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  • Diaspora Japan

Yasmeen Octavia (pt. 3)


Yeah, Tokyo can sometimes give that feeling of anonymity because people are used to seeing so many body types.

Yeah and it can be really great for me to see so many types of foreigners, like some of them are being very outwardly gay or queer or androgynous or just seeing bigger women. Seeing women who are bigger than me walking around. That is fantastic. I have other forms of representation around me.


Speaking of which, how do you shop here?

Are used to buy all of my clothing from GU or Uniqlo because those are the places that had an XL size that could even remotely fit me.


But then I got myself caught in this cycle of wearing professional standards of clothing, so I bought a lot of these one-color dresses, T-shirt texture, and they sort of look like blankets. And I’m thinking, “I look better. I look professional. I look nice.“ But I have people laughing and staring because I look huge in this clothing. It’s not flattering and it doesn’t look good for my skin tone.


And that made me feel horrible. Coming from a country were having big boobs and having a big ass and being super curvy was seen as desirable and attractive and then coming here where those features were seen as disgusting, that’s bizarre.


It’s bad enough that dating is nonexistent here, but knowing that I’m sexy but that being a foreigner and being black is taboo…


I was going to ask dating.

I’m open to dating people of all races, Asian, black, Latino. But I think the problem is that there is no sense of sexual liberation here. If you have casual sex, you are immediately a slut. There is no form of empowerment in that.


But also, I’m just not interested in dating anyone or having sex with anyone who hasn’t been with a black person before. If they can’t wrap their mind around the fact that I’m queer, nonbinary, and poly I’m just not interested in dating anyone who I would be the first time. I just don’t want to be with anyone who’s going to be surprised by that.


And maybe a similar vein, is there another element of fetishism or tokenizing in romantic situations or within the queer community?

Oh yeah, I’ve been with people both Japanese and wait who would assume that I am a dominatrix. Just assumed. Never was this a part of our conversations, until we met up. And I wonder, where would you get this from? Because I’m tall, because I’m big, because I’m dark skinned?


And what’s really funny about fetishism is that people like to say “it’s because they really like you,” but it’s not. People have a very real person right in front of them, but you want something very specific that that person does not fit into and you do not care that this human being isn’t what you want them to be. You’re either going to make them what you want, or you’re going to encourage them to be that. And I think that’s where the dehumanization from fetishism comes from.


I don’t think people realize how hurtful it is to not be seen by someone who you’re dating and for them to see you a specific way that you’re not. And everything you say beyond that is not only a disappointment but also flexible because they will ask you “but have you ever tried being interested in that?”


Sounds like a lot of the stories are converging in these Japanese and white people who feel very entitled to your time and your energy and your space, but do you feel like you have a community that you can reach out to?

If I were a cisgender heterosexual woman, maybe I would. But as someone who is nonbinary, and an artist, and anti-capitalist, I have very set standards for who I can work with in life.


Yeah like, for instance, I’ve had multiple opportunities to do live paintings or go places and get work from people or do commissions, but these people are like “I want you to paint a girl. I want you to paint a skinny girl. I want you to paint this light-skinned girl. I want you to paint this white person.” They want me to do things that are completely outside of my art stands for, and I’m not here for it.


It’s not natural and it feels forced. It’s hard enough making art as it is, so I can’t even imagine making something that doesn’t stand for who I am.


And I get it, a lot of people look at my art and think “Oh, they’re a woman. These are pictures of women.“ Like, if women can relate to my art, that’s fantastic. But when they look at my art they need to realize that there’s more to gender.


Yep. We are more than just us collection of phenotypes and expressed genes.

Sometimes I think if my art was just vanilla, well chocolate [laughs], then people would me more into it. They could see it as “This is a girl. Black girl magic. I can consume this.”


Or I know how to consume this?

Yeah. Like, I had someone offer to have my art in a gallery. And I’m getting more used to the idea of having my art in a gallery, so that’s fine, but the first thought I had is that people are going to be looking at my art out of context. I haven’t written artist statements for any of my stuff. So I need to work on that personally.


And the idea of someone who isn’t of my background buying my art, that really bothered me. It sucks because if I ever want to make money I'm gonna have to branch out into these other areas. I'll need to accept the fact that people who aren’t black, aren’t trans, aren’t nonbinary, are going to want to buy my art. And I guess I’m just not there yet.


One thing that comes to mind for me is it the more people who come in contact with your work, The better chance that someone who is from the same background as you is going to find your work and identify with it. But also get ya coins. Secure the bag.

Mmhmm. I guess running theme that is going through my head is that I don’t know if I’m staying in Japan forever. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what I’m doing. I know that I don’t want to teach English forever. I know that I don’t want to teach all. And that’s wild because that was my degree and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, teaching. To be almost 30 and know that I don’t want to do this anymore, I just want to do art, and just realizing that you have to have so much privilege to be in those crowds and to do that. Or you have to be willing to sacrifice your mental health. Everything. And I’ve been at that point where I’ve sacrificed everything to work hard to build community to be an activist, to do what I have to do to put a roof over my head. And that almost destroyed me.


So what is Japan to you right now?

A safe haven. People ask me why I moved Japan. To escape homelessness and violence. I didn’t come over here for shits and giggles. I didn’t come over here because I loved Japanese pop culture that much. I love anime, but I didn’t come over here because I love anime. And I love Japan, but I can love Japan and still be very critical.


I think throughout my whole life it’s been surprising to me how human beings will treat other human beings. And I’m not saying human beings to race who we are as individuals but I’m saying that on the most basic level. At a base level and at our foundation, we are all humans. And our differences shouldn’t be something to destroy. I just hope that when you see someone different to you you remember that they are someone who is thinking breathing. You can’t be rude of them. You can’t treat them like shit just because you are unfamiliar with them. That’s my thing for everybody.

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