Written by Anri Yoshii, Translated by Hatsune Sawada
Maki Muraki, who has been researching LGBTQ workplace environments and providing consulting services to companies since founding the NPO Nijiiro Diversity, talks to us about her own life as an LGBTQ person.
How did you come to establish a certified nonprofit organization, Nijiiro Diversity?
In 2010, when I was working for my previous company, a friend of mine committed suicide. My friend was depressed and unable to work and was on welfare, which I later found out about. One day he died, leaving a will to a mutual friend of ours. The will said, “My family does not know that I am gay,” so my friends and I hid gay-related videos and books from his family in a hurry. I was desperate at that time, but it was very hard for me later on. He had to hide that he was gay even when he was dead. Later, when I went to work as usual, my boss made an offensive comment about “homosexuality” at the morning meeting. Normally, I would have just shrugged it off, but I couldn’t stand it that day. I got angry, thinking that it was because of people like this that my friend had to die. I complained to the company’s enquiry counter that it was a violation of human rights, but they didn’t take it up because I wasn’t talking about myself. At that time, my trust in the company and my bosses, as well as my motivation for the job itself, was greatly diminished. Later, when I got busy at work, I couldn’t sleep, but I didn’t feel like talking to my boss who made discriminatory remarks. I became depressed and took a leave of absence. That was in 2011. Then the Great East Japan Earthquake happened. The incessant news of the earthquake and tsunami made me even more depressed. I wondered if my parents’ house in Ibaraki was OK and if the nuclear plant was damaged. I was worried every day.
So a lot of things happened in succession?
Yes. At the time, a friend of mine who is a lesbian like me was also taking a leave of absence due to depression. When I was talking to her, I wondered if this distress was not because we were women but because we were lesbian. I looked up information on the subject overseas. Then I realized that LGBTQ people have problems in the workplace overseas as well, and that major companies are taking various measures to address the issue. I was a consultant and loved making slides, so I created a document that summarized what workplaces overseas were doing. When I shared it with friends on Facebook, it was a big hit. This was a great success, and I started to receive requests to speak at various companies. In 2012, after some hesitation, I decided to quit my job and started my own business, which was incorporated in 2013 as Nijiiro Diversity.
I suppose the decision to become independent was not an easy one.
It was a difficult decision. But 2012 was the year that we saw signs of change. Former American President Barack Obama mentioned gay rights for the first time in his inaugural speech. There were many events in Japan as well. I felt that we could do something about it now. Initially, I was mainly presenting data from overseas, but Japanese companies wanted to know about the data from Japan. So I conducted a joint survey with someone from the Center for Gender Studies at International Christian University (ICU), which was the only university in Japan that offered a degree in gender studies. I felt that collaborating with an academic institution would produce more reliable data.
You are a very dynamic and proactive person. When you were young, did you have any doubts or feelings about your sexuality and the state of society?
When I was little, I was a “boyish” girl. Nowadays, I may have been called transgender. The word “lesbian” didn’t even occur to me at the time because I had a negative impression of it. When I was in upper elementary school, I couldn’t relate to my friends talking about male idols at all, and I thought I wasn’t interested in relationships. I didn’t like the skirts in my middle school uniform either. I didn’t like the skirts I wore when I was job hunting either, so I wanted to get a job quickly.
What do you think about your current gender identity?
To tell the truth, even now, the first person in my mind is still fluctuating. I say “watashi (a common first person word)” when I speak in public, such as in interviews, but when I do, the thing that comes to my mind is “ore (first person for men)” or “boku (same as ore)”, and sometimes it’s “atashi (first person for women)”. That’s like an automatic conversion when it comes to pronunciation. Now, if you ask me which category in LGBTQ I’m closest to, I’ll tell you that I think I’m a lesbian because I’m a woman in society, and my partner would probably be a woman. But basically, I think the categorization is a blurry one, and I might have a strong “I am me” identity.
Did people around you, including family and friends, know about your sexuality?
I came out to my mother when I was just before thirty. My mother was very surprised, but she thought it was okay. She has accepted me. Now whenever my activities are featured in various media, She is happy that I am doing well.
After graduating from university, I worked at various companies, including a long-established Japanese beer company, a furniture retailer, and a foreign-capital consulting firm, but I rarely came out to my colleagues. I only came out to the people I was close to at each company, right before I left. One exception was a co-worker who told me at a drinking party that her relatives were against her marriage to her Southeast Asian husband. I thought, “I know how that feels,” so I took the plunge and came out to her. I was relieved to see that the co-worker was very understanding of LGBTQ people. She had a friend who was also gay, and I was able to easily invite her to lunch. Up until then, I had avoided going to lunch with my co-workers because I didn’t want to talk about my personal life. However, just the fact that even one person in the company knew me made me feel so much better.
The concept of coming out is changing, isn’t it?
That’s right. People are more open now, but back then it never occurred to me to come out in the workplace. Among my co-workers, the topic of family and lovers was an everyday conversation but for me, it was uncomfortable. Even within the LGBTQ community, I think there was a stronger sense of separation between the professional and personal life than there is now.
Can you tell us about the non-profit organization Nijiiro Diversity that you founded?
We aim to create a comfortable environment for LGBTQ people to live and work in, through surveys, lectures, consulting, and content creation. We want everyone to be able to do what they want without giving up just because they are LGBTQ. We’re going to do more research to “visualize” LGBTQ issues and at the same time, we want to call for action to change society, such as public comments. We’re currently working on a new website to do just that. I’m sure there will be discussions about LGBTQ marriage and parenting on a national level in the future, and I want to make sure we get everything organized.
What are your goals for the rest of your life?
I want to live my life doing what I’m excited about. And I want to get LGBTQ legislation in place as soon as possible. I didn’t have a long-term career plan, and I kept changing jobs according to how I felt at the time. My relationships have not lasted long either. I always thought I was easily bored. But looking back now, although I’m sure I get bored easily, I think a smaller organization like the one I’m in now is better fit for me than a larger one. I wasn’t the type of person to always read the room, and if I thought I was right, I would say what I thought without regard to the hierarchical relationship with the people around me. That has put me in a bad position more than once or twice. I’ve struggled to learn a new job every time I changed jobs, but now I feel that all of the experiences working so hard for various companies are connected to the work I do at Nijiiro Diversity. Thanks to this, I continue to break the record for the longest work and relationship ever. I don’t know if my way of life will be helpful to future generations, but I hope it will make someone happy to know that this kind of person can live.
Maki Muraki. Representative of Nijiiro Diversity, a certified NPO. Social insurance labor consultant. Born in 1974 in Ibaraki Prefecture. Graduated from the Faculty of Human Sciences at Kyoto University. Conduct surveys, lectures, and consulting projects with the aim to create a society where LGBTQ people can live comfortably. She has been selected for a number of awards including “Woman of the Year 2016 Changemaker Award” and “4th Nikkei Social Initiative Awards Newcomer Award” and her activities have been featured in various media.
Her book “Rainbow-colored Changemaker – LGBTQ Perspective Changes Workplace and Society” was released on October 1.
Click here for the Nijiiro Diversity website