chapter  3
17 Pages

Just Like a Girl: Images of Homosexual Men as Feminine

To a certain extent Japanese popular culture tends to conflate same-sex desire with transgenderism and transsexualism. This is because, as James Valentine has pointed out, in Japan ‘sexuality (unlike gender) is not a major source of identity, and those whose sexual orientation is toward the same sex are identified as differently gendered’ (1997a:97). Hence, the most prevalent images of gender nonconformists, particularly on television, are cross-dressed men. During my fieldwork in Japan I saw numerous television programmes, printed articles and advertisements which focused on transvestism/ transsexualism, usually with humorous intent. In fact, these representations are so frequent that the Japanese media (and by extension, Japanese people) can be said to be fascinated by them. The gay activist and writer, Itō Satoru (1996: 45) refers to a research project conducted by the gay rights organisation OCCUR, which in one week of evening-time viewing found fourteen separate incidents of homosexuality or transsexualism treated as an object of humour or contempt7. I will first describe a few television programmes I myself observed which illustrate this and then discuss some examples from popular print media which also conflate homosexuality and transgenderism with humorous intent. Finally, I will look at how homosexuals who ‘pass’ are treated in the Japanese media, suggesting that when these figures are represented as passing from the outside to the inside of social life, they cease to be funny and are instead regarded as a threat.