White American children grow up being indoctrinated with the core beliefs that justify and maintain structural racism. They have no idea they are being indoctrinated. In fact, the adults who indoctrinate them have no idea they are indoctrinating, because they themselves were similarly indoctrinated.

  • Black people are lazy.
  • Black people are addicted to welfare.
  • Black people are less intelligent than white people.
  • Black people are dishonest.
  • Black people are inclined to become criminals.
  • Black people’s culture is self-destructive.
  • Black men father children and abandon them.
  • Black women have volatile tempers.
  • Black on Black violence is the real problem.

This is just a sampling. I call these factoids “canards.” “Canard” means “unfounded rumor or story,” but in practical use it refers to unfounded rumors that are old and have unusual traction, unfounded rumors that seem to never go away. Any one of these canards is fairly easy to debunk, if everyone concerned is actually interested in the truth. But what makes these lies canards is that they are not easily debunked. While they seem on the surface to be isolated random nonsense, they in fact comprise a powerful matrix. That matrix supports and maintains structural racism in every area of american life. The canard you hear from your father at the dinner table or while watching the evening news is like a single shoot of kudzu. You can snip the shoot off, but the kudzu does not die. Racist canards work together, reinforce each other. If one canard is weakened by the light of truth, the others come to block that light out.

If you believe your white parents (or teachers, or adult relatives, or the television) did not instill you with these racist canards, you are mistaken. They were instilled with you as surely as they were instilled in me. In a straightforwardly racist household, these canards are conveyed without subtlety, and are generously embellished with the N word. In a liberal white household, the same canards take the form of what we today call “concern trolling.” The home I grew up in was the latter type. If I had ever used the N word, my father would have given me a whipping with his belt that I would not soon forget. And yet that same father (born in 1922) would glibly state that “those people are natural dancers/athletes, you know.”

The canards are particularly sinister because we absorb them and spew them out without question. In the white world, these canards are “common sense,” though in polite company you must of course be careful how you phrase them, and you have to make it clear that you are not a racist. We do not question their veracity, because we almost never hear them refuted. And we never hear them refuted because everyone we hear from is white. All their lives, they have heard these canards repeated by adults they respect. Why would they question them? Those adults, in turn, learned the canards from their own parents, and those parents from their parents, all the way back to the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade in the 16th Century.

The concern trolling you hear from American Democrats in 2015 is simply a variation on canards invented 500 years ago to justify white enslavement of Blacks.

What can we, as white Americans, do to end this ongoing cycle of structural racism perpetuated through seemingly innocuous canards? Clearly it is not enough to simply teach children that all races are equal. If that was all it took, you would not see 20 year-old white college students singing racist chants on chartered buses in 2015. My own generation would be utterly free of racism.

One thing we can all do is make an effort to not repeat the canards. It’s frightening, really, because they simply pop out of our mouths, like a conditioned response, without thought. Like a yawn spread from person to person. Like a “Bless you” in response to a sneeze.

First, we have to recognize that these canards exist, that we have absorbed them, and that they are literally deadly. (What was the body count in 2014 alone?) When we feel one welling up, whether in face-to-face conversation or on social media, we have to stop ourselves.

Stop yourself and ask yourself, “What do I really know about this topic?” If you are honest, you will answer, “Almost nothing.” Unless you have intimate daily contact with a variety of Black Americans—people you will get drunk with, people on who’s shoulders you have cried and who have cried on yours—then the only honest answer to the question is, “Almost nothing.” (If you really had such intimate contact with Black Americans, you wouldn’t be inclined to repeat the canard in the first place.)

Think about it. Think about how often you hear white people say, “It’s their culture that’s the problem.” Do you think any of those people saying that has intimate knowledge of Black American culture? Really? Of course they don’t. Don’t tell me about your “Black friend,” unless your Black friend is the friend you call at 4 a.m. when you’re in deep trouble or you just need someone to talk to. Even if that is your Black friend, one Black friend does not a culture make. Your one Black friend may be Clarence Thomas.

You do not know. I do not know. So don’t repeat the canard.

The second and perhaps most important thing you can do is shut up and listen carefully to Black American voices. Not just people being interviewed on the TV, but a wide range of Black Americans.

The horrific and ongoing practice of “racial steering” that keeps American neighborhoods and towns segregated perpetuates a situation where very few white Americans have any genuine contact with Black Americans. But in 2015, “There aren’t any Black people around me! What am I supposed to do!?” is not a valid excuse.

There’s this little thing called Twitter. You may have heard about it. It is ridiculously easy to find a stunning range of Black American voices to listen to on Twitter. As of March 2015, one easy way to find these people is to search the hashtags #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter.

Poke around. Read. Read everyone and anyone. Don’t automatically filter out people because what they say or how they say it makes you uncomfortable. Don’t filter out because you have no idea what the person is talking about. Just listen. (Read.) Resist the urge to rebut, refute, or call out. That “But…!” making it’s way up your throat and out your mouth? Stifle it. Like you stifle a yawn. Chances are, you are just going to repeat one of the canards.

Stifle it, and listen.

And for God’s sake, don’t play “Devil’s advocate.” The Devil has more than enough advocates, thank you.

