I owe you one, Hiroko

What came to my mind when I watched yesterday’s Heart TV on NHK, which focused on the intersection of disability and queerness, was the question of why happiness is so important in celebrating differences. Hiroko, the main guest on the show, who has cerebral palsy and is transgendered, was quite frequently referred to as a “happy person” and a “cute person” who has strength to live her life the way she wants to live it. But what if she were depressed? Well, she HAD been depressed.

In the interview at the studio, Hiroko told the audience that she had attempted to commit suicide when her spine was severely injured in an accident and she found out that she could no longer had control over what she wore (i.e. putting on ladies’ clothes when she was alone). The only reason she survived the depression was because the motor functions of her arms were damaged due to the accident and she wasn’t able to cut her wrist. Now THAT is exactly what we should really think about, that is, the erasure of her sexuality/gender identity due to her disabilities. The topic of yesterday’s show was “double minority,” meaning some people face more than one type of discrimination, in this case cisgenderism and ableism. And what it means in reality is that people easily forget that disabled individuals are also sexual beings just like the rest of humanity, not that they simply suffer from both cisgenderism and ableism at the same time as the MC guy, who looked like he was trying so hard to show empathy, claimed. To Hiroko, loss of the freedom she had had before the injury meant the end of cross-dressing which she had enjoyed in her entire life until then. It took her years to find an understanding personal assistant who helps her dress up as a woman and walks beside her like that, and I’d call it a miracle.

Indeed, she looked happy to me. She looked happy in that pretty red checkered miniskirt that she was wearing. But, I cannot tolerate the comments made by some of the other people in the studio. One repeatedly said, in an affirming manner (of course!), Hiroko looked very happy doing what she liked to do, and she had learned so much from her and been encouraged/empowered [translation may be wrong, but it was something along that line] by her. Another person commented on her “charming” personality, saying, “she is very cute!” Let’s put aside the problematic use of the pronoun, “she,” instead of “you,” which clearly illustrates his lack of respect for Hiroko’s subjectivity. What bugs me most is… what’s this all “happy” “charming” “cute” thing about?

From what she said during the show and in the footage shown to the guests and the audience, there is no doubt that she had been through lots, lots of predicaments which most able-bodied people could not even imagine. And now, just because she’s finally recovered from depression and gained some (partial, I’d say) freedom in the way she’s dressed, do they suddenly start celebrating today’s bright sides of her life, saying, “yeah, it’s cool she’s doing what she loves! Right on!” and “she made me realize that I could live my life the way I want it to be!” blah blah blah? Treating her like everyone else may be a good thing in many situations, but what it does sometimes is to completely ignore the richness of her life, the ups and downs she’d been through. Instead of glorifying her “strength” or “courage” that they may find fascinating and educating, they should be paying attention to what she says about her life, respect the darker side of it, and stop saying “happy” and “charming” and “cute”!

I really, really think that able-bodied people (including me) should be aware that we owe her one. She surely educated us on the intersection of disability and queerness, but we have not returned the favor yet, or do not even plan to.

Oh, I’d like to add that I personally didn’t find the footage offensive. I only hated the conversations that took place at the studio.

Such “Homophobic” Communities & If I Were a Gay Mormon…

[Such “Homophobic” Communities] and [If I Were a Gay Mormon…] were two different blog posts from my previous blog. I put them together here because they are closely related to each other.

Such “Homophobic” Communities

So the passage of Proposition 8 (which I do not think needs any explanation since many people are talking about it, even here in Japan, which makes me feel that a disproportionate amount of attention is being paid to one proposition of one state of one country——not that I don’t care, just in case) has been largely attributed to the increase in number of Black voters who supported Barack Obama. The figures that people have obtained from the media look very fishy to me, but that’s not exactly what I am worried about. What I find very sad and problematic is that, if——and this is only “if,” well, hopefully so——the entire Black population in California were that homophobic, why should those gay and lesbian people who blamed them for the passage of the proposition not have been quick to respond to the figures (no matter how false they are) and take some action, or at least be alerted, to care for lesbian and gay people who lived in such “homophobic” communities? A personal friend of mine, a White middle-class teenage gay boy, said that he thought that Black people should have been more empathetic to gay people, that they only cared about themselves. Well, that’s you, young man.

If I Were a Gay Mormon…

Gay ‘kiss-in’ slated for Mormon church

Okay, first of all, I must admit that I haven’t read much about this incident (the two men getting arrested, not the kiss-in) and that a few tweets from LGBT-related accounts and this single article linked above are the only source of information I got of the story. So what I am going to say may not be appropriate or even based on facts.

