• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    I just flipped off President George

    Posted by Sean at 13:25, December 2nd, 2004

    Comments were down for a few hours because of spam directed at MT–all those people who seem to think I need Viagra at 32 finally had their effect, though not in the way they imagined, I gather. Sorry if anyone had things to say and couldn’t get through. Oh, yeah! Apropos of nothing: Does anyone else remember “Dizz Knee Land” by Dada, from…’92, it must have been? The friend from college that I’m staying with was messing around with iTunes and downloaded it while his girlfriend and I were cooking, and it was such a throwback it made me shiver. But in a good way. Belly, anyone?

    Tomorrow morning, off to Dallas, where I plan to demonstrate to Mr. and Mrs. du Toit how glaringly apparent my defects of education are when I’m not writing at leisure with the ability to edit. Should be fun!

    2 December 23:25 EST

    Things Eleanor Jorden didn’t prepare you for

    Posted by Sean at 03:37, December 2nd, 2004

    Yesterday, I was waiting for the 7 to take me over to Times Square so I could meet my buddy for lunch (he later referred to me as a “terrific guy,” which I am willing myself to believe was not a calculated attempt to grease our work relationship. Just kidding, K!). There were electronic clocks installed above the platform, which I don’t think were there last year. And then the 2/3 has new cars with electronic displays that are either modeled after the newest Japanese train cars or just made by the same manufacturers. Very nice, though those were there last year (but still a big change, as I remember explaining to my reared-in-Kanto boyfriend, who assumed that train cars in developed countries just sort of all were like that). So anyway, I was thinking yesterday, with Tokyo smugness, Finally, New York! Trains like a real city!

    But then, there’s a backside flip-side to Tokyo’s well-used trains that makes me glad I sometimes get a break from the place. Man alive. I thought the occasional reverse-peristalsis brought on by drunken motion-sickness was bad enough. Actually, it was bad enough, if Lee’s experience is an indication of what sort of physiological soul-cry the salary-man/OL set can come up with when blowing chunks just doesn’t convey enough angst.

    Just five more days, and I’m back!

    2 December 13:37 EST


    Posted by Sean at 23:24, December 1st, 2004

    When I’m back here in the States, people are always asking me this unanswerable question: “So…what’s it like to be gay in Japan?” I never really know what to say. I can describe my gay life there just fine, obviously. But I’m a foreigner, of course, so I don’t have anything like the experience my Japanese friends do. Sometimes, the way people put the question is, “How easy is it to be gay in Japan?” That’s even harder to answer.

    Japan, as you’ve no doubt heard in various contexts, is a shame culture rather than a guilt culture. I love our American forthrightness and sincerity, but (partially on ethical grounds and partially because of plain old temperament) I always feel a sense of release when I’m boarding a plane back to Narita. It comes from the knowledge that I’m returning to a place where every last little turn of phrase or arch of eyebrow isn’t mirthlessly prodded for complex psychological motivations, where you can expect people to be polite and considerate in public, and where no one cares about your private life as long as you don’t force people to reckon with it.

    Of course, not everyone marks private off from public the same way. I would like to be able to establish Atsushi publicly as the person who would speak for my interests if I were incapacitated and with whom I’ve formed a household. I personally have no interest in discussing my sex life with anyone. If people insist on imagining it, anyway, I don’t see how I can stop them; but I also feel no responsibility for preserving their complacencies by pretending not to be gay.

    That sort of balance has not been struck by gay activism in America, but even approaching it would be unthinkable in Japan at this point. Forced arranged marriages are now unconstitutional in Japan, but marriage is still much more a social and economic contract than a meeting of the minds, to an extent that I think would give even the most biological essentialist, far-right American pause. And despite the dramatic rise in the median marriage age for both sexes, you’re a weirdo if you’re not married by your mid-30’s.