Keep listening. Keep at least a dozen diverse Black voices in your timeline at all times. University professors, high school students, hairdressers, activists…a genuine range of voices. (There are even conservative Black voices out there to listen to.)

Keep listening, and you will start to see things the way they see things. Or rather, you will start to see a bit of the spectrum of how they see things, because they certainly don’t all see things the same way. But they do see things differently from white Americans.

What once seemed obvious to you will now seem dubious, and vice versa. You will learn.

Keep stifling those canards that try to jump out of your mouth or keyboard. Don’t repeat the canards. Certainly don’t repeat them in front of children. And when you hear/read the canards coming out of someone else’s mouth or keyboard (You should now be finding them easier to spot!), call that person out. Don’t call them a racist. Just call the canard a canard. Challenge it. Tell the person that such canards serve to maintain an unjust status quo. Tell these truths to your children, so that they grow up questioning the canards they will invariably hear from others (and sometimes from you, despite your best efforts).

Kudzu covers the American South and seems unstoppable, but you can kill kudzu by cutting off what they call the “root crown.” The canards that perpetuate institutional racism in America are as pervasive and pernicious as kudzu, but they can be rooted out. It just requires a little effort from a lot of people.

EDIT: I should have known that “don’t you dare” is an invitation to fight, and I should have realized that people would not recognize the intentional hyperbole of “you are not worthy.”


 

It has nothing to do with “authenticity.” And it’s certainly not because “only Japanese can make manga.” It’s simply because you have not earned it, unless, like TogaQ and Kichiku Neko, your work is regularly published commercially in Japan.

I’ve been teaching in Kyoto Seika University’s manga program for fifteen years. My first students are now in their early thirties.

Students in Kyoto Seika University's Faculty of Manga

Students in Kyoto Seika University’s Faculty of Manga

When our program began, the entrance exams for the “story manga” program were so competitive that we sometimes accepted less than one in twenty applicants. The students who get into the story manga program are good. They are quite good. They draw well. They have a good sense for page layout and pacing. Their characters “pop.”

Do you know how many of these excellent students ever get published in a commercial manga magazine? Probably about one in twenty.

And do you how many of those will go on to become true pros, getting their own serials and making a living doing only manga?

Maybe one in twenty.

Do the math.

If 8000 kids take our exams, 400 will pass and study with us for four years, being trained by seasoned professionals.

Of those 400, twenty will eventually get their work published in a commercial magazine.

Of those twenty, only one will become a genuine professional.

And get this. Of those 8000 people who started with the same goal, only that one will be able to say, “I am a mangaka (マンガ家).”

The character 家 is commonly used to use mean “house,” “family,” or “clan,” but it is also used in a manner similar to the English suffix “-ist.” But it is, in a sense, more similar to the title “maestro.” “Mangaka” is not a title given or taken lightly. Or rather, it is not that difficult to give to someone else (particularly if you are either a genuine admirer or just want to flatter the person), but it is taken reluctantly. You would sound arrogant and more than a bit foolish if you claimed the title without having worked as a true professional for at least a few years.

I have clear memories of specific students whom I was convinced would become successful professional manga artists–true mangaka–and yet who failed in that pursuit. They couldn’t take the pressure. They couldn’t keep up with the demanding pace (an average of eight to sixteen completed pages per week). They simply couldn’t keep thinking up interesting stories.

One former student I had particularly high hopes for–I’ll call her Sayaka–made her so-called “pro debut” in her first year in our program. (I was afraid she’d leave us, as did one of her classmates in a similar situation.) All told, Sayaka probably had about two paperback volumes’ worth of stories published in a major manga magazine over a period of about eight years. Yet her stories were never gathered into a paperback, and she was never asked to do a serial.

Sayaka quit. She found no pleasure in trying to meet the demands of editors who tired to force her to imitate the latest trends of their most commercially successful artists. She could no longer stand dumbing down her subtle stories.

She quit.

Over the years, I have seen the work of a lot of non-Japanese cartoonists who call their work “manga.” Not “manga influenced.” Not “manga inspired.” They actually call their work “manga.”

Some of them even call themselves–call themselves!–“mangaka.”

Not one of them is worthy to erase the pencil work on Sayaka’s pages is as good as Sayaka, ALTHOUGH I MAY BE BIASED. [EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that at least a few excellent non-Japanese artists whose work I admire call themselves “mangaka.” I disagree with that usage, but their skills and talent is beyond doubt.]  Most are not even as good as the average amateur manga artist selling their work the Tokyo Comic Market or similar gatherings.

Obviously I am biased, but I am also confident that any comics editor, any professional comics artist, any discerning reader would look at Sayaka’s work, look at the work of these self-described “mangaka,” and tell you what I’m telling you: There is no comparison. They are not even in the same league.

I remember other students. Students who barely passed our entrance exam, and from whom I frankly expected little. One of them, whom I’ll call Yumiko, drew BL (“boys’ love”) manga, as do many of my students. She was a very serious student. Any time a professor needed help, she volunteered. Her work was, to be blunt, drab and stiff. But she never quit polishing it. She met deadlines. Professors would bring non-paying assignments to create educational or promotional manga for non-profit organizations. The professor would ask who’s interested, and hers was the first hand up. She took her work to publishers. They would give her advice. Within days she would be back with new work that reflected that advice. They published her work. She was reliable. They kept giving her work.

