Home > Social Issues > Japan and Sexuality

Japan and Sexuality

June 18th, 2008

For a conformist society, Japan can be surprisingly lax about gender roles at times. Yes, there are men traditionally playing women in Kabuki, and there are those popular stage shows where women play men. And some of the manga are pretty flexible with gender, at least in appearances. Generally, homosexuality, bisexuality, and other non-standard gender roles are not really universally accepted here, but neither is there the visceral and even violent reaction that you might see in the U.S. or elsewhere. There seems to be an indifference, a live-and-let-live attitude, even if the let-live part is mostly tolerated if it remains more muted than otherwise.

Tonight, on one of Sachi’s variety shows, they had a story of a boy who identified more with girls since a very early age, and took on the role of female more and more as he grew to maturity. In his college years, he eventually took a leave of absence and underwent a sex change operation overseas. Returning to Japan, she became legally female–something the law has allowed for here since the late 90’s. This story may have come up due to a recent change in that law: previously, one could not change gender if one had children; the revised law allows it if the children are fully grown.

What struck me was how the story was told: very tastefully, fully sympathetically, and with not a small amount of genuine emotion. It was a wonderful piece of television, making you understand this person’s identity, her pain in trying all her life to fit in, and working through the difficulties in dealing with her family as well as society at large. They didn’t handle it clumsily or nervously, there was no poking fun or making jokes; the story was played out with dignity and respect, even tenderly. At the end, the young woman was revealed to be in the audience, and spoke some with the hosts.

And I reflected that I had never seen something like this on American TV–telling the story of a transgender individual with such empathy that the viewer could, if not identify with her, then surely could come to understand and fully accept this person. I especially could not see it hitting national television, as non-fiction, in light of a liberal shift in such laws.

I don’t know, maybe American television has done this and I simply never heard of it, but under today’s political and social conditions in the U.S., I cannot imagine it playing there. But if it did, despite the strong objections of the fundies and the others whose unconditional love is sharply conditional, I think there would be far more sympathy and acceptance of those with a different sexual orientation–and the fact that some of these people are finally enjoying the right to marry would be more of an occasion of joy than one of controversy.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by
  1. Alex Kane
    June 19th, 2008 at 10:13 | #1

    I caught a little bit of that show too. I thought he was really a girl when I first saw him. Looked like he fooled some of the guys at the bar where they were doing the show from at first.

  2. Tim Kane
    June 19th, 2008 at 11:24 | #2

    I vaguely recall, if not sympathetic, decidedly neutral news shows in the 70s.

    I also recall, vaguely, these episodes of Medical Center, circa 1975 – where Robert Reed (the Father on the Brady Bunch) played a person who pursued a sex change operation, in a way that was, at least for the time, sympathetic.


    It lead me to believe that Reed was gay then, because, from my perch in the Midwest and my mind of a very immature 15 year old (meaning I had know understanding of sexuality issues), I figured a straight person wouldn’t have the courage to take such a chance then (that didn’t occur until Tom Hanks of Bosom Buddies fame braved it in “Philadelpia”. Whereas a gay person might, in order to advance acceptance of non-straight persons in society. Reed later died of AIDS and it became common knowledge that he was gay, to the surprise of many, but not me.

    The show obviously tried to put a sympathetic spin on it as I recall. Reed played an accomplished doctor – arguably the most respected and highest social status that one can achieve in American society, not a social misfit or degenerate etc…

    That was the America of the 1970s. Something like that could happen now, but in a movie not on TV (see Tom Hanks in Philadelpia) or it would get blasted by some right wing group funded by the Neocons (see Janet Jackson on an NFL halftime show – an numerous other cases).

    Of personal note, I was 15, probably just past puberty, trying to fit into society, and at the time I remember finding the show offensive to the point that I had a difficult time watching it. In fact, I don’t think I saw it through, but I recall seeing bits and pieces of both episodes. And back then, it was before widespread use of remotes, and having no favorite shows, I didn’t watch much TV. I’m not sure I could watch it now (or any Medical Center show, I have higher expectations from entertainment now) but it would be for different reasons. I am much more sympathetic now. That didn’t come fast or easy. I used to be a Republican, you know.

Comments are closed.