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Content notes: rape, castration, awful disability fail.

A Dark Half-Tone: Androgyny in a Different Form

Whether this is a temporary phenomenon or an eternal one, the fundamental thing that crosses one's mind when men think of wanting to become women is the template of Bishounen Boy, of beauty and passivity. If you think of the desire for beauty as the desire "to be seen," you have to say that the nucleus at the center is the acquisition of passivity. Particularly, the greatest pleasure in sex is an ecstasy that's on the verge of agony. The significance of passivity in sex is the idea that one can obtain the greatest pleasure in exchange for the violation and exploitation of one's ego. As a character says in Miyanishi Keizou's "The room of the rose, the bed of the lily," "You think that just by having anal sex, your body can turn inside out and you can become a woman." In most cases, for men, the thought of being passive brings up emotions of fear and corruption at the same time.

A good example of this is "Flowers of Evil," script by Okazaki Hideo, drawn by Kamimura Kazuo. In this story, the main character bizarrely murders a huge number of beautiful women, using a flower arranging school as a front. There is a scene where he comes to torture the fiancé of the ideal woman he's kidnapped to make his wife. Out of all the possible cruelties that might go through your head, the one he chooses is forced cross-dressing. As the man forces the desperately resisting man to dress from underwear up in women's clothes and apply makeup, he says: (partially redacted)

"Oh, you look so upset. Let's try this... think back to when you were a child. Yes. Remember standing in front of your mother's mirror. Your mother's mirror was in the corner of her room... and it always gave the room a soft, pleasant smell. There were lots of little drawers that seemed like magic boxes. Little gold things whose uses you didn't know... black hairpins, shiny well-oiled black combs, the smells of face powder and lipstick... didn't you stand entranced in front of your mother's mirror?"

In the end, the grieving fiancé cracks when he fixes his eyes on himself dressed as a woman. He's unable to bear up under the stress, and commits suicide.

It may be that everyone has these memories of being enchanted by a mother's mirror and face powder. But this is something a man absolutely cannot admit, even to the point of death. All right, this may be hyperbole, but still, men won't admit in themselves or even in others the desire to cross-dress, and therefore, people who demonstrate it have to be shunned and treated as Other. This concept is often seen in men's magazines, and dark treatments of it are particularly common.

For example, there's Caribu Marley and Kawaguchi Kaiji's "Dark Half-Tone" ("Hard and Lose," vol. 19). A wife asks a private eye to investigate her husband's infidelity, but his investigation turns up nothing. When he goes to see his client again, the person who gets out of the car is female on one side of hir face and male on the other side. There never was any husband or any infidelity; the client wanted to see if he could deceive the private eye by making him think he was a woman. The man goes home happy that he was able to deceive the private eye. The detective thinks – in this world, people do all kinds of things to bridge the half-tones that separate them from other people, by becoming artists or sailors or TV personalities, but this man's case is just too dark.

I think about how this would be played in a shoujo manga. It would probably have a comedic touch to it, but why would it have to be treated seriously? But this is going to be the reaction of the typical man. The writer predicted that a man would feel discomfort, irritation, an aftertaste of awkwardness. And because those reactions are just taken at face value in the manga, I think the writers probably wrote it in anticipation of those reactions.

There's also Hasegawa Housei's "Who Is the Darkness For?" (included in "A Wet Parting"), where the transwoman protagonist's pet, a hybrid of a cheetah and a black panther, is called Hetero. It's a bit much, as a way of saying "Remember what you've given up."

Why are men so eager to establish themselves as being on the side of "normalcy"? What is it that disturbs them so much about cross-dressing and transexuality?

Certainly, what's behind it is a fear of castration, and there are also manga where a male character is forcibly castrated and made to become a woman. In Tomita Ken's "An Optimist's Recovery and Reincarnation," (Garo, 1974) the protagonist wakes up to have his wife tell him that his genitals have been cut off because of an illness, and in "The Eldest Son's Age," script by Koike Kazuo, illustrated by Kawasaki Noboru, the protagonist breaks up with a gang girl and she castrates him in retaliation. These examples are enough to give you some idea of the fear involved. Even if you don't go so far as castration, there are also examples where a young man is feminized as a result of rape (for example, Kamimura Kazuo's "Playboy Blues.") Thus, "becoming a woman" is identified with being forced into a passive position, and it's closely connected with defeat and humiliation.

Reading men's comics, you get a close sense of defeat connected with gay bars and male prostitution. Kamimura Kazuo has written about any number of gender-bending characters, including gay men and cross-dressers, among them an impressive work called "Dougenzaka Story." At the beginning of the story, you see a woman riding in a taxi, and from the words she mutters to herself, she's just been to her younger sister's funeral. You flash back to a woman being hurt protecting her younger brother from being hit by a car, and then a scene of being raped by an American soldier in exchange for money while the woman, now disabled, watches through the window. The reader understands that the woman at the beginning of the story is actually the younger brother – their roles switched while the younger brother was selling his body to American soldiers.

"Be a woman in my place. I may not be able to be a happy woman, but you can be a happy woman for me! Be the woman I should have been! I'll be Shinichi, you'll be Etsuko!"
Tears come to the woman's eyes as she cuts her hair short like a man, and applies lipstick to her brother's lips.
In Kamimura's autobiography, "The Plains of Kanto," he nonchalantly depicts a scene of a circus girl being penetrated from behind by an American soldier before the show starts, and depicts his childhood friend, a cross-dresser named Ginko, going up to Tokyo to apprentice at a gay bar. The madam he approaches, surprised that it's his first time, says, "They say that men like us have been coming out all over since we lost the war – I guess it's true." And she herself chose this career path after being raped by an officer during the war. In "Demimonde Thoughts" (chapter 6: Crossdressers' School), by Nami Tarou, illustrations by Yamamatsu Yuukichi, a man who wants to apprentice himself to a crossdresser introduces himself, "I'm one of the cross-dressers whose number increased when we lost the war in the Pacific." It's based in the idea that there's a close connection between gays and war defeat.