They still give her work.

You will probably never hear her name, but she is a true mangaka, making a decent living on her manga alone. And she can run circles around the non-Japanese self-described “mangaka” whose work I’ve seen.

I love independent comics. I love self-published comics. I love web comics. I love that there are people out there, all over the world, working in many languages and styles, who take the time from study or work or play to make the best comics they can, not because it brings in a paycheck, but because they love comics and they want to express themselves through comics. I think that is awesome, and I support those people one hundred percent. This very much includes those whose work is inspired by the best manga.

“Manga” is just what Japanese call “comics,” and we use the term in English because manga tend to be immediately discernible from most North American comics or bande desinée. (Not better or worse, just different.) Most Japanese people I know who make manga are happy to call them “comics” when speaking about them in English. Similarly, most Japanese are happy to use the word “manga” in speaking about comics from other countries, although they may use the term “Amekomi” to refer to American superhero comics.

I have been studying and translating manga for a quarter century, and I have no problem saying that “manga” is simply the Japanese word for “comics.” It’s silly enough, in my opinion, to argue that manga is somehow a fundamentally different medium. But to argue that your own work, which has never been published in Japan, is “manga” and not “comics” is to invite well-deserved ridicule.

Don’t presume to call your work manga, and don’t you dare presume to give please think twice before giving yourself the title of “mangaka.”

That is a title that is hard earned. It’s one that Sayaka (whose shadow you are not worthy to touch who, as you may have noticed, I think highly of) never attained, and that Yumiko (who has worked a hundred times harder than you ever will many other people) earned.

Heterosexual men! Want to make your girl want to stay with you and only you forever and ever? While spontaneous flowers and conscientious honing of bedroom skills certainly doesn’t hurt, 90% of being the perfect feminist dream partner is housework.

Do 50% or more of the cooking, dishwashing, laundry, and cleaning, and she will never leave you.

The hardest part of becoming a good domestic partner is making housework a habit, something your body just does automatically. You should be thinking about housework several times a day, and as soon as you realize something needs to be done, you need to just do it. Don’t put it off; just do it. If you put it off for 5 minutes, you’ll never do it. Or worse, your partner will start doing it, and then you have to jump up and stop her, and though she may not say anything, she’ll be thinking, “If you knew it had to be done, why did you wait until I started doing it to stand up?” That kind of thing becomes of source of friction. Even if you are doing 50%, it won’t count for shit if she has to remind you half the time.

Just. Do. It.

It’s not glamorous, and it won’t earn you the accolades of your peers. (If you brag about it, 1) you will sound like a jerk, and 2) people will think you’re exaggerating.) But you will get all the cookies from your partner. No studly, rich dude will ever woo her away from the guy who does half the housework without being nagged.

Dishes should never be in the sink for more than a few hours, and the sink should be clean and empty when you leave for work and when you go to bed. (Cockroaches!)

If the pile of laundry is more than two loads high, it is too high. Laundry should be done at least once every two days. (Doing laundry includes hanging/drying and folding/putting away!)

Learn how to do laundry properly. That’s what the Google machine is for. You win no cookies if you shrink her cashmere sweater or turn her white blouse pink. If there’s an item you’re not sure how to handle, set it aside and wash the rest.

You can keep the bathroom cleaner longer by SITTING DOWN. You’re in your own house, dude: You’re in no hurry. Sit down and spare your walls the microsplatter of your urine. (Tests have shown IT CAN ACTUALLY HIT THE GODDAM CEILING.)

Peek under the toilet seat every couple of days. If it doesn’t look clean under there, clean the toilet. (Actually, just clean the toilet at least once a week even if it looks clean.)

Is there stuff on the floor? Does it belong there? If not, pick it up and put it away.

How about the dining or kitchen table/counter? Is it cluttered? Tidy it up.

Vacuum the floor at least once a week. Even if she vacuumed it two days ago. It’s amazing how quickly floors become dirty.

I admit I wash windows rarely. Maybe three times a year. (Yikes!) But that’s three times more than my wife does, so’s she’s happy when I do it. Make your partner happy.

Clean the shower/bathtub at least once a month. (Mildew! Soap scum!)

Learn how to cook at least three or four different main dishes (and a few simple side dishes) reasonably well, and practice them to the point that you can make them in your sleep. Try to keep the necessary ingredients for at least one (preferably two) of those dishes in stock, so you can make it on sudden notice if need be. (You should always have onions and potatoes in stock; they last longer than other veggies and have many uses.) Even if your partner is an amazing cook, cook AT LEAST two meals a week.

If your partner criticizes what you made (and I hope she did so gently), try not to take it personally. She wouldn’t have said anything if there wasn’t something majorly wrong with what you made. If the thing you made is inedible, don’t pout or become depressed. Stuff happens, and there’s always pizza delivery (or some equivalent). Apologize, laugh it off, and just make it better the next time. It takes practice to become a decent cook.

