Friday, January 29, 2010

Interview with Stefhen Bryan, Author of Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs

Author Stefhen Bryan was thirty-six years old with nothing in terms of a solid foundation. His roots were in Jamaica and he lived as an expatriate in the United States. In 2001, he made the decision to move to Japan. Stefhen did not base this decision on any lofty goals or ambitions he wished to fulfill. Instead, Stefhen was totally motivated by his attraction to Asian women and his fully developed sex addiction. Between 2001 and 2008, Stefhen had sex with thousands of women, many of these affairs being random encounters. In 2008, Stefhen compiled all of these experiences into what is at once a case study of Japan, a memoir, and a piece of erotica entitled, Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs. Recently, I sat down and had a long conversation with Stefhen, via telephone, during which I interviewed him about his book. This is what transpired.

1. Do you have a background in psychology or sociology? What is your educational background?

I do have a background in sociology and psychology. In the 8 years it took me to get my BA, psych and sociology were two of my many majors. When I discovered social psychology at UCLA, I found it so interesting and wanted to study more. Hence, I would like to do a PhD in social psychology.

2. It seems that Jamaican and Japanese culture are both very conservative. How are they similar? How are they different?

They differ in that Jamaica is super disorganized and ad hoc, while Japan is the exact opposite. They are meticulous about everything in Japan. Even trivial things. There are some similarities between Jamaican patois and Japanese. And both Jamaican and Japanese societies place great emphasis on education.

3. Did you consciously decide to create a book that was at once a case study and erotica as well as memoir? How did that come about?

Yes, it was most certainly a conscious decision. I'm passionate about sex and I'm passionate about social observation, so I put the two together. Had I written erotica only, I would’ve just been some black guy, the stereotype, talking about how much punaunie he gets. I wouldn’t have been taken seriously. Had I written a case study on japan, it would’ve been immediately dismissed, as I was not a celebrity. The same if I had written just a memoir. No one would’ve wanted to read the memoir of some insignificant Negro. So I put the three genres together. It was a conscious decision, though some said it wouldn’t have worked, as it had not been done before.

4. How has this book been received? What has been the feedback from sociologists and other academics?

So far,the few in academia who have been brave enough to touch it are very supportive. The overall response has been overwhelmingly positive. Thirty two 5 and 4 star reviews on Amazon so far.

5. When I was at Purdue University, I noticed a huge pattern of white male fixation on Japanese culture. What do you make of the growing American—and particularly white male fixation on Japanese culture? Do you think that some aspects of colonialism are present in that phenomenon?

It is true that Japanese women can be easily dominated. A good example is mayumi, - whom I know personally, by the way - the balloon woman, who let her husband influence her into participating in that hoax about balloon floating around with the kid. Incidentally, that docile and passive personality is one of the characteristics I despise in Japanese women. I work hard to transform my wife into someone assertive, with an opinion. She's gotten much better. But many insecure white men (especially in Japan), intimidated by powerful women, have told me directly that, they like the spinelessness of Japanese women. I hate it. Man, even how they are in bed.

6. You seem to have a lot of animosity aimed at Japanese men. Why is that?

Very simply, they treat women like shit. The Japanese patriarchy defecates on women.

7. How did you find your statistics and do your research for this book? What was your research process?

I was waiting for this question from someone. There was no process. I was simply living my life. Since my childhood I had been an avid newspaper reader, cutting out articles and saving them for absolutely no reason. Upon moving to japan, I became paranoid of losing my mother tongue, so I read the newspapers with even greater voracity, sometimes reading three different newspapers a day. And of course, cutting out articles I found interesting. It is purely coincidental that a great deal of the dynamics I had observed socially in Japan, I would later read about them in the newspapers or visa versa. So when I began to write, I had a whole box full of newspaper articles I had cut out. There was no science, I was simply living my life and doing what I liked doing. That old obsession with cutting out newspaper articles paid off.

8. You have declared yourself a feminist.How would you define feminism and how would you define yourself as one?

One who is deeply concerned about the issues faced by women. I am one such person.