Anyway, Ginko in Kamimura's "The Plains of Kanto" is a standout example even among all the gender-bending characters of comics. "My body is male, but really, I think that I'm a woman. The thing is, I really like secrets … that's right. Every time I get another secret I can't tell to anyone, my heart beats faster..." she says of her sense of self as a woman. She managed to pass as a girl all through elementary school, but in order to save her friend she is forced to make her biological sex public. Afterwards, Ginko shows her friend the bills hidden under the straw mats: "We're going to die in our thirties. So... I don't want to waste my last years."

Ginko certainly isn't effeminate. She's highly empathetic toward other people, with a zest for life and a defiant strength. But to live her own life she has no choice but to enter the underworld, and when she learns from an older gay man how to sell her body to get by, she feels helpless. Kamimura often writes about women (by which I mean, biological women) in the sex trade, and perhaps from the point of view of mainstream wives and mothers gay men and cross-dressers could be seen as in a similar social situation to prostitutes. Both are seen as the exiles and losers of society.

If this is true, then if men are not forced into it, the men who want to be women are taken as men who want to escape from their responsibilities as men. And even men who are forced into it can feel that way in their own consciousness. That's why cross-dressing is coded as "dark," and comes along with regret, even on the part of the person in question.

For example, take Tatsumi Yoshihiro's "The Woman In the Mirror." This is told as the flashback of a single man. One of the man's classmates is a weak boy who is made fun of for being womanish. One day, the narrator goes to his classmate's house to play, and he sees something he never imagined. When the boy comes home he changes into girls' clothes, puts on a wig and makeup, and whispers to the girl in the mirror, "You're beautiful... I love you." The narrator runs away as if he's seen something terrifying, but the next day, the man says, "When I think on it now... he grew up in a house of just women, but everyone pushed on him his responsibilities as a "man." That must be why he wanted to escape into "womanhood."

Tatsumi's "Hot Chimney" also depicts the struggle that Tommy, a gay man, goes through until he decides to live as a woman. Tommy, too, grew up in a household of women, and felt overburdened by the expectations of manhood placed upon him.

Come to think of it, in "The Eldest Son's Age," which I mentioned earlier, Taki must go out and earn money for his family by working as a prostitute, even after his penis has been cut off. And even when he tells a murderer, "I wouldn't mind being killed, if you were the one that killed me," the murderer refuses to kill him – because he's the eldest son of his family. It's a pretty troublesome story, in the end!

When you look at the men's magazines, you have to think it must be awfully hard for a man to fulfill all the responsibilities of a man, 24 hours a day! You can start to see an anxiety of feeling constantly conscious of one's manhood. It's as if they believe that if they take the tiniest step towards womanhood, their own manhood will be decisively damaged – and on the other hand, want to run away from such an exhausting position. And they can only support that by desperately yelling out, "I am a man!" If that's true – it's natural for them to take a nervous attitude towards anything that would pose a threat to their self-concept, whether that comes from within or from without. Because their existence is fundamentally rooted in current gender roles, no matter how uncomfortable that position may be, they're anxious about any threat to that system. Therefore, even dressing as a woman because you can't bear up under traditional gender roles is fundamentally a reinforcement of those gender roles. Even the idea of a complete hermaphrodite, a perfect man and a perfect woman, as in "Throw Adam and Eve into the Smelting Furnace" (Ran Seika's interpretation on "The Room of the Rose, the Bed of the Lily"), is ultimately just an androgyne burdened with sadness – half a person, who can't ultimately be either one. The "he" of the story keeps being torn in to, terrified by the menace of the "normal." This is the cloud that hangs over all the stories of gender-boundary-crossing in men's magazines.

Meanwhile, shoujo manga, as we have already seen, has presented us with a great variety of new gender images. Even though these were created in a world of half fantasy, those images do have the power to change society. The very fact that shoujo manga has created these new gender images is because women are exploited and placed in subordinate roles in the current gender system, and because of that they don't feel any strong attachment to the current gender systems. But women can change around the elements of gender, creating new images that make them feel comfortable with their identity as women again. In shoujo manga, men and women are positioned on a continuum. So characters who cross gender boundaries aren't ultimately faced with this situation where they "can't be either one." It's just a matter of choosing the place on the continuum where you can feel comfortable.

There are shoujo manga where a character is "unable to be either one," but as far as I know there are only two, and in both cases the character is a man.

The first is Yamagishi Ryoko's "Chimera," where the character is literally a hermaphrodite, with both male and female elements inside a single body. The main character is thought to be a cool and androgynous female sprinter, but actually is a hermaphrodite who is recorded as "male" on her official records. She's also a serial killer who murders weak old people to suck their blood.

The second is Satou Shio's "Looking for Ophelia." Two women who work at a lesbian bar are killed, and the investigation reveals the killer to be a man who disguises himself as a dashing, tall woman. But why is he a dashing woman, but a pathetic-looking man? This raises another problem. It's not only men who cast out men who dare to cross gender boundaries.

(no subject)

17/4/11 16:49 (UTC)
coffeeandink: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] coffeeandink
Yikes. I'm not sure where to begin commenting.


owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)

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