Tag Archives: History

Japan’s gender-bending history

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Genking, a male-born Japanese TV personality and ‘genderless’ pioneer.
_genking_/Instagram

Jennifer Robertson, University of Michigan

I’m an anthropologist who grew up in Japan and has lived there, off and on, for 22 years. Yet every visit to Tokyo’s Harajuku District still surprises me. In the eye-catching styles modeled by fashion-conscious young adults, there’s a kind of street theater, with crowded alleyways serving as catwalks for teenagers peacocking colorful, inventive outfits.

Boutiques are filled with cosmetics and beauty products intended for both males and females, and it’s often difficult to discern the gender of passersby. Since a gendered appearance (“feminine” or “masculine”) often (but not always) denotes the sex of a person, Japan’s recent “genderless” fashion styles might confuse some visitors – was that person who just walked by a woman or a man?

Although the gender-bending look appeals equally to young Japanese women and men, the media have tended to focus on the young men who wear makeup, color and coif their hair and model androgynous outfits. In interviews, these genderless males insist that they are neither trying to pass as women nor are they (necessarily) gay.

Some who document today’s genderless look in Japan tend to treat it as if it were a contemporary phenomenon. However, they conveniently ignore the long history in Japan of blurred sexualities and gender-bending practices.

Sex without sexuality

In premodern Japan, aristocrats often pursued male and female lovers; their sexual trysts were the stuff of classical literature. To them, the biological sex of their pursuits was often less important than the objective: transcendent beauty. And while many samurai and shoguns had a primary wife for the purposes of procreation and political alliances, they enjoyed numerous liaisons with younger male lovers.

Only after the formation of a modern army in the late-19th century were the sort of same-sex acts central to the samurai ethos discouraged. For a decade, from 1872 to 1882, sodomy among men was even criminalized. However, since then, there have been no laws in Japan banning homosexual relations.

It’s important to note that, until very recently, sexual acts in Japan were not linked to sexual identity. In other words, men who had sex with men and women who had sex with women did not consider themselves gay or lesbian. Sexual orientation was neither political nor politicized in Japan until recently, when a gay identity emerged in the context of HIV/AIDS activism in the 1990s. Today, there are annual gay pride parades in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

In Japan, same-sex relations among children and adolescents have long been thought of as a normal phase of development, even today. From a cultural standpoint, it’s frowned upon only when it interferes with marriage and preserving a family’s lineage. For this reason, many people will have same-sex relationships while they’re young, then get married and have kids. And some even later resume having same-sex relationships after fulfilling these social obligations.

Contentious cross-dressing

Like same-sex relationships, cross-dressing has a long history in Japan. The earliest written records date to the eighth century and include stories about women who dressed as warriors. In premodern Japan, there were also cases of women passing as men either to reject the prescribed confines of femininity or to find employment in trades dominated by men.

‘Modern girls’ (‘moga’) stroll along the Ginza, Japan’s Fifth Avenue, in 1928.
Wikimedia Commons

A century ago, “modern girls” (moga) were young women who sported short hair and trousers. They attracted media attention – mostly negative – although artists depicted them as fashion icons. Some hecklers called them “garçons” (garuson), an insult implying unfeminine and unattractive.

Gender, at that time, was thought of in zero-sum terms: If females were becoming more masculine, it meant that males were becoming feminized.

These concerns made their way into the theater. For example, the all-female Takarazuka Revue was an avant-garde theater founded in 1913 (and is still very popular today). Females play the parts of men, which, in the early 20th century, sparked heated debates (that continue today) about “masculinized” women on stage – and how this might influence women off the stage.

However, today’s genderless males aren’t simply weekend cross-dressers. Instead, they want to shatter the existing norms that say men must dress and present themselves a certain way.

They ask: Why should only girls and women be able to wear skirts and dresses? Why should only women be able to wear lipstick and eye shadow? If women can wear pants, why shouldn’t men be able to wear skirts?

Actually, the adjective “genderless” is misleading, since these young men aren’t genderless at all; rather, they’re claiming both femininity and masculinity as styles they wear in their daily lives.

In this regard, these so-called genderless men have historical counterparts: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cosmopolitan “high collar” men (haikara) wore facial powder and carried scented handkerchiefs, paying meticulous attention to their Westernized appearances. One critic – invoking the zero-sum gender attitudes of the era – complained that “some men toil over their makeup more than women.” Conservative pundits derided the haikara as “effeminate” by virtue of their “un-Japanese” style.