    Still and all, there are benefits to Japan’s tradition-mindedness that I think a lot of gays in America have been too willing to cast off. The lack of gay ghettos means that it’s pretty much impossible to wall yourself into a queer-positive echo chamber and start seeing rank-and-file straight people as an enemy arrayed against you. It also means that very few people see their homosexuality as their entire identity, with anti-gayness blamed for every disappointment, setback, depressive episode, and failed relationship. You never hear Japanese gays getting into princessy snits about not being approved of or officially sanctioned exactly like straight people in every last finicking little detail. At ordinary gay bars, you meet brittle, desperate guys who are obviously using a constant stream of sex partners to avoid dealing with their issues much, much less frequently than you do here in the States. (Even here, they’re a minority, of course; their attention-whoring just makes them disproportionately noticeable. But the Japanese in general don’t put the burden of self-definition on sex to the point that we do in the US.)

    The bad side, obviously, is that it can be hard for people coming out to find resources, and that people have to keep their most meaningful relationships hidden. It’s not uncommon for employees at the stodgier companies to be informed that they will not be promoted up the usual management-track escalator until they marry and start producing future contributors to the Social Insurance kitty. So many guys use pseudonyms in their gay lives that I only know the real first and last names of, I’d say, my ten or so closest friends. Japan’s shame culture puts pressure on vulnerable gay kids as much as our guilt culture–there’s no finessing that, and it sucks–but most adults who have come out to themselves seem pretty content.

    So if you’re willing to make the available trade-offs, being gay in Japan doesn’t strike me as all that hard. (I guess I should point out that I live in what’s probably the most gay-friendly part of the whole country, the Shibuya-Shinjuku axis of western Tokyo, though I now live a little outside Shibuya, rather than in the shadow of the 109 Building the way I did until March. Anyway, the point is, I’m talking about urban gay life and not about the provinces, but I don’t think Japan is much different from other developed countries in those terms.) And if, like me, you’re a foreigner and not subject to the full litany of rules Japanese people are, it’s even easier. It’s just an additional weird thing that makes you a typical gaijin. But as I say, my Japanese friends themselves are mindful of the social rules, but I don’t get the sense that they live in fear.

    2 December 09:38 EST

    SDF deployment extension official next week

    Posted by Sean at 12:17, December 1st, 2004

    This isn’t a surprise, but it’s official now: Japan will extend the Iraq deployment of SDF personnel beyond the original end date. The extension will be for a full year, to avoid further arguments between Koizumi’s LDP and its fractious (as least on issues of war) coalition partner, the Shin-Komeito. Discussion over the proposed new amendment to the Japanese constitution, which would allow the SDF to participate in combat missions with allies for purposes of collective self-defense, will of course continue over the same period.

    1 December 10:16 EST

    Axis: Bold as Love

    Posted by Sean at 08:44, December 1st, 2004

    Another on-going issue is Japan’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council (those who like their kanji compounds long and turgid doubtlessly get off on seeing 国連安全保障理事会の常任理事国入り cropping up in news reports lately). In cooperation with other applicants, including Germany and Brazil, Japan has apparently solidified its actual proposal. Of course, Germany and Japan have more than just their increased prominence as world powers to think about:

    Japan’s Takashima welcomed the panel’s recommendation that the so-called “enemy state” clause be removed from the U.N. Charter.

    The clause, dating to World War Two, allows for military action against Japan and Germany, without any endorsement by the Security Council. Japan pays almost as much money as the United States into the United Nations’ coffers.

    Intriguingly, the Reuters article emphasizes the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s push for full veto power for potential new permanent members. By contrast, the Nikkei report is focused more on the slight but perceptible softening of its public stance:


    On the subject of how the veto power of permanent members, which Japan had sought until very recently, will be dealt with, [the Japanese government] has shifted to a way of thinking that will respond more flexibly [to the wishes of the governing body] and away from its hard-line demand that veto power be attached to new permanent membership.