But it really makes me think of gay Mormons who secretly have homosexual desire (and may or may not act on it) and get into even more trouble because of the planned kiss-in’s. If I were a gay Mormon, closeted and maybe obvious and yet totally or partially accepted by his or her religious community (and that sometimes happens, by the way), potential homophobic reaction that the churches might make in opposition to the kiss-in’s would totally devastate the history of, and the efforts that I’ve put into, negotiating and working towards complicated (and thus often not satisfactory) yet livable tolerance in the community.

Of course, I’m not saying that gay activism or queer activism should not interfere in religious matters, but it seems very risky and dangerous for us to jump into the bandwagon to go out and say, “whether you like it or not, we’re here.” It’s true that we’re here, but where does this “us” come from? I am assuming that most of the people who will attend the kiss-in’s are not Mormons. They are from the outside. If what we learned from the incident is that gay expression isn’t allowed in the religious establishments, then what we should care about is the people within the Mormon churches whose queer expression and behavior are probably oppressed and degraded. We should have contacted or at least tried to reach sexual minority Mormons and listened to their stories before heading to the churches to kiss each other.

That is exactly the same thing that came to mind when I learned that many queer people blamed Black populations for passing Prop 8. What we need to do when we learn that there is a community very homophobic/transphobic/anti-queer, is, not to go out and blame them, but to think about our fellow queers within the community.

I Want To Drown

When I first got that name, “gay,” I felt jubilant. I accepted the name and told people that I was gay. Since I was also bisexual from time to time, I sometimes called myself a “part-time bisexual.” At that time, I lived in the country where I was recognized as racial minority, which already made me “different.” So, through gayness, I thought I could become part of mainstream culture. I put myself out to the public as gay, rather than Asian. That was my assimilation tactics.

After I moved to another country, I learned that people look at gay Asians as nothing but gay ASIANS. Nobody would see me as simply gay. The I-am-gay strategy was supposed to help me integrate into the majority, but I soon realized that all I had done was dig down deep and descend into the status of minority within the minority. That was shocking to know. It followed that when I moved back to Japan to transfer to a university there, I hated the name, “gei,” a ridiculously simple equivalent to the English word, “gay.” Every time I saw the word in Japanese, it reminded me of the visual images typically displayed on the front cover of gay Asian porn DVDs targeted at caucasian populations that I had seen back in San Francisco. “I do not belong to this category,” I thought. Or more precisely, I thought, “I would do anything to avoid being called that name.” Which, also, brought to me the most horrifying idea, which I had always vaguely imagined, that all the people I had met in New Zealand and the United States only saw me as “one of those Asians, who happens to be gay.”

I still see the English word, “gay,” as something positive, something I can relate to. But I loathe the word,“gei.” I wanted to become “just gay,” not “Asian gay.” I still crave the status of “no sign” or “no name,” which is, of course, based on the racist idea that whiteness means transparency and colors carry meanings. Advocates who use such rhetorical expressions as “we are normal” or “we are just the same as you” are the last thing that I want to become, but when it comes to race, I still haven’t found a way to settle and accept my own non-white body.

So the racist me sees the word, “gei,” in a very Orientalist way, while I hold the fear that when I say I am gay, people automatically supplement that statement with the word, “Asian.” I don’t want people to read me as Asian, nor do I intend to reveal my racial category to people who, luckily to me, do not know it. When someone IMs to me knowing nothing about my race, that’s the only time I feel safe to say I am gay. It’s the moment of “ascending” into the status of phantasmic “gayness,” in which the only difference I am forced to take for granted about myself is gayness, and I can say “yeah we’re different, so what?” But when the other person becomes conscious of my race, I shrink and descend. I do not hold Asian pride, I guess. I feel like a suck-up assimilationist who looks down upon other Asians because “they are not as white as me.”

Since gayness was introduced to my life as a potential bridge to mainstream culture, it means nothing more than just an option, something I can easily adopt and belong to, or discard. It is a choice. And choices do not have anything to do with my body. So, to me, gayness is an unreachable holy land (which, probably, no one has ever reached; what’s more, it’s probably just my imagination that there be such a thing). It’s just an useful name. It never gets in my way when I deviate from it. I mean, me and gayness are far too apart in the first place, and there’s no way I can deviate from it in any noticeable way. So, unlike the name, “Asian,” which is strongly associated with my body, I do not hold abhorrence or dread against the name, “gay.” “So what?” would be my stand, and that actually describes my true feelings pretty well. But no matter how many times I tell people that I am gay or gei, I can see that expression’s reflection in the mirror with the contours of my body being freakin’ Asian. Thousands of thousands of words, repeated and paraphrased, will never get me where I feel I should belong, where I can be “just gay.” As soon as people see me, hear me, or touch me, the totality of “I” falls apart. So I hide. I hide behind the closet doors. And when I successfully have my body disappear from the visual field at the scene (like, in email or something like that), that’s when I do communication in somewhat satisfactory way. I get to assume the kind of body that I want.

