• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    And when the sun is high / we’ll kiss and say goodbye

    Posted by Sean at 02:19, May 6th, 2004

    One of the best parts of being gay, as I experience it, is that you have the rich emotional responses of a woman and the insulating obtuseness and detachment of a man. One of the worst parts is that you can’t always choose which is ascendant at a given moment.

    I didn’t actually make a spectacle of myself when I took Atsushi to the airport yesterday; I just kind of felt as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Since I had to get back to the office, I couldn’t wait until his plane took off. I had to content myself with leaving the observation deck before his flight was scheduled to leave the gate. Haneda Airport, which handles most domestic flights in and out of Tokyo, is actually in the same galaxy as the city (unlike Narita, the airport where most international flights go, which is way the hell out in Chiba Prefecture). It was just turning to night from dusk. You could see part of the incomprehensibly vast lit-up Tokyo skyline across the bay, and under it in the foreground, the planes docked at the departure gates. Two of my favorite sights in civilization (rendered with my appalling, amateurish digi-cam skills in the banner). The rain had stopped, but there was a lot of mist. It flattered both the lights and the JAL and ANA planes (which look a bit cheap to me in strong sunlight). Jets drifted down like big moths and shot into the sky like spears.

    This was one of those vacation weeks that are busier than going to the office. The only meals we didn’t have at restaurants with friends who wanted to find out how Atsushi is doing in West Buttf**k, we had here with friends who wanted to see what the apartment looks like now. (“Like there’s finally a fag living here” was the verdict. I’m not sure how I feel about that.) Too much food, too much drink, and endless assurances that everyone’s looking after me while he’s working in the provinces. I wished I didn’t have to leave him at the airport, but we’d been surrounded by people so persistently since Sunday that a part of me was relieved to head home to the apartment and not have anyone to look after except the plants. Just another month and we’ll be leaving for Bali together. Not that long to wait.


    Posted by Sean at 14:19, May 3rd, 2004

    My favorite fellow Asia-Pacific Island-based blogger, Amritas, responded to one of Joanne Jacobs’s frequent commenters, one Stephen, who characteristically took the opportunity to use this thread about race relations at UCLA to talk about how wonderful his wife’s traditional Asian femininity makes their domestic life. Joanne has already done her usual, wonderfully motherly throwing of cold water, and Amritas is great as always when he gets fired up.

    And yet…Stephen’s comments (he shows up a lot) always frustrate me because there’s usually a very good point buried beneath the self-directed ego stroking: that gay promiscuity in urban areas has been very destructive and that lots of people who reject traditional femininity in a jeering way are insecure about their own life choices seem to be the major ones.

    A point that no one in this conversation seems to make is that in a free society, traditional femininity requires both parties to be willing to hold up their ends of the bargain. Since I don’t know the gentleman personally, I can only assume that his wife, like most American women, would quickly make her latent female power overt if he started treating her poorly–no matter to what degree she identifies with flowers. That’s not always an option women have in countries in which sex roles haven’t been liberalized as they have in America. Japan is politically one of the most free countries on Earth. (We just celebrated its Constitution Day yesterday, and while it’s mostly treated as just a bank holiday, I found it very moving, as a proud American partial to constitutions.) But the status of women here, while it certainly facilitates “femininity,” can be appalling. The median age for marriage has been pushed up to near 30 in the last 20 years. It’s not just that women want to spend their free time shopping instead of taking care of children; they don’t want to be forced to look after men whose idea of a “helpmeet” is a combination of maid and brood mare.

    All of which means that if it adds frisson to a middle-aged couple’s relationship to imagine a ring of vaginismus-afflicted harpies detesting them for their delight in tradition…well, good for them. But it’d be nice if students at a major research university, who are supposed to be in the process of forming their view of the world, could talk about their differences and assess why and in which contexts some attitudes work better than others.

    BTW, the name I officially use in Japan is a transliteration of Sean:

    紫苑 (shion)

    It means “aster.”

    Japanese women’s names sometimes do use flower kanji, but only occasionally does one see a name with a stem pronounced Yuri- (“lily”) or Hana- (“blossom”) or Fuji- (“wisteria”). Japanese women’s names can have any number of kanji, but many pronunciations cluster around a handful of meanings: Mari- (“truth”), Nori- (“law,” “order,” “constancy”), and Aki- (“light,” “clarity”). None of these seems to make their bearers more stern and sententious than those named after flowers or jewels.

    Guerrilla girl, hard and sweet

    Posted by Sean at 01:53, May 3rd, 2004

    The news programs keep talking about a Janis Karpinski who’s a high muckety-muck in supervision of prisons in Iraq. The first time I heard her name, it rang a bell, and I wondered whether she was the woman Geraldine Brooks profiled as having trained the women in the Kuwaiti armed forces during the Gulf War. (Don’t ask me why I remembered the name–there’s a rational reason that’s too personal to recount here.) I can’t find a link that confirms that they are the same person, but there can’t be that many Brigadier General Janis Karpinskis with a decade or so of service in the Gulf.

