Close Menu

I-am-gay-banner

“I am Gay”: The Story of a Japanese High School Boy Coming Out

Sometimes as educators we end up being part of something bigger than the daily grind of teaching, marking, helping, disciplining. In moments and situations where we can make the biggest difference we tread the thin line between authority figure and friend; this is where my story starts.

 

In 2013, August had just rolled around which heralded the beginning of the speech contest season in my town in Hokkaido, Japan. I sat with my English club, my gaze intensely focused on each member as I drilled them about their ideas for topics. Everyone had an idea except for one student, he said he had one but he would tell me later. He smiled like was hiding something very exciting.

kento2

My student Kento was always incredibly enigmatic; when I first arrived in Japan I had been completely taken with him. He loved crows and would spend his time trying to befriend them; every time I saw him he would have another animal story to tell me.

 

This secret smile was driving me insane, so after another few attempts at dragging it out of him I eventually succumbed to sneakiness. I asked him to accompany me to the staff room, and then pulled him aside

 

“What are you going to talk about Kento?”

 

He smiled, grabbed his phone and then flipped it around to show me.

 

“I am this” he said while pointing to the word ‘homosexual’ which was followed by the statement ‘a lover of other men’. Despite the rather amorous description I was genuinely happy that Kento had decided to tell me this.

 

“Kento that’s awesome!” I exclaimed.

 

“I want to make a speech about this” he continued, my excitement tripled and I started shaking him a little.

 

“This is excellent; you should totally make a speech about this!”

 

In the space of a measly few seconds I felt my excitement start to sway, and then crash to the floor. How would the other teachers react to this? What if other students found out? I felt like I was standing on the edge of an impossibly deep crevasse with my foot hanging over the edge, how on earth was this going to work out? I walked home that day head humming and chest heavy with the weight of all the ‘what if’s’ In the centre of that swirling vortex was this knowledge that what had begun so innocently in my school library was far more important than I could fully comprehend.

 

*

 

“Really?” Kento’s English teachers’ eyes widened.

 

My fingers clung to the edge of her kitchen bench. Steady Tessa, steady.

 

“I think he should make his speech about this. The issue is so important right now”

 

Her lips tightened a little.

 

“Can’t he talk about discrimination in general?”

 

“Well I guess he could but that would make his speech less powerful, he could win with this speech you know. This theme is so strong he could do it”.

 

She nods slowly, mulling the idea over.

 

*

 

Kento and I made our excuses to the other English club students and found an empty office. This was our little routine when I came to visit his school.   He tells me about the first time he realised he was gay, it was in Junior High School. It filled him with such anxiety as he was convinced that nobody else felt like this. One day a girl in his class began to tell everyone that he was gay, like the majority of junior high school students; any difference is seen as something dangerous. The rumour spread and Kento knew that even if he tried to deny it there was no point. Rejected by his peers, friendless and alone he kept his head down until he graduated from Junior High. When he entered High school he decided that he must not let anyone find out about his sexuality. For years I noticed this fractured confidence, he was so open with me yet in the classroom I could barely find him. He had few friends; eyes downcast and shoulders hunched, he did his best to remain invisible.

kento3

Yet in all that anxiety and shyness there lay some serious will-power. In his first year he had decided to make this speech, now finally in his last year of high-school he was going to tell people who he really was. He has bravery that so few of us possess, to be willing to say something that could make his life a living hell.

 

*

 

Our chests were burning, my feet crashed heavily on the grey pavement, we twisted and turned following my friend’s huge back-up through the wide Sapporo streets.

 

“Not far!” she called, her long legs bounding along.

 

Would we miss it? I couldn’t see anything like a parade, Kento and my friend Margaret stood beside me, eyes peering ahead. The tell-tale beat of a Lady Gaga song boomed overhead, strips of colour whipped in the wind, my heart almost jumped out of my chest. Sapporo gay pride had indeed pulled out all the stops. We jostled our way into the crowd and were immediately given balloons. The grey skies were unable to reign in the indefinable energy that moved through the mass of people, we marched forward into the stony stares of passer-bys, heads held high.