    1 December 18:46 EST

    The rainbow ride will make its arc

    Posted by Sean at 23:50, November 30th, 2004

    Speaking of resignations that fail to make me cry: Gay Orbit reports that Cheryl Jacques is resigning as the head of the Human Rights Campaign, and contends that those who defend her record are misreading it. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that anyone’s considering Michael himself as her successor, since that first post of his is one of the most economical statements of how gay activists need to frame and enact their positions that I’ve read in ages. (He also mentions the tricky what-do-the-‘rents-get-the-boyfriend-for-Christmas problem. Last year, my parents hilariously solved it by getting us, jointly, an all-American Hickory Farms gift set. What made it hilarious was that they decided–I AM NOT making this up–on this one. As soon as I opened the box, I started guffawing so hard I couldn’t inhale, and when I finally calmed down, I was like, “Darling, I would say this is a symbolic gesture of approval, but I don’t think it was intended to have that much subtext.” We kept the little condiment knife as a memento. I value it more than my Wedgwood cups. Where was I?)

    My feeling is that the election will probably, in hindsight, prove to have activated quite a few gays who didn’t go much for politics before–just not in the way leftists have been hoping for. Loud-mouthed activists tend to get little more than eye-rolling from most gays who are just living open-but-unshowy live and don’t think the sky is constantly falling, which has allowed the recent record of intrusive public-school programs and marriage-or-bust campaigning to go relatively unopposed from within gay ranks. The 11 state marriage amendments that passed may, one can only hope, rouse a few quiet types to wonder just what that hell big gay organizations are pushing supposedly on their behalf. It’s a shame that it has to be that way–I’d prefer government intrusion in daily life to be limited to the point that thinking about it all the time was not necessary in order to be an informed and responsible citizen–but the way things work is the way things work. The big-guns organizations need to know that they’re being watched by constituencies beyond their usual urban groupies and yes-men.

    1 December 09:51 EST

    Notes from Japan

    Posted by Sean at 12:29, November 30th, 2004

    My news-gathering has been pretty lite this week, but Asahi has the results of its latest poll up, and they’re interesting as always–particularly this nearly-even split:

    Asked whether Koizumi should continue to visit Yasukuni, 38 percent of those polled said yes, and 39 percent said no.

    Japan’s neighbors have strongly criticized the visits to the Tokyo shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including Class-A war criminals.

    Asked about China’s stance, about 30 percent of the pollees said it was only natural, while 57 percent did not think so.

    Those polled in their 30s and 40s were more opposed to Koizumi’s visits, while more than 40 percent of those in their 20s or 70s and older said the visits should continue.

    Among those who wanted Koizumi to continue his Yasukuni visits, nearly 60 percent said measures should be taken to win the understanding of the Chinese and South Koreans.

    What, one wonders, did the other 40 percent say? Tell China and Korea to stick it? There’s nothing much surprising about the age breakdown: those in their thirties and forties are the ones whose lives are most directly affected by the economic environment, and trade with China and Korea plays a major, major, major role in the current Japanese economy. People in their seventies remember the War; and people in their twenties, I suspect, just don’t see what the big deal is one way or the other.

    The poll also included questions about the Koizumi administration overall and the deployment of non-combat SDF personnel in Iraq specifically. Support/oppose figures haven’t changed much for those.

    Speaking of the Koizumi administration’s performance in domestic terms, the three-pronged reform package has been finalized, naturally in much less aggressive form than was originally proposed. The amount of tax yen that will ultimately be spun off to regional and local collection is smaller than it appears:

    Under the decentralization plan, the central government will transfer 2.4 trillion yen in tax-collecting authority-and thus spending-decision power-to local governments. But that figure falls short of the 3 trillion yen sought by prefectures and municipalities and includes 650 billion yen that has already been transferred in the current fiscal year.

