An Observation About Ryukyu Culture…

I am writing this on February 16th, 2014, in Naha, Okinawa, though this post will not be published until May (EDIT: July).

So, what represents Okinawan/Ryukyu culture? Karate? Awamori liquor? Sanshin music? Goya (bittermelon)? Shisa lions? Yes … these are outward symbols.

I spent 7 hours the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. I feel like I just went through a crash course in Okinawa-gaku (Okinawan studies), and my head is swimming with historical, geographic, scientific, archeological, and cultural facts about the Ryukyu islands. Yesterday, I visited Shuri castle, which has a mass of detail about the Ryukyu royalty.

And yet, all of this I feel misses an important facet of Ryukyu culture – which I did manage to get a glimpse of in the Shuri District.

I ran into an American who has been living in the Shuri district for four months. He`s married to a woman born and raised in Shuri, and all of his neighbors know everything. As he put it “They know what’s in my mail” (the same mail carrier has been working on that street for 20 years, and he talks to everyone). Everybody knows everyone else, and they are all a part of a close-knit community.

One of the most touristy islands in the archipelago is Taketomi, mainly because of its well-preserved traditional village in a relatively convenient location. The top tourist activity is riding around in a ox-driven cart. I of course refused to do this because I am against animal exploitation. However, I also noticed many signs around the village protesting against the ox-cart tours. My Japanese is not good enough to understand their grievances, but they are angry enough to put signs up all around the village complaining about the company which runs the tours, and I noticed many different organizations signed the signs, including the Citizen’s Hall and the local PTA.

Speaking of the PTA, even though Taketomi has less than 500 residents, it has a school, and … I saw at least ten schoolchildren, which would be quite high in rural Japan. Well, the Ryukyu islands are not rural Japan … the American in Shuri commented that Okinawa has a much higher birthrate than Japan, and that while Japan’s population is in decline, Okinawa is experiencing a population boom.

And why is Taketomi’s village so well-preserved? Because the residents decided collectively that they wanted to preserve their traditional way of live, and saw to it that their coral-sand roads would not be covered with asphalt.

I think this is the single most noteworthy feature of Ryukyu culture. People cultivate close personal relationships and work cohesively together as communities, forming citizen groups, etc. I had read before that one reason Okinawan people live so long is that they develop this tight set of meaningful social relationships – which also turns also to be a force to preserve a village, take down the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, among other civil acts.

This is something which is not mentioned in the museum exhibits or tourist brochures.

EDIT: After writing this post, I found a tourist brochure with this sentence in a section called “Island of Longevity”:

“If you want to live long and well, eat healthy foods used for Okinawan dishes, exercise effectively, slow down to Okinawa time and get the ‘yuimaru spirit’ by weaving a supportive web of friends and family.”

So I guess there is a tourist brochure which mentions the dense personal relationships of Ryukyu people, though it does not mention the connection between the ‘yuimaru spirit’ and, say, organizing the reversion movement.


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Why Are Sex-Indifferent Aces Assumed to Be Open to Sex?

The theme for July’s Carnival of Aces is “Sex-Aversion and Sex Repulsion”. I am going off a little to the side of this topic and talk about being sex-indifferent because, as someone who is sex-indifferent, I have much more to say about it.

NOTE: When I say I am sex-indifferent, I mean that I am neither sex-averse/sex-repulsed, nor am I sex-favorable. As is evident in this post, sex is such a loaded matter that true indifference is nearly impossible.

I sometimes encounter the implication, both inside and outside of ace communities, that sex-indifferent aces are okay with having sex, being in sexual relationships, or that of course the sex-indifferent aces are having sex. Once in a long while I see this sentiment expressed more explicitly. Even in the call for submissions, sex-indifferent aces are grouped with sex-favorable aces as one of two groups. Why? As a sex-indifferent ace, I feel like I have nothing more in common with the sex-favorable aces than I do with the sex-averse/sex-repulsed ones.

If I say that I am indifferent to playing tennis, would you assume that I am going to get a tennis-playing partner anytime soon? Or ever?

You see, all activities have some kind of cost. Time, for example. I am not going to live forever, so most people would understand that, if I say that I am indifferent to tennis or feel that tennis is pointless (and when I imagine myself having sex, my reaction is ‘that would be so pointless’) that I probably would prefer to do something which I actually like and do not consider pointless. Sure, if one of my tennis-loving relatives asked me to play with them, I might oblige, but it has been more than ten years since I have played tennis.

Of course, time is not the only cost of sex. There is the risk of sexual-transmitted infections. And the risk of someone getting very emotionally hurt, especially since, as a very sexually-inexperienced asexual, there is a lot I do not know about navigating sex, and my partner would be at high risk of emotional hurt as well (for example, if it is obvious that I am not enjoying myself and they take it personally). To me, sex is not worth that much, and I have ruled it out except for the few specific situations in which the benefits might justify the costs/risks.