    Added 05/04 13:25: Sheesh. You’d never know from this pixellated rag that I get paid, in part, for clear prose. Geraldine Brooks’s book has a chapter on the training of Kuwaiti women in the armed forces, in which Janis Karpinski is quoted several times; the book overall is about the lives of women in Muslim countries, not Karpinski.

    Touching on my favorite fruit

    Posted by Sean at 16:37, April 30th, 2004

    This week is Golden Week, a bank holiday, so Atsushi is coming back to Tokyo for five days. I work Saturdays until early afternoon; we figured I’d be gone before he got in from the airport, dropped his heavier stuff off, and went to his parents’ place (thirty miles away, which is negligible within the Tokyo megalopolisaurus) overnight. I’d see him tomorrow when he comes back.

    So of course, I ran into him near the station. Just enough time to go back to the apartment together and to be told that he has an appointment at the dermatologist’s, after which his parents are expecting him for late lunch. C*ckteasing J@p.

    Slipping through my fingers

    Posted by Sean at 12:43, April 28th, 2004

    Disconnected replies to M[a]me du Toit’s musings on how we’re socializing teenagers:

    I. Activists tend to argue (often implicitly rather than explicitly) that your gay/feminist/ethic-ness constitutes your entire individual identity, so when someone leaves the fold, it casts doubt on everything some people around them think they are. Hence the spazzy accusations of sell-out. My own solution is to begin mentally composing my grocery list when such people start ranting at me (Optional: shamelessly ogle them if they’re cute). Pointing out that championing non-conformist behavior has to cut in all directions doesn’t seem to have much effect.
    II. I think one big point that can’t be made too often is that we’re never going to make anxiety go away. Letting people forge their own identities means that we’re all going to feel a tension between the pull of the group and the pull of our idiosyncrasies. At this point in time, everyone’s so exhausted by developments since the ’60’s, a lot of people seem to have this idea that if gays and feminists just shut up already, children could grow up without questioning themselves. I think that’s a projection. Developing strong personalities, in nuclearized families, while moving around the country at will, is not compatible with effortless self-assurance that one is always doing what’s best. Personal liberty means living with internal conflict, in addition to the external conflict with the values of those who live differently.
    III. Someone in this skein of blogs referred to our culture as “sexualized” recently. That’s not an original locution, but it caught my attention more than it had before, and I saw it as curiously apposite. Like the way Hamlet calls Ophelia “beautified.” We have a real tendency to act as if life were intrinsically clean, safe, affable, and pleasant when–boom!–sexual maturation descends on a teenager and spoils the party. It makes life complicated, and man, that just isn’t fair.
    I’m not saying we need to…I don’t know…be more like Brazil, or anything. But I do think it odd and sad that when something like the Janet Jackson breast incident happens, you don’t have people just expressing indignation at the violation of community standards–that part’s justifiable; you have people saying, “My word. How can I possibly begin to explain what just happened on television to my child?” As if tits were agents of disillusion in and of themselves.
    None of this is to be taken to mean that parents should watch Debbie Does Dallas with their kindergartners, or that teenagers should just be indulged in the guise of nurturing their individuality. And it certainly doesn’t mean social-welfare programmers should be feeding school kids prefabricated political agenda. But it’s not hard to see how children hit teenage and are completely disoriented by the fact that what’s running through their heads isn’t always explicable.
    IV. While parents understandably want to believe that the changes they like in their teenagers are evidence of maturation and those they don’t are just passing phases, and while a lot of the teenage personality is in flux, it simply isn’t true that they’re at t = 0 in terms of identity formation. Encouraging teenagers to experiment when they can’t know what could result is ridiculous, especially when it goes behind the backs of parents. But–maybe you have be gay to recognize the distinction–there’s a difference in mien between the youngster who just wants to shock her parents and the one who’s gained a shaken but unashamed sense of who he is. Since the job of saying, “Who knows? Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and decide you like girls after all.” is already filled many times over, my own inward thought on the matter is, “Good for you, bro. You’re already alive to the world.”

    If you’re not an easy mark

    Posted by Sean at 01:26, April 28th, 2004

    Pat Toomey, my congressman, won’t be the Republican nominee for the US Senate seat that’s up for election in PA this November. I have my problems with Arlen Specter, and there are things I like about Toomey. But on balance, I figure we already have one Rick Santorum.

    Overall, I find myself in the mood to celebrate: A Philly-centric marathon of Hall and Oates, Todd Rundgren, and the Spinners seems in order….

    (Saw it at The Queen of All Evil’s)


    Posted by Sean at 11:05, April 27th, 2004

    So I chose saigyo, the name of the priest who wrote the poem I used in my domain name, as the login for something or other at some point in configuring my site preferences (or preferring my site configurations, or whatever tech people call it). Now it’s my default e-mail user ID, which is not what I had in mind, but until I can figure out how to fix it, that’s the address I have here (most of you who might see this know me through e-mail at my Hotmail address, anyway, which of course can still be used freely).

