Archive for the ‘About This Project (proposal)’ Category

…”I ask him if he is ‘out’ and he looks at me, moves his head slightly forward and asks, ‘Pardon?’”

“Are you out of the closet?” I explain.

He shakes his head from side to side a little, leans in and says slowly, “I’m not gay in Japanese, I’m only gay in English.”

The above excerpt introduces Marlen Elliot Harrison’s “Discovering Voices,” an examination of language, sexuality, toriand identity in 21st century Japan. After living and teaching in Western Japan for 4 years, Harrison returned to the United States to complete a doctoral program in applied linguistics. When considering a dissertation topic, he recalled a conversation in which a friend discussed being gay in one language and not in another (above) and wanted to further explore why this might be. By weaving together his own narratives about Japan and sexuality with the autoethnographic narratives of queer Japanese individuals, Harrison showcases the intersection between linguistic repertoire and those critical moments when we conceptualize, reveal, and perform our sexualities. Harrison writes: (more…)


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This project has been approved by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (Phone: 724/357-7730).

The approved research protocol may be viewed by clicking below:


To view the research proposal, please click the appropriate tab at the top of this page.

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Full interview now posted online in the GALE Spring 2008 newsletter:

Abass, F. & Harrison, M. (2008).Discovering voices, discovering selves: A dissertation about language and sexuality in Japan. GALE Newsletter, Spring 2008. http://tokyoprogressive.org/gale-sig/Spring%202008%20Newsletter.pdf

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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?


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During the first two interviews that took place as an attempt at preliminary information gathering, I began to imagine that instead of quantitative research (and it should be noted that though I started there, I’ve since moved far from notions of needing to carry out questionnaire-genre research) it might be more interesting to focus on the qualitative, that is, to focus on the conversations that ensue with the participants. However, I also noticed that the information being gathered during these conversations, whether or not the intention of my interviews, took the form of stories. As I tried to understand the stories, I thought that perhaps it would be much more useful to counsel the participants in self-reflection than to simply interpret the stories myself. After all, if I am the lone interpreter, what might be missing from the research and analyses?

This leads me to a consideration of autoethnographic approaches to collecting data whereby the participants share their own stories and reflect on both the content and process. This approach of situating oneself and one’s behavior within a specific cultural context in order to answer a question or address a specific phenomenon now resonates as almost de riguer considering my own experiences writing autoethnography, my freshman composition curriculum, and the fact that I hope to weave a narrative of my own second language experiences throughout the dissertation.

In The Making of a Perfume Critic: An exploration in autoethnography, the semiotics of names, and the development of voice and identity, a manuscript I completed as part of an independent seminar during my doctoral coursework in 2006, I seem to foreshadow my move towards autoethnography as a data collection approach. I write:


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A recent request for clarification of a response I made during an interview has prompted me to delve more deeply into “performance of queer desires”…The questions focus on the terms – why queer? why performance?

Gauntlett (n.d.) writes

Queer theory is a set of ideas based around the idea that identities are not fixed and do not determine who we are. It suggests that it is meaningless to talk in general about ‘women’ or any other group, as identities consist of so many elements that to assume that people can be seen collectively on the basis of one shared characteristic is wrong. Indeed, it proposes that we deliberately challenge all notions of fixed identity, in varied and non-predictable ways.


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So it has occurred to me, and numerous times at that, how what this project is not about is just as important as what this project is about. To that end, here’s what I’m not trying to do:

  • I am not trying to prove that all Japanese construct sexuality in the same way.
  • I am not assuming that English is “better” than Japanese.
  • I am not examining sexual behaviour as much as I am examining the connections between the presence of English in Japan and constructions/revelations of sexuality.
  • I am not assuming that Japanese consider, construct, or perform sexuality exactly as Americans do.
  • I am not assuming the presence of a queer “identity” in Japan, though I do believe that for some, this is actually a reality.
  • I am not using queer to reference hurtful or negative connotations, but rather, I am following Barbara Summerhawk and Judith Halberstam’s lead and learning from modern, academic queer theory that the word “queer” can reference any non-heteronormative expression, sexual or otherwise.
  • I am not attempting to continue imperialist, colonialist or hegemonic practices when it comes to the imposition of one language or culture over another. Rather, I’m curious about the ramifications of such phenomenon on human sexuality.
  • I am not a “straight-hater”, but I am omitting major discussions of heterosexuality in order to narrowly focus on a specific group of people and their social, linguistic, and sexual practices.
  • I am not interested in proving that a group of people all do one thing, or should do one thing, rather, I am trying to show how sociolinguistic practices, and ideas about specific sociocultural communities influence varieties of human behavior, especially around sexualities. As such, the results of this research will not be immediately generalizable to an entire population, but rather will illustrate how specific individuals are affected by linguistic practices and exposure.

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