On top of that, I am romantically-averse, which deserves a post or two in itself, but for now I just want to make the point that sex-indifferent people may have other aversions which might interfere with normative romantic-sexual relationship.

Now to answer the question in the title … I think the assumption that sex-indifferent aces are open to sex/having sex/etc. is an expression of compulsory sexuality.

I did not grow up in a culture of of compulsory tennis-playing, so if I say that I am not interested, people understand that I probably do not want to play. But under compulsory sexuality, if I do not have some kind of obstacle like sex-aversion/sex-repulsion, then of course I am OK with participating in sex … huh? I am aware that compulsory-sexuality is very harmful to sex-averse/sex-repulsed people and that people who push compulsory sexuality do not in practice give sex-averse/sex-repulsed people a pass. The point I do want to make is that, under compulsory sexuality, you need a *reason* to opt out of sex rather than a reason to opt-in in the first place, and the assumptions made about sex-indifferent aces are made because we have not provided a reason for opting-out.

Recently both the sex-repulsed and the sex-favorable have been talking about the ways they feel uncomfortable in ace-spectrum communities. I do not feel uncomfortable as sex-indifferent ace in ace communities, but I hope that in these discussions people will make it clear that many sex-indifferent aces do not want and are not participating in sex.


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Takarazuka: Passionate, Yet Non-Sexual

I love this poster for Takarazuka’s Flower Troupe’s “The Last Tycoon”. It is set in the 1930s! It features two people in some kind of intimate relationship, it is clear that one is a very femme woman and the other is on the female-presenting-as-male spectrum, yet officially this is non-sexual and non-lesbian-romantic – which makes it not unlike my fantasy of an ephemeral evening.

So, I have written posts about a) the Takarazuka Revue and b) passionate aces in fiction. I have been leading up to something:

If I cannot get passionate aces in my fiction, I can settle for non-sexual displays of passion – and this is where Takarazuka comes in.

Takarazuka makes a point about *not* being about sexuality, and from a certain angle, not even being about romance, yet being passionate most certainly is the point.

Takarazuka performers are required to be unmarried and not involved in any sexual/romantic relationships while they are working for Takarazuka. I do not know how strictly this rule is enforced, and there probably is somebody discreetly bending/breaking it. When I discuss this with fellow Americans, many assume that the performers must be involved in lots of lesbian activities/relationships (which must be true to some extent because, before we even get to the fact that theses are female performers who regularly act out romantic love with other female performers, when you have hundreds of women, quite a few of them are going to be pan/lesbian/bi based on sheer statistical chance). However, the Takarazuka Revue claims that this is not at all what it is about. And on top of that, being a Takarazuka performer requires a ton of time of energy, so I think that even if they were allowed to openly pursue sexual/romantic relationships, many would not because they need to pour so much of themselves into their work.

And pouring yourself into performing in the Takarazuka Revue because you love singing and dancing is a passionate act in itself.

So, we have here a) people doing something (singing and dancing and acting) with great passion b) people professing their passionate feelings for each other and sometimes other things (for example, singing passionately about how beautiful the flowers are) and c) none of it is intended to be sexual (unless it is required by the story) and d) when they declare romantic love, they do not *really* mean it romantically, because they are all women and not presenting as lesbians/queers.

To me, this feels like a burst non-sexual passion. It validates passion as I experience it.

That is not to say that Takarazuka is ace/aro-friendly. For example, the structure of the shows means that the stories often center around a heteronormative romantic relationship (even if the ‘heteronormative’ part is being subverted by the lack of male performers), and what they say often affirms heteronormativity (even if it is being subverted, again, by the lack of male performers).

Perhaps that is the true source of the appeal. In Takarazuka, the words say one thing (HETERONORMATIVY), yet the physical reality is saying something else (women expressing their SUPREME love for each other – and flowers too of course). This offers lots of room for interpretation, and everyone can find the interpretation they needs. Cis het women can get their fantasy ‘men’ (Takarazuka fans often claim that the Takarazuka’s otokoyaku are more appealing than men in real life), pan/lesbian/bi women can watch a woman dressed as a man have a passionate romance with a very femme woman, genderqueer people can watch people who are messing with the gender binary, and I, an ace, can watch people expressing passionate love, knowing that this is officially non-sexual and that the romance bit is not really romance. In short, people of different genders/sexualities can find themselves in the ambiguity of Takarazuka.


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Where Are the Passionate Aces in Fiction?