 

Perhaps it wasn’t the most appropriate parade to take a high-school student to but I knew if Kento was going to be able to get up on that stage he needed to see that being gay was not something to be ashamed of. There were others like him out there and they were not afraid to let the world know

 

Kento’s smile grew impossibly big as he saw other gay people for the first time.

 

I remember when we sat in the library, discussing his speech.

 

“Have you ever met anyone like me?” he asked, I thought the question absurd.

 

“Oh course I have Kento! I know many gay people!”

 

For a young gay Japanese person, this is in fact a very real concern. Japan’s conservatism is not particularly well-known outside of the country itself.  From someone who lives and works here, it is in fact 1955 in regards to issues such as gay rights. Gay people are almost invisible, there are a few well-known openly gay celebrities but most regular Japanese people have never met a real-life gay person. The importance of marriage and creating a highly structured family unit means many gay people hide who they are, pretending to date members of the opposite sex to please their family and friends. In many western countries members of the LGBTQ community fear violence from those who disagree with their existence. But here it is not being killed or beaten that gay people fear, but isolation from their community, from their friends. The group is of the utmost importance here, to be excluded means in some ways you do not exist.

 

Kento leaned over to me and whispered “I want to shout I am gay”.

 

I looked around, the colours, the balloons, it was the perfect time.

 

“Go on”.

 

He stopped suddenly, inhaled deeply and boomed loudly in English “I AM GAAAAAAY!”,

 

I linked arms with him and shouted in return: “KENTO IS GAAAAAAY!”.

 

The pure joy on his face was enough to make this outing worth it, I wasn’t sure if this was something that could get me into serious trouble. We let our balloons go and watched them soar upwards into the grey sky, a riot of color against an unfeeling, cold city.

 

My heart swelled, I could die happy.

 

The train took our tired bodies home, my friend, Kento and I stared vacantly out into the darkness. He looked at me; arms moving about like was trying to pull the right grammar structure from the air.

 

“Today was the best experience ..” he paused and mumbled “machigatta”.

 

“Today was the best experience of my life” he said, smiling at me.

 

“I will remember this forever. Thank you”.

 

kento4

 

*

 

A week before the speech contest Kento finally did his speech in front of the other English club students. He and another member had barely talked for a year, a teenage falling out over twitter I had been told in hushed tones. Afterwards, like some kind of Christmas miracle she approached him and began talking to him. From that moment on they were friends once again.

 

*

 

I held my breath as he approached the podium, pleasepleaseplease let him do well, oh god please let no-one shout, or cat-call or say something horrible. I think I am more nervous than Kento is whenever he does a speech; he has such power in his voice, his eyes steady and focused on the audience. His voice booms across the room, emotions sweeping through the tired sentences that we have practiced a million times.

 

I smile,

 

He is going to be just fine.

This summer, shocking news ran through the world. The Russian president Vladimir Putin issued a law to restrict the rights of gay people. Many western countries are quite offended by this idea and some people believe that we should boycott the Olympics which will be held in Sochi next winter. The Charter of the Olympics declares that the spirit of Olympics is to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic movement. According to this policy, we have to say this law is totally against the spirit of the Olympics.

Why do gay people have to face discrimination? Is it because they are not heterosexual? Is it a sin to love somebody of the same gender? The law cannot control love or people’s feelings.

Discrimination is the practice of treating one person or group differently from another in an unfair way. In a sense, human history has been repeating itself, one kind of discrimination after another. Racial, sexual, religious discrimination and so on.
This year the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech made by Martin Luther King. In his speech he was dreaming of the world without any discrimination where his children are living happily with different races. His speech has encouraged African Americans, Native Americans as well as minorities all over the world to move forward for civil rights.

I have faced discrimination too. I am gay. I realized this when I was a junior high-school student, although I never told anybody somehow my classmates guessed that I was. They rejected me and treated me like I was not a human being; one girl said to me “I can’t believe someone like you exists”. It made me feel like I was completely alone. In high school I decided to keep my secret safe and never tell anyone about who I really am on the inside. But this year I wanted to stop hiding that part of myself.

In western countries such as the States and in Europe gay people are seen as a normal part of society just as the difference of white and black, man and woman, Christian and Muslim. Although there are problems, the gay community is visible and is trying to make changes.

