I will find you on the other side of the earth
Fragments of a Proposal for an Unrealized Project
Growing up on the remote island of Kume, off mainland Okinawa, Japan, I encountered a homophobic society, which, nevertheless, I accepted with childish ingenuousness. Entering the adolescent years, as I realized my sexual orientation, I went through a denial of my own identity, fearing rejection by family, friends, and all the others around me. I had become a bit paranoiac at that point. After finishing high school, I moved to Osaka, hoping for a more liberal environment in the mainland Japan. However, there I experienced, in addition to my sexual otherness, the otherness of my ethnic/cultural identity as an Okinawan. I experienced a similar uneasiness when I moved to New York: another confusing agitation of my identity; this time, all of the above plus national one.
The project, “I Will Find You on the Other Side of the Earth”, springs from this desire to realize my own identity: what does it mean to be a gay and an Okinawan. Since I cannot draw connection between those two, how can I integrate them into a whole, and does it mean anything at all, and if so, how can I grasp it, is it something palpable? I am not, by any means, trying to be a proud someone, but I just need this unified “I”.
Hence, this urge to launch a search for a gay Okinawan male in Northern Europe, which is geographically, culturally, and ethnically the total opposite of Okinawa. I will, through my work that incorporates engagement with others, attempt to confront and reconstruct my origin and identity. In short, I needed to find someone like myself.
I came to New York in 2003, and two years after arriving, I was still searching for ways to define myself, for I still did not know how to cope with my sexuality and as a consequence had had difficulty of accepting intimate relationships of any kind. I was already 23 by then. I had developed a peculiar protective shell in order not to reveal my sexual orientation while in Japan -although it might not be as successful as I thought- and it was hard to break through even in New York. I developed my photographic project “Strangers” during this time. Through the forced, staged relationships I was hoping that I could find an entry to New York’s gay society and eventually find my identity. Each confrontation and the process of acceptance of my identity as a gay male by others were liberating and had dramatic effect on my personal life; I began to feel more comfortable being who I am.
Yet, I was deeply unsatisfied by the fact that none of the sitters were Okinawan, or even Japanese. Perhaps I was somehow discriminating in my methods. Or maybe it was something subconscious that led me to avoid those men. The fact is, I can, more or less, be openly gay in New York, nevertheless the thought of being so in Japan is still rather terrifying, and I do not, at least not yet, have the confidence to put myself in the midst of that society again, where I grew up feeling oppressed. The fact that almost nobody, including my family, knows that I am gay, makes the thought of returning home almost impossible to imagine.
Are there other Okinawan men seeking an alternative home outside of their homeland, someone who’s been going through denial of his own identity? If there is I want to meet him. Although it seems logical, I failed to find a single Okinawan male during the search for Strangers in New York.
Plus, the fact that I have never met a gay Okinawan male, and the lack of someone with whom I would truly associate in the earlier stage of my life in Okinawa makes my longing for the figure more acute.
I am compelled to undertake this process because of my continuing lack of a definitive sense of self, which I failed to establish through my development into adulthood. I would like to discover what drove me away from home and what still attracts me there. Is it solely because of my sexual orientation, or is there more than that, something that I do not know or subconsciously have erased from myself, that I left the island? I believe the figure I seek holds the key to this self-discovery; the similarities and differences that he would posses will lead me to comprehensive understanding of myself as a gay Okinawan male. This search for my self will ultimately require a return home, even if temporary.
F. Miyagi 2006