Staying above water

Here is a summary of my 20s:

  • Exploring how I wanted to present myself, now that I had expendable income for awesome haircuts and clothes, that would maximize my confidence and allow me to do my job in a male-dominated industry.
  • Exploring hobbies outside my job: Drag, Dragonboating, Film
  • Exploring relationships and friendships that tested my limits and had me thinking about what I need in a relationship.
  • Celebrated being me in a female body and loving women.
  • Developed an understanding of how presenting as masculine has the power to trigger people.
  • Developed an understanding of how presenting as feminine has the power to control people.
  • Representing my dad at family functions

Here’s a summary of my 30s so far:

  • Understanding what it means to live in a foreign country, and the privilege of being educated in America.
  • Growing motivation to consider more responsible actions from either masculine and feminine sides.
  • Being more masculine presenting makes me want to be more feminine, but being identified as feminine makes me want to appear more masculine.
  • Realizing that I embody characteristics of both, and constantly fighting against my mind to not blame my masculine or feminine side as being responsible for what might be considered my “quirks”.
  • Ignoring what people think, and just do what I’m good at.
  • Recharging from the efforts of ignoring what people think.
  • Trying to know myself as more than an extension of my family.
  • Continuing to fight imposter syndrome with more humor and acceptance.
  • Realizing that connecting different cultures is very important to me.

What triggered this was looking at Instagrams of young trans men who seem very successful, accomplished, full of potential for life, and happy. And in my current headspace, I wonder why I don’t have the desire to do a similar transition so that I would feel less undeserving of partners who are looking for stability and safety in this patriarchal society. I needed to reflect what I’ve considered as a source of my power as someone battling being of a minority ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. I think that’s enough to deal with in one lifetime!

I have had deep conversations with women who felt they were trans because they didn’t feel like they didn’t fit in the gender they are known as. These are beautiful women with ambition and desire for power. Unfortunately, they come from modest families and don’t have the connections to help get them started, so they have to hustle more. It’s energy-draining, and they work incredibly hard and sacrifice emotional and physical health to achieve their goals. Finding mentors would be easier as they wouldn’t be objectified by male bosses, people like Mike Pence.

Chasing dreams

My dad tells me to always have a dream. I think what he’s trying to say is to always find a way to stay alive. For a guy who escaped death, and probably living with survivor’s guilt, I trust this advice.

I’m living a dream. Maybe not THE dream, but definitely one of my dreams. It’s taken me half my life to achieve, some pretty lucky opportunities, and lots of lowered expectations.

The thing is I have too many dreams, so I end up having issues with FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, or a sort of grass-is-greener syndrome.

In the game industry, what I appreciate the most is working with the team. But the audience that we are creating products for could learn a thing or two about how to treat women as equals. Coming to Japan, and hanging out at BitSummit for the first time this weekend, it’s great to see girls attending and enjoying the games for themselves. But then I heard a guy having a one-sided discussion with a girl who only giggled, and I mentally rolled my eyes.

I am finding that my passion in making games has changed to provide an alternative way for people to learn. It’s a medium that I enjoy learning how to figure out things, and I want to share that.

But I gotta work on communication first.

Happy and visible

絶好調!

神原 琴美さん(@kambara_kotomi)がシェアした投稿 –

I feel obliged to share this very happy picture of me with this very dapper lady, Kotomi, that I met at Osora ni Niji wo Kake Mashita, the only openly gay, female-owned bar in Aomori while on our way to eat the freshest and delicious uni in a quaint little town called Sai (thank you Xan Wetherall for sharing your hidden food treasures!).

When I saw the cafe bar, I was awestruck, not expecting to find a rare place I’d only heard about. Social anxiety hit me, and I was nervous to come in. As a masculine-of-center Asian-American female, I was excited to meet Kotomi. She was hanging out having a smoke, noticed I was family, and happily welcomed me inside. I shyly introduced myself to Okacchi, the bar owner, and ordered  some liquid courage in the form of the best Aomori nihonshuu Okacchi had in stock. We talked about Tokyo and mutual friends, and when I was inebriated enough, video conferenced a mutual friend, and had the best night with people I felt at home with in Tohoku that I’d had in a while.

