Hi, my name is Micah Peterson and I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. So, when I was 21, I was in college at Oberlin up in Ohio, which is the middle of nowhere. I had an opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan. It was just a really – I was really excited to go because it was going to be a really great chance for me to break out of my boundaries and see a whole new world.
At that point, I was already kind of like, kinda crazy as it was. I was kinda a wild, not really a wild kid but wild enough. I had these green contacts in and I was just trying to be cute and stuff, and I figured I can go to Japan and make them love me, too. I figured, why not? Let’s try it out.
I get to Japan and I am so, I had such a culture shock that I – my eyes were so awakened in a way that I could not even imagine happening. I joined the school groups, I joined the track team and, you know, people assumed that I was going to be fast. I was like, okay, that’s fine, people assumed because I’m black I’m going to be a fast runner.
I recall people coming up to me and asking me, “Hey, do you prefer Kanye West or do you prefer 50 Cent?”
I’m someone who doesn’t really listen to hip-hop music at all, so I was just like, “Well, whoever you like!” I just remember having all these interactions where I kept having my blackness challenged and questioned. One of the things that I decided I would dive into was the gay scene because why not? Tokyo is also really fascinating because it has one of the highest concentration of gay bars in the world.
I found that guys were interested, but there were always these weird, little things. Like they thought it was because I was sexually virile or that I had a really big, Black phallus, or that I was going to be a top. It was either that or they didn’t want me at all because they had these assumptions that, based on media consumption, that I was a thief or a thug or that I was dirty and they wanted nothing to do with me. If I wasn’t white, then it wasn’t right.
I remember there was this one time I was on the train and there was this guy that I made eye contact with. I just assumed – he was kinda cute. He was in his, like, probably his mid-twenties. Naturally, you assume, you make eye contact with someone and you make eye contact again, you’re like, oh, maybe there’s something, you know, they’re interested in you. So I made eye contact again and we kept making eye contact during the car ride. Then when we got to the station, he got out of the car and moved to another car because he did not want to be anywhere near me.
I had some Black friends who were studying abroad and I also had some Japanese friends who had also previously studied abroad who were also living in Japan. Through them, they helped me really come into myself and help me really kind of understand that this is a different culture – and (a) that’s okay, I still, to this day, still love Japan and everything it represents – but also realizing that I come from somewhere different and it’s okay note these differences and still be okay with that.
When I got back to the States, I think one of the first things that I noticed that I hadn’t noticed before which is how many of us there are, how many Black – I didn’t notice Black people like I did over the summer when I got back. I didn’t notice Black LGBT people like I noticed before, like I noticed when I got back. It was almost as though I had been sleeping and I had just woken up from years in a coma or something and all of a sudden we have flying cars.
One of the first things I did was I took out those green contacts. I love my brown eyes. I wanted people to see my beautiful brown eyes. I started to hang out more with my Black friends. I had them before at Oberlin but there was something about the connection, being able to tell them things and have them know that they get it was just so amazing. I started to hang out with my Black gay friends more, and to be able to have those bonds and seek out other Black gay men as romantic partners, which was something that was new to me and was such a craving that I didn’t know that I was missing. I just learned to really love myself and love my skin.
The story for me, the issue I was encountering was that I was running into an issue because people didn’t want me to be who I am. I think, generally speaking, for anyone else who is going through a similar experience, just know that you should love yourself. At the end of the day, you’re going to come across forces who aren’t going to want you to be who you are. You just have to accept the fact that this is who you are and all your cultural experiences, your life experiences, they make you you and no one’s going to take that away from you. So be yourself, love yourself and challenge other people.