• Diaspora Japan

Idris Veitch (pt. 1)

Could you tell me about yourself?

I grew up in Jamaica which is Christian to the point where Christianity just seeps into society. They don’t keep it separate. So I guess one of the things is that trust as a man you have to be really masculine.

Growing up you just had to conform to all of these things. And I lived in America for a while. I went to Florida for college. So during that time I saw different people and different things and I guess I’ve always been more neutral, in the middle, sexually. But in Jamaica I had experiences where it was very hush, you couldn’t come out.

I’d read in the newspaper about a guy would find out that the girl he picked up was trans. They would find that person the next day murdered.

This “transpanic” type of excuse?

Yeah. And if you’re gay, just forget it. The dancehall songs are just steeped in all of these homophobic lyrics, like “batty boy (gay men) need to get shot” and that sort of thing.

That’s kind of how I grew up. In Japan, I’ve been here for nine years now and I feel more free here. But then living in Japan has its own problems.

What kind?

Well for example, I used to live in Nagano. I was sitting in the staff room preparing for my lessons and one of the kids, maybe five years old, comes over and rub his hand on my skin then looks to his kouchou-sensei (principal) and says in Japanese that I clearly understand, “Why doesn’t the mud come off?”

And the thing is, it’s a kid, and it's in Nagano, which is about three hours away from Tokyo, the inaka (the countryside) and I’m probably the first black person they have ever seen. That was an isolated incident, but it demonstrates a sort of ignorance from lack of exposure. Ask you see that every day.

For instance, I work at eikaiwa (English language school) part time now and I tell people that I’m from Jamaica of course. Some of them know where it is, maybe not exactly, but somewhere in the Caribbean. But others will ask, “Where is that in Africa?” and I’ll have to correct them there.

I can see how that would be frustrating.

But I kind of feel like in Japan I’m more safe to be who I am. But with Jamaica, every time that I go back like on vacation the more distant it feels. I have to play this character, like “Oh, shit I have to know my place here.”

My piercings have to come out.

Even your piercings? What about the gauges?

The gauges I’ve been brave enough to keep it but then like people are just asking what part of Africa are you from? Jamaicans are asking me that. And I’m half Nigerian so I tell them that and you see that look of relief that they guessed it right. That settled it. They don’t really see this kind of look on a black man, so they assume that it must be an African thing.

Can you speak more that feeling of being more free to be yourself in Japan?

Well, I’ve been in a three-year relationship with a woman. And she’s always know that I am bi.

But right now I feel like I’m kind of at a crossroads? Am I this? Am I bad? Am I really neutral? My leaning one way or the other? I’m not really sure. To be honest I’m still kind of processing. Today is today and tomorrow will be tomorrow.

A lot of people who are by pan can feel like there is pressure from the rest of the queer community to pick a side. Is that how you feel?

Maybe. So I was talking to a friend of mine who is also Jamaican and gay. And I was describing this to him at length and he just told me that I should be whoever I am. But even saying that I am bi feels like something that is just easier for other people to process. The problem is with labels, I guess.

So who do you reach out to when you need to have these kinds of conversations? Is the process more cerebral or do you have people you can connect with?

What I’m trying to do is just talk to people. Like, I went back to Nagano just last week and a friend who I didn’t know at the time was going through the same thing. So it was really good just to like talk, it was therapy to me. Finally there is someone who understands at least somewhat what I’m going through now. So that was a relief. Really I’m just trying to avoid internalizing it and just talk and talk and talk.


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