    As long as I’m misappropriating a major name in Japanese literature as my username, why not spread the pretentiousness around? Another of my favorite poets is Akiko Yosano, who wrote a century ago. At her best, she’s so sexy you can’t stand it:



    yawa hada no / atsuki chishio ni / fure mo mide / sabishikarazu ya / michi wo toku kimi
    Yosano Akiko

    Having never felt
    the hot tide of blood that throbs
    beneath this soft skin
    even you who seek the Way
    must know what you are missing
    –Akiko Yosano

    I can’t seem to get my English to surge and sweep forward between caesuras the way her Japanese does–Japanese poems have a reputation for stillness and contemplation, but Akiko is often all sensual force coming at you. The fact that tanka are usually printed in one vertical line down the page accentuates the effect. She also married another of the brashly innovative poets of her age. His talent dried up early, so she spent the rest of her life bearing about a hundred of his children and making money to move them around the world to try to get his muse talking to him again. A fascinating woman.

    Symantec differences

    Posted by Sean at 23:32, April 26th, 2004

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Norton is not as interested in providing my Internet with Security as he led me to believe. The IT-geek friend who went with me to get my new laptop warned me that XP has its problems playing well with other programs, but jeez. I’m starting to understand why all my Mac-loving friends guffaw whenever they hear the word “registry.” Norton can’t uninstall, can’t reinstall, and when installed, tells me (the Administrator!) I’m not cool enough to get into my firewall. Not even when I widen my green eyes while making them go hard and mineral-y, which always gets what I want from a man. This is why my favorite medium is still the fountain pen and linen paper. There’s the occasional ink blot to contend with, but at least there’s none of this “Installation failed!” malarkey to contend with.

    I’ve misplaced my ontologies

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, April 25th, 2004

    Paul Varnell doesn’t break new ground in his characteristically sensible IGF article on queer theory, but he does iterate a point that needs to be made over and over: “None of this seems very coherent. To the extent it is coherent it seems simply wrong.” On the one hand, even taking the energy to point out how contentless and irrelevant these people are as scholars is a waste. On the other hand, they do have plenty of influence in the campus gay culture that’s the backdrop for a lot of people’s coming out. I daresay that most gay students, even when their entire sense of themselves and the world is being broken down and remade, are together enough not to buy full-on into the laundry list of pomo beliefs. But those who do are those who most desperately need what a humanities education traditionally provided: lots and lots of information that took you outside yourself.

    In my book of dreams

    Posted by Sean at 03:37, April 25th, 2004

    Planned Parenthood is not an organization toward which I feel any loyalty. I can understand why religiously devout people would object to a good deal of what it represents. But Nathan quotes a Suzanne Vega-lookalike rock critic who provides an object lesson on why so many gay and lesbian people regard even well-meaning conservative Christians as nut cases. Here’s how Dawn Eden summarizes the Planned Parenthood GLBTXYZPDQ page she links:

    “Find “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender” sex partners online.

    “Let me repeat that.

    “If you or someone you know is sending money to Planned Parenthood, that money is going to some adult sitting at a computer, who writes detailed instructions for underage teenagers on how to pick up lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sex partners online.

    “I would be offended if they were inviting 14-year-olds to meet heterosexual sex partners online. But the thought of this organization, which claims to be protecting teenagers, instead inviting them to meet sexual predators who may steer them into homosexuality at a time when they are most impressionable, is truly disgusting.”

    Being a trusting sort–I really have to cut that out–I was expecting a page full of lascivious detail about safe sex techniques and how to get around having your parents find out you’re a dyke or poofter. Such a thing wouldn’t surprise me, when there are educators who seem to think that elementary school students need to be taught fisting.

    But, um, unless I missed something, the linked page assumes you’ll be working overtime to screen out lecherous 45-year-olds and having a chaste first date with another high school sophomore over Cokes at Chick-fil-A. Half the page is devoted to obsessing over the inability to verify that on-line correspondents are who they say they are–with good reason, of course.

    There is a line that gives instructions “in case things don’t go as you hope and you want to make an early exit,” and while I wouldn’t exactly be floored if Planned Parenthood types just used that as the most explicit reference to potential sex they dared include, it could refer to nothing more than not banking on a ride home from a blind date. In any case, neither it nor anything else I could see qualifies as “detailed instructions for underage teenagers on how to pick up lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sex partners online” as any thinking person understands the phrasing.

    I don’t believe, needless to say, in encouraging teenagers to disobey their parents. Where I grew up, “You can do what you want when you’re eighteen, but while you’re living under my roof, you’ll do what I say” was the rule, and unless the household is abusive, I think it’s a good one. But teenage is when children are, if anything, most susceptible to the idea that they should fit in with their friends at any cost. The idea that being “impressionable” is the only reason a sixteen-year-old would be looking for a same-sex date simply doesn’t pass the smell test, however comforting it may be to people who cherish the belief that we’re all fixable.