I hate identity politics. I hate it when people label me. I also hate it when “liberal” people let me choose from labels. I mean, not all names are equal. And if you choose wrong, that name is a one-way ticket to hell. And refusing to choose means you’re nothing. Nameless. Sometimes people even decline your choice, saying, “that’s not what your body is, honey.” And the biggest reason why I hate identity politics is because I am, as I have explained, a twisted white supremacist. I feel torn apart every time someone pronounces that my body isn’t white. It makes me feel like I am less, and thus need to be fixed with better care and more efforts. It also makes me feel exhausted and helpless, thinking back on my enthusiasm to approximate to whiteness which never bore fruit. Saying I am white would only help the world feel less sorry and guilty for labeling me “crazy.” If I were white, and if people saw me as white, I’d be happy to be gay. Gay activism based on identity politics would not bother me, because it’d sound just so irrelevant that I don’t care. And that’s because I chose, and am still choosing, the name, “gay,” based on my own decision. I second Foucault who said being gay isn’t about sex but lifestyle. I enjoy being gay but it doesn’t define me. I have been straight, gay, bisexual and everything in-between in my teen years, so I first-handedly know that sexuality flows and changes. So I play with sexual categories. But race, oh race! Why would I want to “come out and express myself” when it’s not what I want to be and it’s the only racial category to which I seem to have the right to belong?

To live in a society/community strongly influenced by Western modernism (including the West) means to be forced to pay penalty when you fail to follow the categorical imperatives based on the academic discipline of biology. In a queer context, it would be to pay penalty for not acting, identifying and performing sex like you’re supposed to in biological senses *1. But not all cultures have adopted Western modernism, or at least, there have been modifications at the time of introduction. The same is true for seemingly Western regions like the U.S. and Western Europe. When I was a high school student in a town called Ojai, CA, it felt as if there had not been categorical imperatives based on race. The town is mostly populated by caucasians and I only knew one Japanese resident a few miles away from the dormitory. Nobody spoke Japanese. But I felt more accepted and free than I did in Bay Area where I went to college. Friends groups were not divided along the racial lines. Classmates were more curious and respectful about cultures that were not of their own. They saw differences and accepted them, while also finding joy in having things in common with other races. I wouldn’t say things were perfect in Ojai, but surely much better than any place else I’ve been to. It was as if my being Asian had been put aside, invisible, but called for when it was convenient for me. Being Asian was, for the short one-year period of time that I spent in Ojai, shrunken to the size of being gay. I could control the display of Asian-ness, sometimes disavowing it, and sometimes summoning it, just like I would be able to with my gayness if I were white (or so I wish).

I’m not saying I am human before I’m gay or Asian. All I’m saying is that no single label can override others and triumph as the defining feature of the person that I am. I want my features to be detachable, or at least controllable in terms of output flows. But reflection in the mirror moves the slider up on the mixer, resulting in the amplifiers blowing up. Life is like a cheap mp3 player; you never hear details but high frequency tones, superficial and ornamental. And ordinary people don’t bother getting a set of high quality headphones for their p2p-shared free music. My highest tone is racial. It’s what people notice first. I mean, I know there’re so many positive messages out there about being Asian. For example, I admire Margaret Cho and Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh). Sometimes I wish I were more like them. Asian pride seems like a beautiful thing to embrace. I wish I were proud of my race. It’s not entirely because of societal racism that I’m not proud. The deep-rooted cause for self-degradation is my own racism. I mean, why else do I want to be “just gay” while I completely understand that “just gay” means “white gay” and that that idea is based on racist bullshit? Like I said, being “gay” is a detachable part of me. I chose it. I bet on it. It’s a label that does not represent me. It never speaks for me. If I detect some unexpected noise from it, I’m happy to discard it. It’s a mask that I wear. Never tells what’s behind it. Race, on the other hand, seems to travel through the speakers, randomly hit the walls and come back at me even louder, so loud I can’t hear myself.

Categories of human beings are partly the aftermath of the Enlightenment. Like I said, we are forced to pay penalty when we fail to follow the categorical imperatives. But they also kindly offer you “different” categories, into which to classify you when conventional categories do not seem to work for you. The Western thoughts, especially those of Christianity, pretty much require you to have an identity, deep-seated yet explicable, waiting to come out. Good identities and bad identities: bad ones only need to be confessed and corrected. But I don’t believe in identity. Sexuality flows. Gender identity changes over time. Bodies grow and age. I swirl in the sea of melting pot. But there’s one thing attached to my leg, an anchor, weighing me down so that I won’t drown. And that thing… is race. It doesn’t seem to let go of me. It seems static. Never changes. Reminds me of who I am supposed to be, who I don’t want to be. I want to drown.

