I celebrate pride. Whenever not in quarantine, I go to the parades and take part in the festivities. When I was younger I went to a lot of marches. Montreal is pretty good with gay rights so there haven’t been that many here but there are still causes. However, I have never really celebrated Pride on this blog.
There are a few reasons for that. It always seemed a bit out of place. And I also talk about LGBTQ+ (the acronym is getting a bit long) topics and series pretty much all year long. I didn’t think there was a point in confining it to a month or so. But I do enjoy doing little blog pride tours of all my fellow bloggers who do put on special content. So I guess I like to have it both ways! Awww yeah!
This said, there is one issue that I don’t see talked about all that often. What is pride in Japan? We talk about these pieces of art that celebrate diversity and inclusivity in manga and anime, but we don’t always take into consideration the culture they are born from. And what that culture thinks about this type of diversity.
Now I am not the person to talk about this. It’s not my culture and my knowledge of it is second-hand. So I’m just going to try to go by the dispassionate facts. I have called a few of my Japanese friends to try to corroborate what I could but as always, take it with a grain of salt.
First, it should be noted that Japan does not recognize same-sex unions in any way at all. It’s the only country in the G7 not to have some form of recognition. And, as recently as this year, Japanese courts have ruled that not only would any type of legally recognized same-sex union be unconstitutional but even the act of recognizing the union goes against the Japanese constitution.
Japan put some weirdly specific things in their constition…
The general laws and regulations of a country don’t dictate the attitudes of individual people but it does tell you something about how homosexuality is viewed on a larger societal scale. Namely as either bad or harmful. And that’s kind of sad.
This may sound odd since there seems to be so much queer content coming out of Japan. Both Yuri and Yaoi are thriving genres freely available, unlike in some countries. I do think that in some cases we are reading that through our own western perspective. People are creating, selling and buying queer content, therefore it must be accepted. If there’s a market for it… But I’m not sure it’s that direct.
A people’s art doesn’t necessarily represent their societal values or ways of life in a straightforward way. Although from everything I have read and my few visits there, Japan is generally more ok with nudity (mostly male nudity for some reason) they are not what I would consider the most sex-positive society.
Public displays of any affection, let alone sexual affection, are considered a little gauche and not really acceptable. All the hentai, gay or otherwise is not something someone would brag about. It’s still considered generally shameful to enjoy such things. From what I am lead to understand, considerably more shameful than it would be to flaunt a love for hardcore pornography in the West.
And there are still strong classical expectations that people should get married and start a family. Especially with the birthing crisis. It’s not as bad for men. A gay man could probably get away with just being discreet and maybe having to deal with his parents bugging him to get married. But single women past a certain age (like 25) often feel pressure on a more generalized level and could see it affect their careers and friendships.
The assumption is that a women not married past a certain age must have some deep personal failing or fault of character that has prevented her from getting married. So such a woman can’t be trusted. For some reason, it’s fine for men. I read that. I hope it’s not true. But if any part of it is, then it’s gonna suck to be an adult gay woman under those circumstances.
When you pair more conservative views toward sex and relationship, with the lack of acceptance for homosexuality, it gives the impression of a society that isn’t all that welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. At least by the standards I’m used to. Admittedly I’m used to something that isn’t very common either. Namely that homosexuality is regarded with almost complete indifference. And I know that isn’t the case everywhere or even in most places but I’m going to take a very rare hard stance and just say, it should be.
So for me, hearing that a whole nation considers it fundamentally wrong to accept adult individuals falling in love and sharing their lives, well it sounds odd. And I disagree with the principle behind it. We’re not even talking about marriage or any religious ceremony here. Just giving one person the right to visit the love of their life in the hospital! and name them as their emergency contact. Ultimately though, if the majority of Japanese society thinks that’s the way to go, who am I to argue? It’s just not for me.
But after all this, how do I reconcile the fact that I have seen a lot of great (and not so great) LGBTQ+ representation in anime and manga?
I do believe the world is changing. Both Yaoi and Yuri are genres that have expanded a lot recently. Stories of LGBTQ+ characters have started to appear more in the last decade and that might be a sign of a slowly changing society. Artists are often the vanguards of social change. And that’s probably part of it.
And I want to stress once again that a general societal belief does not dictate individual ones. I’m sure there are plenty of gay people in Japan who have loving and supportive friends and families that have allowed them to live fulfilling lives without fear of reprimand or having to hide any part of themselves. Some of them have probably had great experiences with their coming out. And in case I sounded high and mighty earlier there, I know for a fact that some Canadians in my circle of friends were ostracized and punished for being gay. There’s no perfect place.
At the end of the day, what I wanted to talk about was the LGBTQ+ reality in Japan outside of manga and anime. How I have a feeling that it’s not always easy and I wanted to say, hang in there. I hope it doesn’t suck and I honestly believe it’s going to get better. I know that the world is not like a Yaoi or Yuri manga, unfortunately… But I do think that we can all make it a little more welcoming for everyone.