Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Takenori Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Takenori Yamamoto
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 11, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-ytakenori-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Now I'd like to ask about your experience of being a gay Nisei man. There are very few Japanese American Nisei who are publicly coming out gay. When did you start realizing that you were gay?

TY: When I was in the service, prior to being discharged, I wrote my mom to tell her that was gay, so I had to look up the word "homosexual" in the Japanese dictionary. And I wrote it down, and my sister read it, Kimiyo read it. And she had to look it up in the dictionary 'cause I had written that word out specifically. And so when I got home, my mom says, "What do you mean you're homosexual?" I said, "That's what I am." She said, "Are you sure you're just not going through a phase?" And this is why I didn't want to fight with her or not, because she just felt that I was just going through a phase and I would come out the other side. Well, I'm here now seventy-three, and I haven't come out the other side yet, so I don't know what she's talking about.

MN: But when did you kind of realize that you were gay? Was this in the air force or when you were even younger?

TY: I think even younger. I think probably when I was six or seven, though I never acted out then, but I had this attraction to males and I didn't understand how that was. And then I was in elementary school or in junior high school, same thing, I was attracted to males. But I said, oh, well, you have to sort of date girls. So when I was in high school, there was one very homely girl. I thought, well, this will be my way, so I'll go date her. Oh, what a response I wanted, it was terrible. But it was a thing that I thought, well, this will satisfy my need to work around this issue, but it didn't work. It didn't work at all. I didn't turn straight. [Laughs]

MN: And you know, when you're going through this and you're doing this pretending, how does it feel like inside? I mean, what are you feeling?

TY: Well, first off, not being emotional about it, because it's something that you can't control. And you say, "Well, I'm doing this for other people, I'm doing it for them so that they won't see me as something different." But in the ultimate, you are actually hurting yourself because you really aren't being truly who you really are. Of course, I learned that later on.

MN: You know, you came of age when the American psychologists were still diagnosing gays as a disease.

TY: Yes.

MN: How did that make you feel?

TY: I just totally ignored it. So I think until 1967, when I met Terry Gock, who is Dr. Gock and works in the Pasadena Asian Pacific Clinic, he was working on an issue that -- 'cause he himself is gay -- and so he was working on an issue that stated, "Well, how can you say I am a threat to society?" And so they went through that whole thing. And so when it finally came out that it was okay -- not okay -- but that that was not a mental disease, that it was okay, that's when it came out to where you could be more or less who you are.

MN: Now when did you take the big step and admit to yourself that you were gay?

TY: I think before the beginning of -- well, actually, when I told my parents in 1961, I think that's really when I accepted myself being gay.

MN: And did you meet a lot of gay men in the air force?

TY: Actually, no. I think it was probably, my hand, I could probably say there were probably five that I met. There might have been other people, but they were still closeted, so I doubt that I would have ever met them.

MN: So 1961 is sort of the official, would you say officially you came out? Is that when you started to explore your sexuality and seek out gay men?

TY: I wasn't even seeking out gay men in the service. This was in -- anytime from '57 to '61 I was seeking them out. I would go to, they would say, in town, where I'd meet Germans, because I knew it wasn't going to be a problem. But if I met a military person, I wouldn't even know what the consequences are. So it was easier.

MN: What are your thoughts about the U.S. government's policy towards gays right now?

TY: Well, you know, I don't even know what it is anyway. Is it you tell them or you don't tell them? And if you tell them, someone gonna put you out? I mean, I don't...

MN: I think they're not supposed to now.

TY: I know, but if you had to admit it, does that mean you're now on the step out? I don't know that either.

MN: Now, once you came out of the air force and you are now, you had come out with your family, how did you go about meeting gay men? I mean, this is still a very dangerous era for gay men.

TY: Sure. You know, there are always gay bars, so what you have to do is to see another gay person who will tell you where there's another gay bar. This is how I found out what my connections were. Go to Main Street, the druggiest part of the place, and to meet some of the nicest people, but you'd have to go to those kind of locations in order to find them.

MN: Were you able to meet a lot of Asian American or Japanese American gay men?

TY: Actually, I think I only knew one in 1962, '63. He's still a friend of mine, but that was the only original Asian or Japanese American that I met. And we ran around together for a little while because, you know, here we were Asian Pacific, here we are.

MN: Were you the same age, or was this an older man?

TY: No, he's about a couple years older.

MN: But, I mean, how did it feel to meet another Japanese American gay man? Did it make you feel a little bit less isolated?

TY: I never really felt isolated, even in Germany. Even though I might have been the only Japanese American out there, I just see that what I had out there were like hakujin types. And in the air force we never talked about it. So it would be hard to really say what it was like. I think the thing that solidified for me who I was and that I could feel comfortable was my roommates. One day when we were going through all those crazy telling each other everything, I told them that I was gay and that, was that a problem? And he said, "I don't think so," because I didn't try to come on to him, so it was okay. But I think that that was the thing that a lot of them felt, that, "As soon as we get to meet these people, of course they're going to come on to me, and then what do I tell them?"

MN: Now you've been in a very long relationship with Carl. How did you meet him?

TY: On Main Street. And he was then a wrestler, so we talked about it. And of course he was always fascinated with Japanese from Japan, which I'm not, and we talked about that. I said, "I can speak a little Japanese, but I'm not Japanese from Japan. So if that's what you're looking for, you'll have to go elsewhere, 'cause I can't change." And so it worked out after forty years, fifty years, I guess it's okay.

MN: It's a long relationship. You've been together more than, you know, straight people.

TY: Yeah, sometimes I look at that and I say, "Hmm." [Laughs]

MN: And Carl is of, is he of German descent?

TY: Well, actually, he's English. His last name is Finch but his background is more or less English.

MN: Now Carl, of course, he's English, so you're in this interracial relationship. Has that ever been an issue?

TY: Not for me or my family. 'Cause I don't think his brother and/or sister know of me. So that's okay, they're gonna die shortly anyway, so what do I have to worry about? [Laughs]

MN: How did Carl react when he found out you were in a camp during the war?

TY: Lots of talking. Because it's the kind of thing that... he's from Chicago, so he never knew about the fact that people were incarcerated or anything like that. And so it was like, "You didn't know?" I guess all of us on the West Coast think everybody knows, but that only limits it to just the people on the West Coast that knew about people being incarcerated, really.

MN: Now you and Carl were already in a long-term relationship in 1980s when the AIDS epidemic came out. Did you have friends that passed away from AIDS, or was that an issue with you and Carl?

TY: Well, after I found out how AIDS was transmitted, Carl and I talked and I said, "Listen, if you come down with AIDS, I'm not going to have anything to do with you. And I think the only way we can avoid this is for you not to have anonymous sex, because who knows what these people are..." because after that, there were people that we knew, that he knew, who had passed away from AIDS. And he said, oh. So it was like here's an awakening, he just thought it was like somebody else in the background that he never would have heard of. And I think until it becomes to a point where you recognize that person as being someone that you know, then it doesn't make a difference.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.