Try not to become angry when you’re cooking and you mess something up. It doesn’t help, and it causes stress for your partner, who will wish she had just made dinner herself. (I admit I have this problem sometimes. But I’m improving. I think.)

I used to be a lousy cook, but have taught myself how to make great soups and pasta sauces without consulting a recipe. (My wife handles the Japanese and Chinese cooking, and I’m in charge of Western style cooking.) In fact, my wife was planning to cook Chinese tonight, but was too tired when she got home, so I whipped up a great pasta sauce with veggies from the fridge (tomatoes, eggplant, carrot, and mushrooms) and ground beef from the fridge. It was easy and fun and I got all the cookies from my wife, and that’s what it’s all about right?

Grocery shopping itself is a skill that needs to be practiced, but you’ll have to Google that one yourself, because I’m reaching the end of this entry.

Seriously, if you can do 50% of the household drudgery (hell, most women would be happy to have a partner who did even 40%), then it won’t matter that you’re lousy at communicating or spend three hours playing video games every night or you don’t think sexism is a big problem or you don’t know who Maya Angelou was. (The flip side of that is that knowing who Andrea Dworkin was and being able to quote bell hooks won’t count for shit if you don’t do the goddam housework.) You will even be forgiven for forgetting about your anniversary or her birthday. Because the work you do every day to make life more pleasant for both of you will be worth more than a once a year ritual. (Still, don’t forget those things, man; what’s wrong with you? Set an alarm in your smart phone.)

Again, the hardest part is making all this HABIT. But once it becomes habit, it no longer seems like a pain in the ass, and no longer even seems like drudgery (even though it is in fact drudgery). I have always done housework, but it took me a long, long time to make it a real habit, and now I wish I had done it ages ago instead of procrastinating and waiting to be nagged.

And now I get all the cookies.

When I see something written in English that is criticizing some aspect of Japan, the first thing I wonder is why the person is writing it in English, presumably to an audience of people who are in no position to do anything that could change the situation. Obviously, readers often want to learn about situations in societies whose languages they do not speak. Journalists try to and often succeed in conveying information about one society to the people of another society, and when they do so, we expect them to do so as objectively as they can, showing us the range of views a native of that society would encounter.

Opinion is an entirely different matter. When you express an opinion about Society A in the language of Society B, rather than that of Society A, you are presumably doing so for a reason. It is a political choice, and I think it is fair to ask the writer why they chose to target the members of Society B with an opinion about Society A. I suppose there are any number of scenarios in which a writer would reasonably make such a choice, but two obvious reasons come to mind.

One possibility is that the author thinks Society B could learn something from Society A in regards to the topic at hand. This is actually rather common, and of course is a fine thing.

The other possibility that comes to mind is that the author wants the people of Society B to know that Society A is Bad, if only in regards to the topic at hand. Since the readers can usually do nothing about the Bad Thing discussed (other than sign a petition or donate money), the motive probably boils down to wanting to express distaste for Society A (or at least that aspect of Society A). It is an expression of contempt with no practical purpose beyond the spreading of hatred.

But perhaps there is a third possibility. Perhaps the author just wanted to get this thing off their chest, and chose to do so in their native tongue because it was too much trouble to write it in the language of Society A. This is akin to me sitting here and saying out loud to this empty room (as I sometimes do), “God, I hate this air conditioner. It makes the room smell funny and we need a new one.” Except that it is one thing for me to think out loud to an empty room, or in the presence of my wife or other close friends or family, and it is a very different thing for me to say such a thing in print or on the Internet where it can be seen by any number of people who know nothing about me and my relationship to my air conditioner.

Oh, and here’s a fourth possibility: The author chose to write about Society A in the language of Society B because someone was willing to pay them to do so. (Come to think of it, I have done this myself, and would cheerfully do so again. Make me an offer.)

The more I see this sort of thing (and I see it so very often), the more I think that the third and fourth reasons, or a mixture of the two, are actually the most common.

I am loathe to criticize anyone for writing for money anything that is not morally evil, and it’s hard to begrudge anyone the right to think out loud on the Internet (heaven knows I do it every day, and am doing it right now), but I think it’s important for writers to beware that, regardless of their motives, the effect on the reader will probably be the same as if the writer’s motive was either the first or the second described above. That is, the reader will come away thinking either, “This thing Society A does is swell, and we should do it, too,” or “Society A is as fucked up as I imagined it to be. Seriously; fuck them.”

Take this brief diatribe by Sophie Knight, “Japan Has a Cute Problem: How the pink apron keeps women down.” There is very little in here that I flat out disagree with (although Ms. Knight should know that the most current WEF ranking puts Japan at 104, thanks to the Maldives plummeting from 97 to 105), but the piece rubs me the wrong way, as do most diatribes about Japan written in English. The problem is not in the facts.

Just yesterday, I started my lecture in my Women and Manga class (女性とマンガ) with a diatribe of my own, pointing out that women make up just 8.1% of the Lower House of Japan’s Diet, that they earn just 45 yen for every 100 yen earned by Japanese men, that they hold just 11.1% of managerial positions in the Japanese business world, that they account for about 97% of victims of sexual assault in Japan, and that they account for 65.9% of Japanese living in poverty. I did so because after the previous week’s class, in which veteran manga editor Kaori Mikawa talked to my students about discrimination in the manga publishing world, one anonymous male student complained about what he perceived as “reverse sexism.” I should point out that this all took place in Japanese. I teach my class in Japanese, 90% of my students are Japanese citizens, Kaori’s talk was in Japanese, and the anonymous student’s whining was in Japanese. A Japanese problem addressed in Japanese to a mostly Japanese audience.

