Gays and Lesbians in Japan Get the Cold Shoulder

Activist Otsuji said, "What we are up against is the public's perception, what people think of," Otsuji said. "That means all we need is to change the perception.

"Getting pregnant before marriage was unthinkable 30 or even 20 years ago," she said. "But when one young female pop singer came out and proudly said in the late '90s that she was getting married and she was pregnant, that almost became a catalyst and changed the public's perception. Many thought that was even cool. And look what happened."

One out of four pregnancies in today's Japan are premarital, according to a recent government survey.

According to psychiatrist Hirata, many Japanese "seem to have some level of tolerance so long as gays and lesbians are out of their sight. What they do not know is we are just like them. We are active members of society, we study, work and seek partnership, just like them.

"Heterosexuals have their prefixed notion of us being somewhat weird or abnormal, because they do not know us" Hirata said. "Gays and lesbians do not want to speak up because they fear how society would treat them. We have no systematic support for gay and lesbian teenagers, and they are left behind as a very vulnerable and fragile part of our community."

The government says more than 30,000 Japanese commit suicide each year. It is not clear, however, how many of those cases involve gays and lesbians. "We have no official numbers, but suicide is not a foreign concept among gays and lesbians," Hirata said. "As they live a life of loneliness, isolation and rejection, they could carry higher risks but hardly anything has been done to save them."

For Ryuta and Masaru, it is not thoughts of suicide that bother them as they consider their future, it is worries about the realities of daily life. "Our bond means nothing in the eyes of the law," Masaru said. "Ryuta and I cannot even open a joint bank account. Our household means two single men living together. If something happens to me, I cannot leave anything for Ryuta under the current legal system. We do not think about these things every day since we are young, but it does give me a chill when I think of a what-if scenario."

As for Ryuta, he said, "I never considered society to be on my side, and I just do not know if it ever will be in my lifetime. Things may change in the future, but I just have to figure out the way to protect Masaru and myself. Now I have my own family, my own place where I do not have to pretend to be anyone. I will not trade this for anything."

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