9. What led you to write this book? Was it to relay your sexual experiences or was it to investigate sexual trauma amongst Japanese women? If the latter, how do you reconcile that aim with the highly sexualized nature of this book?

I think time was the single greatest contributing factor to writing this book. I had loads of time. I worked about 12-18hrs a week, 25 weeks a year. And even when I was working (as an assistant language teacher) I had a great deal of time at work. Many days I would teach only one or two classes, but had to stay at school until 430. The first 100 pages of this book were written at Senrioka junior high school in Osaka. Secondly, as a sex addict, I did write the book to relay my sexual experiences. I found the sexual dynamic in Japan unfathomable and couldn’t believe no one had written about his own personal experiences. So I did.

10. Did you do research concerning sexual trauma and Japanese women? What was your research process?

Well, I was just being inquisitive with the women I was with. That’s all. Once one told me about her childhood sexual trauma, without my asking. I thought to ask the others. They opened up to me because I was a foreigner.

11. Are you familiar with Jean Genet? I would very much put your book in the tradition of his work. That said, how would you define your book along the lines of the sexual, the criminal, the perverse?

No,I'm not familiar with Jean Genet. In fact, I am not very well read. Many people are comparing my work to several authors, of whom I do not know. I can only read non-fiction. I love reading textbooks and science journals, and of course the newspaper.

12. In any given moment in the book, you are giving facts and statistics on abortion and child abuse in Japan. In the next moment, you are detailing one of your many sexual conquests. The infusion of erotica into what would otherwise be a sociological study makes this work stand out. Was it your conscious decision to write this book this way?

I would like to interpret it as the infusion of sociological study into what would be otherwise erotica. I wanted the reader to understand the social dynamics which permits and promotes the sexual dynamic. So yes, the structure of the book was intentional. It is an erotic, ethnographic memoir.

13. This book is meticulously documented in terms of the sources you cite. Was this a thesis? What prompted you to provide a work cited and end notes?

Another question I've been waiting on. It was never a thesis, haven’t got my masters yet. But will be attending Sophia University in Tokyo to do a masters in Japanese studies. The reason I provide end notes and cited works was simple. I am a high school dropout. And as such, I would have been immediately dismissed without end notes. People, especially in academia would’ve asked, “who the hell is this black guy from out of nowhere writing this profound stuff?” Oh, in fact, a junior agent at a major New York agency said just that. Well, not the black guy part, but he did imply that he was skeptical about the validity of my observations given that I am not in academia.

14. You attest to the rampant dysfunction present in Japanese society-in terms of immaturity, sexual dysfunction, etc. Have you found any studies that have been done that validate your observations?

Yes,Ive found the writings of a few Japanese psychologists to validate my observations. Can’t recall their names now, but I mentioned them in the book.

15. What has been the reception of this book among Japanese women? Among women in general?

Some Japanese women are angry, that’s normal. Their feelings are hurt that their social dirty laundry is being hung out in the international community. Other, more rational ones laud the work and its honesty, even though it’s a hard pill for them to swallow. So far, the book has been well received by western women, black and white.

16. If you had one central thesis in terms of your observations concerning Japanese women-what would that be?

Not just Japanese women, but Japanese society is traumatic to its subjects.

17. Do you think that adhering to traditional concepts and definitions of virginity is in line with feminist approaches to sexuality?

Can't speak to that issue. Maybe I don’t understand the question. Virginity is an absolute, whether from a feminist or non-feminist perspective.

18. What has been the response of feminist critics to this book?

I think there has been a great deal of knee jerk reactions. But once they get over it, and read the book, they get it.

19. What is your response to those who might call you a rogue?
Au, I, am a rogue. That’s pretty obvious.

20. You speak a lot about the sexual trauma experienced by the women you encountered in Japan early in their lives. You said that you could read the presence of trauma on their faces before speaking to them. Have you ever experienced sexual trauma?

I didn’t interpret it as trauma, but I was sexualized at seven by two teenage girls. I guess the answer to your question is no, Ive never had sexual trauma. I quite liked it at seven.