    As the Asahi mentions further down in the article, Koizumi–no fool, he–did not huff and puff and waste political capital fighting for every last coin, or even every last 10000 yen bill. But I think the changes will have the salutary effect of having framed government spending questions in terms of how much should be entrusted to local authorities, rather than how many hands money can be made to pass through on its U-turn from the provinces to Tokyo and back again.

    30 November 10:29 EST

    Out with the old

    Posted by Sean at 09:19, November 30th, 2004

    Tom Ridge, who comes from a state my pride prevents me from mentioning, is resigning as Secretary of Homeland Security. Obviously, he had a difficult job as head of a new post-9/11 department, but I don’t think that excuses the resolute scattershot softness it took under his direction.

    30 November 19:19 EST

    Whoa! So this is what she means….

    Posted by Sean at 09:03, November 30th, 2004

    So Eric Scheie’s been sending me hits for the last 24 hours, and (borderline-hermit that I am) I just thought for the first time five minutes ago, Maybe I could…uh, like, capitalize on this. I could post something, right? The problem is, this is my veg day.

    For the last nine days, I’ve been switched on all the time. Either I was hanging out with my parents, or we were out for dinner, or we were shopping, or I was reading to my friends’ daughter (I read her Make Way for Ducklings soon after she was born a few years ago; this weekend she wanted me to read a book called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!. We appear to be developing a bird theme. Just wait till she’s fifteen and I introduce her to Hitchcock!), or my friends and I were reprising our college road trips in adult form by driving through Maryland while singing along with Graceland. Now, obviously, these were all things I enjoyed, with people I value greatly, and I’m grateful to be able to take two full weeks of vacation time together to do them at leisure. But I’ve had no alone time, really, and last night, after arriving at my friend’s place (where I lived when I was in grad school) and going out to dinner with him and his lovely girlfriend, I realized I was going to go insane if I didn’t spend today alone in a room.

    So I did. I sat (mostly lay, actually) in the apartment, surrounded by the sounds of Murray Hill, and read some, and napped some, and ate nutrition-free food. The thoughts that ran through my head were on the order of Frusen Gladje ice cream used to be *so* yummy. It’s a shame Haagen Dazs outcompeted it, especially with those naff containers…. Um, so, yeah. I’ve had a post kind of kicking around for the last few days, but it’s not gelling. Much easier to quote news articles and muse over Japan-China relations.

    I’m not sure where this is going, exactly. Maybe I should try to come up with My Super-Coolest Post Ever, or something, and that will keep me from sounding like a ditz. I mean, because I’ll be working on rewriting and editing, I won’t be publishing posts that make me sound like a ditz. In case you thought I’d post something non-ditzy, which is not very likely. Okay, Friend’s Lovely Girlfriend has arrived home and is offering me, bless her heart, a glass of wine. I have this feeling it might make me more coherent.

    30 November 19:05 EST

    Philadelphia story

    Posted by Sean at 13:12, November 29th, 2004

    So today, between going from my college friends’ place in DC to my college friends’ place here in New York, I was able to meet Agenda Bender and Classical Values Eric in Philly. Eric has not changed in appearance and demeanor since Friday; Tom turned out to be, unsurprisingly, a big, strapping Irish guy. I’m getting the sense that, to be a Philadelphia-area gay guy with a blog, you’re required to be (1) cute, (2) built, and (3) mellow. Which explains why the whole blogging thing didn’t get going until I’d long been graduated and gone to another continent.

    Speaking of which, living in Japan gets you totally unaccustomed to being blatantly cruised while, say, walking down the street or in line to buy a train ticket. Last night with my friends (in Adams-Morgan), and today in Philadelphia and New York, I kept thinking, Ooh! Cute boy! But what the hell’s he looking at me like that for? My fly open, or something? I also keep waiting for cab drivers to open the door for me from inside the car; luckily, no one’s actually concluded I’m a moron and driven away from me yet. Maybe by the time I’m ready to fly back I’ll be used to all this again. Fun day, though.

    29 November 23:30 EST