Now, let me ask you this again; why would I want to come out?

*1: But biology itself is a set of ideas constituted through language. Biologists, just like other natural scientists, gather up data that are diverse and scattered, in order to get a larger picture of overall tendencies or divide them up into categories that they give names to and study the tendency of each of them. I do not hold anything against scientific methodologies, because they sometimes bring good to society (like medicine). But people seem to believe in biology more than biologists themselves do, thinking that biology is the language that describes nature precisely. Which causes me so much trouble personally. I am too tired to get up my ass and talk back when someone says, “hey, that’s what biologists say,” grinning like they are guaranteed victory.

Don’t leave ’em alone, but don’t bother, either.

At Below the Belt, Someone (I’m sorry but I can’t find their name) posted an entry on class divisions and the invisible working-class in queer community. Granted, economic disparity within queer community, or at least gay community, isn’t really represented in the media or quite existent in our urban-washed cultural consciousness, and that’s a problem, no doubt. I, however, do not necessarily find it attractive to have scientific data covering those who do not fit with the stereotypic gay image.

There are so many reasons why some people’s faces do no appear in our vision. Like the original blogger says, some may find it impossible to come out at work or school or in their rural town where homophobia and transphobia prevail. Some may fear stigma and violence. Hence the original poster’s comment, “if the working class person does not live in an area that is accepting, s/he is more likely to not publicly identify, even if they privately do so.”

But there are dozens of other reasons, too. They may be too poor and thus busy to care in the first place. They may be happy enough in the closet. They may not identify as L or G or B or T or Q or anything that derives from the urban imaginary. They may cherish the local and choose it over things urban, thus not inclined to migrate to urban areas. They may find everyday negotiation with friends, families and colleagues more attractive, bringing richness to their life as a working-class person with working-class people surrounding them. Or they simply don’t like the gay culture at all and prefer more countryside-ish social occasions where homosociality does not always lead to homophobia (I guess we all know that, don’t we?).

I am not saying urban queer politics should not intervene in local struggles faced by queer people, but it seems very wrong to frame them in the urban imaginary where being out is a privilege and remaining in the closet is a sign of restriction or oppression. What underlies our struggles as queer individuals, rural or suburban or urban, is not that some of us cannot come out, but that we need to identify and come out as a comprehensible name in the first place to become visible and understandable. To me, that’s one of the big issues that we queers are collectively confronted with. If we fail to acknowledge this kind of collectivity that hovers over all of us, the term “queer” starts to seem meaningless, failing to bind together sexual/gender minority peoples coming from diverse economic/ethnic/disability/etc. backgrounds, because that’s how diverse we are.

So, while it’s important for some of us to attempt to take into account the invisible queers in our scientific research, which will richen the literature which people will have access to and learn from, we should nevertheless use our imagination to think about local contexts that shape the invisible queers’ identities, allows ways of negotiation that are different from urban ways of negotiation, and provides them with different ways of enjoying life. This of course has its own dangers, because it easily slips into mere cultural relativism and pluralism, making little room for understanding of inter-regional interactions. But my point is, it is precisely that very inter-regionality that we must look closely at as a site of construction of urban/rural dichotomy. Every time we say things like “queers in rural areas have less freedom,” and especially when we say them in the presence of rural audiences (e.g. on TV) i.e. at the site of inter-regional interaction, it becomes a part of the construction of urban/rural dichotomy. My point rejects both the idea that each region has its own context and the idea that it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re queer. Refusing to go neither way, we should create a path that leads us to a kind of collectivity that works for everyone no matter where they are–and that “no matter where they are” doesn’t mean we’ll preserve and extend the urban framework to understand ourselves, but we’ll somehow undermine the urban imaginary itself, destroy it to some extent, to really account for our diverse experiences as queer–no matter how little “queer” means to us.

Unhappy Queer In Denial – I Am Not Who I Am And That’s Fine, Thank You Very Much

People say, “happiness is all that matters,” “it’s fine as long as you’re happy,” “I just want you to be happy,” “you gotta make yourself happy,” and all that shit. Don’t get me wrong, I know what they mean. They’re nice people, probably the nicest kind of human beings. But it just annoys me when they say such things as if we had to be happy to gain freedom. I feel the same kind of aversion towards the Be-Who-You-Are discourse. Why can’t we just have the right to pretend like something else AND be free?

Look, I’m not happy. I don’t like who I am. And that’s fine. Period.

