Before leaving for Japan, I was not sure what to expect when it came to queer issues in Japan. I had heard that Japanese people could be pretty homophobic/transphobic, so I was kind of expecting the worst coming into it. However, after being here a while, I realize that is just not the case the majority of the time, at least where I’m at. So far, what I have experienced is not necessarily homophobia, but rather a lack of exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community. I have heard that it is much, much different for those who are actually Japanese—but as a foreigner, they have been very accepting of who I am despite not understanding it. Coming from a rural area and facing a lot of bigotry in that area, this is not nearly as bad as it is there. In Tennessee, homophobic/transphobic people are very violent and vocal about their hatred. Here, although they may look down upon it, they never speak about it and they do not treat you differently (at least as much as compared to America). Honestly, there are also so many people in this program that are queer that even if it were more like America, there is a huge support system in place. I have met so many friends here that make me feel comfortable and are also queer.
Before I came, I had recently changed my name and I was prepared to be dead-named frequently. However, IES Abroad is very good at accommodating you if you go by a different name. When it comes to Nanzan itself, they cannot change your name in the system because they have to prove to the Ministry of Justice that you are enrolled as a student here, and if it shows up as a different name than on your visa it would cause a lot of issues. Despite that, the teachers here are super kind about it! In Japanese class, they use your last name, so it’s not an issue, but even then, they allow me to write my preferred name on my assignments and introduce myself as that name. It’s hard to explain what I mean by it’s my actual name, so I just say it’s a nickname. Nonetheless, even with me explaining it’s a nickname, they respect it. For my other classes outside of the language classes, they are also super accommodating and they not only respect my name, but also my pronouns. One of them also gave me information regarding LGBTQIA+ organizations on campus/events that I could go to, which I am extremely appreciative of! It definitely hurt at first to hear my deadname a bunch, but now that school has started and more people are familiar with my name, it is not nearly as much of an issue.
In addition to this, I was put in a dorm where I have a single room and it is not separated by gender. I thought this was a coincidence, but I talked to one of my professors about it and he told me that it was intentional and my dorm is kind of designed to accommodate trans people. I felt very isolated at first because everyone else in IES Abroad is either in a homestay or the other main dorm. Plus, my dorm is a 20-minute walk from campus. But after staying here for a bit, I am very grateful that I am in this dorm. I know other non-binary people in the program that didn’t go through IES Abroad and also didn’t list being non-binary on their application because they were afraid of transphobia—and that is so valid; I was contemplating doing that. But because of that, they ended up in the dorms divided by sex and it is making them feel dysphoric. They are still having a great time and all, but I know that if I was put in that environment, it probably would have made me feel really bad as well.
Overall, I am very grateful I listed on my application that I am non-binary and have a different name and such because they have been immensely more accommodating than I thought they would be. I am also extremely glad I went through IES Abroad because they have been so respectful of my identity and have helped so much when it comes to those issues. I am super excited to attend all of the events and I will definitely have to blog about how they go!
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Hello! My name is Macks and I'm a sophomore at the University of Tennessee majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Japanese. I love learning, hiking, reading, and playing the guitar/ukulele. Studying abroad is super important to me and I am so very excited to be able to share my journey with other people :)