Kotomi and I still follow each other on Instagram. The other day, she posted a picture of a meeting room, with the caption “Domestic partnership in Sapporo will begin on June 1st, 2017! It’s decided!” It was great news, and even better to know that it would allow Kotomi and her friends the opportunity for a family life.

札幌市ドメスティックパートナーシップ制度、2017年6月1日開始!決まった!!!!!

神原 琴美さん(@kambara_kotomi)がシェアした投稿 –

When same-sex marriage or domestic partnership laws in Asia take the time to consider what’s right for the community (rather than trying to prove its modernity, or make money off of us), it gives me hope. I had always felt that the LGBT movement for Asian-Americans was missing something: our ethnic motherland did not recognize us, therefore, neither do our parents or grandparents. Ideas like being gay is a Western invention (But so is being Christian, for the families who are!) isolate us from our cultural identities, and often we are also left out of our adopted Western culture for not being white. Some of us don’t see a place for ourselves, and end up choosing the way out.

There is a side of me that I usually keep under wraps because it’s not all of me. But I find it necessary to show it every once in a while as a reminder that this part of me cannot be ignored, and must be loved as well. I fear that people, especially family, will only love who they want to see, rather than love who is actually there.

 

New Year in review

2016 monthly highlights, and goals for 2017!

I’m happy to say that I learned to fall in love again, and that love was reciprocated, but it’s been difficult to maintain, as so many things go. The best part of this is that it gave me hope because now I know what good love really means to me and what I need in order to feel loved. I’m ready to go through the good and bad with someone while also knowing what’s best for me.

Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With

The students were asked to draw the faces of the four officers escorting Ruby Bridges to school, and why they drew such faces.

In this time when Black Lives Matter so much, I don’t know what to think or who to talk to when I read something like this:

“The four policemen feel sad. they might be thinking ‘Why [do] we need to escort for [this] black girl. We blame her to [for the] shouts and smashed tomatoes.'”

I don’t know how serious the students are in regards to issues of racism, since the subject is largely thought to be an “American” issue. But if this exercise is to empathize with the police officers when really it’s a reflection of how one would act if they were the cop, this idea is really saddening.

To think that you are to blame for the violence around you when you’ve done nothing but exist. Why can’t some people understand that.

不幸中の幸い – Happiness within the misfortune

Taking a moment to check in here. I haven’t written anything in a while, but I have a lot of unfinished drafts that I haven’t been able to finish. All these incomplete thoughts because A LOT has been happening in the last several months leading up to the end of my JET contract.

Things have been really shaking up as the goal for this year was to find a job to stay in Japan. Three years of teaching English was an opportunity for me to heal in different ways: being away from family responsibilities, away from the queer community that I couldn’t bring myself to be a part of at the moment because my self-esteem was riding so low, and away from the ridiculousness of the changing Silicon Valley landscape that did not make me feel okay because after so many years in the video game industry, I still could not find myself where I wanted to be, and it seemed like everyone else was doing it better, jumping from company to company, living paycheck to paycheck, hustling, something I didn’t have the energy or enough of a risk-taking safety net to do. Japan felt like the only safe space for me where my frugal living and low-keyness can be appreciated and where it wouldn’t be too hard for me to blend in and do my thing.

And now I’m ready to leave my little town. While it has been quite an experience living in Aizu-Wakamatsu, it is truly also very conservative, and I find myself excited to leave and go back to a more diverse place. I feel like I am unraveling, taking my masks off, sharing more about my queer self on Facebook with all the Japanese neighbors following me, especially after Orlando.

I started the pain-staking process of writing my Japanese resume and CV early in the year, and actively started job searching in March, when I contacted Ubisoft Osaka after a couple years after the studio manager added me on LinkedIn. I contacted him again and asked if there were any openings, and he suggested I apply for an Assistant Producer job. We went through a couple Skype interviews and I was invited to visit the studio in Osaka, bullet-train expense paid. I felt really good and confident about the on-site interview, but in the end, I didn’t get it because my Japanese level wasn’t high enough to deal with Japanese developers. This was a problem back when I was interviewing for Sega for an assistant to the VP of Development position, that my Japanese just wasn’t high enough.