I wonder what makes them assume the right to decide whether or not it is okay for us to live depending on the level of happiness that derives from our life. Failing to prove happy will always lead to an educational, paternalistic lecture on how we should be proud of ourselves, how our life can be “healthier” if we listen to them. I think they, rather than we, have problems with life. I want to say, “mind your business,” precisely because they apparently gain something through lecturing us–and I think what exactly they get is a covering that obscures their own unhappiness.

The epitome of such discourses of theirs is when they comment on sex work. Lots of people say they think it’s okay to do sex work as long as the sex worker feels comfortable doing the kind of work they do. But how many people in our society feel totally comfortable at work, with no complaint or any kind of risks they take? I am not saying that work is always accompanied by sweat or (physical/psychological) damage, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t enjoy working. I think improvements in work environment and social security are very important no matter where you work. I also think that work isn’t necessarily a beautiful thing to do, and I believe in basic income. All I want to say is that they should just back off and think about the very line they’re trying to draw between sex work and other kinds of work before they start to venture to judge sex work as if they had the right to do so.

In the queer context, lots of coming-out narratives tell us that “cool” people say they don’t mind because they’re happy for us being happy and who we are. So if we’re not happy, or if we aren’t in actuality who we are (e.g. in denial), will they not accept us as whole beings? We do have the right to be queer AND unhappy. We do have the right to be queer AND in denial (of, say, racial categories we’re assigned). We do have those rights, just like everyone else.

[video] “Queer Faces from Lost Times” by Judith Halberstam

On November 28, 2009, the LGBIT student organization, Sumposion, at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, invited Prof. Judith “Jack” Halberstam from the University of Southern California to join them in a conversation on what it means to study queer theory.

The volunteer staff filmed Prof. Halberstam’s photographic slide show on queerness, photography, and authenticity. Please take a look. Six videos in total. (Also, you might notice, yes, it’s me in the first video.)

Is Queer Theory Really a Theory?

Among all theories that exist in academia, why are queer theory and feminist theory (and probably some others, often collectively called critical theory) often questioned by people saying, “if it’s theory, it must have coherence and logical foundations”?

First of all, queer theory is just an umbrella term for a lot of different theories, just like economic theory and sociological theory are, as well as biological theory, within which a variety of theories exist and, often times, contradict each other.

I mean, all theories, from those in physics to ones in economics, are just speculations, statements, or even, ways of understanding the world. They are not expected to speak to the truth, but to approximate to it and give only a way to look at things based on the information available. Take Newton’s laws and Einstein’s theory of relativity, or maybe superstring theory, as an example. If physicists believed in theory as a language to explain the truth, they would have to choose either one of the theories, because they contradict each other. I mean, they don’t even know whether light is composed of particles or waves! And yet, they still use both light-as-particle theory and light-as-wave theory, because they both WORK in explaining what happens in the world. They switch from one theory to another when the second theory explains better, or sometimes, when it requires less time and calculation even if the result could be slightly more inaccurate than the first theory. See, that’s how theory works. That’s how theory should be understood. Hence, diversity of queer theories.

Reality is way more complicated than theory, and that’s exactly why we need theory, to better understand what’s going on, and yet never succeed in explaining the whole. Theory doesn’t prescribe, but attempts to describe. Which theory to use totally depends on what is to be described. And producing theory is an endless attempt to explain what has not been explained.

As a side note, I want to add that, precisely because theory is created to explain the unexplained, it may often look irrelevant, an armchair kind of thing, to people who have the knowledge of what has been explained and sometimes even believe in the explained. But to some people, a new theory is a language to explain what has been *wrongfully* unexplained, a language that gives them a power to articulate the *unspeakable*, things taken for granted, which they have always been told not to utter.

That’s what I think theory is. And that’s how I think theory should be used, evaluated, and criticized. It’s just like natural science theories that attempt to explain what other theories are incapable of explaining.

Rather Theorize Than Read Poetry

On October 18, 2009, I did a presentation entitled “Is Poverty Queer?” in a panel called “Queer and Attributes: Who Gets Recognized As Queer?” at an annual meeting of the Japan Association of Queer Studies. Other panelists are Kazuyoshi Kawasaka (PhD student from the University of Tokyo), Makiko Iseri (MA student at Hitotsubashi University), and an independent writer/activist Akira Miyama.

The panel session began with Kazuyoshi’s presentation on how the term, “tojisha” or “the concerned population,” has been circulating since Kazama/Vincent/Kawaguchi’s 1997 book, “Gay Studies” (in Japanese), in Japanese academia especially in queer discourses as something that guarantees truthfulness of data collected or a weapon with which to attack previous research for not being down-to-earth and speaking to “real” people. Quite a Foucauldian himself, Kazuyoshi critically asks, “what/who is tojisha?”

