June 4th, 2005


Nipposexual (1)

This is Nipposexual Weekend. We'll need two days, because this question has shapely legs and will surely run and run. To sprint a bit faster through the subject, I'm going to use a notes format. There are lots of huge issues here, issues of race, gender and cultural identity. But the basic theme can be put very simply: Is it okay to be a nipposexual?

Definition: a nipposexual is a non-Japanese person whose primary sexual orientation is towards Japanese people.

Experimental metaphor: a nipposexual is like a homosexual. However, many people who wouldn't dream of persecuting homosexuals because of their chosen sexual orientation do persecute nipposexuals. Well, tease them and scold them, anyway.

Example: Yuki, on her lively blog Kissui, recently told a self-confessed nipposexual to "get lost". "Too bad you don't like your European girls Metsn, but then why is it all of a sudden it's Japanese girls that you're aiming for? People like you should like, eh, live in a deserted island in the middle of the ocean."

Hisae's take: "I don't mind if a guy's last ten girlfriends just happen to have been Japanese. But I do mind if he says he only dates Japanese girls. I think it's the way you say it that's offensive."

Momus's take: there are some ideological contradictions here. First of all, Yuki posted a photo of a hot European guy in response to an entry I made showing a photo of a hot Japanese girl. So she was saying "You can fetishize us, but we can fetishize you back". But then when Metsn cheerfully admitted to doing this, he was banished. So is it "We can do that too, you know!" or "You shouldn't do that?" Personally, I prefer "We can do that too, you know!" I'd have no problem with a girl who fetishized Scottish guys, as long as she also appreciated how I differed from the average Scottish guy. I am Scottish, and quite proud of it.

Funny paradox: It's typically Scottish to leave Scotland and travel the world.

Contradiction: We don't think it's suspicious when people have a gender prejudice ("I tend to date only women.") But we do think it's suspicious when people have a cultural preference ("I tend to date only Japanese").

Biographical tidbit: When I was in "the latency phase" at my Scottish boarding school I had a boyfriend. He was an oriental. It's perfectly possible to imagine someone who doesn't mind what gender their lovers are, as long as they're Japanese.

Another contradiction: In Western ideology we say "everyone is different, individual, unique" but we also say "everyone all over the world is the same deep down". Well, I guess that's not necessarily a contradiction, it's the same idea that's contained in the idea of the "glocal", that local differences and global convergence can co-exist. But it represents a measure of anxiety about the intermediate levels: an anxiety about difference based on race, culture, nationality, body shape, gender and so on. These specificities are unfashionable, downplayed, and even taboo. This makes it very hard to describe a friend without embarrassment: you just can't say "You'll recognise her at the station, she's the fat oriental girl." But you also can't say "You'll recognise her at the station, she's the truly unique individual who, deep down, is just like everybody else in the world."

Globalism: There's Phase 1 Globalism and Phase 2 Globalism. We're in Phase 1 right now. Phase 1 is when people still have strong local cultural identities (we're still recognisably "Scottish" or "Japanese") but have the opportunity to travel, to meet people from other cultures, to pick and choose (including making sexual choices) from a kind of supermarket of fairly well-established "brands". Phase 2 would be when travel, interbreeding and cultural hybridisation has make national typologies meaningless. When everyone is coffee-coloured and multi-cultural. I don't think we've reached that stage yet, and it's possible that we never will. It's still only minorities who choose to live outside their nation of origin, minorities who "miscegenate", and so on.

A possible motto: "Miscegenation is not misogyny!"

Shock horror: Wikipedia's miscegenation entry says: "the use of this term is invariably restricted to those who believe that the category race is meaningful when applied to human beings." I would disagree with this. Race may have no basis in scientific fact, but the fact is that it's very much still active as a shaper of human experience, therefore "meaningful". Race is still "a difference that makes a difference". To deny this is to attempt the erasure of enormous amounts of history, of lived experience, of cultural specificity. Wikipedia's stance here is simply a symptom of an American guilt about race and anxiety about the idea of difference which is not situated at the level of individuals.

