Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Queer Cooking and Dining: Expanding Queerness in Fumi Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday?

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Queer Cooking and Dining: Expanding Queerness in Fumi Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday?

Article excerpt

The 2005 independent film Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee, helps remind us of the social predicament of non-belonging for queer people. Many audiences have been drawn to the film perhaps by sympathizing with the tragic fate of Ennis and Jack, the homosexual couple featured in the film. With a timeline spanning the 1960s to the early 1980s, the unspoken romance between these two men was a product of the social exclusion faced by homosexual men: no legitimate social space existed for two men to cultivate such an intimate relationship. The only place they could attempt to pursue intimacy was outside their home-a non-domestic space, most notably Brokeback Mountain. Scenes in which Ennis and Jack have sex, kiss, and embrace each other are exclusively set in non-domestic spaces-a campsite, the stairway nook of Ennis' apartment, and a cheap motel room. As Gary Needham suggests, throughout the film there is an undercurrent discourse which suggests that homosexuality must be kept "out in the 'wilderness' where it apparently belongs" (Needham, 2010, p. 51). When Ennis once declines Jack's proposal to live together, it is already foreseen that the two will never have their own space in which to situate a romantic relationship.

In addition to acts of sexual intimacy, cooking and eating also speak volumes about the locale of queer people in society. In the wilderness of Brokeback Mountain, the couple not only had sex, but also cooked and ate food. Home dining rooms were never a comfortable space for Ennis or Jack, most noticeably symbolized in scenes of Thanksgiving dinner-Ennis at his ex-wife's new husband's house, and Jack at his own house, being constantly emasculated by his ever-obtrusive father inlaw. Never feeling comfortable in their own domestic spaces, these two homosexual men had to eat out just to enjoy each other's company. Despite the film's effort to portray the intersection of food, space, and intimacy, the majority of critics and academics alike have been more fascinated by the role of sexual acts in defining the relationship between space and sexuality.

Fast forwarding nearly half a century, and relocating from rural Wyoming to a suburb of Tokyo, Japan, we encounter yet another visual text, a Japanese comic series, which challenges us to think about the relationship between gastronomic space and queerness. Serialized in the leading comics magazine Moningu (Morning) since 2007, Fumi Yoshinaga's Kino Nani Tabeta? (What Did You Eat Yesterday?) has brought to the fore discussions of what it means for queer people to cook and eat food together. Unlike the tragic drama of two closeted men in rural America where the effects of gay liberation had not yet reached, Kino Nani Tabeta? (hereafter What Did You Eat), in contrast, portrays a contemporary gay male couple residing in urban Tokyo. In contradistinction to the cowboys who never found a comfortable domestic space in which they feel at home except Brokeback Mountain, the duo in What Did You Eat, Shiro Kakei, a lawyer, and his partner Kenji Yabuki, a hairdresser, have their own domestic nest-a place to belong. In the series, Yoshinaga depicts their private space of a contemporary gay couple not through sex, but food. Ang Lee's motion picture Brokeback Mountain has achieved phenomenal commercial success despite its status as an independent film. Commencing its publication only two years later, Yoshinaga's comic What Did You Eat has proven itself to be equally popular with contemporary audiences in Japan, if not globally. Even taking into consideration the fact that Yoshinaga already was a well-established and awardwinning manga artist, the unprecedented popularity of a comic series which deals with the everyday life of a sexual minority couple is noteworthy.

In this essay, I am concerned with the ways in which Yoshinaga's work sheds new light onto the relationship between queer people and domestic space. Of particular interest is how the suggestion of alternative lifestyles and modes of masculinities is made by Yoshinaga through her skilful deployment of food and gastronomic discourses as metaphoric modalities which capture the attention of mainstream audiences in the current neoliberal social condition. …

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