SFYou: Motoki Long-Nozawa discusses LGBTQIA2S+ language in classrooms

He emphasized the importance of respecting students’ gender identities

by Michelle Young, News Editor

Name: Motoki Long-Nozawa

Pronouns: he/him

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Occupation: Japanese language instructor 

Department Affiliation: Department of World Languages and Literature 

Fun fact: “I drink a green smoothie and practice self, positive affirmation every

morning. These make me physically and mentally strong and resilient. Of course, I

sometimes feel down. However, I try to embrace my negative feelings and take my time

for recovery. I do not rush. Embracing myself and practicing something that makes me

positive are key to my happy life.” 

 

Motoki Long-Nozawa has worked as a Japanese teaching assistant, language consultant, and instructor. He focuses on language and communication in classrooms. Specifically, he works with LGBTQIA2S+ students studying Japanese. 

As a student, when I heard Long-Nozawa speak about flexible gendered vocabulary in Japanese, my interest was piqued. In class, he explained that, while some teachers are strict in the adjectives students use to describe one another, he would allow us to be more fluid. 

Kakkoi,” is typically used to describe good-looking men, he said. However, taking into consideration inclusivity, Long-Nozawa noted that in his classroom, we could use this to describe anyone of any gender. 

Language has been evolving for years to be more inclusive. “They” has been increasingly accepted as a singular pronoun and its use has been traced back to the 1300s. Despite many strides over the years within the LGBTQIA2S+ community, there’s still a bit of work to be done in regards to equity, and how we shape our spaces for others.

I reached out to Long-Nozawa for an email interview to discuss language, inclusivity, and how this affects the LGBTQIA2S+ community. “I am interested [in] listening to LGBTQ+ students’ experiences in Japanese language classrooms. Listening helps me enter students’ life worlds,” he told The Peak. 

He explained that currently, LGBTQIA2S+ language researchers are focused on dismantling heteronormativity. “We need many transformative changes. For instance, LGBTQ+ individuals, communities, and topics are absent in many textbooks and classroom practices. We need more representation and discussions about sexuality and sexual identity.”  

For example, “Japanese language teachers assign students gender pronouns and gendered roles in role play without asking students their gender identities.” He explained this creates a space for oppression, negatively affects LGBTQIA2S+ students, and, as a result, “students’ voices are ignored.”

In English, gender is communicated primarily through pronouns. In Japanese, however, there are speech patterns that can connotate “femininity and gentleness,” or “masculinity and roughness.” Even more complex, pronouns are fluid and “you can choose a different pronoun for different reasons and situations.” 

With the evolution of language, these binaries are becoming increasingly blurred. Gender-neutral speech is rising among young people, and individuals are learning to play with gendered speech to suit their identity. 

In the context of classrooms, Long-Nozawa said, “I believe teachers need to have dialogue with students and respect their gender and sexual identities. Teachers always need to be critical about their teaching practices and make continuous efforts to create safe, inclusive, and encouraging learning space.”

When asked about the importance of inclusive language, Long-Nozawa asked, “Why is it not important?” 

He added, “LGBTQ+ students do exist. LGBTQ+ teachers do exist. Considering LGBTQ+ issues in language education in general and Japanese language education in particular is absolutely necessary.

“I am proud of myself as a gay educator, researcher, and person. However, I had and will have ups and downs in my life as a gay person. My personal experiences in language classrooms were not always enjoyable. I was not able to talk about my life and express myself with fear of homophobia. Also, lack of representation in terms of sexuality made me feel more marginalized.”

Researchers maintain that educators set the atmosphere for students. However, some have noted teachers often reinforce heteronormativity and create negative situations for students. They recommend textbooks include scenarios with LGBTQIA2S+ couples and teaching language in a way that isn’t binary. 

Long-Nozawa said, “With my personal experience, I have grappled with the idea of safe space and how we make language classrooms safe, inclusive, and encouraging.” 

He added, “It is critical for students as Japanese language speakers to be aware of linguistic and cultural practices that marginalize LGBTQ+ individuals and speak up against them. Researchers, educators, and students need to reconsider Japanese language education through the lens of social justice.”