Our second presenter, Akira, cited quite several comments from people who demanded the Women’s Weekend (annual women’s festival) be trans-inclusive, as well as her own interviews with three butch lesbians, to discuss how FTM, FTX and butch populations in queer communities here are of less interest to many of cisgender woman activists and community members who seem to assume the right to define who is a woman, who isn’t, and who can be granted access to woman-only spaces out of their courtesy.

Thirdly, Makiko talked about how we tend to understand queerness as “crossing borders” and how the work of mimicry in female-female impersonation has been belittled and reduced to mere conformity. I’m sorry I can’t give out any detail here, not only because of the reason I mention below, but also because I was so worried during her presentation about how my presentation would go after having gone through a huge technical problem a.k.a. the famous I-forgot-my-display-cable incident.

And finally, I talked about how heteronormativity is often associated with middle-class white heterosexual non-disabled bodies and practices, which is further reinforced and, ultimately, linguistically constituted in academic queer discourses and analyses that explain gender/sexual normalcy across regions, class borders and racial lines in somewhat universal ways that only allow “variations,” not “differences.” I’m hoping to elaborate on it during graduate school to write about the same subject matter in my dissertation, and I think the other three of us are going to publish their work in some way in future, so I’m not going into details about each of the presentations. Rather, I’d like to focus on one question that was raised by someone in the audience.

The person in the audience said, as I understood it, “I think the kind of theoretical work that all four of you are doing in your research projects really contributes to the undermining and questioning of existing discourses surrounding and circulated among queer subjects, but queer people have been socialized and influenced by, as well as instilled, social norms about normative categories, just like everyone else. We do not always see things in critical ways. We do fail every now and then. How do you think your theories can be applied to real issues when not everyone in our community isn’t aware of things like what you talked about today?”

Well, I think the person was right in pointing out the fact that underlying our presentations was a critical perspective on what queer subjects say about queerness, and the fact that we tried to figure out ways to change some of that. To some people, especially those who are doing activism work in queer communities, our talks may even have been aggravating, even backlash-like. But I thought, “how do we keep content those who we think do harm on other people, while trying to figure out how to help those “other” people? I don’t care. Do I ever plan to conciliate those naive people whom I might have aggravated, so that I can offer more “inclusive” theories? Hell no.”

My theory is NOT inclusive of everyone. It is NOT general or generalizable. It merely offers a voice to the existing discourses, to be recognized, to be one of the voices that count in this world. It is a voice translated into theory. And just because that voice has been uttered in a theoretical way, doesn’t mean it has nothing to do with reality. It has EVERYTHING to do with reality. It emerges in reality, it belongs to reality, and it speaks to reality.

So I said, “theory, to me, is the only means that I know that I can use to explain otherwise unheard voices that tend to be buried away, you know, the voices of minority people within the minority. And at least that’s what I tried to do with the aid of theory today, and I’m sure that’s true for all four of us here, like Akira, who talked about how some of us queer people are not paid as much attention to as others within our communities.”

People make mistakes–the person with the original question is right–but that doesn’t necessarily make them evil, nor was our point that they should be condemned for being not “critical enough.” Our point, or at least my point was to open dialogues about “who gets to recognized as queer,” especially when it comes to those not easily labeled as tojisha, FTM/FTX/butch individuals, female-female impersonators, and sex workers in poverty. And to us, the means is theory. We do create dialogues through theory. And I cannot possibly think of any other means. Even our loudest voices do not seem to attract attention in this society. Then, why keep quiet when we know “loud” doesn’t work, let alone “quiet,” and there’s theory right in front of some of us who are lucky enough to know how to read and understand language, as well as write language understandable to those with power?

Asked by the same person if I knew any other idea besides using theory, some useful ideas about what could be done, I said, “nope, but let me know if you come up with any, ’cause I’ll jump right in and join you. ;)” I mean, I really would jump right in! (unless it’s poetry-reading–it’s something I’m horrible at)

Interview with Prof. Chalidaporn Songsamphan

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 12, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. HTML / PDF

Chico Masak (CGS staff, CM): What would you say your stand on pornography is?

Prof. Chalidaporn (SC): I think we should look at pornography as a form of sexual fantasy, which each individual should have the right in their private time to enjoy. But the problem is, when you look at pornography in detail, you’ll see complex relationships between pornography and so many other things. And pornography itself is so diverse. So it is very difficult to have a stand on it. Instead, you have to look at particular cases and details. You’ll probably have a different stand on each one. We tend to want some kind of theory or explanation to which all similar cases can be reduced. But it doesn’t work that way. We have to be very specific with everything.

