Essay

What is a Gay Chorus? And What Is Its Significance? / Noritaka Moriyama [Contribution Text for siren eun young jung]

©︎Namsan Arts Center ©︎Namsan Arts Center

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarked on an eight-stop concert tour of cities in America in 1981. In the United States in the late 1970s, a few chorus groups appeared comprising entirely lesbian members or a mix of lesbian and gay members. Following on from this trend, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus then became the first ever openly gay male choir.

The tour was intended as a broad appeal to society about the need to advocate for gay rights. On the other hand, the gay chorus also possessed another significance in that it was a community activity where gay people could deepen their interaction with one another through pursuing their hobby. By the act of peers with a shared hobby coming together, friendships are made that go beyond just interacting in order to look for a sexual partner. (In fact, studies have pointed out that members of a gay chorus get excited whenever visitors or newcomers come to rehearsals precisely because it is harder to find lovers in a heteronormative society. The acts of looking for romantic partners and looking for friends cannot be so easily separated.)

In Japan, gay choruses started to appear in Tokyo in the early 1990s and today there are such groups not only in the capital but also in various other regions of the country. Japanese gay choruses, however, tended to operate essentially as ways for friends to get together and, given the current state of strong discrimination that prevails against gays, many people do not want to be involved with activities (including advocacy activities) that mean coming out. Moreover, the situation in Japan is also distinct in that there are no lesbian choruses or mixed gay and lesbian choruses (or at least, they don’t have interactions with gay choruses). (That being said, there are gospel groups comprising not just gay men but also members of various sexual minorities.)

We are now, though, starting to see signs of change in the activities of gay choruses in Japan. On April 14, 2019, a large music festival was held in Tokyo bringing together sexual minority choirs from the Asia-Pacific region. (It was a great honor at this event to have the chance to conduct the theme song and the premiere of a piece I had written. Being involved in this ardent and emotional performance was something wonderful I will remember for the rest of my life.)

Across the reception, rehearsals, and after-party, many of the friends and acquaintances from Japan who participated said that the event had inspired them with its open atmosphere featuring choruses from various countries as well as by showing them how gay men can enjoy music along with lesbians and straight allies (heterosexual or cisgender people who support sexual minorities). While dealing with the issues of privacy and outing remains a challenge, I now have a feeling that this festival will help gay choruses in Japan to open up further and continue expanding their diverse activities.


Noritaka Moriyama
Composer, Sociologist. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1982, Noritaka Moriyama studied on a doctoral program at the Department of Advanced Social and International Studies (Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Course), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo. After working as an assistant professor at the department, he is currently an associate professor of queer studies at Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University.

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