Henry Aberle '16: Finding My People

Henry Aberle is the 2016-2018 Shansi Fellow at J.F. Oberlin University. This is his second year narrative.

When I first came to Japan I was pretty confident, maybe even a little cocky. A year prior I had studied abroad in Tokyo at a prestigious school, joined an all-Japanese member club at said school, and overall become accustomed to what felt like “normal life” here. As a Shansi fellow I came to Japan with the unreasonable expectation that I would simply pick up where I left off and everything would be as it had been—want for nothing. To my credit I was persistent, and for the first half of my first year I had essentially done just that. But I soon learned that it wasn’t to my benefit.

In October 2017 I had the privilege of playing for the US team at a major Karuta tournament in Nara! We lost pretty badly, but it was an amazing experience.

By the end of my first semester, my personal and professional insecurities had brought me to something of a breaking point, and I chose to go back to the States for the month of March. In that time, away from all the distractions that had built up around me in Japan, I thought about what was missing from my life abroad. First and foremost, I was missing a sense of purpose. I had my job and my club group, but these had come to feel like obligations to someone else—expectations for myself rather than things that brought me joy. I needed a community of people who shared a common goal—people to connect with.

I also missed having a community of people with whom I felt comfortable being open regarding my sexuality. Coming from Oberlin where I was open as bisexual, I had taken for granted the ability to be myself at any time without fear of being shunned or mistreated. It took me leaving Oberlin to realize that above all it was a community of likeminded individuals that I was missing from my life.

This April I joined the "Education team" at ReBit, which helps plan educational events for ReBit members in turn provide better seminars.

When I eventually returned to Tokyo at the end of March, I sought out a non-profit organization named ReBit. ReBit is at the forefront of LGBT education in Japan—holding seminars to teach people about sexual and gender minorities and events to support LGBT people. I knew about ReBit from my research my senior year of college, but had put joining the group on the back burner upon arriving to Japan. Joining ReBit was the best choice I could have made for my livelihood in Tokyo.

Unlike my other club activity where people come together for a game, ReBit’s members come together to celebrate each other and work towards a common goal of creating a sexual and gender identity revolution in Japan. ReBit is the only environment where I feel as if people want to know the true me and actively seek my help on a regular basis. There is nothing more inspiring than feeling needed or becoming a part of something larger than yourself.

Being a member of ReBit I’ve been able to do some pretty cool things. I’ve traveled to places I would have never visited myself to talk to students, teachers, and ordinary people about my experiences growing up as bisexual and moving to Japan. I participated in a seijin-shiki

(or “coming-of-age ceremony”) for people taking their first steps in coming to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity. I shared countless meals and adventures with friends I made through ReBit and even developed a new hobby: bouldering.

This single organization expanded my network of friends and acquaintances to the point where I now feel as if I belong to a real community of people in Japan. I have so much more hope for LGBT in Japan having joined this community. My goal is to take what I have learned from my time with ReBit and apply it to helping people around the world see past our differences to all the things we have in common. Coming to the end of my fellowship, I can’t say for sure where I’ll end up, but wherever I go I know I’ll find my people.

I started bouldering December 2017 thanks to an invitation from a ReBit friend! I'm in love with it and have gone once every month since.

This March I participated in a photo shoot for ReBit's new fundraising campaign "Niji-Iro Baton." With my photo is the following short message: "I always had anxiety about my sexuality, so it was that much harder being bullied for it by my peers. Let's work towards a world where grown ups can look anxious children in the eye and tell them they're perfect just the way they are."