CM: Do you think there should be any difference between the way we see pornography and its problems and the way we see other forms of art like painting?

SC: For me, there should be no difference. But the problem is, sex has a very special meaning in our culture. Pornography is looked at very differently, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Remember Foucault’s example of punching someone in the face and inserting a penis into a vagina. These two acts have totally different meanings because of the position of sexuality in our cultural consciousness.

-Defining Pornography?-

CM: But pornography itself can be quite fuzzy in definition. For instance, it is not clear if the comic genre, boys love a.k.a. BL or what’s called slash, is pornography or not. It certainly serves that function for some people. So there’s always this demarcation problem of what’s porn and what’s not.

SC: The line, constituted through our understanding and interpretation, is actually moving all the time. Whether something is pornographic or not totally depends on how you look at it. Anything could be pornographic.

CM: But how do we negotiate with other views on pornography?

SC: We should acknowledge that various different interpretations exist. People like Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin tend to prescribe certain beliefs, saying, this is good and this should be like this. We should stop being judgmental and recognize the differences first, and then, the question is, how are we going to live with those differences?

-State Power v. Critique-

CM: Legally speaking, do you think there should be any state intervention in the distribution of pornography?

SC: The problem is, the state would need a very clear definition of what is porn and a strong idea about what we should do about it. When you have this kind of clarity, it closes the doors to other possible interpretations. That’s the problem with law. No debate. No negotiation. What a dangerous society! People should be able to talk about sex as a social activity. We should leave room for argument and discussion.

CM: Then what can we do as individuals to fight such representational injustices?

SC: I think the most important thing is to express your opinion and disagreement with the particular phenomenon. Just because you respect freedom of speech, it doesn’t mean you cannot say anything against pornography. You probably want to take an element or two from the work in question and express your discomfort with them. As for child pornography, some people say they don’t agree with the element of forced sex. And if someone disagrees with you, then they have to come up with their own argument, some reason, against you.

-Child Pornography and Feminism-

CM: I wonder what difference there is between the anti-child pornography that’s going around today and the anti-heterosexual pornography movement by MacKinnon and Dworkin. When I wrote the article, “Child Pornography and Feminism” (CGS Newsletter 011), I said that we were sort of jumping on the bandwagon to search for a quick, legal solution to child pornography. And there’s not as much opposition to it as there was to Dworkin and MacKinnon when people thought that there was no problem in pornography. Today, when it comes to child pornography, we sort of assume that it’s something inherently bad and we don’t really question our thinking. We should ask ourselves, is representation problematic or not?

SC: Yes, but you have to look at this issue very carefully. The existence of child pornography aggravates many middle-class people because the middle-class sexuality believes in the category of “children” as sexless, so pure and sexually innocent that they need to be protected in order to mature–and that’s a myth. Many laws have been passed because they were allegedly for the purpose of protecting children from sexual abuse by adults. The problem is, no one really cares about how we define the category. Feminists have been questioned numerous times to the extent that the identity category of “woman” itself has ceased to be convincing. We should question the category of children, too, asking, how do we differentiate between children and adults? There is no clear-cut definition or indicator that we could agree on. So when you talk about child pornography or child sexual abuse, people at the same table most likely disagree on many points. They probably have totally different images of children. Going into details like this can be a very threatening experience for the middle-class, and that is why it is so easy to put forth policies and laws “for the good of children” because you’ll most likely convince the middle-class.

CM: Yeah, like Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law in California. By the way, when I think of child abuse, I always think of the law in the U.S. back in the 1890s, which said that a wife had to serve their husband sexually whenever they were required to. I think the motivation for working towards the prohibition of child pornography is the concern for the power relation between adults and children. Then, why shouldn’t it have been illegal for men to have sex with women when there was a huge difference between what men had and what women had in terms of power…

SC: I think, to them, consent is the most important indicator for differentiating forced sex from consensual sex.

CM: But if we accept that children cannot consent because of adult-child power relations, women must also have had no ability to consent due to harsh gender inequality.

SC: Actually, liberal thinkers and philosophers did not really think that women could consent. John Locke, for example, said women and children did not have the ability to reason, and that they must be represented by the male head of the household. It must not even have been a tiny problem for those liberal thinkers because they were not looking at women as the right bearers in the first place.

CM: It’s very interesting because now we understand that children and women are both put into the same category as immature, deprived of rights, and nonconsensual, but…

-What Kind of Sexual Diversity Are You For?-

Naomi Suzuki (CGS staff, NS): But women have no protection from the middle-class. What could be the difference…?

