GAY ART: Sadao Hasegawa – Japanese Painter

Sadao Hasegawa, Japanese painter.I would like to share with you some drawings and paintings with homoerotic tendencies, and some of them are openly gay.…

“Today, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. In the section of Tokyo, known as Kudan, stands the mighty Yasukini shrine. Directly in from of the shrine is the Maruyama Gallery. It is here, that the opening ceremonies for a show of works by Sadao Hasegawa are being held. From a window in the gallery, a clear view of the Indian Embassy is visible. It was in India, that the birth of Buddha took place. Perhaps, the two masters are eternally inseparable.”

Bungaku Ito

The halls of queer history are filled with art. Sadao Hasegawa is another name in a long list of iconic creators who have shaped and changed their culture. His name most often shows up in lists, tied to two others. First, Tom of Finland remains one of the most well-known figures in queer art history.

He is described as the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images.” The other name tied to Sadao’s is Yukio Mashima, an author equally controversial as he was iconic. It is primarily due to Hasegawa’s admiration that his name is linked to Mashima’s, as well as their similar deaths.

Born in 1945 in Japan, his childhood is remembered as a rather introspective one. He began his pursuit of art fairly young. The work of Tom of Finland has a clear impact on the way Hasegawa portrayed men in his artwork starting out.

However, over time the European influences became eclipsed by Indian, Thia, Tibetan Buddhist, African, Japanese, and Balinese. As he began travelling in his twenties, Hasegawa’s art was heavily influenced by the cultures he encountered, and his pieces would reflect this.

Mainly published in queer publications

His work mainly focused on erotic paintings of men, including elements from a wide variety of kinks. Hasegawa was mainly published in queer publications and soon garnered a reputation for his skill and ability to mesh so many different cultures and practices within his paintings. However, while he could gain a level of success within Japan, he adamantly refused all offers to distribute his work internationally.

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In addition to his early death, it is this that has limited his legacy throughout the global queer community. Though he and his work are by no means obscure, his name is not brought up with the regularity of his peers, such as Tom of Finland.

It is only by luck that he remains as well known as he is. After his death by suicide in November 1999, his family was initially going to throw out all the work he left behind. Then they found a note asking for all he left behind to be donated to Gallery Naruyama in Tokyo. Along with this note was a portrait of Yukio Mishima, a detail that has eternally tied their names together.

Yukio Mashima was a successful writer who was tapped to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature multiple times. His work explored themes like sexuality in a semi-autobiographical way. He wrote his perspective as a gay man. His work has since resonated with many queer men, apparently including Hasegawa.

Discussion about possible reasoning of his death

Along with their similar deaths, the portrait brought forward much discussion about the possible reasoning for Hasegawa’s death mirroring Mashima’s.

Though Mashima made a point out of making it seem like his suicide was an act of political protest, many have noted his apparent fear of growing old and belief that his body would only become less beautiful over time as a possible factor in his decision. It is this rather than a possible political motive that many speculate drew Hasegawa to Mashima.

Mashima believed he had reached peak physical form and thus ended his life. Some believe that Hasegawa felt the same about his work. The premature deaths of queer men have been a point of pain for the queer community throughout its history. There are innumerable factors at play, but it is worth noting the veneration and disconnection of younger community members with older.

Some of the most well-known cultures that accepted relationships between men accepted them only under the condition that there was a significant age gap. Informed by the sexist power dynamics enforced in heterosexual relationships, the belief often was that a romantic relationship required a power imbalance. This power imbalance often came in the form of age gaps and class differences. In addition, they were enforced by assigned sexual roles for the parties within the relationships.

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Oscar Wilde’s speech

Oscar Wilde’s speech on the “love that dares not speak its name” affirms this belief. In defense of his relationship with another man, he said:

“It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand.”

Though the relationship mentioned there was between a twenty-four-year-old and a forty-year-old, this dynamic has been pushed to justify bigger and smaller age gaps. It must be recognized in these discussions that any age gap between two adult queer people is acceptable. The aggression that exists towards these relationships is a form of homophobia. That being said, that should not shut down informed and nuanced discussions around why age gaps are sometimes glorified and glamorized within queer media and community.

As pushed forward by different cultures, this situation was set up to assign heterosexual gender roles within queer relationships. The younger being the woman, with less societal respect, assumed intelligence, and more assumed emotionality. The older being the man, with more societal respect, and assumed intelligence. These stereotypes have caused harm to both sides of these relationships and have harmed how queer relationships are seen as a whole.

Though it was initially instituted as a way for queer relationships to mirror the power dynamics inherent to any heterosexual relationship that exists in a patriarchal society, it has since been weaponized against the queer community. Used to insist queerness is inherently related to pedophilia and separate the younger members from the older.

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Violence towards the queer community

These narratives have been the cause of violence towards the queer community. However, the latter is a less-discussed or visible form of violence. With the separation comes loss. Queer youth are isolated. And often unable to picture a life for themselves as they age for lack of examples. Queer elders are forced to enter their later years without the road map many others are given. Their desire to be around their community is portrayed as inherently predatory. As the young become old, it can feel like an ending rather than a new chapter.

All of this is only compounded by how the queer community and queer art hold up youth and beauty as inherently valuable. Within the art of both Hasegawa and Tom of Finland, the bodies shown do not represent the diverse reality of the queer community. While art can reflect reality, it can also distort it. A significant portion of queer art does by equating youth to beauty and beauty to worth.

Everyone ages! Queer men are uniquely punished for doing so. They are told that their inherent human value fades as they do what they cannot stop.

The belief that younger queer men are inherently more beautiful, joyful, or have more potential does direct harm to older queer men. Beauty, joy, and potential do not fade with age.

Ageism can become deadly

With so few elders within the queer community, the ageism that already exists within society can become deadly.

Having written all of this does not mean that this was the reason for Sadao Hasegawa’s death in particular. While the possibility does push forward an interesting conversation that must be had within the queer community, that does not make it the truth. Suicide has a myriad of causes, and it is impossible to know the entirety of Hasegawa’s situation without his clarification. With certainty, all that can be said is that the queer community has lost more than it can know due to the loss of his life.

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