Mar 13 17 2:33 AM

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Take a look a this fascinating article from the New York Times about gender variance in Japan before the Westernization.

Again we see how our concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are not obvious or given, and that they may vary from culture to culture and from epoch to epoch. 

That does not necessarily mean that gender identities are "socially constructed", but it does mean that gender variation is filtered through the language and mores of the local culture.

A figure in a translucent kimono coyly holds a fan. Another arranges an iris in a vase. Are they men or women?

As a mind-bending exhibition that opened Friday at the Japan Society illustrates, they are what scholars call a third gender — adolescent males seen as the height of beauty in early modern Japan who were sexually available to both men and women. Known as wakashu, they are one of several examples in the show that reveal how elastic the ideas of gender were before Japan adopted Western sexual mores in the late 1800s.

  The show, “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints,” arrives at a time of ferment about gender roles in the United States and abroad. Bathroom rights for transgender people have become a cultural flash point. The notion of “gender fluidity” — that it’s not necessary to identify as either male or female, that gender can be expressed as a continuum — is roiling traditional definitions.


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#1 [url]

Mar 19 17 9:41 AM

(I'm going to see it.  The Japan Society is just several streets up from the Morgan Museum & Library, which is currently displaying objects from Sweden's Nationalmuseum [yes, spelled together].  Free admission on Friday evenings, folks!  Imma have to run from street to street!)

I learned from a documentary by the author of Memoirs of a Geisha, that geishas were originally men.  I think they were probably these young feminine men or third sexers.  Geishas, were not to be confused with prostitutes. Prostitutes had a lower status than geishas and were only used for sex. Geishas spent years learning the performing arts, so they were either aristocractic people themselves or they had patrons who paid for their arts lessons.  But life is life.  It's about money again.  If geishas received a good offer for sex ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$), well, who'd stop to think about singing and dancing anymore?  So, the line between prostitutes (who were mostly poor uneducated women) and geishas became a blurred one.    

I think this was also the situation with street performers, Gypsies, courtesans, and actors & actresses in Europe down until, perhaps, just 50-70 years ago. Actors have traditionally had the same status as sex workers.  Actors had to be buried with the same; they couldn't share the same grave with "decent" people. And yes, there were plenty of feminine men in the mix.  Look at Broadway, folks!  This is probably the origin of why feminine men were stigmatized for low culture/sub-culture.

Last Edited By: lal2828 Mar 20 17 4:33 AM. Edited 2 times.

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#2 [url]

Mar 20 17 2:26 AM

I am told that the geishas are known by their wigs; the prostitutes and geishas in training are not allowed to wear wigs.

I had no idea that the geishas were originally men, however. That is amazing!

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#3 [url]

May 14 17 6:52 PM

OK.  Got a chance to visit the place exactly a month ago.  

(The finger in the pics is mine.)


I think the "third gender" men are here in the mix with females.  I can't tell them apart.  

Yeah, feminine men.  (Above)

(Below) This is one depiction of a known FTM crossdreamer. Why am I not surprised she's in the military?   

Last Edited By: lal2828 May 14 17 6:56 PM. Edited 1 time.

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#4 [url]

May 14 17 11:12 PM

Thank you so much for sharing this!

This may explain why the Japanese, in private, are more open to gender variation than Westerners. I visited some comic stores in Japan once. One of them had three stories full of very explicit adult yaoi comices (for women and FTM crossdreamers). There they were, young women browsing the shelves for entertainment! There is a similar subculture for MTF comics.

JustEva told me that in public contemporary Japanese have adopted the Western contempt of gender variance, as they risk losing face. In their own homes, however, they are not so uptight.

I noted that it could be hard for you to find out who of the people depicted were biological males or biological females. That got me thinking: Maybe researchers and historians have interpreted history wrong as regards other cultures as well. They see what they want to see.

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