Your Thoughts: On Perfume, Homophobia, and the Reactions

Hey guys! I had one comment come from Derek, who found me through Idolminded. So welcome to Happy Disco!

Hello…I am a reader of idolminded, which brought me to this blog. I really can’t thank you enough for bringing such a well written and thoughtful article to light regarding this completely idiotic scandal. Here’s the deal, and maybe this will help people understand some things a little better:

First, Perfume is not anti-gay or anti-lesbian or anything of the sort. How can they be when they work with people in these communities on a regular basis? I believe to be a fact (of course whether it is true or not I wouldn’t know unless I actually KNEW Perfume personally, but please follow my logic for a moment here…). I’ve seen virtually every single interview and behind the scenes programs released by the Perfume camp and TV stations since 2006, when Perfume first came onto the Japanese national media map. I have followed them religiously and consider myself to be one of their biggest fans. I have seen them, REPEATEDLY, work with, smile with, joke with, and be friendly with MANY MANY openly gay Japanese celebrities in all the aforementioned interviews and behind the scenes docs! There isn’t a single shred of anti anything by them! And if there was, trust me, they wouldn’t show that to the general public no matter what!

That leads me to my next point…they are Showa style artists, meaning they conduct themselves in a manner that has bordered mostly on being stoic and unaffected by the world around them. They have been virtually perfect up until this point and though they don’t consider themselves as Jpop idols but rather J-artists, they still have even kept close their personal relationships with men out of the spotlight. The point I’m trying to say by sayiing all of this is that they wouldn’t DARE dream of committing career suicide by exposing anything hateful about their personalities. They’ve worked too hard for the past decade plus…do you really think A-chan would say something purposefully demeaning, even if it was to a gaijin who put her in an impossibly awkward spot to begin with?

That brings me to my final and most demanding point to consider about what A-chan said. She was talking about the whole PEOPLE WHO ARE NEITHER because she was simply emulating her idol AIKO. Now if you don’t know who AIKO is, go look her up. You’ll see that AIKO popularized this type of affectionate statement towards people who bend genders and what sexuality means…AIKO used to use this in her call and response at live shows. A-chan has said many times that AIKO is her idol…wouldn’t it make sense that she was borrowing this phrase from somebody she and the whole of JAPAN has accepted as a successful J-artist? Think about it. A-chan didn’t read anymore into that statement beyond the fact that she was echoing somebody she looks up to, and AIKO has talked about how she made this statement to be one of LOVE towards gays and lesbians and gender benders/transvestites, not one of hate. What I believe happened here, consequently, is just a misunderstanding of culture. I mean, for crying out loud, in Japan a bi-racial kid is referred to as a “halfie!” Does that mean that Japanese people think of bi-racial people as only half humans? But to the outside and stupid eye, people would construe this as offensive, which is what happens when you take it out of the cultural context of Japan and its usage of language.

I am married to Japanese woman. We have a HALFIE child. We don’t think she’s half-human. My wife reminds me everyday of the cultural differences between me and her (I’m a white Italian male). She says things that aren’t really acceptable in America but I know what she means completely from being around her and from living in Japan like I have done several times in my life. Yes, it’s true that Japan is a bit behind on the times with SOME issues regarding sexuality and LGBT themes, but on the other hand, I don’t see too many American shows with gays, transvestites, and cross-dressers on an everyday basis like I do in Japan’s variety shows. I think it’s really amazing that people had ANY reaction at all to this comment by A-chan…it shows a lack of education and open-mindedness by those who didn’t take five minutes to do some research and look at all the facts surrounding the three girls from Hiroshima and the country they come from. If people DID do research, they would’ve seen, very quickly, that the Perfume girls are the LAST people on Earth who probably want to destroy their hard-earned thirteen plus years of work in a single statement, intentionally or otherwise. And for the record, I have literally HUNDREDS of gay friends, and many of them who I showed this article to said they had absolutely ZERO problem with what A-chan said, both with the GIRLFRIEND comment and also with the whole NEITHER thing. They found it simply a misunderstanding and some were actually MAD that the couple put A-chan in a position where she had to comment on another couple’s relationship…something she couldn’t POSSIBLY know anything about. Meh.
One final note…I will be at the Tokyo Dome supporting Perfume on Christmas Eve AND Christmas night. I am flying 15 hours and spending over 6 thousand dollars just to see them. I’ve saved up so much money for this once in a lifetime experience. I love them with all my heart and have been a fan since 2006. I know I don’t know them personally, but I feel in my heart I can honestly say that this comment by A-chan was taken WAAAAY out of context and also completely misunderstood. And I bet if you asked A-chan today how she honestly felt about gays and lesbians, she would smile and say that she LOVES THEM JUST AS MUCH AS SHE LOVES EVERYONE IN THE WORLD. I would bet my life on it.

First off, while I definitely agree that I don’t think Perfume is in anyway being malicious or hateful, that it is possible to be homophobic while still spending time with gay people and the LGBT community. That’s why you hear a lot of people going “oh, I have a black/gay/etc friend;” it’s so easy to use this to assume you’re progressive (when you’re not). That said, the case is a little different in Japan, where things still have a long way to go on the LGBT front, so it is a bit of a victory if Perfume is in fact being openly supportive of those individuals.

