Literature Review Chapter: Japanese Queer

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Japanese Queer

In "Is There a Japanese Gay Identity?" Mark McLelland (2000) examines the depiction of male homosexuality in Japanese popular culture, focusing on modern and postmodern (twentieth and twenty-first century) manifestations. Addressing sexual identities and cultural norms in Japan from an American or Western point-of-view is inherently problematic. The American identity category of gayness is politically different from gayness in Japan. This article distinguishes between Japanese and American/Western concepts of sexuality and sexual orientation. Using the methodology of exploring popular culture in Japan, the author concludes mainly that Japanese homosexuality is featured prominently as erotic entertainment, but that homosexuality is not an identity category or a political issue. As a result, there is a range of homosexual erotic media in Japan without what can be called a "gay community." Westerners, projecting Western ideals of social equality, view the Japanese trend as being politically problematic. McLelland (2000) questions whether it is fruitful to frame Japanese sexual identities as problematic.

The process of forming a distinct personal queer identity, including the joining of queer communities, is referred to as "global queering," (McLelland, 2000, p. 459). Global queering is recognized as a means of political empowerment: a way of encouraging individual self-expression based on sexual desire and orientation. Same-sex desire is expressed socially, and that outward social expression becomes culturally acceptable and normative via the transformation of political and social realities. As a result, persons with same-sex attraction can "come out" as gays and lesbians, and cease living a heterosexual lie. The process of global queering therefore has significant merit, as a way of promoting mental and social health. Whether the merits of global queering transcend culture remain to be seen. Few cultures outside the North American and Western European domain recognize the value of global queering, and view homosexuality and homoeroticism as being purely sexual or erotic in nature, having no valid political or social dimension. This means that homosexuality can be tacitly accepted, but a homosexual personal identity or homosexual community is unheard of or simply not cultivated. Likewise, political issues like gay marriage are non-issues when viewed from a framework of traditional society with heteronormative and patriarchal values such as Japan.

One of the points that McLelland (2000) makes is that homosexuality in Japan is conflated with transgenderism and transexuality (p. 460). Male homosexual characters in Japanese cinema, literature, books, and manga are generally feminized, depicted as cross-dressers in the typical "queen" mode (McLelland, 2000, p. 460). Likewise, lesbians are not just women attracted to women; they are women who want to be, or identify with being, men. Japanese media in all its forms depicts homosexuality and trans-genderism as one and the same phenomenon. McLelland (2000) explores Japanese language and especially its neologisms replete with English loan words to show how gender identity and sexual orientation issues are conflated. Interestingly, there is a high degree of specificity in the representation of different gender and sexual identities in Japanese language. There is, for example, a different word for a person who identifies with being the opposite of their biological sex and who wants the operation (toransusekushuaru) and someone who identifies with being the opposite of their bioloigical sex but who does not want the operation (toransujendaa).

These are direct loan words: the former being "transsexual" and the latter, "transgender." There are, on the contrary, no words that would connote what being gay and lesbian are in the Western sense: that is, people who have same-sex desire from within a stable and biologically-informed gender identity. McLelland (2000) also ties this linguistic dimension of Japanese culture to references to Japanese social commentary related to media depictions of gays and lesbians. Japanese critics claim that the media is too "voyeuristic," and depicts only the most bizarre and extreme forms of sexual expressions and behaviors (p. 462). Depicting the lives of ordinary gays and lesbians would not be entertaining; meaning that homosexuality and transgenderism are viewed generally as being forms of titillation rather than meaningful personal identities and subcultural group identities.

Thus, the problem exists wherein homosexuality is depicted as deviant and extreme. Yet on the other hand, there is a culturally insensitive and equally as problematic perception that "homosexuality" (gay or lesbian) is a monolithic identity construct that can be globalized. The globalization of homosexuality… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Literature Review Chapter:

APA Format

Japanese Queer.  (2013, November 21).  Retrieved July 23, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Japanese Queer."  21 November 2013.  Web.  23 July 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Japanese Queer."  November 21, 2013.  Accessed July 23, 2019.