Acting straight? Non-heterosexual salarymen working with heteronormativity in the Japanese workplace

Romit Dasgupta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


The focus of this chapter is on the everyday negotiations and engagements between sometimes competing discourses of identity in the lives of individual actors. Specifically, I look at the intersections and collisions between discourses of work, masculinity, and sexuality in the context of Japanese corporate culture. Despite the significant socio-cultural shifts and corporate re-structurings over the two decades following the bursting of Japan’s ‘bubble economy’ boom of the late-1980s/early-1990s, the discourse of the middle-class, white-collar ‘salaryman’ continues to occupy a position of influence and visibility on the corporate and socio-cultural landscapes of that nation. Indeed, I would argue that the post-bubble upheavals and fracturings notwithstanding, the salaryman continues to be a signifier for Japanese corporate masculinity, and to an extent, for Japanese masculinity as a whole.

One of the underpinnings of salaryman masculinity, at least in terms of its public articulations, has been its equation with a hegemonic discourse of regulated heterosexuality that hinges on the male corporate employee as husband/father/provider. Yet, in reality this equation of the salaryman-centred workplace culture with heterosexuality has always been far more tenuous than initial appearance may suggest. For instance, a flip-side of the discourse of the salaryman husband/father/provider, is the construction of the suit-clad salaryman as a trope of desire and fantasy in gay male popular culture discourse, and the existence of numerous gay bars in areas of Tokyo catering to a salaryman clientale and/or men attracted to them. Thus, the reality is that there are salarymen who may not be heterosexual, but nevertheless need to engage on a day-to-day basis with the heteronormative ideological expectations of salaryman masculinity.
Accordingly, this chapter, drawing on interviews with individual salarymen who identify as non-heterosexual, explores the complex relationship between the publicly articulated heteronormative ideology of the workplace, and the day-to-day micro-negotiations with the expectations of this ideology by non-heterosexual individuals. In particular, I draw attention to the complex intertwinings between, on the one hand, an increasingly dominant globalized discourse of non-heterosexuality that sees the self- and public- acknowledgement of sexual orientation as integral to an individual’s identity, and, on the other, a discourse of workplace masculinity that is still overwhelmingly heteronormative in its assumptions. I argue, through the narratives of my informants, that despite the pervasiveness of the heteronormative discourse, the dynamic at play in these everyday negotiations, are far more nuanced than might initially appear to be the case. Rather than a case of subservience and compliance to the dominant heteronormative workplace expectations, or its flip-side of rejection and resistance, the informants’ voices reveal the often baffling and contradictory complexity at play in their day-to-day work and non-work lives.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEast Asian men
Subtitle of host publicationmasculinity, sexuality and desire
EditorsXiaodong Lin, Chris Haywood, Mairtin Mac an Ghaill
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages31 - 50
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781137556349
ISBN (Print)9781137556332
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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