21. How much do you think the infantile behavior you observed in Japanese culture is a result of efforts to please Western powers? I recall that at one point in Japanese history, women were encouraged to mate with white men in order to create a superior mulatticized race.

Cant speak to ‘mulatticized’ or more appropriately, hybridized phenomenon in historical japan. I didn’t know about that. Will have to research that one. But I don’t think that Japan’s infantile characteristics has anything to do with pleasing the west. It is an integral part of Japanese society and culture since way back.

22. There is a surge in popularity of anime and other Japanese cultural exports in the U.S. Do you think that this in some way speaks to a rise in infantilism in the U.S.? Can you speak on the presence of infantilism in the U.S.?

Oh man, I would love to answer that question, but it would take several pages. Long story short, having left the West for almost a decade, I was shocked by America’s wide spread, (or the west’s widespread) embrace of Japanese childishness. I didn’t see it coming. But I have a whole dissertation to write about that.

23. I found your discussion of infantilism in the Japanese military and the Japanese police to be quite intriguing. Do you think that this is the result of the demands that Japan demilitarize after World War II?

As Ive stated previously, infantilism and puerility are entrenched in Japanese society. I don’t think it has anything to do with a demilitarized japan. I will do some research on that in my Japanese studies program.

24. You give testimony to the prevalence of depression in Japanese society. You also recall your own battles with depression. What would you say were the sources of your depression?

I was born and raised in a prison like Christian cult, in a very ugly ghetto in Kingston Jamaica.

25. How long have you been in therapy?

I sought psychotherapy from 23 years old to 36 years old, which is when I moved to Japan. I would’ve loved to continue in Japan, but psychology is in the embryonic stages in Japan.

26. Did you ever seek help for your sex addiction? Moving back to Jamaica-and especially while constantly engaging in masturbation to photos sent to you by your girlfriends doesn’t seem to be an effective cure.

I went to some 12 step meetings but was laughed at. Everyone else was addicted to alcohol, and cocaine, etc. And they all thought that sex addiction was a good addiction to have. I went to Jamaica for 6 months for detox. I wasn’t cured as yet then.

27. So how can you say that you are cured now, as you claim in the book? There are sex rehab centers, such as the one Tiger Woods is in now. Do you think you might still need treatment for your addiction?

I don't need any treatment. My libido has gone way down and its quite welcomed. In a year and a half of marriage, though my wife permits it, I have had an extramarital sexual encounter once. And yes, my wife knows about it. As I wrote in my book, living in japan where sex is ubiquitously available, I overdid it and it became cloying. Like the sweetened condensed milk analogy,that was exactly what a needed: to go buck wild and get it out of my system. Now it's like, been there done that, and I can focus on other things. As I've said, had I not been cured, I wouldn't have been able to write almost everyday, for up to seventeen hours a day for a year and ten months.

28. Do you see your previous lifestyle as being in any way misogynistic or at least phallocentric?

Phallocentric maybe, but by no means misogynistic. I taught many women many things and most are glad they met me. I'm still in contact with most. We are still friends and they thank me regularly.

29. I sense a lot of hostility towards Japanese society in this book. Is your yellow fever still there?

Yes, I still have a preference for yellow. Any westerner living in Japan will have a love hate relationship with the country. That being said, Japan is my home and I am terribly homesick after being in the US for a year and a half. But I return home this year.

30. In discussing your upbringing, Blacks and the African Diaspora, you define Jamaica as a “failed state.” What would you define as a successful one?

I described Jamaica as a near failed state. Haiti is a failed state, even before the earthquake. A successful state? In the Caribbean? Barbados.

31. How has life been since your time in Japan?

Oh man, heavenly, peaceful and drama free. I love living in Japan. I get pissed off with their problems sometimes, but I can always leave and take a breaks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

RIP Howard Zinn

The world has just experienced a phenomenal loss. Alice Walker has lost her teacher.

Carried Over, Poetry Quarterly

Everyone should check out this first edition of Poetry Quarterly, Carried Over, which features my poem "Standing on a Street Corner."