Report: Lecture by Kota Ishijima “Gender, Culture and Sports Business in the U.S. and Japan”

Undergraduate student, ICU

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the tenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

Poster for the lecture“Gender, Culture and Sports Business in the U.S. and Japan” was a special lecture hosted by CGS as part of the “Approaches to Gender Studies” course at ICU on April 28, 2008. The guest speaker was Ms. Kota Ishijima, an MtF (male-to-female) transgender who has been working as a sports interpreter in support of Japanese Major League Baseball players in Japan and the US. She covered a wide range of topics, such as surviving sexual violence, marriage and children, coming out of the closet, and Japanese/American sports marketing. The lecture was based on Ishijima’s own life experience as an individual who has always been acutely aware of differences between men and women, and between Japanese and American cultures.

“My existence may have become a threat to them” was Ishijima’s analysis of the reaction of her mostly male friends who had distanced themselves when her gender transition became obvious to the eye. Ishijima’s transgression of the gender line may have made her an existence which threatened her friends’ norms of sexuality. One of Ishijima’s friends who attended the lecture rebutted this belief, declaring that her friends may have simply became confused about how to approach the new him/her and, as a result, drifted away. This reminded me of how I too am often unsure of how to interact with my transgender friends.
However, upon deeper reflection, I realized that the question of what exactly is safe to say to those who are transgender, may be inextricably linked to one’s awareness of not wanting to complicate life further, for those who are already finding life difficult. Are Ishijima’s friends and I afraid of hurting others, or are we really just afraid of “hurting ourselves”? This highlights our feelings of fear of being labeled as a discriminator or a oppressor. Ishijima’s analysis of herself as becoming a threat, and her friends, confusion of not knowing how to approach her, seem to be stating different things, but are actually the same. In other words, one may realize that they are both different views of the same anxiety and feelings of threat that are brought on by sexual transition. After all, it is evident that Ishijima’s friends and I perceived transgressions of the gender line as a threat to ourselves.
However, falling silent for fear of hurting myself with my own words and evading potentially explosive topics may seem easier in the short term, but I have come to realize that no progress may be found within it. Yet, what exactly is waiting for us once we break the silence?
In looking back at Ishijima’s lecture in terms of “hurting ourselves or others,” I thought that “overwhelming self-disclosure” and “staying strong against oppressors ” are co-existing concepts that complement each other. I myself am cautious in matters regarding self-disclosure, or in other words, sharing emotions and experiences of failure with others, and disclosing a weak self. Unnecessary self-disclosure can only wreak harsh hurt from others who discriminate against women, or who are against sexual diversity.
However, Ishijima openly spoke to us strangers about her former suicidal thoughts and the changes that she physically went through in her gender transition. How was she able to do this? I believe that this was evidence of Ishijima’s undaunted fearlessness against hurting herself through revealing her own weaknesses. I found hope, the strength to prevail even when others attack you, and the power to live on even when hurt, through her words: “Whatever people may say or think, this is who I am.”