At art college my friends used to call me "Joe Western". It was a joke, implying that despite my overtly "Oriental" Asian looks, I behaved and sounded overtly Western. Well, of course I would. I was, if not actually born in this dank and grey Autumn of a country, at least raised and educated here.
Ever since I arrived in Britain at the age of four, I've had constant reminders of my displaced cultural identity. In the estate in Windsor where we first lived after making the tumultuous journey from Tokyo, there was a bunch of boys around my age who started coming round to check out the new kid. My mum would give them orange squash and biscuits and we'd play, but mostly they were gawping at us I think. Windsor and Slough have a large subcontinental Asian population but I think the arrival of a family of the Far Eastern variety in their midst was almost as seismic for them as it was for me.
The estate kids had trouble with my name. Soon, I became "Colin", which I wasn't that fond of I recall. Later at school, I was saddled with the nickname "Kevin". Then later came "Joe Western".
Other signs of my cultural displacement weren't so innocuous. I'd routinely be terrorised by racism when I was growing up. That corridor of towns in the South West of London - Feltham, Staines, Egham, were home to skinhead types, and one of the most terrifying things for me as a youngster was being stuck in a train carriage with a bunch of drunken DM booted, flight jacketed skins, with glue-glazed eyes, shiny snotty noses who would leer ignorantly at me and start having a go, telling me to "fuck off back to China" and worse. I'd often stay on platform and avoid getting on trains if I spied these poisonous gangs already aboard.
My not infrequent visits back to Japan have been no easier. This is where being "Joe Western" kicks the other way. My grasp of the Japanese anguage is pretty weak. The longer I stay away, the weaker it gets.
At the moment, over ten years since my last visit, I have a barely primary school ability. You can imagine the problems. I look like I fit in but my levels of expression and comprehension are those of a five year old. I'm technically illiterate in my mother tongue.
I'm also prodigiously lazy at trying to learn, and because of my advancing years, it's probably too late to become proficient in the language. So in Japan I feel even less at home.
The upshot is that I feel stuck between my two homelands. Not feeling at home in either, I'm in a state of constant transition in between the two states.
Sounds familiar doesn't it?
I sometimes imagine my epitaph should read "he never could make his bloody mind up!", above a grave in which is interred a half cremated, half buried me.
All my life, my identity has felt stuck in between two states - my cultural identity caught between East and West, my gender identity in similar state of indecision.
My warped gender identity was forming at the same time as I was growing up in between countries. I was a very pretty child and shopkeepers would often mistake me for a girl, which I absolutely loved. As I grew, teachers and schoolfriends would point out regularly how girly I appeared and of course this fed into my emerging chrysalis self-image like a butterfly's wings protruding from hard chitin. I'd only realise later that I was a different kind of Lepidopteran.
So it's little wonder I'm such a nightmarish flitter. I like to say that I "love change". I'm always embracing the new, and changing focus on what I do. I think it goes hand in hand with my transgendered nature and my cross cultural character.
I like to say it, but perhaps it's more true to say "I hate decision" than "I embrace change". Because my life has been spent fleeing conventional identity and stability, I feel like I can't decide on anything sometimes. Ah well. It leads to an interesting life if nothing else.
I used to say that I live an exciting and alternative sort of "third way" existence. This is patently rubbish. What I do is flit around the periphery of several bright lights like a bewildered moth, never alighting on one long enough to burn up. A shady sort of night time creature that you only glimpse in frenzied, flickring fluttering moments, flash frozen in photos or performing briefly onstage.
Clearly that's the type of winged creature emerged from the pupa. Rather than the fully transitioned and lovely butterfly; that Lost Girl that might have been...
Perhaps that's why I'm so frightened of moths. The glimpse perhaps of a truth too unbearable to stand. And a premonition that if I ever achieve anything, the flame will instantly consume me and leave me charred into a pile of powdery remains.
Actually that doesn't sound too bad.
My name is Miss K. I am transgendered.
comments powered by Disqus