Excerpt from forthcoming interview with Folake Abass of the JALT Gender Awareness in Language Education (GALE) sig. More info on viewing the entire interview to be posted soon!
FA: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. To begin with, can you tell us about the research you are doing for your dissertation and where the idea came from?
MH: It all stems from a comment a Japanese friend once made to me. He said, “I’m gay in English, but I’m not gay in Japanese.” This was fascinating to me and then I heard something similar from another friend a few weeks later who said, “Only my American friends know I’m a dyke.” As a result of this, I would now like to understand what the significance of “English” (and here I mean English as a linguistic culture, as a linguistic system, etc) is in the lives of Japanese queer individuals.
FA: Can you tell me what you mean by the significance of “English” as a linguistic system and how does this tie into Japanese queer individuals?
MH: First of all, in this dissertation, the descriptive term “queer” is used to describe non-heteronormative sexual expressions or identities and honours both the recent reclamation of the term and development of queer studies as an academic discipline. In terms of English as a linguistic system and a linguistic culture, I’m referring to Gee’s comment that language teachers teach more than just language (the linguistic system), they teach culture as well (linguistic culture). What then is the significance of the English language itself and the significance of English-speaking cultures in the lives of Japanese who identify themselves as queer, or rather, whose desires are queerly performed?
FA: Can you explain what you mean by “queerly performed”?
MH: When I say desires are “queerly performed”, it’s really quite a loaded statement. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say “perform queer desires”. It is suggested that one’s sexuality is partially a performance of one’s desires (sexual desire, desire for power, etc.). For example, if one is a woman who sexually desires other women, then one may perform behaviour that is ascribed to “lesbianism” (Cameron & Kulick explore this in their book, Language and Sexuality). However, to perform lesbianism and to identify oneself as a lesbian are two different things. Whether such desire and performance is strictly socially constructed, I haven’t decided, but what interests me is the role that English plays in such queer performances. English is a symbol system and has unique, multiple and varying significances to each individual that can change over time. For example, “Japanese” means many things to me (people, culture, language, food, etc.) and my idea of “Japanese” has greatly changed since my first encounters with the cultural and linguistic systems and continues to change with the acquisition of new information and each new interaction. Therefore the question remains, for specific individuals, what is the significance of English learning and performance with regards to sexuality?
FA: This all sounds quite fascinating. How would you describe the relationship between Japanese people’s learning experiences especially from an EFL/ESL perspective and their ideas about their sexuality?
MH: Great question! Recently, I interviewed a participant who reported that his motivation to learn English was so that he could meet foreign men. In his mind, he knew he had a desire to be with “white men”, and saw English as his pathway to enabling such a desire.