memoirs of a redhead

[Title] memoirs of a redhead
[Byline] by sean robert

With dreams of green tea and sake, I recently found myself on a trip to the other side of the world also known as Japan. Stepping off the plane a jet-lagged day later, my imagination started to run wild with thoughts of what mysteries my adventure could possibly bring. That suspense was quickly put to rest however when I learned my first stop in the new world was the exact same one I left, Starbucks.

Resigning myself to a globalized fate, I had almost lost my joie de vivre when by a double long shot; the barista behind the counter offered me a demitasse of hope. Without a clue as to what he was actually saying, I knew on some level that we both spoke the language of gay.

Questioning me in Japanese whether I wanted tall, grandé or venti, for a moment I thought we were talking about something much more than cup size. But deciding to play it safe, I settled for a balance between the two and walked away thinking: is gay Japan really all that different from homosexual Winnipeg?

I knew on some level that we both spoke the language of gay.

My initial tryst at the international gay bar reassured me that some aspects of queer culture do transcend borders. This was also the case I soon discovered, with language. Half-way into my trip I had picked up two essential Japanese words to take back in my suitcase with me: neko (bottom) and arigato (thanks). After all, being a Canadian I had to make sure I knew how to be polite.

However I did come to the realization that, as far as fashion is concerned across the Pacific Ocean, queer style does not translate. Blending into a sea of designer shirts and silk pink ties, if I was that optimistic, I would’ve thought the entire country was covered in gay men. Accustomed to feeling like a pride float every time I leave the house in here in Winnipeg, I was surprised when in Kyoto, not one of my outfits managed to muster a second look.

As if they had been stripped of their sexual orientation, I slowly became aware of the fact that my clothes no longer signified flaming to the general population. Having flown off a North American sexual map so rigidly divided into stereotypes and small spaces, it was refreshing to leave the hotel and walk down the street just feeling like me.

That said, on the flipside of the equation I hadn’t the foggiest clue as to how to tell which Japanese men were family from those that were not. As a result of this I decided it best to stick near every coffee shop I could find. Because if there is one thing I learned on my trip, it is that it doesn’t matter if you’re at the corner of River and Osborne or deep within the gates of the Tokyo airport, where there is caffeine there are gay men.

Published: Outwords Inc. #158 December 2008