I think it’s fair to characterize Ms. Knight’s piece as a diatribe, since she paints in broad strokes. The piece is light on details and nuance, and heavy on generalizations. A reasonable person with little knowledge of Japan would read “As the strongest wave of feminism in decades sweeps through the West, Japan is well overdue a movement of its own,” and conclude that Japan has never had a feminist movement. It has in fact had at least two major feminist movements, arguably more, and a quick search of Twitter in Japanese will show you that there are still plenty of Japanese women (and even some non-women) who identify as feminists and fight the good fight every day. And there are in fact certain fields in which Japanese women can claim to be far ahead of any of their Western sisters, such as the creation and consumption of comics, and the production of pornography by and for women. (Seriously.)

Ms. Knight, whether she intended to or not, reinforces stereotypes held by most Westerners about Japan and Japanese women. The tone, whether or not she intended it to be, is smug and condescending. It is what we call in Japanese 上から目線 (“ue kara mesen”), or “looking down from above.”

I wrote that the first thing I wonder when I find something like this is why the author chose to write in English. The second thing I do is to search for anything the author has written in Japanese. I am much more willing to cut slack to an author who has written anything in Japanese, even if it’s just a handful of tweets. (Bonus points if the author has done the reverse, which is to say criticize Society B in the language of Society A.) I refuse to believe a person can be an authority on a society if they cannot even read and write in that society’s language. (Would you take seriously a Japanese person who claims to be an expert on American society if that person was not reasonably fluent in English?) I searched and could not find anything written in Japanese by Ms. Knight beyond the two words 記者・騎士 found in her Twitter profile. I searched her name in Japanese, and unfortunately could only find links to a Japanese brand of pantyhose with a very specific purpose. For all I know, her Japanese may be better than my own, but if she has written anything in Japanese, she has done a good job of hiding it.

If Ms. Knight had written the exact same piece in Japanese, I would not have hesitated to share it on social media.

Ms. Knight and I have a mutual friend on Facebook for whom I have enormous respect. (Like, huge.) For that reason alone, I am sure Ms. Knight is a wonderful person, and that if I had the pleasure of meeting her in person, I would think she was the bee’s knees and would want to hang out with her all the time. I am also certain she had nothing but the best intentions in writing her diatribe.

My own policy is to not criticize Japan in English, and not criticize America in Japanese. When I make an exception, I do so with a clear purpose that I have thought out in advance. (Unless I’m drunk.) But that’s just me. Still, I sincerely hope that, in the future, Ms. Knight (and you, Dear Reader) will pause before writing an opinion about Society A in the language of Society B, and first consider how it might be received and what unintended consequences might arise.

Will it spread love, or will it spread hate?

Great news from Japan regarding transgender children.

Here’s my direct translation of the entire (brief) article:

First Ever Survey Finds 600 Children with Gender Dysphoria, 60% Receive Special Consideration

As a result of the Ministry of Education’s first ever survey of gender identity disorder, it was revealed on the 13th of this month that no fewer than 606 school children around the nation have dysphoria regarding their biological sex. Roughly 60% of those are given special consideration regarding school dress codes and other areas, and 165 of them have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder.

Last year, from April through December, every public and private elementary, junior high, and high school in the country was surveyed about concrete cases and how they have been dealt with. Because responses were not required of children who did not want to respond, and there are children who have not consulted with their schools, it is evident that the actual numbers are higher.

The Ministry of Education plans to create materials regarding how children with Gender Identity Disorder are to be treated and distribute them to all schools before the end of this school year.

EDIT: Here’s some new information I have picked up from other sources, plus an opinion.

I’ve learned from other sources that the ‘special considerations” given to pupils with gender dysmorphia include:

1) Clothing (43% of cases–presumably this means pupils are permitted to wear clothing suited to their gender identity)

2) Permitted to use the nurse’s office to change clothing for phys ed or other reasons (35% of cases)

3) Given special consideration on overnight school trips (28% of cases–bathing, sleeping arrangements, etc.)

Also, this is the breakdown of those 606 known cases:

93 are in elementary school
110 are in junior high school
403 are in high school

Also, while it’s great that a lot of these children are being given special consideration, when you look at the content of the consideration, it seems terribly lacking. 100% of children known to have gender dysphoria should be allowed to wear gender appropriate clothes, to not have to take off their clothes in the presence of other children, and to be able to use a bathroom without being stared at or harassed.

Note: Eight months have passed since I wrote the following entry, and a lot has happened in my life during that time. If I were to write this now, I would write it very differently. I would not have written, for example, “the other sex” (which of course suggests there are only two); I would have thought twice before relying on Ms. Conway’s website as an authoritative source; I would have used “their” instead of “his/her” and “they” instead of “s/he”; and I would not have spoken in such absolute terms about who and who isn’t transgender. I thought about rewriting it, but since most of the discussion is about how I wrote it, that would be “cheating,” I think, so I leave it here as is, if only as a reminder to myself of how I’ve changed and the difficulties of talking about gender.


