Okama, gay boys, blue boys, anime ‘boys’: transgenderism and homosexuality in Japan

Fire Emblem/ Nathan Seymour in his Hero suit

The past week (12-19 November) was Transgender Awareness Week, so I thought of bringing up some thoughts I had concerning how gender dysphoria and transgenderism seem to be often confused with homosexuality in Japan, especially in the media. Also, digging up internetic files can shed light to the aforementioned phenomenon, and I’m here to share the information with you.

Since Tiger & Bunny is a fresh ‘hit’ and its audience wasn’t primarily children, Fire Emblem can be used as a good example of what I’m going to make a point of. 

During the run of the series, there were scenes where Fire Emblem or Nathan Seymour was obvious that saw zir person as a woman. When sent on a mission with Dragon Kid and Blue Rose, Fire Emblem definitely saw zirself as part of the girls’ group and nagged at the insensitive comment Blue Rose made.

Episode 13:
Fire Emblem: Let’s show them some girl power!
Blue Rose: Girl? One of us doesn’t quite fit that description.
Fire Emblem: What? You’re saying I’m not one of the girls?

In his everyday life, Nathan is totally ‘fabulous’, dressed in pink from top to bottop: hair, lips, nails, the jacket’s sleeves, the feathery scarf and the boots. Nathan also moves in a pretty feminine way and most of the time ze uses a thin voice. We could easily assume Nathan is a transgender.

And yet his hero suite emphasizes zir maleness. It’s not just how tight it is and how the body curves and lines are all well-described. It’s also the fact that the crotch area is differently colored. This contradicts zir words; why would a person identifying as female would want to underline the bulk between zir thighs?

Some might remember the discussions about Batman & Robin’s 1997 film where the male superheroes wore similar ‘provocative’ attires and how the rubber nipples and the crotch enhancer were interpreted as catering to a gay audience. And that isn’t a baseless hypothesis, if we take into account that there are people in the gay community that obsess over toned bodies and this is reflected in many gay porn out there as well.

What is my point? The creators mingle traits of a transgender person with traits of a gay person in Fire Emblem’s persona. They don’t realize this and in order to cover their sloppy work on this character they state in interviews that Nathan thinks of himself as gender-free.

I think they were trying to get across how he’s actually quite smart and possesses the most emotional intelligence of the team, but they still keep going back to stereotypes such as the whole okama, even playful sexual harassment stuff. – @tsuntsun

Although the word ‘okama’ isn’t mentioned as far as I remember -please correct me, if it does- this is certainly the word that describes zir and zir situation.

“Okama” (or “o-kama”) is Japanese slang for “gay man”, particularly in reference to very effeminate gays. The word can also mean “drag queen.” It comes from the Edo-period slang for “anus” (using the word “kettle” for the butt seems to be an idea borrowed from the Portuguese.) It is not always considered insulting, and drag performers will sometimes even use it in reference to themselves. – from urban dictionary

The fact that this term has such double meaning and is still used widely by the masses or in mainstream lines and by non-lgbtq people, while other more ‘clear’ words exist (like gai and newhalf), shows that Japanese even to this day confuse sexual orientation with gender identity. The fact that someone is attracted sexually towards a person of the same gender/sex and the fact that someone sees him/herself as the opposite gender are two seperate things that don’t need to exist in the same person and in no case is the one the cause for the other.

A gay bar from Shinya Shokudo (a j-drama) run by Kosuzu, who wears ladies’ earrings and acts quite effeminately.

What is intriguing though, is that this confusion isn’t solely based on ignorance. There is some history behind this and western audiences are unaware of it. While researching for this post, I came to know that after 1960’s two types of gay bars became distinctively obvious:

originally the patrons who loved gay bars were male. There are two types of gay bars; they are divided into bars where patrons with a taste for homosexuality come to find a partner for the night and bars where patrons gather to drink in a different atmosphere. The gay boys in bars where homosexual patrons come do not wear heavy make-up and leave the bars to go and stay in a hotel even during opening hours, whereas the boys in most other gay bars aim only to amuse the patrons by wearing make up and behaving in a feminine manner.

In the same decade, sex change started becoming more well-known, attracted public curiosity and cross-dressers, called ‘blue boys’ gained popularity. “However, in magazine articles of the 1960s, only gay boys with very feminine features appeared. As a result of this representation penetrating society, gay boys and blue boys came to be understood primarily as feminised men.” A misrepresentation which had its roots back in the first ‘hentai’ magazines about deviant sexualities, where dichotomies reigned and fetishes got mixed with sexualities and certain traits.