In Japan, we are afraid of being different, but we don’t show our hate so openly. It is silent discrimination. If nobody talks about the problem then it doesn’t exist. Many gay people in Japan hide who they really are because they are afraid of being rejected, not with angry words or threats of violence, but with isolation. Being gay in Japan is a very lonely existence.

Maybe it will be difficult for me to live my life just like other people. But this is my life. I’m going to live it no matter what people say. Martin Luther King once said “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” When I feel scared I often think of this quote. Making this speech was my first step, I never thought that I could tell people that I am gay.

I too have a dream. One day down in the meadows of Hokkaido, gay people and straight people are chatting together and eating BBQ in the sunshine. I have a dream of a world without any prejudice, hate or ignorance which causes blind discrimination against what we can’t understand. I can see the road ahead will be difficult, but I must be brave. Not just for myself, but for other young people like me.

 

“Those boys were laughing when I said my speech” Kento mutters as we sit in the waiting room.

My other English club student chimes in “Fuck them! They don’t know you!”

 

He is a first year boy, a returnee from the states. That might have been a better victory than Kento winning the contest, to see another student stand up for him. They laugh and joke like normal teenage boys as I follow them down the stairs. This is how it should be, and for once how it should be is actually how it is.

 

*

 

“Would you come and listen to my student practice his speech?”

 

“Yes of course!” my colleague enthusiastically replied.

 

“Well … maybe you should read his speech before you come because –well …” I point at the line which I have already underlined vigorously in red pen.

 

His eyes widen and he smiles in disbelief

 

“Really? Sugoi ne!”

 

Kento smiles nervously as my JTE approaches, I am just as nervous but I put on my teacher face and tell him that everything will be just fine. Of course he is frightened, before now the only people he had done his speech in front of were women. This teacher was a man. I gripped my desk hard and told him to begin.

 

“I never thought I could say my speech in front of a man, I feel so proud!” he is beaming at me, his face shining with success.

 

I smile “Of course you can, you can do anything Kento!” His smile wavers a little.

 

“Do you remember when I first told you in the library?”

 

I nod “I was so happy you told me”.

 

“I know. I … at that time I thought if Tessa is not happy … with my theme then …” he stops suddenly searching for the right words

 

“I don’t know what I will do” his face crumples for an instant.

 

That simple sentence hit me like a rock to the face. We teachers have so much power over our students’ lives in these moments; Kento could have continued to hide his sexuality for far longer if I hadn’t responded positively. That thought still terrifies me.

 

*

 

Every time I brought a new teacher to listen to his speech, their eyes grew wide and seemed so obviously shocked I was certain that this was the Japanese equivalent of screaming and pointing. They had nothing but praise for him, these conservative middle-aged teachers saw that what he was doing was so much bigger than them. Kento was the first openly gay person they had met, something us westerners may find hard to believe.

 

*

 

“Kento what if the whole school find out?” I ask barely concealing my worry which kept me from sleeping some nights. He laughed.

 

“I don’t care! I am gay and I can’t change who I am”

 

He didn’t win the all Hokkaido contest, I sincerely hoped he would. Even though I could see he was disappointed the confidence it had given him was worth it. He loves telling people that he is gay and absolutely loves to give his speech at the drop of a hat. I saw a fire grow inside him over the past few months, a desire, a yearning to change his country. He wants all gay people to feel safe and accepted and he knew that by saying this speech that someone in the audience might hear it and feel that they are not alone.

 

His coming out heralded a tough time for him; his parents were not so accepting of his sexuality. They refused to let any reporter interview him as they feared that his Father would lose his job if people knew his son was gay. The opportunities kept pouring in but because he was not legally an adult his parents’ permission was necessary and they refused to give it time and time again.

 

His disappointment was obvious but the act of saying his speech and coming out in front of people he didn’t know gave him so much self-confidence.

 

I’m glad I was there in that moment in the library but most of all I’m glad that this man is my friend.

 

The speech got  a tiny bit internet famous, it was talked about in the advocate.com

 

 

Pinterest Share Goggle+ Share

One comment

  1. WilliamCef says:

    Im thankful for the forum topic.Thanks Again. Will read on… Raziano

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*