I also don’t think they would intentionally commit career suicide, but I was a bit surprised at how blunt they were able to be. That said, since the article was originally published in English, I do wonder how much of the meaning was lost. It’s the type of thing where it makes me inclined to be willing to give Perfume the benefit of the doubt. I was surprised at their bluntness, but if I read the Japanese I wonder if I wouldn’t consider it blunt at all.

As for the saying coming from aiko, I agree that does give it a lot of perspective. That’s why I linked those Perfume City posts; it was something that made me think, beyond what the other English-articles had been saying. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily an excuse. For example, I love comedy. I follow some comedy podcasts, and I watch stand-up for comedians I like. But say I repeated some jokes that had homophobic undertones, especially if I didn’t immediately cite the source. It would be easy to go “Oh, so and so said it first,” but it doesn’t change that I said it, or that I implicitly agree with it. I mean, it’s a tenuous situation at best, and I do think that aiko and A-chan both mean well with using it. I just don’t see “aiko said it first” as an argument I agree with.

Another thing is the whole concept of intent. Yes, I agree that they both intended the best. Does that necessarily mean that they’re “off the hook?” I would argue no. I could go on for hours and hours about authorial intent in regards to fictional works (I identify pretty strongly with New Criticism, which almost entirely disregards what the intent of an author is), but I’ll keep things simple here. Intent speaks a lot about the author, or what aiko/a-chan meant, but not a whole lot about what was actually said. I could say something I thought was in support of the LGBT community, but if I used a homophobic slur in place of a more acceptable term, it would still be a pretty bad statement. That said, the thing that makes me accept this the most is the fact that gay Japanese fans have embraced it. I still think using “neither” is a bit suspect, but if it’s something they can embrace it makes it a bit better for me.

As for halfie, I think it’s a bit different. Racism is still very prominent in Japan, though I would argue that racial tensions are highest between Japan, South Korea and China. I’m a lot less familiar with the term “haafu” in context, but, according to wikipedia, ” The label emerged in the 1970s in Japan and is now the most commonly used label and preferred term of self-definition.” That last thing is the most important thing to me. Preferred, I’m assuming by other biracial people. It reminds me of the use of the word ‘queer’ in Western LGBT circles. While it originally had a negative connotation, it was reappropriated and is now a very common, acceptable umbrella term for people who identify somewhere in the LGBT world.

I agree that there are cultural differences, and that the US is hardly better. I’d LOVE for there to be more diversity on primetime TV, and I don’t think the US does have that great of a track record on the subject. One of my favorite shows, Once Upon a Time, recently introduced the first LGBT character on the show, and people freaked out. My heart broke a little when I heard that an actor I like, Sean Maher (from Firefly) was told he couldn’t be openly gay in Hollywood because it would hurt his chances of getting some leading man roles. I also think that Japan has surprisingly good laws for trans* people. There’s good legal precedent, but there is also a very big stigma. But that’s true with the US as well. In criticizing Perfume, I don’t think anyone is saying that the US is much better. I don’t think the Japanese entertainment world is that open to LGBT people, to be honest, but things are very slowly improving in both Japan and the US.

Ultimately, though, thank you for your comment. While I don’t think we necessarily saw eye to eye on everything, I do think we agree on the basics: that A-chan didn’t mean anything negative; she had good intentions.

2 thoughts on “Your Thoughts: On Perfume, Homophobia, and the Reactions

  1. I agree so much with what you’re saying. I think the point I’m making, overall essentially, is that if I were Perfume and having been as disciplined as they have been up to this point in their careers, I am hard-pressed to believe A-chan’s intent was harmful or malicious. I think we can chalk this one up to a possible incorrect translation, as who knows how this was really said being that neither of us were actually there when it was said, and also just more simply put, the way things are in Japan. It isn’t necessarily good or bad, but once again, I look to all my gay and lesbian friends for THEIR take, since it’s them who I suppose is the most affected, and not a SINGLE one of them had an issue with this. In fact, a few of my more knowledgeable ones who clued me in on to the whole Aiko connection (which in turn made me go back and watch some interviews and such I have recorded where A-chan DOES make the connection to Aiko with her comments), said they have embraced this whole “NEITHER” comment. So I’ll take that as my cue to leave things alone with this and move on from this argument or point of discussion. It doesn’t affect my love for Perfume even a little bit. One of my friends who has been a very long-time supporter of Perfume and who is Japanese told me, rather amusingly, that this is something everybody outside of Japan has made an issue but he hasn’t heard so much as even an echo about it in the Japanese community that surrounds Perfume. Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t any Japanese that might be offended by what A-chan, just as I’m sure for everyone of my friends who are gay and don’t have a problem with this there is somebody out there who is gay and DOES have a problem. BUT I take supreme solace in an awesome truth that has let my heart rest easy on all of this: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
    Nuff said.

  2. I learned about this so late, the original source and the forum discussing it have disappeared. I am so grateful that you, serenyty, and Derek for giving me the context needed to understand the situation as other articles were merely opinions. Thank you.

    This may be old news, but for me, it’s just another example of people being passionate about gay rights and then not actually listening to queer people, to the point of erasing their voices.

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