During the 1970’s the first Barazoku magazines appeared and those featured much more masculine gay men. Discussions and interviews with transgender people showed also that FtM individuals though baffled themselves about their sexuality and gender identity, at the beginning of 1980’s started perceiving themselves clearer and talked about contrast in ‘bodily sex’ and ‘sex of the heart’. In the early 1990’s in the context of human rights’ campaigns and activism Japanese adopted the english terminology of lgbtq matters and queer studies, and therefore one could say that things and notions progressed.

Yet, if this was the whole story, the question arises: why do we still encounter such entangled misrepresentations of gay and transgender people?  My humble guess is that
a) the clashing discources of Japanese transgender and gay individuals alongside with
b) the selected focus of the media and
c) the probable alienation of the public from the sexual minority terms caused by their academization
contributed to the problem at hand.

…………………………………………….
Notes:

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10 thoughts on “Okama, gay boys, blue boys, anime ‘boys’: transgenderism and homosexuality in Japan

  1. Yeah, I skipped Dragon Kid's line because I didn't want to touch on how sexist the series was at times. That was another thing I was disappointed in during the series, but I didn't think I could elaborate more and say things others haven't said already.

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  2. Fire Emblem: Let's show them some girl power!Blue Rose: Girl? One of us doesn't quite fit that description.Fire Emblem: What? You're saying I'm not one of the girls?The funny thing is, Dragon Kid is the one that apologized and said "Sorry Is that because I'm a tomboy?"

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  3. Racial profiling is a bad thing ofc, as is decrimination based on gender and any other fixed trait. But do you understand my thoughts? By seeking an utopia, you might end up with a dystopia like in PSYCHOPASS, so I'm being cautious with radicalism. You might say that it's impossible to predict the future, yet unless I have a logical and perhaps tested alternative, I'd better not procede. Many revolutions and radical movements have failed due to lack of plan afterwards.Also, I don't think you can deny that assumptions may lead you to both wrong perceptions and save you from certain situations. It's a double edged knife. And well, we do have a body, thus an image, which is the first thing other people see, and judging on actions or trying to read intentions is extremely hard in many cases. Yes, judgement should be based in all of them; is it always possible though? And we are falling back to a deontological territory…I've heard about 'they'. To tell the truth, I don't like it much :/ It's unoriginal, based on something that exists and has already a set notion. It'd be weird to refer to a single person with a pronoun in plural. Probably I shouldn't judge though, since it's an identity matter thus a very personal and sensitive one.

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  4. Not trying to put words in your mouth^^ Speaking for society at large.Hmmm. I have to disagree. Assumptions based on outer appearances IS a problem. One should judge another by actions and behavior. Isn't racial profiling, since you brought up the police, a bad thing?There have been talk of using they as a singular gender netural pronoun in addition to he and she.I guess my point is that the existence of gender in words is a rather outdated and conservative notion that MAY affect/shape society's concepts of gender and sexuality even on a subconscious level. The Roman empire is no more. We don't have to follow their language conventions.I may be too radical.

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  5. I must make clear that I'm not saying that pink is a color belonging only to women. But do take in account that many transgender people in order to feel closer to their mind's gender, they adopt signifiers of that gender. And pink is certainly one of them for many MtF.Assumptions based on outer appearance are a problem… and not a problem. Even if the world is complex, people can't take in all of its complexity, and try to simplify things. Femmes and masculine gays often face a problem in finding a partner, especially in non-lgbtq spaces, since they mingle with the crowd and what's considered heterosexual, suffering from invisibility. Not all people have a gaydar and in order to make a move they kind of need a sign. Even if we go beyond the lgbtq, it would be quite troublesome on its own not to be able to make assumptions; take the example of a police investigation. What kind of hints could they use to decrease their suspects, if they only had certain material belongings of the murderer, but these were used by all genders? I'm not saying things should be one way or the other; I just pose questions to think about…Language is a tool of communication and the first big social contract. Of course it reflects any aspect of a society/people that uses it. Like in the clothes' case, you can't impose a rule about what to use, unless you don't have any inhibition on stampeding on individual freedom… it's very hard to propose things and these suggestions will come from the community who is mostly concerned about this topic. And yet, a third neutral pronoun shouldn't eliminate the other two- I think. My language (Greek) is highly gendered and trying to eliminate all the references to gender would cause quite a chaos…These are just my 2 pennies.

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  6. Well, the fact that society still make assumptions on one's gender/sexuality based on the colors of one's attire suggests a deeper problem.In fact, one can arguably trace the root back to language. The existence of gender in words is rather telling as well as the lack of words for those non heteronormative. For instance, the lack of a pronoun that doesn't cater to the gender binary.

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  7. Yeah, indeed! It didn't occur to me; it's clever. Still it doesn't make the way his character was crafted less sloppy :/Credit should be given where it should. Thanks for commenting!

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