Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why are there so many trannies on Japanese TV?

Japanese beauty: vagina not necessary

Talks shows. Game shows. Commercials. The Japanese queens, 'okama' are there in strength. Miwa Akihiro. Maeda Ken. Ikko. Haruna Ai. Ayana Tsubaki. Kaba-chan. Can't ignore them. Once you find out they're men, that is.

Some of them are hot. It's a bit disconcerting when you find out for the first time, when your girlfriend informs you.

Then you notice that the okama are excessively feminine, exaggeratedly, absurdly, comedically feminine. They're there to be laughed at, with the possible exception of the old battleaxe Miwa-san. Their value on TV is to provide variety, be laughed at, to amuse.

But what's going on here? Do Japanese people really believe all gays are trannies? Well, I think many do. In Japan, being gay is not about same-sex desire. It's about gender orientation, about being as ridiculously feminine as possible: same-sex desire is about crossdressing. The idea that same-sex attraction involves some kind of transgenderism or desire to be like the opposite sex is constantly reinforced in the media. To be gay is to be a queen. There are no straight-acting gay men.

But of course there are. They're ubiquitous. A casual aquaintance with Japanese night life will gain the average western man more 'Hershey Highway' invitations than an evening in an Oxford Street steam club.

Or hang on...maybe that's just me.

Anyway, gay sex is widely and easily available, and I personally think it is only a small exaggeration to say that Japanese men are constantly shagging each other. Japan is steeped in gayness.

Only it's hidden. Most of the men are married. And most, I suspect, would deny that they are gay. After all, to be gay is to be a cross-dresser. What these guys do is just sex. And as long as it is hidden, it is not frowned upon. Nobody minds. Kind of like sex in general in Japan. As long as sexual practices do not threaten the legitimacy of marriage and household, they are accommodated by Japanese society.

Which is a good thing. Sexuality is not the political battleground it is in the West. Homosexuality doesn't carry the baggage it does back home. There is little discrimination, and the kind of open hatred that you might come across in some Christian or Muslim communities is just completely absent here. There are no 'God Hates Fags' groups in Japan.

That's not to say the portrayal of all gay men as screaming queens is not troubling. The visibility of these men has not created the space for individuals to 'come out' in actual life- the development of a personal identity for gay men who express 'normal' gender identities is problematic. This, of course, contributes to the hidden nature of the phonomenon. But Japanese culture is not confrontational, and many gay men in Japan feel little need to 'assert' their rights. As one gay man said, "For me in Tokyo, subscribing to the concept of 'gay rights' is like carrying around someone else's baggage."

But the real question remains unanswered:

Why are there so many goddamn queens on Japanese TV?

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