As part of my job here in Japan, I am supposed to be helping be a cultural ambassador for my home country and to help internationalize my students/peers. This is, of course, probably the easiest parts of my job. I mean, all I need to do is be myself and represent my country in a positive light. However, there are two facets of myself that I am not sure how to handle: my sexuality and my religion. Neither of these things have I ever really been “out” about, but now that I am here in Japan, I feel like I have a lot more freedom to “become myself”, so to speak. There are some obstacles in my way, though, about “coming out” in this country.
Japan is, for the most part, a secular country, and most of the religious practices here are mostly just continuing the traditions of their ancestors. Also, because there is only a 1% Christian population here, on either parts of my conundrum, I am not likely to be threatened with hell fire and damnation. However, there are cultural things that give me pause about being out and proud of being who and what I am. Of course, this is amplified by the feeling of wanting to be open about who I am, and the truly odd feeling that is accompanying this new want of mine.
As I mentioned before, Japan is a secular country, but the people here, generally, have very strict gender roles. Of course, historically, homosexual relationships between men were tolerated because it was seen that this type of relationship between an older man and a younger one was the passing of knowledge from the older to the younger. However, this social acceptance of homosexual behaviors did not apply to women. I will not go into further detail here about the particulars of this double standard, but it needs to be said that it is still something that is a social “rule” even today, at least with regards to strict gender roles (though I am not sure that the formerly accepted homosexuality is still something that is socially acceptable in present times). Another Japan-specific set of beliefs is that they do not share personal information with anyone outside of their inner circle of friends and family. This means that most information, like that of religion and sexual preference, is something kept to oneself. Altogether this means that this is not something that would ever really be asked of me to answer, but because I am to be a cultural ambassador, I face the unique problem of playing the balancing act of conforming to Japanese societal standards and conforming to that of my home country, which pretty much is a free for all, being a free country and all that.
With this is mind, how should I proceed from here? Am I to conform or am I to be myself? In all honesty, there will probably be very few times in which I will have to share these things with my Japanese colleagues, but if I were to keep quiet in the times I do have the chance to share, would I not then be in breach of one of my purposes in being here? I have already been very honest and open about being bisexual and pagan to the other ALTs, but this is not something that really was ever an issue. Being from other English-speaking countries, this is something they are (I assume) accustomed to anyways. But, I still have no idea how to go from here. I suppose I will have to come up with the answer on my own sometime, and I can only hope that what I choose will be the right answer for me.