Amnesty International

Japan: Valentine’s Day for LGBTI rights activist Soshi

Soshi Matsuoka is in his final year of university in Tokyo. Heis also an active writer, and gives presentations at seminars in schools to broaden people’s understanding of LGBT issues. He finds Valentine’s Day quite unrelated to him, as he thinks it is based on a premise of opposite-sex relationships.

When did you become aware of your sexual orientation?

I became aware of my sexual orientation for the first time in my early teens. I was naturally attracted to my friends of the same sex. At first, I wasn’t really sure if I really liked men or if I simply admired them. I thought, “Nah, it couldn’t be.”

I realized that I was gay when I was in junior high school. Due to the socially accepted idea that men are attracted to women, I felt vaguely insecure about this. What would I do in the future? Could I get married? How would I tell my mother?

In high school, friends would laugh at me for being the “gay character” of the group. Then they would ask me, “Seriously, are you?” I wasn’t able to answer.

I was living in Nagoya but ended up going to a university in Tokyo. The spring break before I left for Tokyo, I told my friends that I was gay. They responded really well and one of my friends was kind enough to say, “Being gay is just one of the many things that make up who you are. To me, you’re just you.” I was lucky to be among such wonderful people. Up to that point, I thought that my sexuality was a very large part of who I was, but I came to realize that, actually, this wasn’t really the case.

How did your family react when you came out?

My mother said, “It’s important that you have someone beside you if you get sick. That’s what worries me the most, since you’re so delicate. I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman.” She’s a pretty hip mom.

Soshi, on coming out to his mum

When I was in the second year at my university, my mother visited me during a holiday and asked if I had found a girlfriend. I was like, “Oh boy, here we go again.” But then, she asked me if I had found a boyfriend! I didn’t think my family members knew about my sexual orientation at that time, but I guess she had somehow come to know it through the grapevine, and so I guess I had fallen into her trap!

My mother said, “It’s important that you have someone beside you if you get sick. That’s what worries me the most, since you’re so delicate. I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman.” She’s a pretty hip mom.

I once took my partner to my parents’ house in Nagoya to meet my family members. When I introduced him, they all treated him as “someone that I care for”, without asking our sexual orientation. Our sexual orientation and all that must have been on their minds, but they didn’t dig into that. They really accepted us naturally.

Do you show affection to your partner in public?

We don’t hold hands or show our affection for each other in public. I’m the kind of person who worries about what others think of me, and so I don’t do stuff like that.

We’ve been seeing each other for two and a half years now, but the intensity of our relationship is pretty much unchanged. We’re like a pair of old men. We don’t fight much, aside from minor squabbles. From the beginning, our relationship has been pretty stable without any sudden bursts of emotion.

What do you think ofValentine’s Day?

When I was a student, Valentine’s Day was an event when girls gave chocolate to the boys they had a crush on. It really didn’t have anything to do with me. That said, I love chocolate, so I was always happy when I got some!

In the case of some gay couples, the one in the “female role” or the “more feminine” one gives chocolate to the other, but that didn’t feel right to me. That’s why I figured I didn’t need to do anything.

On White Day, [March 14th – one month after Valentine’s Day, is a day in Japan when men are supposed to give return gifts to women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day] I did what I was supposed to do and gave something back to the girls who gave me chocolate. I’ve also given chocolate to my partner on White Day.

You could say my best memory of Valentine’s Day is the lack thereof. Since the entire premise is based on heterosexual relationships, I felt excluded. There was someone I wanted to give chocolate to, but the one who buys chocolate is usually the woman, so as a man I was reluctant to do that.

Do you have anything planned for this year’s Valentine’s Day?

I didn’t give much thought to it until now. Nowdays, it’s common for people to send stuff to their friends or colleagues. If Valentine’s Day is still celebrated in the future, I hope that it becomes an event where people show friendly feelings toward their family, friends, or anyone that they care about, rather than just a day for women to give chocolate to men. All people are different, and some people fall in love while others don’t.

What changes do you want to see for LGBTI people?

LGBT people need to be more visible. I would love to see more opportunities for everyone to feel close to and become friends with such people.

The media has created a divide between those who are LGBT and those who are not, so much so that the most common stereotype of an LGBT person is a transgender woman who is rather effeminate. Because of that, people are often surprised to hear me say I’m LGBT, because I look like the boy next door. That’s why I think it will be nice if they know that LGBT people are all around them.

It will be great if there is a fundamental anti-discrimination law, so that people don’t face prejudice when seeking employment or in other situations. Also, everyone has different ideas about the institution of marriage, and I think it’s not fair that heterosexual couples can get married, but homosexual couples cannot. I hope that gay marriage will be recognized in the future.