Some people have commented that most ace-spectrum characters tend to be very logical and relatively unemotional (or disconnected from their emotions). Two of the characters who are held up as examples of asexuals the most are Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who.

There is nothing wrong about having characters who are ace-spectrum and very logical and/or dispassionate … it is the lack of passionate, irrational ace characters which bothers me.

The underlying meme seems to be that, if you lack sexual/romantic feelings, it means you lack feelings.

That is not my experience. I consider myself overall to be full of powerful feelings. I manage my feelings to maintain my psychological balance, so it does not always show – but they certainly require management.

Looking back at my blog, I have discussed Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ in the following posts:

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8.
My Favorite Wedding Scene in All of Fiction
Yang Guo as an Asexual and Disabled Character

Is it debatable that Yang Guo is asexual? Yes. Is it debateable that he can be super happy, super sad, super angry, super silly, and spontaneously does creatively ridiculous things? Nope.

I think I end up talking about that novel so many times in this blog because that is the only major work I can think of which features a character who I headcanon as asexual who has powerful feelings which drive his creativity and irrationality. I want to discuss this type of character, in no small part because I consider myself to be a bit like this.

I also hope that I can get other people in the ace community to read/watch Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ and get it a place in ace culture. I realize the fact that the novel has never been published in English is a problem, but a) some people active in the English-language online ace community can read Chinese/Japanese/Indonesian/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean/etc. and thus can read a published form of the novel and b) some of the adaptations have been published/subtitled in English.

And I want more. I want more characters on the ace-spectrum who, without expressing sexual/romantic feelings, are fantastically creative, irrational, and passionate. Some of us are like this, or at least fantastize about being this way.

I want a diverse range – stories about many different kinds of passionate ace folk, in many different situations.

And I would like some character like this to, eventually, be considered as representative of ace pop culture as Sherlock is now.

If you know of any other fiction stories about characters who can at least be headcanoned as being on the asexual spectrum who are also creative, irrational, and passionate, please comment.

Otherwise, I suspect I am going to end up talking about Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ even more.


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Takarazuka for the Women

A poster for “The Rose of Versailles: Oscar Version” (2014)

In Osaka, I met a Japanese man who is a fan of the Takarazuka Revue. I commented that the vast majority of fans are women, and a fellow American asked what the Takarazuka Revue is. I explained that all of the performers are young women, and she (the American) was surprised that it mainly appeals to women. I talked about how, since all of the performers are female, all male characters are played by female performers, and my fellow American said she still did not understand why it does not have a large male audience.

An aside: to observe the gender ratios in Takarazuka audiences, just look at the bathrooms on the first floor of the Takarazuka Grand Theater. The women’s bathroom is huge … it has about 50 toilets … and yet there are still epic lines at intermission. The men’s bathroom is quite small, yet I never see any lines outside it.

Now, I think the American’s line of thought was 1) all of the performers are young women 2) young women = sex for straight men 3) therefore men come to enjoy the ‘sexiness’ of the young women.

This goes back to this assumption built into our culture that a young woman’s raison d’etre is to supply sex to men. If I describe a show as consisting entirely of young male performers, people generally do not assume that the audience primarily consists of straight women who want ‘sexy’ entertainment (in fact, ignoring what entertainment women are interested in is also a feature of mainstream American culture).

However, as can be demonstrated by the composition of the audience, that is not how the Takarazuka revue works. I have no doubt that some Takarazuka fans are queer women, but I also have no doubt that many are straight women.

In Japanese theatre, actresses have traditionally been forbidden, and all female roles were played by male performers. That meant that female performers could not express themselves publicly, and that female audiences could not see people of their own gender in public performances.

Granted, there are exceptions – for example, geiko and maiko sometimes put on public performances (I went to one, and I saw a lot of women in the audience, though there were also plenty of men).

But in Takarazuka, not only can women see women express themselves, but they can see women express non-femininity. This is hard to come by in Japan, particular in the relatively conservative space in which Takarazuka Revue exists. Since the Takarazuka Revue is conservative, it is ‘safe’, and it does not demand the same level of energy as, say, radical feminism.

In other words, women can watch women step out of rigid female gender roles, with society’s support, even if it is just for the duration of a song and dance. I think might be part of the Takarazuka Revue’s appeal.

I know this is part of Takarazuka’s appeal to me. I also appreciate the relatively low level of male gaze. As far as other reasons it appeals to me … well, that would be a subject for another post.


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My Pleasures Do Not Actually Have Much to Do with Asexuality

So the theme for this month’s Carnival of Aces is ‘pleasure’.

For me, asexuality and pleasure do not have anything to do with each other.

Right now, I am drinking a ginseng drink, and that is a source of pleasure. But lots of people who are not asexual get pleasure from ginseng drinks, and the pleasure I am getting from it has nothing to do with me being asexual.

