Towards a Society that Celebrates Diversity

Undergraduate Student, Toyo University

On May 23rd 2006, Ms. Kanako Otsuji, a member of the Osaka prefectural assembly who publicly came out as a lesbian last year, gave a lecture entitled “Towards a Society that Celebrates Diversity” at the International Christian University.
I participated in the lecture as an interested party, that is as a homosexual male. However, the lecture was basically comprehensible also for heterosexuals, who do not have much knowledge of LGBT.

The lecture brought up a range of basic issues, such as the significance of coming out publicly, the neglect of homosexuals in education, and the prevailing “homophobia” which continues to haunt even the LGBT members themselves. I was particularly struck by Otsuji’s personal history as a sexual minority. She discussed her experiences of being bullied, her inferiority complex and her self denial as a sexual minority in her youth. I strongly empathized with many aspects of her story, especially the part about the fear that she first had of what might happen if she admitted to the feelings inside her.
As for my own personal experience, especially from puberty to adolescence, I had no friends with whom I could share my fears and sufferings. I did not have access to the internet or e-mails as people do today. I strived hard to deny my sexuality, alone in my struggle to survive in a society rife with homophobia and apathy towards sexual minorities. Based on such experiences, I can truly believe the results from an LGBT survey distributed on the day: “People who have considered committing suicide= 64%,” and “People who have attempted suicide= 15.1%”.
It was only after Ms. Otsuji moved to the city, a space where diverse personalities are crushed, that she achieved her own “coming out” to herself. In realizing that she had nothing to fear in admitting her feelings to herself, she overcame her self-denial as a sexual minority. She then began to participate in events for lesbians, where different challenges awaited her.
While living in the lesbian community, she started to question why people had to conceal their real names and addresses inside the community. However, at that time, she did not consider the information closure to be due to personal reasons of self-denial.
Rather, Otsuji reconsidered the issue as a problem of community, and by extension, society and its indifference to sexual minorities. Her awareness of the oppressive nature of social apathy prompted her interest in politics and finally led her to come out publicly. (However, she also pointed out the risks involved in coming out today in a society with little understanding of the issue and emphasized that the decision to come out or not is entirely up to each individual.)
After the lecture, we were given a chance to communicate with Ms. Otsuji and other students in another meeting room. In our self-introductions, each of us were able, as a matter of course, to declare our real names, university affiliation, and sexuality. It must have been a refreshing sight for Ms. Otsuji as well, given her experience of questioning the necessity of withholding real names and addreses when meeting with her LGBT friends. For me, personally, this momentary experience marked a turning point in making me realize the significance of ‘coming out’ - I had hardly ever given my full name in gay clubs or bars before, but since then I have been able to do so in a variety of situations.
What left the biggest impression on me during the self-introductions was witnessing the “coming out” of heterosexuals. Most of the students who attended were sexual minorities. However, there was one heterosexual woman who was interested in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I can still see her smiling as she introduced herself, saying “It seems to me that in this place, I am the one who becomes a minority.” I think that it is important that heterosexuals also participate in such events. Moreover, I realized that, to some extent, such situations provide an opportunity for heterosexuals to have a simulated experience of ‘coming out’. For sexual minorities, no matter whether you choose to do it or not, coming out is a sort of inevitable proposition, and the complex emotions involved is not easily understood by heterosexuals. The actual experience of introducing oneself as a “heterosexual” may prompt people to question the socially accepted norm of heterosexuality.
One example which clearly shows how the conventional wisdom has remained unquestioned as a matter of a fact can be found in the dictionary. The fifth Iwanami edition of the Kōjien (Japanese language dictionary), does not contain a definition of the terms “heterosexual love” or “heterosexual”. The fact that only the term “homosexual” is defined in the dictionary reflects the underlying common perception in which the homosexual is marginalized as a “subject to be observed” and heterosexuality is so taken for granted that it requires no explanation. This example vividly illustrates the reality of this “forced heterosexual society” in which we live. Recognizing terms such as “heterosexual love” and “heterosexual” and identifying oneself as such may at first seem strange. Yet, it could prompt people’s awareness of heterosexuality as simply one of many different kinds of sexualities. The heterosexual “coming out” I witnessed that day convinced me that the ideas incorporated within the word “heterosexual” can serve to relativize the concept of heterosexuality and balance the power relations between sexual minorities and the majority.

Vincent, Keith, et. al. Gay Studies, p.9. Tokyo: Seidōsha, 1997.