Organizer: Robert Omar Khan, University of Texas, Austin
Chair: Lynne K. Miyake, Pomona College
Discussant: Janet A. Walker, Rutgers University
Gender crossing is a salient aspect of Japanese culture in many historical periods and one which has attracted considerable critical attention, appearing in works as diverse as the Kojiki, waka poetry, the Tosa Diary, Torikaebaya Monogatari, the Noh, Kabuki and Takarazuka theatres, and contemporary anime. Closer inspection reveals that many instances of gender crossing actually involve more or less stable liminal gender states, whereas others involve alternating between the poles of a male/female binarism, or shuttling along a continuum.
How are these states constituted and what do they signify about the cultural moments from which they emerge historically? Are some tantamount to a Third Gender, or are they more like a composite of gender identity fragments invoked kaleidoscopically as the subject is successively viewed through shifting contextual prisms? What are the range of conceptualizations of liminal gender in genres as different as classical prose fiction and contemporary anime, and what implications do they have for notions of sexuality? And what role might the readers own sex and gender identity play in gendering the players in cultural productions from periods as different as the Heian (8th12th centuries) and Heisei (late 20th-century). This panel will seek to address some or all of these questions with regard to some court narratives of the 10th and 12th centuries, and anime of the 1980s and 90s.
Charms of the Liminally Gendered Supernatural in the Twelfth-Century Court Tale Ariake no Wakare (Partings at Dawn)
Robert Omar Khan, University of Texas, Austin
Several 12th-century cultural productions manifest interest and pleasure in cross-dressing, but the exact nature of this interest and pleasure has remained rather elusive. Interpretations of the lengthy fictional court narrative Torikaebaya (If Only I Could Have Them Trade Places) and the short tale Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Court Lady Who Loved Creepy-Crawlies) have variously interpreted them as humorous, satirical, or subversive, focusing on the shocking, ridiculous, or at least mildly amusing aspects of gender reversalreversal of expectations being a very fundamental and widespread category of humor. However, putting such texts in the context of the most popular court dancers of the 12th century, the Shiraby˘shi (White Rhythm) dancers, women who danced in male warrior garb, suggests that female-to-male cross dressing was capable of interpretations that foregrounded elegance, pathos, and eroticism.
This interpretation of female-to-male dressing seems even more prominent in the late 12th century court tale Ariake no Wakare which limns this voluptuous charm with a mysterious aura of the ambiguously gendered supernatural. Rather than play on the symmetries and reversals of simple gender-crossing, Ariake posits a shifting and elusive gender identity that simultaneously embodies the physical allure and refined sensibility of both male and female idealized court aristocrats. This paper shall examine how this interpretation of ambiguous gender is presented both by remarkable narrative configurations which make creative play with monogatari intertextuality, and by some astonishing remarks from the characters themselves.
The Configuration of Gendered Characters, Narrators, and Readers: The Heian Story
Lynne K. Miyake, Pomona College
The fluidity of gender configuration is a prominent feature of Heian literature, but the question remains as to whether or not gender blending is possible not only within a single body but between two or three figures as well. In Tosa nikki a case can be made to read Ki no Tsurayukis textual surrogate and the woman persona who opens the diary, not as two separate narrators who appear at different moments on the textual stage, but as a continuum composite of both gendered identities sharing the same textual space. As such, if we add the figure of Tsurayuki as author, a possible textual scenario could constitute a male author depicting a (fe)male narrator who in turn depicts a male poet reciting a poem in a voice other than his own. What is created by such a layering of gender identities? Do they simply cancel each other out? Do they conflate and become androgynous? Or do they all occupy the same textual space and maintain their identities, as I would argue?
What happens, too, with the addition of readers? Do they remain outside the text or are they more collaborative, participatory, and performative, as I have suggested elsewhere, and therefore can have their gender identities integrated into the narrative experience? These questions and others still remain to be explored.
Making a Habit of It? Gender Boundary Crossing in Ranma 1/2 and Kuse ni narenai yo
Susan J. Napier, University of Texas, Austin
This paper explores transsexual metamorphosis in two popular Japanese animated television comedies, Ranma 1/2 and Kuse ni narenai yo (Dont Make a Habit of It). Both series feature protagonists who switch between male and female, creating a threatening destabilization of social boundaries. Although structurally similar, however, the two series also contain some intriguing differences. While an important feature of the 1980s Ranma were the psychological travails of its protagonist, the protagonist of Kuse appears comfortable with his repeated metamorphoses. Another important difference is the two series treatments of their respective homoerotic subtexts, an issue that has clearly threatening implications in Ranma, but is treated more lightheartedly in Kuse, seemingly as an element in the contemporary culture of "cuteness" ("kawaii").
This paper will explore the various forms of gender (mis)identifications in each series, examining how these ambivalent and sometimes ambiguous identifications work within each series narrative structure to create a destabilizing comic effect. It will also look at extratextual issues that the two series bring up, particularly the increasing public acceptance of homosexuality within the context of the teen idol and "cute" culture. Finally, the paper will discuss how the medium of animation, with its emphasis on metamorphosis, and narrative fluidity is a particularly apt contemporary vehicle for exploring an age old aspect of Japanese culture.
Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Pop Culture Experiments in Subjectivity
Sharalyn Orbaugh, University of British Columbia
The cyborg is a hybrid creature, by definition an amalgam of the organic and the machinic. As depicted in Japanese animation the cyborg is a hybrid in gender terms as well, as we see in the cyborg combination of Shinji (male) and the Eva-suit (female, though "male" in appearance) in Neon Genesis Evangelion, or the cyborg characters in Ghost in the Shell. Visually these cyborgs are characterized by strong sexual dimorphism, masking at first their true hybrid gender, which the narrative later goes to pains to reveal.
In these imagined universes, where physical appearance or morphology is depicted as in conflict with "essence," how is gender finally marked? How does the viewer "read" cyborg gender? What functions do gender or sex serve, when reproduction is no longer an organic process? And why is this particular problematic of subjectivity raised so often in the popular culture of 1990s Japan?
This presentation will explore these questions in the context of a long tradition of liminal gender depictions in Japanese cultural history, as well as in the contemporary context of transnational cultural capital.