So I moved on and contacted a recruiter recommended by a friend. He said check back in May because of graduate recruitment season, so in the meantime, I did all I could throwing my resume out to Netflix Japan, Google Japan, Amazon Japan, EA Japan, even sending messages to Netflix HR Manager, and a weak link to a Netflix Content Manager in LA on LinkedIn to see if I could get her to get someone in Japan to notice me. For a while, I really appreciated LinkedIn’s ranking system and really felt wins as I was getting more views. But nothing came out of it. I had a breakdown in front of my sister and cousin in a Skype call, not knowing what I was going to do, except maybe go home and get a master’s degree in International Education, but not before taking Japanese classes and passing the N1 before leaving the country.

May came, and it was time to reconnect with the recruiter about trying to get a mid-career position. With Ubisoft out of the picture, I braced myself to interview with Japanese companies. After some consultation and brush-ups to my resume with the recruiter, he gave me a bunch of job descriptions to choose from and threw my package out to the companies I was interested in. Almost every company, including the famous Japanese companies, such as Konami and Bandai, rejected me for being a position mismatch, or that my skillset was too wide. Well, when you got to wear a lot of hats as an ass prod, you can’t help but have a wide skillset!

I got through to two Skype interviews, one with a love story mobile game company who needed an English speaker to help localize. Except that the way I was performing the interview was a total mismatch to what they needed (but they did compliment me on my upbeat character!). The second Skype interview was with an edu-tech start-up, which seemed like a winner, except that they wanted me to work as an engineer rather than a designer. They asked whether I could be a liason between their English education team and the engineering team to build their learning management notification system, which was familiar to what I knew at Leapfrog, only I didn’t have core experience in building it. While I didn’t understand the nuts and bolts, I was familiar with the problems it had, so I was upfront about what I would be able to do, and that I would gladly help design its structure. My rejection this time specifically mentioned my terrible Japanese (I have a feeling the returnee who was in the interviewing panel was highly critical and unforgiving), as well as mismatch to the positions they wanted to fill.

At this point, I was ready to go home to America and looking forward to being gay and queer again, but not looking forward to the November elections. But Ubisoft Osaka contacted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to apply for a game planner position. I asked for the job description and it was pretty perfect for me. I asked again whether my Japanese would be enough for the position, since they rejected me on that point in the first place, and they were confident that I would be able to do the job with the Japanese I’d demonstrated in my interviews.

Everything this time around went so smooth and fast, it was scary. On the day when I was supposed to have a Skype interview with them discussing the terms of the contract, I had 5 classes, 3 that needed a thunderbolt to VGA cable for my computer, and had a free period to go home to pick up a computer cable. As soon as I rode out of the school exit…

WHAM!

I was on my back against the other person’s bike, mine between my legs. I got up, moved the bikes out of the way because other people would be biking through, and went to see the other person. The girl was on her side, still, with a pool of blood near her face.

I ran to the nurse’s office, said that there was an accident in front of the school, lots of blood, said to call an ambulance. They didn’t realize I was hurt, too, and thought an old lady had hit her head or something. The nurse brought rags and ice, the ambulance came, and all I could think about were my classes. They had to persuade me to go to the hospital to get checked out. I got a CT scan of my head and an X-ray of my left arm. Aside from some big bruises and muscle soreness, I was fine.

The other person had a broken nose. And was 6 weeks pregnant.

What followed was the school taking me to apologize to the other party and discuss the settlements. Their insurance would take care of the medical bills, while I would have to compensate the other party a new bike.

It was the most culture shocking thing to do. Because the police were involved, I felt that apologizing gave them leverage to pursue me as much as they wanted and take whatever they could. I was foreigner, what do they care?

In any case, there was a lot of waiting because the police report couldn’t be done until the other party’s nose healed, and I was requested to pay for the bike before the report was issued. I said that I wouldn’t be paying for anything until my the accident was properly reported to my insurance, since the school pretty much told the other party that if there was anything they needed, I had foreigner’s insurance to cover it (which totally made me feel like I was thrown under the bus).

Did I mention that on the day of the accident, I still had the Skype interview with Ubisoft, and an hour after that, received a hiring contract?

What a day… And there’s even more!

For another day.

Ando-sensei

I just watched ビリギャル, a movie set in Nagoya about an introverted girl who had trouble making friends, fell into the wrong crowd, and during her senior year, changed from having no chance of entering college to getting into Keio University’s schools. It’s a feel-good movie, very down-to-earth, and with a touch of realism, such that the girl fails getting into the main school, but still gets into the comprehensive school.

