Gay in Japan recently sat down with Rebecca Beardsley, an ESL teacher living on Iki island in Nagasaki prefecture. Originally from the Bay area in CA, she moved to Japan after college to begin teaching English. As an educator, Becky witnesses first hand the lack of resources for LGBT youth and students. We asked a series of questions to gather further insight into her perspective on the issues surrounding LGBT people in Japan.
How long have you lived in Japan and what brought you here?
I’m going on my 2nd year in Japan, living previously in Tokyo and now Iki for work. I’ve always wanted to live in Japan so I came with the JET program as a way to get my foot in the door.
What is your favorite thing about Japan?
The people. When I first came to Japan I felt like I was home. The hospitality and warmth from the people made me feel like I belonged, even though I some times stick out because I’m half Japanese.
What about your least favorite?
Everyone cares too much about what other people think about them. People need to chill out a little bit.
What does the term LGBT mean to you?
I don’t care too much about labels. I do me and you do you. I feel like we all should have equal representation but “LGBT” is not the main part or my identity. I prefer the label “Becky”
Do you think Japanese people know a lot about LGBT people?
No, not at all. The reason I say that is because of the lack of sex-ed in schools. Also, parents don’t talk about those things with their children so there is a general lack of understanding.
Additionally, a few years back I marched with Amnesty International for Tokyo Rainbow Pride and we were handing out fans that had “LGBT” on them. A great number of people that we gave fans to didn’t seem to know what it meant. “LGBT” is something that is simply that not talked about.
Are you out?
In general, yes, but I don’t go around waving my rainbow flag. I am comfortable enough to tell my friends but not all of my family, especially older people. You just have to judge character.
What is life like for you as a Gay person in Japan?
That’s a hard question because right now I’m dating a guy, and students always ask me if I have a boyfriend. I wouldn’t say anything about me being gay to Japanese people, but if were to tell them, I feel they might be sorta judgmental, which is a bummer.
How do you think people in Japan view LGBT people?
I think that Japanese people seem to be OK with LGBT people, but since they have an obsession with fitting into the norm, they wouldn’t want to be Gay themselves. Not so much for religious reasons, but just to fit in. I have a some disabled kids in my class and its the same for them. It’s just generally not good to be different in any way.
Do you think LGBT people face any particular challenges?
So I’m from SF, and everything is more open, but here there is much more judgement. If you place yourself outside of the norm then you have to worry about being accepted. It’s not in the media, they don’t talk about it in school, they don’t have resources so LGBT people won’t know if they are normal or not, no support system. To be fair, there are Yaoi and other niches, but those are very sexualized. Sexualizing a group of people doesn’t allow for a progressive dialogue and thus a general acceptance.
What do you see for the future of LGBT acceptance in Japan?
It’s going slowly. It’s something hard. In a society that demands “normal” its hard to say Gay is OK and everyone will just accept it overnight. I think in Tokyo LGBT people could be more accepted, like in SF. We will get there, just very slowly.
What do you see for your own future, will you still live in Japan?
Of course I’m homesick, I miss English and Mexican food, but i really like Japan, the sense of community and I can see myself staying for at least a few more years. I guess we will just have to see how things go.
Any last thing you would like to share?
I want to say that if you feel confused and different, talk to your teachers, but I can’t say that. I feel like that’s a really hard part about being LGBT in Japan. Especially for my students, even if I was trained on responding to LGBT issues I’m not allowed to talk about it with my students. It’s awful. At the very least I wish I could tell my students that they could talk to me about these things but I know I can’t. I just want the youth to know that it’s OK to be different and not to worry about the pressures of society.