 

The English-language Wikipedia article has finally been edited to reflect Asano Inio’s preferred gender identity, and the dust has more or less settled from this curious little uproar. But I wanted to add a few of my own reflections before putting this whole thing to rest.

I think most native English speakers who have ever seriously thought about transitioning from male to female, and specifically about having sex reassignment surgery (SRS), have found their way to Lynn Conway’s extremely informative web site. The site includes a page urgently titled A WARNING FOR THOSE CONSIDERING MtF SRS: What if you “succeed” in completing a TS transition, but did it for the wrong reasons? On this page, Ms. Conway writes:

Some examples of “wrong reasons” and wrong situations for undergoing SRS are (i) efforts to become a center of attention and live a “sexy life”, (ii) thinking it will “automatically turn oneself into a woman” in others’ eyes, (iii) deciding to become a woman on a whim (for example, in the midst of a mid-life crisis), (iv) doing it for autosexual “thrills”, (v) doing it while suffering from preexisting serious mental conditions unrelated to GID (depression, bi-polar conditions,…), etc.

Thinking about Asano’s interview, I suddenly remembered reading this list a few years back. I looked it up again to refresh my memory. After reading Asano’s interview, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than this: If Asano were to indeed initiate transition, he would be doing so for at least three of the five reasons Conway lists, and possibly more. In particular, the content of the interview strongly suggests (i), (iii), and (iv). The “sexy” aspect is clearly a major point of fascination for him.

What is completely absent from the interview is precisely the kind of story you would expect to hear from a person with gender dysphoria. I have never personally met a trans* person who did not feel very strongly, from a very young age, that they were in the wrong body. That they feel–indeed, know–that they are one sex, yet their body and everyone around them tells them they are the other sex. Asano gives no hint whatsoever of such experiences. It is a whim, plain and simple, possibly triggered by a feeling of being trapped in marriage. Asano leaves no room for doubt about the fact that he wants to live a “sexy life.”

It is ironic that Anime News Network’s translation of Comic Natalie’s gloss of this long, rambling interview led so many trans* folk and their allies to eagerly welcome Asano with open arms. If a trans* person could actually read this whole interview, s/he would no doubt come away with very different feelings, such as anger, disgust, or bemusement. S/he would not feel s/he had found a kindred spirit.

Asano is a brilliant creator, and as you might expect from a creator who produces the kind of work he does, he is a bit eccentric. One of his quirks (that comes up again and again in the interview) is an inability to deceive, or even to edit himself before putting his thoughts into words. This interview offers a look inside the mind Asano Inio, or at least the part of that mind he put on display here. But if you are looking for deep, profound thoughts, you will be disappointed. Imagine yourself brushing you teeth and suddenly thinking, “What if I had a tail?” Your train of thought might lead you wonder about things like the practical difficulties or advantages of having a tail, or about how other people would react. Would people freak out? Would it make me popular with the ladies/guys? I suppose I’d have to fix all my pants to accommodate the tail. But it would probably make sex more exciting. Etc., etc., etc.

That’s what this is. This is Asano Inio thinking, “What if I was a cute girl?” That’s really all it ever was.

When I finally contacted Asano, via Twitter, to explain the situation and ask for clarification, he seemed surprised that that interview had resulted in such a fuss. He said, “In my case, please use he/him!”

So there was this surreal thing where editors at the English language Wikipedia had decided, based on slim evidence, that Nishigahara Holograph creator Asano Inio should be gendered feminine, and referred to as “she/her” rather than “he/him.” Well-meaning fans popped up in the comment sections of various articles and blog posts to “correct” the use of masculine pronouns in reference to Asano. I admit that when I first heard this news, I was somewhat excited. Asano’s work had always struck me as being of ambiguous gender. And because of my own gender identity, I suppose I was hoping he would turn out to be a kindred spirit. It became an issue in Fantagraphics Books’ promotion of Nijigahara Holograph, so it fell to me to confirm with the Japanese publisher. The publisher checked with Asano. I reported the results, in great detail, here. Based on that report, someone tried to edit the Wikipedia article to revert the “she/her” back to “he/him.” Those edits were undone by another well-meaning editor on the basis that a blog entry is not a sufficiently strong source for Wikipedia.

I certainly agree that sources used in Wikipedia articles should be solid, and verified. But considering that editors were able to so easily change Asano’s gender based on a translation of a gloss of a comment in a long interview that no one had read, it seems ironic that the editors should be so cautious about using a blog as a source.

There are blogs and there are blogs. In today’s world, the distinction between a “blog” and a “respected news source” is blurry to say the least. News aggregate sites like the Huffington Post regular publish “articles” based on information that turns out to be false or misinterpreted. On the other side, some bloggers regularly publish posts that are carefully documented and fact-checked. In this case, I included the exact dates of e-mails and the contents of e-mails in both the original Japanese and translated into English. I am known to be the translator of Nijigahara Holograph, and countless other manga that have been published over 24 years. I even posted the entire original interview that started the whole ruckus. You would think that, even if the editors were to decide that my blog post was not an acceptable source, at least the content of my posts would call into question the validity of the original change of gender.