SC: What you said is another concrete example of the diversity of the ways people look at sexuality, because many people can accept many things that may contradict the hegemonic sexuality, but there are so many other things that they are still upholding. So when people say they are for sexual diversity, you should ask them what kind of diversity they’re talking about. People say heterosexual pornography is a form of sexual fantasy, and that we should allow individuals in our society to have the right to freedom of expression and freedom to consume it. But as soon as those individuals start to prefer child pornography, they are denied the same right. Many of us fail to see the contradiction here.

-Activism of Our Time-

NS: To me, it seems like you two have very similar takes on this issue. What would you say is the difference between both your approaches? Like when you actually take action…

SC: If we have to decide to take action, our stands might be different or very similar–it depends on the specific case. The point I’ve tried to make today is that we can be inconsistent because when you look at pornography in a very specific way, each case has its own meaning since each case has its own details. You cannot use the same theory to explain them all. You can be anti-censorship AND disagree with the acts you see in child pornography. I think that’s one of the strengths of social movements of our time–people can work together when they agree with each other, but when they don’t, they don’t have to, or they can still agree to disagree. Given such flexibility, we have to think carefully, define what we are talking about, and ask other people what they mean by, let’s say, “child pornography” because they might be thinking of different things when they seem to be talking about the same thing.

NS: The World Congress III and advocate groups seem strongly united with one another. But each member of these groups must have different opinions and definitions of child pornography, right?

SC: When they do political activism, they may suppress different ideas within themselves. But if you just let them work on that and draft a certain law, the differences will come up anyway. When their ideas become concrete about the issue, they will start fighting because drafting a law creates lots of debates. And at that stage, people cannot overlook the obvious disagreement among them.

CM: Well, it’s been very fun talking to you, Dr. Chalidaporn.

SC: It’s been fun. Thank you!

Child Pornography and Feminism

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 11, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. PDF

C. McKinnon and A. Dworkin argued that pornography targeted at the heterosexual male population, which most pornography is, not only reflects societal gender power relations but also perpetuates and reinforces them by depicting women in degrading ways and, ultimately, creating what I would like to call “irrigation canals of desire.” As a queer feminist, I am tempted to say any kind of desire should be respected however deviant or condemned. But as a queer feminist, I am more concerned about the irrigation of desire that precedes and provides for the formation of desire into homosexuality, pedophilia, etc., and most likely, heterosexuality. Within the system of the irrigation of desire exist complex forms of representation of differences based on the existing power structures (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, physical features and dis/abilities). This is not to say that a form of desire that (necessarily) depends on social injustice must be “wrong,” nor do I intend to attack those who have such desires—-in fact, marginalized desires such as homosexual and pedophilic desires are not any freer than heterosexual desire from the norms. My intention here is to suggest that desire is not independent of the social and cultural.

When these two feminists brought to the public the issue of male-targeted heterosexual pornography, most people, however, just laughed at them, saying pornographic representation of women was not harmful at all. Now, why shouldn’t they have been joined by as many supporters so quick and willing to use their resources to protect women as anti-child pornography advocates recently did to protect children? The only difference between them is that the two feminists cared about women, young and old, black and white, Asian and Jewish, disabled and able-bodied-why did the public think that women should be allowed for public display of any kind? And ultimately, is representation problematic or not?

“What exactly do you mean by pornography?” asked anti-feminist libertarians and some feminists in response to McKinnon and Dworkin, but the intention of the latter group was to shed light on the possibility of subversion from within the existing power relations. Pornographic or not, representation has no control over the ways an audience interprets the material. Isn’t a painting of naked angels child pornography when somebody masturbates to it? Judith Butler argues in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative that although, or precisely because, desire is not independent of the social and cultural, quite the contrary, it is exactly within the normative codes of the representation of desire that subversion can take place. The demand for regulations such as censorship and lawsuit, which McKinnon and Dworkin held as their primary objective, is an appeal to state power that is to be granted monopoly over representation of the subject matter, now ready to redraw the acceptable/unacceptable line of sexualities (which has historically oppressed so-called ‘deviant’ sexualitites). That way, we will foreclose the possibility of seemingly (hetero)sexist pornography being received by the audience in unexpected, sometimes queer, ways that might rescue the residual complexities that have been filtered out during the process of representation which can never grasp that something in full. After Butler, many feminists now view anti-pornography arguments as somewhat still powerful yet highly questionable.

Now we must turn back to child-pornography and ask, is the anti-child pornography sentiment, shared by many today even globally, also as problematic as anti-pornography feminism? Why are we ignoring the long history of feminist debate on pornography and jumping on the bandwagon to search for a legal solution to child pornography? Why was the public so reluctant to acknowledge the issue of the degrading representation of women, resulting in abundant debate and the development of feminist discourses, while they are so quick to acknowledge the issue of the sexual representation of children without questioning even a tiny bit of it?