On the other end of the masculinity spectrum were the nationalistic “primitive” men (bankara) who wore wooden clogs (geta) to complement their military-style school uniforms. Ironically, like their samurai predecessors – and unlike the foppish haikara – the macho bankara would engage in same-sex acts.

Japan’s ‘beautiful youths’

Probably the biggest contemporary inspiration for today’s genderless males are a spate of popular androgynous boy bands. Cultivated and promoted by Johnny & Associates Entertainment Company, Japan’s largest male talent agency, they include boy bands like SMAP, Johnny’s West and Sexy Zone.

Johnny’s West performs their song ‘Summer Dreamer.’

There’s a term for the type of teenage boy that Johnny & Associates cultivates: “beautiful youths” (bishōnen), which was coined a century ago to describe a young man whose ambiguous gender and sexual orientation appealed to females and males of all ages.

Similarly, Visual Kei is a 1980s glam-rock and punk music genre that features bishōnen performers who don flamboyant, gender-bending costumes and hairdos. In its new, 21st-century incarnation as Neo-Visual Kei, the emphasis on androgyny is even more pronounced, as epitomized by the prolific career of the androgynous Neo-Visual Kei pop star Gackt, who enjoys an international fan following.

The ConversationSince the word “genderless” is misleading, a better term might be “gender-more,” in the sense that young men – especially in Tokyo – are insisting on the right to present and express themselves in ways that contradict and exceed traditional masculinity. In the long span of Japanese cultural history, there have been many things that were – and are – new under the sun. But genderless males aren’t among them.

Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and Art History, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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These photos of upper-class black Victorians show history isn’t just white

Image from the Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress
Image from the Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress

For all of those who think that black people, and non-white people in general, were doing nothing in the past except being poor servants or street beggars, this post is for you. You are the prime people who need to view these amazing photos of black Victorians living and thriving in 1800s America and beyond.

Upworthy has posted 17 images of black Victorians that should leave everyone viewing them filled with a bunch of good emotions. One of my favorite images is this one:

Image from Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress.
Image from the Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress.

I have a kinship with this girl, simply because we both have the same kind of hair. If her experience has been anything like my experience, she’s suffered the “Exotic” card a lot. I understand why you’re looking off into the distance with a long-suffering look on your face, girl. I get it.

There are two major takeaways to glean from these photos:

1. Nearly everyone, if not all subjects photographed, are of the upper-middle and upper-upper set.

Taking photography during the 1800s was still a luxury activity. When you did go take a photo, you went in all of your finery, to show off your wealth (or, if you were of the lower class, you were showing off that you had saved up enough money to splurge). Most of the people in these photographs have titles—Rev. Hiram R. Revels, the first black person to serve in the U.S. Senate, humanitarian and activist Eartha Mary Magdalene White, debutante Nellie Franklin, soprano opera singer Marie Selkia Williams, who became the first black performer at the White House, Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first black man to serve a full term in Senate, Yoruban princess Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who was raised as Queen Elizabeth’s goddaughter and future wife of rich Nigerian businessman Capt. James Pinson Labulo Davies, etc.

Also of note; some of the subjects in the photos are from northern Florida (one woman is from Tallahassee). Florida, specifically northern and north-central Florida, is home to several historically black towns, in which black wealth and status could flourish. That’s not to say that there weren’t rich black people in other parts of America, because there were. But there’s a history lesson within the pictures that is worth learning about.

Related article: ‘Black Wall Street’ Being Brought to Life by John Legend and Tika Sumpter | Ebony.com

2. History doesn’t just revolve around white people. 

The thing that’s most annoying about historical dramas or even high fantasy like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones is when people say, “black people weren’t in these areas during this time.” First, fantasy isn’t real, so anyone can be anywhere. Secondly, history has always included other people apart from white people. It’s just that the tellers of history have often skewed the conversation to only focus on white, Western accomplishments.

These pictures show that there’s a larger story about America and the world that too few people know about. We should all know about Sarah Forbes Bonetta. We should all know about Eartha Mary Magdalene White, Marie Selkia Williams, Blanche Kelso Bruce, and many more. The fact that these photos are as revolutionary as they are only goes to show just how startlingly rare it is to see black stories outside of a very controlled, slavery-centric context. Everyone should get to know what life really looked like throughout history; not every moment revolved around what a white person is doing.

Visit Upworthy and check out the article; you’ll be glad you did.

