BOOK REVIEW: Queer Japan: Personal Stories Of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals And BisexualsQueer Japan

Queer Japan: Personal Stories Of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals And BisexualsQueer Japan: Personal Stories Of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals And Bisexuals by Barbara Summerhawk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book on a whim when I was searching Amazon for books about lesbianism in Japan – as you can imagine, there isn’t a whole lot out there, so this book jumped out at me. One of the lowest reviews stated this book focused mostly on lesbians and they were looking for something about gay men. Even better! If there’s anything I’ve learned from the LGBT community, it’s that it’s still mostly made up of male voices. This book sounded just like what I needed.

The format of the book is basically (translated) essays and interviews with LGBT volunteers. There are lesbians, gay men, bisexual men and women, and of course trans* people. (Some people cover more than one category.) They also run a full range of elderly people to younger. Some were also married (in heterosexual marriages). But all of them have one thing in common: struggling to embrace themselves as queer in a society more repressive than my own in America.

As an American queer woman who has both lived here (in America) and abroad in Japan, I was excited to find out more about the difference and solidarities in the struggles of being “queer”. I was not disappointed. All of the essay writers and interviewees were wonderfully frank about their life stories and their hopes and fears for a friendly future in Japan. Some of the writers were also incredibly involved in their gay communities, fighting to change the atmosphere for queer people in Japan. But the most interesting bits were the “mundane” parts – struggling to keep a relationship together, fighting with preconceived norms, going through horrendous “treatments” in their early lives…while the essays can be very grim at times, it’s telling, and it’s real. As a queer person I don’t want to hear “it gets better”. I want to hear the truth and how it affects people. But in the grimness, there is always hope. Each and every one of these writers is either living out their hopes or clinging to it. I found this compilation incredibly inspiring, and it renewed a lot of my own hope for the future.

Of course, there are a couple minor, minor gripes. First, it’s a bit dated. It was published c.1997, and I want to know where most of these people are now, how much it’s changed. I know a bit of the current queer circles in Tokyo, but it sounds like a lot of the old organizations have disbanded. Are new ones in place? Are people fending for themselves? Do they even have to? How much progress has been made? Obviously, this book can’t answer those questions for me. But it was a start. Also, there were minor editing mistakes, mostly in the whose/who’s and where/wear areas. Not sure how those glaring ones slipped through, but it wasn’t enough to take away the power of the actual text.

I recommend this book to anyone looking to 1) research the queer world in Japan 2) connect with people like themselves, whether queer or not. This is particularly great for those doing lesbian research, since it wasn’t overpowered by male voices like most of these compilations are.

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