One of the teachers at school told me that I’m so brave for being in Japan by myself because when he was in America for only 6 months for work, he was really lonely. He was impressed by how I’m able to get around and do a bunch of things.
But being abroad as an adult truly is a lonely endeavor. Especially if you are queer. And in Japan, if you can’t be easily identified as a foreigner.
As an adult, people are less inclined to help you because you’re expected to be capable of taking care of yourself. There also might be something wrong with you if you are still single beyond 30. (Sociopath!)
Being identified as a foreigner gives you a temporary pass because we are expected not to know the customs, and we probably won’t be staying around very long, especially if you’re white. As someone who looks Japanese, I don’t get this pass very often, unless I am traveling with other white people. The moment I speak reveals that I’m not from around here, so asking people to repeat is often met with annoyance, or condescension. I also get the feeling that because people here generally don’t like making mistakes, it hurts a part of them as well, judging from their profuse apologies. I also feel that the expectation is higher for me to speak Japanese, so I think people are less forgiving with me than with a white person.
And as a queer female, in ways that are not only related to gender and sex, but to gender-defined behavior and proclivities, I find myself never able to go beyond superficial topics, and I feel as if I’m being deliberately distanced. I own the way I present myself to the world, but of course, I do wonder if it affects the way others act around me when I feel like I’m missing out.
I knew these 3 characteristics about me would cause obstacles I’d have to face coming in and I think it saved me from culture shock, so I’m not angry about it, but sometimes I still feel defeated. But all this time also gives me a chance to think about how to handle these “micro-aggressions”, and really reflect on how I can behave more effectively with others.
So I’ve discovered some tips to overcome these 3 factors.
To confront the “single and over 30” judgement and question, answer that you have someone you like. During one of my kyudo winter picnics, the question was asked whether I had a boyfriend 彼氏, a lover 恋人, a fiance フィアンセ, and finally, someone I like 好きな人. Whatever sexuality you flow with, I think knowing that someone has someone they like means that you have the capacity to empathize, and can work with others. (And yes, I do have someone I like)
Not being recognized as a foreigner often times gives me a chance to step up and use my Japanese skills, as well as realize how much I need to learn. The higher expectations are only more motivating, and the pressure would make me ask better questions.
And being an unconventional female… I’ve been told a few times by other JETs that Japanese people don’t really care and probably wouldn’t tag me as a lesbian if I identify as a woman. And to some extent, I do believe this might be true, as I’ve met a middle-aged lady who often comes off somewhat masculine, but gives a very grandma-like vibe. (Personally, I like giving off a young grandpa-like vibe.) So now my problem has evolved to one of maturity: if a cis-gendered woman does not conform to defined ways of femininity (ie cooking skills, beauty skills, nurturing skills), is she considered less of an adult? But that’s another conversation.
I think that, as open and enthusiastic as I am with others, people are really polite and don’t want to ask prying questions that might offend the other person, or receive an answer that they are now responsible for taking care of. I, on the other hand, will presumptuously ask and get my curiosity out of the way. This is a total mirror image of how my mother asks me questions that I myself feel are presumptuous. This leads me to remember how I often react irrationally with her because I’m thinking, “Where are you going with this? Probably the wrong direction, and now you are judging me.” While my mother can be brash at asking these questions, something that I think is influenced by being from a business-minded family, I imagine the same question being asked in Japanese to be very nice and flowery, respectful, and open to learning more (or I could be reading this all wrong)
Regardless, taking the initiative to engage is one way of overcoming the loneliness. And I am thankful for those who have and continues to engage with me!