Another paradox: America's anxiety about cultural specificity comes, paradoxically, from its own cultural specificity: it is still the only nation composed almost entirely of people who arrived from other nations. Its retreat from its own history of slavery also means that it associates an emphasis on difference as something shameful and divisive. These specificities make the American version of universalism ("we're all unique, and we're all the same") peculiarly unexportable. They also make it almost impossible for Americans to understand the desire of other nations, eg Japan, to retain a distinctive Japaneseness as anything other than negative.

Mr Jet Set: I'm personally very much a Phase 1 globalist. I've lived in different parts of the world, I've dated people of different nationalities, I even married the daughter of economic migrants, a second-generation Bangladeshi in London. Phase 1 globalism is integral to my view of the world, my vision of happiness. I take it for granted that I can sit in Germany eating food flown in from Japan. It has become my belief that you can have a culture of origin and a culture of destination, and that part of the purpose of life is detaching yourself from your culture of origin, travelling and experimenting, and finding (according, perhaps, to some principle of "elective affinities") one's ideal "culture of destination". For me, that seems to be Japan. Then again, I don't actually believe that I can ever become Japanese, and I'm fine with that idea. I want my "culture of destination" to remain aspirational, mysterious, exotic, utopian. This, to me, has become a great source of happiness, and I've often quoted Kafka's saying that "happiness is having a vision of contentment, and not advancing towards it". Although I'd say it's okay to advance very, very slowly.

No Phase 2: The other thing I want not to advance towards, though, is Phase 2 globalism: the melting pot. I don't want there to be no more truly Japanese people, just as I don't want there to be no more tigers or elephants in the world. I believe that cultural biodiversity is essential. Although Japanese personalities are hugely variable, there's still something that links all Japanese people, something I like very much, a national "operating system". I'm not essentialist or racist about this: another of my visions is the "Japanization" of the world. We can all be somewhat "Japanese".

Prejudice: I think it's okay to have a positive prejudice. The feeling that prejudice (judging without taking account of all the facts) is always bad, even when it's positive, might be a specifically anglo-saxon idea. There's a difference between anglo-saxon and continental thinking styles. Anglo-saxons are more empirical: they think that you neutrally gather hundreds of facts then form an idea based on your results. Continentals are more a priori: you start with the idea and group the facts around it. Anglo-saxons have a tendency to call this more ideological thinking "prejudice" because it stakes a position before looking at facts. Anglo-saxons are more inclined to think that they can be neutral until the very last moment, then leap across to a committed position. However, if you don't believe that neutrality is possible, it's actually modest and honest to begin by stating where you stand on an issue. I don't believe there's any such thing as neutrality, and I don't believe in the dogma of "equality of opportunity" for the same reason. Nobody is born in a neutral space. We have a culture even when we're in the womb. We have a cultural operating system, a habitus, a series of prejudices and preferences, right from birth. Equality of opportunity is just a dogma used to justify inequality of result. It perpetuates hierarchy and elitism. The least prejudiced thing you can do is admit that we're all prejudiced. Then sift and thresh your destructive prejudices from your creative ones, your kind ones from your cruel ones.

Nipposexual: Not only is it okay to have a positive prejudice, it's okay to have a positive sexual prejudice. A positive sexual prejudice becomes a preference, and a preference, after a while, becomes an orientation.

Come out of the closet: People working in the gay liberation movement of the 60s and 70s felt that it wasn't enough to be privately homosexual. You had to "come out", to proclaim your orientation loudly and proudly in the public realm. A good-looking homosexual ought to be able to say "I'm gay, actually" at a dinner party without fear of offending all the women present who might be attracted to him. It wouldn't be impolite of him to admit his orientation, but it would be impolite of those women to protest loudly, or look terribly disappointed.

Pompous universalism: Someone who said "people of all races have an equal opportunity to become my lover" might be a terribly pompous person. We might also suspect that he was more interested in himself than in the cultural specificities of the people he dated. This notion that it's terribly noble to wear a blindfold (because Justice wears one) is a mistake. Look at your lover. Yes, she's a unique person. But she also comes from a culture which is different from yours, and that's a big part of why she is who she is. Maybe you should also admit that it's part of the reason you love her. And maybe, when you admit that, you shouldn't get a ton of bricks dropped on your head.