Monday, July 15, 2013

Gender bending in Japan | The Japan Times

Gender bending in Japan | The Japan Times

Here's an article exploring different aspects of gender and post-gender thought as reflected in Japanese society.  You should read if you have enough time to devote to it.  You'll find yourself doing Google searches.  I feel gender to be more of a spectrum than a single color defining a person, but if someone wishes to paint themselves a certain color, then I'm not going to judge.  As a friend of mine once said, "If that's who you feel you are, then that's who you are."  Who am I to question someone's identity-- unless it's in the interest of some kind of identity guessing game board game?

When I first came to Japan I worked for one of those big conversation schools, one of the ones that went bankrupt.  One of our students was a transgender teen.  She came to her lessons long black hair, her face heavily made up, with fishnet sleeves and sometimes too much perfume.  Some of the other students were curious about her.

"I want her in one of my classes," one girl told me.  Too bad they were in different levels.  I never taught her, but I'd pass her in the waiting area as I went back or forth between the classroom cubicles and the teacher's room.

One day she became a topic of conversation among us teachers.  A teacher doing a help shift who had her in his class wanted to discuss her and when he did, he used the pronoun "it," and I will never forget the immediate response from the head teacher.

"You will refer to her as 'she' or 'her,'" he said in a very mild yet firm way.  "You will never refer to her as 'it.'"

Some of the rest of us agreed with his point.  End of discussion.

I always thought of that particular head teacher as classy.  After all, he was always immaculately dressed and had one of the most cultured-sounding accents I've ever encountered.  He had a very calming presence.  He just seemed to exude erudition and culture even while drinking beer in an izakaya with his coworkers.

Despite our differences, at this moment, I came to respect him not just for what he said, but the very definitive way in which he said it.  He wasn't being showy, but from his tone of voice, this was not to be questioned or discussed.  The offending teacher got the message and if he ever used that pronoun again, he was careful not to it in the presence of that head teacher, nor in mine.

Over the years, this topic has come up from time to time in my classes.  It's something we have to deal with in the language business.  The language of gender and identity can be very complex.  My short answer to the question, "How do I refer to a transgender person?" is "However that person identifies.  Some people prefer you use gendered pronouns, some prefer you use some of the newer, non-gendered pronouns.  It really depends on the person."

Anyway, as the article points out, different permutations of gender and cross-gender exploration abound here in Japan.  Especially if you're into pop culture here.  There are all kinds of gender-bending stories in manga and anime, some of which are mainstream and some of which are more pornographic.  And not just in illustrative form.  Photographic and video as well.  f you visit the J-List site, you will no doubt come away with the feeling this theme is a particular favorite among consumers of certain media.  A few years ago when I had summer vacation, a 1990s-era TV drama came on one channel one sunny afternoon and I watched it almost in its entirety, the story of two high schoolers-- a boy and a girl-- who switch bodies.

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