In the Gender Studies class, two senior students spoke up the most. I was initially intimidated by them, but when we split into groups, and I was included in a group with them, they made sure to ask me what I thought. I did the best I could to speak whatever was on my mind, and they leaned forward to pick up my puny voice. I was afraid I was talking rubbish, but they made me feel a part of the community.
During one class, I asked one question – why is identity so important for people in the United States? I can’t remember what the professor said or how the class responded, but I surmised it was a very personal and imperative matter in a country so diverse, yet in which you are expected to be united.
Toward the end of the term, we were asked to present “things that are grotesque” in our last class. I had many question marks in my head. It was the first time I was told to present not conclusions based on facts or data but subjective opinions.
One of the books I brought from Japan was a set of manga books. I had already read them, and they just made my suitcase heavier, so I had told myself what an idiot I was to bring them. But they turned out to be useful. The manga was set in a high school in the present time in Japan and depicted the type of high school girls that became a cultural phenomenon in the late ’90s. They wore their school uniform skirt short and wore thick baggy white socks called “loose socks,” bleached hair almost blond, tanned their skin unnaturally dark, put on thick eyeliners, overdid under-eye-highlights, and wore pale-color lipstick. They roamed around Shibuya Center-Gai, carried pocket bell (later replaced by PHS), and coined numerous new words and phrases, like “choberigu” meaning, “super very good” and “choberiba” meaning, “super very bad.” As a collective, they were called “kogal” meaning, “little gal.” While the rest of Japan saw them like they were aliens and were somewhat disgusted at their appearance, the media couldn’t get enough of them.
I printed out and enlarged the page of manga that had drawn pictures of three kogals and presented it as my interpretation of grotesque. The class was fascinated by it, and I was equally embarrassed and proud of my presentation.