One rational response would have been to revert the entire article to its state prior to the change of pronouns.

If people had followed the protocol for referring to someone whose gender is in question, all this confusion could have been avoided. Specifically:

Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use.[….]

If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun he or she prefers, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression.[….]

Asano presents more or less as a man, albeit perhaps a somewhat effeminate man. (Just like me.) Asano also uses the fairly masculine first-person pronoun “boku” (僕), rather than a more clearly feminine first-person pronoun, such as “watashi” (私) or “atashi” (あたし). (Also just like me.) Based on this, in the absence of a clear statement of preference from Asano, a comment in an interview expressing a “desire to undergo a sex-change” is not in itself reason enough to start revising Wikipedia articles. At the very least, people should have tried to track down the original interview rather than trusting Anime News Network’s translation of Comic Natalie’s extremely brief gloss of the interview. And since Asano is quite active on Twitter (something I didn’t know until I read the interview!), asking him would not have been that difficult.

So ask him I did, this time very publicly, rather than through an intermediary using e-mail. And here is his response.

And here’s my translation of his response:

Thank you for the report! I had heard a bit about this, but never imagined it had become such an issue. In my case, please use he/him!

So there you have it. Case closed. (Unless, of course, Asano someday decides to reopen it, which is of course his prerogative.)

Let me be clear that if Asano had said, “Yes, I identify as a woman and would prefer to be referred to as ‘she/her,'” no one would be more vigilant than I in seeing to it that Asano be properly gendered in every English-language piece about Asano. As I have said, I myself am gender queer, and although I don’t care which pronouns people use for me, I understand on a very personal level the importance of respecting someone’s gender identity.

Well. I think this has been a learning moment for all of us, don’t you?

Break Max, March 2013

BREAK MAX, March 2013

I am still plowing through this…unusual interview with ASANO Inio, in which he* talks about his crisis of gender identity (and after reading a bit, I think it’s fair to call it a “crisis”). One thing’s for sure: Asano is confused and has not done much serious homework on trans* issues. Another thing that is certain is that he picked a hell of a forum to speak up about this. Break Max (unfortunately abbreviated “BM”) was a magazine that was frankly sleazy. Much of it was reviews of adult videos. Much was pages of photos of celebrity women showing any sort of flesh at all. Much was really sketchy and unconvincing celebrity gossip. They called themselves “Asia’s Number One Scoop Magazine,” but this was certainly not remotely true. It lasted ten years, but only lasted two more issues after the featuring Asano’s now famous (and yet mostly unread) interview.

YOSHIDA Goh

YOSHIDA Goh

Surprisingly, this was Asano’s second interview with this magazine. Apparently he hit it off really well with the interviewer, some guy named YOSHIDA Goh. Why anyone would spill their darkest secrets to this guy is beyond my ability to comprehend, but Asano seems to like him.

Another surprise is that Asano’s talk of wanting a sex change was not some offhand comment made in jest. The whole reason this interview was held was that Asano revealed his desire to Yoshida at a party they both attended, and Yoshida felt it merited an entire new interview. And Asano happily obliged.

One thing we learn about Asano very quickly is that he cannot help saying what he is thinking, no matter how awkward or ill-advised. In fact, at the time this interview was conducted, Asano frankly told the interviewer that his relationship with his wife (yes, he is married, to a woman) had taken a decidedly chilly turn precisely because Asano does not know when to keep his mouth shut. I feel certain that this interview did not help to improve that relationship.

It’s clear that Asano is not comfortable being a man. What puzzles is my why an obviously intelligent and talented artist who is willing to do research to create convincing and compelling manga does not simply do some Googling and learn more about transgender issues. It’s as if his only measuring rod is the one provided in popular media and porn created for heterosexual men who like a bit of “spice.” Asano cheerfully spouts whatever pops into his head, but does not seem to seriously consider the consequences. Perhaps that changed after this interview was published. I  hope so. I sincerely hope he not only thinks about his gender and sexuality (he seems to be doing plenty of that), but that he also studies about what it really means to be trans*. He seems to be trying to make sense of something very complicated with an absurdly limited vocabulary.

I may write a follow-up once I have absorbed this rather long interview, but for the time being I offer raw scans of the original for those of you who read Japanese.

 

* I refer to Asano as “he” because that is his stated preference as conveyed to me by his publisher. See my first entry for more on that.

Nijigahara Holograph

Nijigahara Holograph

Apparently there has been some concern about the proper pronouns for Nijigahara Holograph creator Inio Asano. Almost exactly a year ago, English-language anime and manga news sources reported that “Inio Asano Reveals Desire for Sex Change.” The source for that news was piece in the popular Comic Natalie, which in turn cited an interview in the March 2013 issue (which went on sale January 18, 2013) of the now defunct magazine Break Max. Unfortunately, that interview is not available online, and I could find no other Japanese language sources that directly quote the original article. (The fact that no one could be bothered to buy the magazine and read it for themself helps explain why the magazine only lasted for two more issues.) I have just ordered a used copy of the magazine, but it has not arrived yet.