She attends a cram school run by an instructor who treats every student as individuals by using incentives that work for them. The instructor is passionate and gets along well with the kids and speak their language. At the end, he’s jumping and waving to his favorite student from afar as she rides the bullet train to Tokyo.

Before coming to Japan, I would think the timing of the scene was movie magic. But after arriving, I met a part-time social studies teacher, who was also the girl’s softball club advisor. He had learned the flight patterns of airplanes that passed over Aizu-Wakamatsu, and at times when an airplane would fly overhead, he would tell me where it was headed.

People really keep time here.

“You should get that checked out…”

I was thinking about how to say that in Japanese this morning, and whether it would translate because I had probably the most uncomfortably grossest day I’ve ever had in my office life yesterday so far that I can only hope won’t ever happen again because I will be ready with something to say.

The social studies teacher, an eccentric, liberal-leaning, single older man who looks to be in his 50s, with disheveled hair, a loose-fitting suit, and has a terrible diet, was expelling more bodily gas and fluids than usual yesterday, and it was awful.

I came into the office wishing him the usual New Years greetings, interrupting his conversation with the other social studies teacher about America and China. Conveniently, he inquired for my opinion to confirm his opinion that if America and China went to war, everyone would die (or something will die). I agreed, and said that I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, although I did offer that America and China are in an economic war right now (even though China holds the majority of America’s debts…). I was told that many people supports America going to war with China.  What a scary, conservative thought. I responded by my own fear of the upcoming presidential election, and that Trump would win. The teachers shared the sentiment. Awesome. Harmony in the office.

And then the younger social studies teacher left for club activities. And it was just the older one, American me, and Ms. Ozzie.

The man decided to sleep for the rest of the day, since there were no classes. And throughout the day, he was belching, expelling this sound from the back of this throat through his teeth, and whining about how tired he was, probably from his poor posture and lack of exercise. He always seems to be out of breath if he’s not sitting. Sitting behind me, a mere less than a meter away, sharing the air, released particles flowing all around.

Ms. Ozzie and I noticed that it was more than his usual random farts, which aren’t the silent deadly types, fortunately. My hope is that his lack of manners on this particular day wasn’t intentional, but it was hard to believe that he would behave this way if there were other Japanese people around.

At first, I felt so disrespected. But today, I think perhaps he was feeling too comfortable around us.

I was tempted to say something, but I didn’t know what I could say, or how. In America, I’d once asked a co-worker to clip his nails at home or in the bathroom, where the nails could fly in his own abode. Sure, he was a little surprised to hear me be so bothered about something all of a sudden, but no offense was taken.

And then I come to Japan and find that a lot of people actually clip their nails at their desk. Luckily, nail clippers here are designed to reduce flying nails and actually hold them until you’re ready to empty them out.

Refugees

Refugees have been in the news a lot lately. Many of the stories I read about sound similar to what I grew up overhearing the adults tell when their friends came to visit, or when we visited. Lives lost on the seas on puttering fishing boats, pirates stealing, killing, taking girls for sexual slavery, bullets being shot at you as you’re running away from being captured by new regime officials. People whose lives were promising and optimistic suddenly interrupted in order to escape the political unrest that induced a stifling atmosphere that rewarded neighbors to gestapo on each other, knowing well that doing so would send their neighbor to be brainwashed in re-education camps.

It’s been more than 40 years since the Vietnam War, the last time the world saw a big surge of refugees, and thanks to the Internet, people are more informed of the cruelty that takes place and more connected to help in today’s Syrian refugee crisis.

The fact that many Vietnamese-Americans have been successful and have contributed to the success of America should be a testament to the rest of the world that wants to emulate it, but potential host countries seem too afraid of the small percentage of the bad that comes with the good.

And self-proclaimed homogenous countries give the excuse that they have to take care of themselves first before they can help others. In some ways, I agree with this, but corruption is rampant in places where there are no outsiders to blow the whistle. The worst crimes, the deepest pain, are committed by your own.

Being around people different from myself has allowed me to be more compassionate with myself and the people I hold close to me. I found myself being very tough on people whom I expect to understand me, to have gone through what I went through. This probably says more about how I treat myself,  while being very congenial and trying to impress those outside my closest circles. By leaving my comfort zone, I learn to judge less and let things be because I know how it feels to be judged and have expectations be put upon me.