Editor, Activist and Drag Queen Ogura Tou on Preserving Japanese LGBT History

On May 4th during Rainbow Week, a talk show entitled Archives of Sexuality – Conveying the Past to the Future was held.

Ogura Tou participated in the event as a panelist, discussing how the LGBT community should go about documenting its history for future generations and appealed the importance of creating an archive.

Ogura served as editor-in-chief of the gay magazine Badi (English: Buddy), first published in 1995, and also performs as a drag queen under the stage name Margarette. In November 2016, he opened a book cafe in Shinjuku Ni-Chome called Okamalt. The cafe features LGBT-related books and magazines.

What hopes does Ogura have for this book cafe?

■The despair I felt when I read my first gay magazine

ーーYou took part in launching Badi, and as editor-in-chief developed it into Japan’s premier gay magazine.

When I’m asked about how I came to create a new gay magazine, I recall the first time I came across a gay magazine as a kid. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I discovered an issue of Barazoku (the first commercial gay magazine published in 1971) at a local bookstore, and thought, “This is what I have been looking for!” However, I could not purchase it. I agonized over wanting to buy it and not being able to for many days, and finally, I ended up shoplifting it.

I read it as if I were devouring it. I was excited by the pictures of naked men, but the more I read it, the more uncomfortable I began to feel. At that time, Barazoku seemed to assert that gay men should keep up appearances by getting married to women and that it was okay to spend their evenings at gay bars. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of despair when I read that. I began to feel guilty that I had shoplifted and started to think that liking men was bad because it had lead me to committing that crime.

When I launched Badi, I didn’t want to create a magazine that a young man couldn’t buy, would make them resort to shoplifting, and then make them feel hopeless while reading it. So I decided on two goals for myself. One was to surpass the sales of Barazoku. The other was to create a magazine where young men like I was could read and think, ‘ah this is good’.

ーーWhat did you do to surpass the sales of Barazoku?

The makers of Barazoku did not show their faces. This creates readers who are receiving information from unknown people. That certainly does not create a good publication.

So I thought that I would attach my name to my work. Then, the readers could complain if what you are saying is wrong, and we would be able to address those complaints properly. We created Badi on the basis of our editors and writers showing their faces.

In the editorial department, there were some who argued that “the editors should not have to publish their faces in the magazine.” The older editors were stuck on old practices and only interested in profits. However, I decided that publishing our faces would be akin to saying, “it’s okay to be gay.”

■From Foucault to Fuuzoku Kitan; The desire to avoid whitewashing history

ーーThe book cafe Okamalt was opened last November. 

I was driven to do so after Kimura Ben, an illustrator for gay magazines passed away. Through a friend, I decided to take over Ben’s book collection. I came to realize that not only had a hard working illustrator passed away, but all of his experiences as a gay man had been buried as well.

I thought that if we were to take these books as a testimony of the life that Ben lived as a gay man, they should be preserved to teach the next generation. Looking at gay communities abroad, they have archived their history. I always felt it a little enviable and wondered if there were a way that we could do something similar in Japan. That is why I opened the book cafe.

ーーI think that there is a limit to what we can do for a book cafe in the sense of an archive. It is necessary to properly preserve the materials in a public institution.  

That is correct. The issue is that it would be difficult to include works that are considered ‘erotic books’ unless they are National Diet Library Class.

Making our book collection available to the public would probably mean having to omit erotic books. However, there was a period where gay identity was expressed almost entirely through erotic materials. I want to preserve this period, which one might call “From Foucault to Fuuzoku Kitan”. Even universities tend to praise Foucault while skipping over sexual themes of the period.

To only acknowledge the beautiful parts is tantamount to lying, as it is with the current LGBT boom. If we do not acknowledge the sexual part as well, we will forever be forced to exist in terms of heterosexuality. In a society with heterosexuality at its center, I want to say that gay people should not have to submit to heterosexual standards.

■Okama and Occult: Two topics pushed into the shadows

ーーThe name Okamalt is a provocative. The word okama is controversial and often thought of as being discriminatory. 

Okamalt is a term coined by combining the words okama and occult. These words don’t seem to be related, but they are to me. The term occult arose from Christian civilization becoming the rule of the world and suppressing indigenous beliefs.

Similarly, homosexuality was forced underground due to heterosexuality taking over the world. But it will never go away. Just like the ideas of Greek and Egyptian gods.

Recently,  political correctness has become popular, and the winner seems to be the one who says “I got hurt”. I think that these individuals should first understand why they are offended by a word before complaining about it. If they learn and understand why they are hurt by the word, the structures of discrimination will emerge, and they will also come to respect those who have been saved by the word okama.

They should become familiar with the ideas of those involved in the debate over the use of the word okama, such as Tougou Ken. Tougou believed that as he had done with the term “miscellaneous people”, okama and other discriminatory terms could be reclaimed, and doing so would have the power to change the world.

Tougou’s beliefs felt radical, and it was difficult to accept his views when I was young. However, now that I’ve reached this age, I can understand the meaning behind his ideals. I think of him as the gayest among gays, because he was contemplating things directly related to his homosexuality.

■Utopian Ideology Passed On By My Father

Current LGBT activists would rather turn their backs on Tougou’s ideals. However I think that those gay men who have faced discrimination in that primitive form might be able to tolerate his ideals. One will come across utopian and communist ideals when reading his works.

I also hold utopian ideals. I dream of a world where people can live as they are, and where they will not be harmed nor do harm to others. It would be nice to have no disparity, no classes. I think that these feeling might be in my father’s blood.

My father is Taiwanese, but he crossed over to China to join the communist party. Then, under decree of the party, he went to Japan. For him to go to China to work for the Communist Party shows that he was a man who burned with idealism.

I was bullied due to my father being Taiwanese, and there was a part of me that was ashamed of my origins. But when my father died, I came to accept and get over it. I was able to turn that energy towards liberating myself as a gay man. My personal history became the backdrop to my activism.

When I see the recent young LGBT activists, I would like to tell them that they should learn a bit more history. The path that we have been following will serve as a map for the future. First of all, I want them to learn where they come from and trace the path that lead them to where they are. By doing so, I think they will come to understand how to proceed. They should learn with respect to the paths of the pioneers that have lead us to this point.

In that sense, I hope that Okamalt will help us to preserve the history of our community.

Source – ゲイの歴史は大切だ。ブックカフェ「オカマルト」の挑戦

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