I won’t bother to parse the exact wording of the Comic Natalie piece, since that piece was a paraphrase at best. What matters, though, is that the piece says that Asano “wishes he could have a sex change” (浅野に性転換願望がある). This was interpreted quite literally in the English-language press. The ever alert folks at Fantagraphics picked up on this and asked me, on October 15, 2013, to check on this for them. I did.

On October 15, I wrote to our contact person at Ohta Books, described the situation, and explained that while it was possible to write at length about a person in Japanese with out once referring to the person’s gender, it is an unfortunate characteristic of English that it is extremely difficult to avoid using “he/she/him/her,” and that we wanted to be sure we were using the pronouns Asano preferred. On that same day, I received the following response:

「He」でお願いします。
浅野先生の願望など内情的な事は別として男性なので「He」でお願いします。
ややっこしくなりますので。

And here’s my literal translation:

Please use “He.” Regardless of any inside facts regarding Asano-sensei’s desires, his sex is male, so please use “He.” Otherwise it becomes complicated.

As you might imagine, this response did little to allay my concerns. At the risk of annoying our contact person, I requested (still on October 15) that she confirm the matter with Asano directly:

お返事ありがとうございました。確かにややこしいのですが、最近のアメリカのマスコミの傾向としては本人の意思を最優先して身体の性別と関係なくご本人が呼ばれたいように呼ぶようにしています。浅野先生に関してもすでにアメリカのotakuの間でそのニュースが広まっているようです。ご本人の確認無しに「he/him」と書くと私たちが批判を受ける可能性が高いので、大変お手数ですが可能であればご本人にご確認をしていただければ幸いです。何卒よろしく願いいたします。

Literal translation:

Thank you for your response. Although it indeed makes things complicated, the current in American mass media is to give the highest priority to the pronoun preferences of the individual, regardless of biological sex. The case of Asano-sensei has already spread throughout the otaku community in the U.S. If we were to use “he/him” without confirming with Asano-sensei directly, it is likely we would be criticized. I’m very sorry to trouble you, but I would be very grateful if you could confirm this with Asano-sensei directly. Thank you.

The following day (October 16), I received the following terse response. (Apparently I did in fact irritate our contact person.)

「He」でお願いします。

本人は気軽な気持ちで(うまく言葉で表現できませんが)そのようにお話したようです。
波紋が大きくて著者担当も驚いていました。

Translation:

Please use “He.”

Apparently Asano-sensei said those things in a light hearted way (though I can’t express it well in words). The editor in charge was surprised by how far the ripples have spread.

The phrase “though […] can’t express it well in words” is ambiguous. As is usually the case in Japanese, the subject of the clause is not specified. I am assuming based on the nuances of the wording and context that it is the Ohta representative who can’t express it well in words, not Asano. And I interpret that clause to mean that there was actually a long, complicated conversation, the gist of which was “Asano-sensei said those things in a light-hearted way.”

And while it may not be a satisfying response for fans who want a black and white answer to their questions about Asano’s gender identity, it is a perfectly legitimate response. Sometimes things “cannot be expressed well in words.” And that is sometimes the case with gender identity. Most trans* people are satisfied with (indeed, may insist on) a binary gender identification for themselves. Some don’t like to be pigeonholed as “male” or “female.” And that is fine for them.

Although I’ve never spoken about it publicly before, most of my closest friends know that my own gender identity is feminine. I am commonly mistaken for a cis heterosexual male, because my gender expression is mostly masculine (or at least not explicitly feminine), and I am known to be married to a person whose biological sex and gender expression is female/feminine. (And in fact her gender identity is feminine.) I spent many years in my twenties secretly pondering the possibility of transitioning to female, but ultimately decided against it. I am now more or less comfortable with my male body, but if you spend much time with me you will notice that I am not masculine. My way of dealing with this is to tell people with a smile that I am a lesbian born in a man’s body. Most people take that as a joke, and I don’t bother to disillusion them. More perceptive people recognize that I am not joking. For example, my wife (who is herself bisexual and was once in a serious, long-term relationship with a woman) immediately understood what I meant when I said that, and in fact felt that it answered some questions she had had about me. We think of ourselves as a lesbian couple, and sometimes say so in front of others (who generally assume we are joking).

The point being, gender identity, gender expression and sexuality are complicated and messy. In our eagerness to respect trans* identity, we should not make assumptions about a particular individual based on a common pattern. Just because an English-language Internet source reports that “Inio Asano Desires a Sex Change” based on a Japanese source which itself is a paraphrase of a Japanese source that few people even in Japan have actually read, we should not assume without confirmation from the individual in question that certain pronouns must be used.

What matters is what Asano prefers, and Asano prefers, at least for now, “he/him.”

There was a problem with commenting, where users (including me) were getting 403 errors when they tried to post a comment. The problem was the WordPress Jetpack plugin. The Jetpack Comments system makes the avatar a hidden field, and my domain provider (quite wisely) does not like hidden fields, since they can be used to plant exploits on the server. And with a certain very large country currently hacking anything and everything, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so I disabled Jetpack entirely, and you can now post comments again. Sorry for the trouble!

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