage.
I suppose everyone had their own circumstances, but it was a time when it was normal to stay in the closet. Under those circumstances, when one became aware of movements such as gay liberation, which was working to allow gay people to live openly, it stirred up feelings that they usually held back. I’m certain that many were bearing unpleasant feelings. On the other hand, I think that there were also those who became interested in the movement. If that was the case, it was good to experience those feelings.
■How can LGBT people maintain a public face?
ーーWith the introduction of same-sex partnership certificates and so on, the movement surrounding LGBT people is once again receiving attention. However, while society is beginning to learn more about gay people, there is a chance that there are those who don’t want to be talked about or have their lifestyle come to light. For example, in September of 2015, a special on cruising spots was aired during a late-night broadcast. While the program was about cruising spots overseas, it’s possible that the topic of the conversation could turn to Japan. What might you explain to people who think this way? Won’t it become a challenge in moving forward?
In regards to sex, it seems that the question is if gay people are especially disorderly while straight people are not. By seizing upon the topic of sexual behavior and bringing it to the forefront, it works to create an image that “gay people are peculiar” and fuels homophobia. Even some gay people themselves come to internalize these phobias.
It certainly must seem like gay people have disorderly sex, because theres no risk of pregnancy, there are sexually transmitted diseases, and there are indeed people who are especially sexually active. But while it may be true that marriage and other rights have not yet been attained, it’s not something that we have to barter for.
It’s something we must advocate for. In order to do so, it’s important for average, everyday LGBT people to come forward. There are gay people who don’t go to cruising spots, but those people don’t come forward. So when particularly sexually active people come forward, others will say “You see? Gay people are peculiar.”
There are straight people who have disorderly sex, but it’s those who are not that live in the forefront. Rather than their sexual or personal sides, their public face is what comes to the forefront. I wonder how LGBT people can present and maintain this kind of public face.
■The Unavoidable Issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
ーーThere’s also the position that it’s not necessarily a problem whether people have disorderly sex or not. They might argue that cruising spots are an important part of gay culture.
In the case of gay people, the topic of STI’s is unfortunately intertwined in the conversation. People say things such as “The fact that those people still have risky sex despite there being so much information about STI prevention is because they’re peculiar.” If there weren’t such illnesses, they wouldn’t have anything to say about sex in the gay community. If that’s their argument, the same thing could be said of straight people <laughs>.
I think that the image of gay people being sexually indulgent is a bit outdated. Recently, there’s been a lot of young people who say that they are not that interested in sex. I think that because the older generation of gay people were not accepted by society, the desire to have sex was elicited as a reaction to these suppressed feelings. But now, it’s becoming less necessary to have to struggle with accepting that fact that you’re gay.
ーーThe image of gay people might be changing with the times, right?
Of course, even now, there are people people who feel strongly oppressed, and those people are probably still very sexually active. There’s probably a clear bipolarization between those who have a lot of sex and those who do not.
When you talk with groups that are tackling HIV prevention, they say “We’re doing our best to spread information, and it should be making an impact, so why isn’t the rate of HIV infection falling?” No matter how much information you try to get through to people, there will be those who cover their ears. I tell these groups that if they don’t get to the core of these fears and deal with them first, they won’t be able to make progress.
ーーI think that there are many gay people who can’t come to accept themselves because of internalised homophobia in our society. Do you think that, because there are gay people who feel oppressed even now, that they’re having “a reaction to these suppressed feelings” and thus ignoring information about STI’s?
Well, I think that it’s important that elementary and middle schools teach children not to harbour negative feelings about their sexuality, begin to consider sexual minorities, and for society as whole to make progress in accepting LGBT people. There are many that believe that if we don’t tackle these issues and focus solely on lowering the infection rate of STI’s, we’ll come to a dead end.
There are also drug users who engage in risky sex, and we really must do something to lower infection rates among this group. I think that this is the biggest achilles heel for the gay community. It’s the easiest thing for people to criticize us for.
There has recently been a stream of positive news about gay people, such as that of same-sex marriage, and there’s a growing sense in our society that “gay people exist”. Therefore, I think that it could influence those who hold prejudices against the gay community.
However, there are some individuals who, using the context of the issues surrounding the declining birth rate, want to suppress any progress for LGBT people. The reactions of these people to the current LGBT rights movement is likely to come out. We must take action lest we allow the movement to fade.
Continue to part 2→Otsuka Takashi on the Importance of Same-Sex Marriage in Japan
Banner – Gei no Okurimono, TAKARASHIMA, Inc 1994, image via Amazon
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