I’m currently off traveling around Kansai for Spring Break here in Japan, and I’ll be making lots of posts after I get back this weekend about the places I got to visit, but I thought I’d make a quick post related to a manga I’m rather fond of. As a warning in advance, this post deals with some quite personal stuff.
Hourou Musuko, translated as Transient Son, is a series by Shimura Takako. Yuri fans will know her for being the creator of Aoi Hana which had a fairly recent anime adaption, but she has a really interesting catalogue of manga dealing largely with relationships, but touching on a wide range of themes especially in the LGBT side of things.
Hourou Musuko has gained quite a bit of attention recently after it was licensed in English by Fantagraphics as Wandering Son, and only a few days later an anime adaptation was also announced. With Aoi Hana having gained quite a fan following for it’s more mature and realistic take on lesbian relationships compared to most other yuri manga, Hourou Musuko seems to have piqued the interest of quite a lot of people.
For me, seeing it become more mainstream leaves me both excited and worried, and probably not for the reasons a lot of people might expect. Hourou Musuko is rather unusual in that it deals with characters who are transgendered. I mention it briefly in my about page but I’m actually trans myself so to see a series dealing with trans issues touches quite a personal note for me. It’s sort of interesting to look at trans representation in Japan, because in some ways it’s superior to my own country – the UK – and in others rather inferior. There are certainly a lot more actual trans individuals (especially trans women) to be seen in the media, but at the same time Japan is lacking in terms of things like equality legislation. Certainly with regards to fiction, in Japan you can see a lot more fluidity in mainstream media representations of gender than in the West. Thus, Japan is probably one of the few places where something like Hourou Musuko could see a TV series at this point in time.
To me, Hourou Musuko has a pretty good representation of trans characters – they are realistic characters rather than stereotypical caricatures that are often seen in anime, and a far cry from the way Japanese media can’t seem to differentiate between a gay man, a drag queen and a trans woman (Western media is much the same in this respect). The series deals pretty well with the hardships faced by trans children, whose lives are rather out of their own control, and is certainly miles ahead of any other series I’ve read.
My apprehension has more to do with the way the anime fan community that I interact with will react to the series. I’m not talking so much about outright negativity here, although I’m sure there will be plenty of that too, but rather sheer ignorance. Trans people do not have a good media presence in any culture, and the vast majority of non-trans people have little to no understanding of trans people and how to behave towards them. I don’t mean this as an insult, it’s just an unfortunate effect of the position trans people occupy in most societies. It’s mainly ‘small’ things that most people might consider benign, like using the pronoun a trans person wants you to use instead of the one associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Anime fandom rarely deals with directly trans-related issues so for the most part it rarely makes me feel uncomfortable, but having a series that deals directly with trans characters means that suddenly I’m going to be faced with incorrect pronoun usage, mis-gendering, debates about trans issues (whether transsexuality exists, what gender a trans person is “really” etc.) in the fandom I participate in for fun, and I’m really not looking forward to this. Perhaps being trans myself means I might be able to correct some of the weird ideas people have about trans people, but I’m not a living educational tool and it’s tiring having to fight with people at every step just to be treated like a regular human being (refusing to address somebody by the gender they say there are, using terms like ‘it’ or ‘he-she’ is treating a trans person as though they’re not an equal human being).
This post was probably a little heavy and academic in parts but I wanted to articulate some of my thoughts on the topic, if only to point out that the issues dealt with in Hourou Musuko are also faced by real people, and that there’s more to transgender than just academic theory and comic relief on TV.