Interview with out pianist Sara D.Buechner

By Helen Polychronakos

Sara Davis Buechner

5. Transgendered in Japan

-- Can you tell me about your spouse, Kayo? What was her role in your life at this point?

Kayo and I met in 1994 or 95, a year or two before I began transition. I came to Osaka. I was doing some teaching. Kayo was working as a translator. She took me to Koshien Stadium [for a Hanshin Tigers baseball game]. I got bombed out of my mind, as she did, on whisky and all kinds of things. And it's all been magic from there! [LAUGHS]

--At the time she didn't know that you were thinking about doing this?

No. No. I kept it pretty close to me. And then I transitioned and had to let her know. I was very worried about that. I came here to Japan for the first time as Sara. She met me at the airport and it was, like, nothing. It didn't mean a thing to her.

--She accepted it?

Oh yeah. She's taught me a lot about what real love is. It's very much from the heart.

-- In terms of acceptance of alternative sexualities, how do Japan and North America compare?

It's apples and oranges. In terms of legalities, America is this crazy patchwork. If you're in Massachusetts everything is fine but if you're in Wyoming it's not. And increasingly, people who call themselves religious pass judgement on folks that are different. They think that everything you do is some kind of a choice, and that you choose to be this kind of person, so therefore it's ok to hate you or discriminate against you, or in extreme cases, to kill you.

Japan? I'm not Japanese so I'm no expert to make generalities about the Japanese. But I do feel when I'm here that nobody's making a huge judgement about who I am or hating me. Now, having said that, where's the marriage equality? Does discussion ever erupt in Japan?

I did apply for one job here right after transition. There was an opening at Kobe College. It seems that the music department wanted to have me. And then the head of the college turned it down, and said, "We can't hire a person who had a sex change because it's never been done before."

In a certain sense I do prefer it somehow to Americans who say to a video camera, "Oh I'm all for equality. I don't believe in same-sex marriage but I'm all for civil unions, that's fine." Like our president, you know? [LAUGHS] It's totally disingenuous and doesn't make any sense. In the background he'll call his buddies together and say, those sad sad fags, they're intolerable!

I have the sense that most Japanese people, either they don't care, or they figure that polite people don't make it their business, you know?

--How did your mother-in-law react?

She's ninety years old and a hibakusha, very traditional. But she treats me like a member of the family. And when I went to Bangkok for the surgery we came back here and I convalesced here.

--You've taught and performed all over Asia, North America and Europe. How does your courageous life inspire your students and audiences?

At the time I made the change, I didn't feel [brave]. I really felt like, I have to do this or I'm gonna die, you know?

I am very aware as a teacher, that I am setting some kind of example. I don't think you can be in the closet and then step on the stage and be honest. You're cheating people. Big time. I don't want to climb into the coffin at the end of it and have any regrets. So, any message I try to give my students, it's mostly that.

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