A gay couple's road to revelation

『Coming Out in Japan』の書評記事
by Harumi Ozawa

A gay couple's road to revelation

By Harumi Ozawa
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
By Satoru Ito and Ryuta Yanase
Trans. by F. Conlan
Trans Paciffic Press, 337 pp, \3,400

 Kevin Kline's character in the 1997 U.S. movie In & Out was lucky. A high school teacher pushed to the verge of being fired because he was gay, he was saved from losing his job and his reputation by the support of his students, friends, parents and even the woman who was his fiancee.

 This was not the case for Satoru Ito, a former high school teacher who felt forced to quit his job as a result of being gay. Ito is the coauthor of "Coming Out in Japan," a single volume translation of two books he penned with his partner Ryuta Yanase about being homosexual in Japan.
 Essentially, the book is an autobiographical essay in which the gay couple tell us what it is like to grow up and realize you are homosexual, and then to try and live in a way that is true to yourself in a society that often refers to itself as homogeneous. It shows how they develop a loving relationship and become determined to make a public declaration of their sexuality to provide a role model for gay couples in Japan.
 A fairly legitimate question for people outside Japan would be, "Is it really that difficult for homosexuals to come out in Japan?" It is true that Japan does not have any laws or customs that openly ban homosexual relationships like some other countries. However, the book's subject and its title are perfectly appropriate, considering the unspoken social pressure on the nation's homosexual minority to conform to its heterosexual majority.
 Both Ito and Yanase, who now actively promote gay rights in Japan through publications and lectures, endured a great deal of difficulty-both mentally and socially--to recognize and accept their own sexuality. It seems they feel positive about life after finding each other because of the mutual support their relationship provides.
 In fact, Ito says it took 28 years for him to come to terms with the fact that he is gay and 33 years for him to meet Yanase. He describes those 33 years as full of agony because of the way homosexuals are treated as if they do not exist in Japan, as well as being made the butt of jokes.
 Ito was even blackmailed by friends of a man he contacted via a personal advertisement section in a gay magazine. This, as well as other rumors about him being gay, led to a situation in which he felt forced by the private high school where he worked to quit.
 Although some of Ito's students protested against the effective discharge, their efforts did not lead to a positive outcome like In & Out.
 He recalls the difficult situation in the book:"If I was to carry on fighting to the bitter end my enemies would undoubtedly produce their trump card. The word would be out not only to my students but to the whole of society including, most importantly, my mother." The fact that he had to live with this fear and felt unable to come out to his mother well illustrates the lack of tolerance for homosexuals in Japan.
 Yanase also spells out the pain he suffered during his childhood, when he was picked on and called a hermaphrodite by his peers, His father also demanded that he behave in a masculine way.
 What is likely to be equally interesting and enlightening for readers is a series of incidents encountered by Yanase after he went to live with Ito and his mother.
 After overcoming the huge hurdle of coming out to their respective mothers, Ito and Yanase later began to experience the same kind of problems that many wives have after moving in with their mothers - in-law. He began to feel frustrated with things Ito's elderly mother said and did-and also with Ito, who did not lift a finger to help do housework.
 "He displayed an amazing inadequacy, indeed a complete blindness, to the jobs that needed doing around the house,"Yanase writes about Ito at home, "He just very conveniently left the whole lot to his aged mother - the cleaning, the washing, looking after the meals - everything. "Yanase said this made him, and later Ito, realize how much men depend on women in heterosexual Japanese households.
 In certain ways, the couple seems to expose too much about their private lives - from Ito's adventures in a gay district in Shinjuku, Tokyo, to their exchange of words of love for each other. They also go into detail about arguments they have had over small things, such as who was going to do the cooking or grocery shopping. Candidly speaking, many of these episodes are nothing you would care to read if they weren't written by a gay couple.
 Why do they go so far to expose their private lives?
 "Coming Out in Japan" is a record of a gay couple determined to become the happiest such couple in Japan, and to provide a model for younger gay people in hopes that they will not struggle, like Ito and Yanase did, to gain self-confidence and find the right partner, The book also reveals how a couple, regardless of their sexuality, can form a mature relationship and manifest their love with pride.
 Given the way the couple sacrifice their privacy in this publication, it is readers' duty to think about the messages they have tried to send to a heterosexual society that follows male-dominated norms.