Japanese gay men’s experiences of gender

Negotiating the hetero system

Authored by: Thomas Baudinette

The Routledge Companion to Gender and Japanese Culture

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138895201
eBook ISBN: 9781315179582
Adobe ISBN:


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Throughout much of Japanese history, negotiating expectations concerning gender has been central to Japanese gay men’s experiences. Within this chapter, I review scholarly and activist literature as well as drawing upon an ethnography of the Japanese gay male culture to explore how Japanese gay men negotiate heteronormative expectations concerning the nature of masculinity. First, I review the theoretical work of gay activist Fushimi Noriaki, who argues that societal pressures lead Japanese gay men to situate themselves within a “hetero system” of “gender/sexual duality” that posits same-sex-desiring men possess the same “sex/gender” as heterosexual women. Second, I explore representations of cross-dressing comedians known as onē within Japanese media and discuss how controversies over this mainstream image strongly influence how gay men understand their gendered identities in Japan, providing a practical example of how Japanese gay men navigate the “hetero system.” Third, I demonstrate through ethnographically informed analyses of gay media that the Japanese gay culture privileges strongly heteronormative depictions of masculinity as normatively desirable, exploring how the “hetero system” contours representations of gender within gay sub-cultural spaces. Overall, through a discussion of the “hetero system,” the chapter introduces key theories related to the study of Japan’s gay male culture.

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