Right now, I am in a hostel on Hong Kong island (that’s right, Hong Kong island, not Tsim Sha Tsui, I would not want to stay in Chongking Mansions), where I am meeting many other budget travellers, and I get pleasure from meeting different kinds of interesting people. But I do not think the pleasure I get from this has anything to do with asexuality.

The header for this blog shows an upside image of the hills of Jinguashi covered with silvergrass. Jiufen and Jinguashi are a top tourist magnet in Taiwan since it was an inspiration/location for both one of the most famous Taiwanese movies ever (A City of Sadness) AND one of the most famous Japanese movies ever (Spirited Away). On top of being very cinematic, this is one of the finest places to go hiking in northern Taiwan, and the fact that I put that photo as the header on the blog is a pretty big hint that hiking is a significant source of pleasure in my life. I love the endorphin rush, I love beautiful scenery, I love finding history and culture, and basically I love seeing new places and things. But I think that has basically nothing to do with me being asexual, since there are lots people who love hiking around Jinguashi, and I bet the vast majority of them are not asexual.

I do get some pleasure from participating in the asexual blogosphere … but I get a similar kind of pleasure from my not-about-asexuality blogging as well. I do get some pleasure from meeting other ace-spectrum people, but it is not unlike the pleasure I get from meeting people who I have certain others things in common with.

The only other way in which I think ‘pleasure’ and ‘asexuality’ could be connected is that, when it is revealed that I do not experience sexual attraction AND I abstain from sex, the question ‘but what do you do instead of sex for pleasure?’ emerges. But … pretty much everything that gives me pleasure also gives a zillion people who are not on the ace-spectrum and/or who frequently have sex pleasure.

So, I am an aromantic asexual, and there are many sources of pleasure in my life. But, aside from perhaps pleasure which specifically arises from interacting with others in ace-spectrum communities, nothing about any of my pleasures fit into asexuality in any particular way.


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Is Straight/Queer a Binary? Should It Be a Binary?

Note: The first draft of this post was written on December 19, 2013. Since then, there has been a lot more discussion about asexuality and queerness in the ace blogosphere, which Queenie has conveniently collected into a linkspam.

Though I am not an expert on queer theory, I generally encounter two definitions of queer (with variations of course)

1) Narrow Queer: Only people who have been oppressed with the word ‘queer’ as a pejorative can claim this label, primarily trans-people or people who experience homosexual attraction.
2) Broad Queer: Anyone who does not fit into social norms, particularly but not necessarily norms around sexuality and gender, is queer.

So, is straight/queer a binary i.e. all that is straight is not queer and all that is queer is not straight? Or is it possible to be neither queer nor straight?

If we go with ‘narrow queer’, the answer is a big NO. I am *not* a straight person, and I am definitely not queer per the narrow definition, so either there has to be a space for people who are neither straight nor queer, or I do not exist. I do exist, therefore straight / narrow queer is not a binary.

As far as ‘broad queer’ … this could be in a binary with straightness. But I actually do not like a conceptual framework which says that everybody must either be queer or straight, even if ‘queer’ is defined very broadly.

I think everybody on the ace spectrum – including cis heteroromantic greysexuals who are currently in a sexual-romantic relationship with a cis person of a different gender – should be allowed to claim the ‘queer’ label if it feels right to them (I mean this in the broad-queer sense – though even narrow-queerness is relevant to some aces). I understand that some queer people feel that it is an appropriation of a term which has been tied to their oppression … yet I think that denying anybody on the ace-spectrum a claim on the queer label further entrenches heteronormativity rather than weaken it.

That said, just because I think we all have a claim on the ‘queer’ label does not mean I think we have to adopt the label.

Even if we’re talking about ‘broad queer’, I do not identify as queer. Why not? First of all, I have had a lot of interactions with ‘queer’ communities, and always as an outsider. I would prefer to keep it that way, since I do not think I’ll gain much by being accepted as an insider – I’d rather invest more in communities specifically for ace-spectrum folk. Things like the fact that organizations such as Human Rights Campaign (which focuses on LGBT rights) offer ‘heterosexual’ but not ‘asexual’ as an option in surveys asking about supporters’ orientations does not make me inclined to join them. And even when these ‘queer’ organizations acknowledge our existence, they often act as if we do not exist.

There are queer communities which fully embrace the asexual experience … and I still prefer not to identify as queer. Why? I do not like the notion of the binary itself.

Even if we’re talking about a broad queerness which embraces asexuality … I do not want to use a conceptual framework in which all that is not straight is queer. I do like the idea that one can be neither straight nor queer, and I put myself in that non-straight PLUS non-queer space. It where I feel the most comfortable.


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