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The Political Practice through Play and Transformation of Collective Gay Identity in an Okinawan Dance Coterie Group in Osaka, Japan

Sumi Cho 1

1명지대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In this paper, I explore the politics of sexual difference and emergent gay subjectivities by examining the case of an Okinawan dance coterie group of gay men. This group's nearly total invisibility paradoxically reveals how strong the implicit heteronormative pressure on sexual minorities is, despite the lack of legal regulations and obvious oppression of non-conforming sexualities and gender in Japanese history, and the abundance and seeming freedom of non-normative sexual and gender expressions in Japanese entertainment and media. Tingāra's men, predominantly ethnic Japanese, participate in the club's activities primarily to socialize with other gay men. As “discreditable” minority whose stigma is not obvious, they use code-switching of various degrees, from heterosexual male mannerisms to campy expression of homosexuality and transgenderism. In doing so they navigate across domains of visibility and invisibility. Spatial distinctions, physical (public and private spaces) and virtual (online and offline), play an important role in such navigation to create a communal space for them, while rendering them invisible to (and thus protected from) mainstream society, safely hidden in plain sight. They playfully appropriate okama (a conflation of homosexual and transgender) stereotypes in self-mocking homoneta (“homo stuff”) jokes, to create bonds between members, what I call a homosocial confirmation of homosexual identity and also to build alliances across sexuality with knowing, supportive heterosexual individuals. In the Kansai Rainbow Parade, Osaka's biggest LGBT event, Tingāra walks and dances as part of the procession. Their participation reveals how complex and uncertain individual members' attitudes are regarding the increasing public presence of self-identified gay males, and the precarious position they occupy in “coming out” halfway. The original meaning of eisā as the dance for the dead/ancestors is unexpectedly reenacted when members find in the parade an opportunity to mourn for and honor anonymous gay men who suffered from societal negation and self-alienation. I argue that despite individual uncertainties and ambivalences, such experience of the collective performance of eisā and their interpretations of it are transformative for them, towards the collective gay identity that is in the making.

Citation status

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