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Exclusive Interview: Brandon Stacy Discusses “Roots”

The updated, modern retelling of the seminal classic miniseries Roots left most Americans knee-deep in emotions Memorial Day weekend, and you have The Big Short star Brandon Stacy to thank for some of that. Stacy’s role aired during Night 4 of the miniseries, and Stacy was happy to discuss his role and what it was like to be a part of Roots with me during a recent phone interview. We also discussed his love for Star Trek and what it was like playing Spock in Star Trek: The New Voyages.

JUST ADD COLOR: I watched Roots, and just like the first one, this one left me in shambles, so congratulations to you and the cast for affecting me and a lot of other people in America like that. 

BRANDON STACY: Thank you. Yeah, it’s definitely intense, powerful stuff. It’s very moving; we knew it would be, and we’re glad that it is moving people.

Just for the folks reading this interview, can you refresh us on your character?

Sure, I play Clingman. He’s in Night 4 of the mini-series. The Civil War’s approaching, and Clingman serves as council to one of the key players, Frederick, who is not a nice guy. Neither is Clingman. I guess he has some sort of qualities that might be admirable, as far as standing up for his country in the way that he was brought up. But he’s a product of his environment, and that’s not a good thing sometimes. He’s got these traditions that he was brought up with, so I think we all could be bad people given our environment and our lack of understanding of humanity and right and wrong. Ultimately, he’s a pretty dangerous guy.

When the original Roots came out, it changed TV forever. What does it feel like to be in the retelling of that story?

It means a lot to be able to reach so many people and it’s a lot to live up to, making Roots again. But we do cover some new ground in a new way, [with] a more modern way of storytelling. It is very, very powerful stuff and hopefully people take a positive message [from it] and use it for something positive. People can always use history to divide us, but the point is to use history to unite us. I hope that’s how people take from it; that a new generation can learn from the past and we can all shape a better future.

That segues into my next question; you mentioned the younger generation—what specifically do you hope they take away from it, since they might not have seen the original and with everything going on in the media and politics today, there are a lot of opinions about what America is supposed to be. So what do you hope the younger generation took from this retelling?

Well, it’s a fine line to walk, but I hope that we all can use the past to unite us like I said and to do something positive rather than to deconstruct us and divide us. We have the past, and there’s nothing we can do to change the past. But we can use it, we can heal, we can come together to make something positive in the future. That is something we have the power to do. We can shape the future. That’s what we need to take from this, while honoring our roots. That’s what I want people to take from this and I’m certainly glad to be part of such a moving, inspirational story.

Roots came back at an interesting time in television because before Roots aired, we had Underground telling one side of the story of slavery, then we had Roots, and in movies, we’ve got Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation and the HBO Harriet Tubman biopic coming. So what do you think about the fact that this year there have been and will be so many stories like this in one to two years?

The great thing about these shows and that it comes at a great time is that it does showcase great actors, fantastic black actors…and that’s what we want. The important thing is that these are great stories. We will always have this era to showcase fantastic talent, and that’s great, I think that’s a good stepping stone. Now, we can go on to some other stories. We’ll always have those stories to go back to, but now is the time to really seize the moment and branch out from that once we get through this period.

How did working on this project affect you personally?

It’s tough. I definitely can get involved in my characters and still be in the trauma and that dark place for that moment…Certainly when you watch it, me being Caucasian, I feel pain. I feel shame, even. I’m not sure the exact things that happened my lineage, but it’s certainly shameful what did go on, and I think it’s in our DNA that we feel that pain no matter who we are, as humanity. We just have to live with that and made something positive. That’s what we face everyday; we can take anything and spin it negatively and go down a negative path.

I think now is a very important time and I think as society, we are evolving in a way that really speaks to the energy inside us. We can use that in a positive way that we haven’t before. There’s something special going on between us right now energetically that we can really come together.

My last questions are about Star Trek; I read that you’d played Spock in [Star Trek: The New Voyages] before so my questions are 1) how big of a Star Trek fan are you and 2) what do you think of the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, that’s going to come out soon?

I’m a huge Trek fan. The Gene Roddenberry message is really something special. For me personally, I like to be involved in things that comment on society and [focus on] ways to move society in a positive direction. That’s what The Big Short tries to do, that’s what Roots tries to do, and all of Gene Roddenberry’s projects do the same thing.

Star Trek is a really special thing, and certainly being able to play Spock in any capacity is wonderful. He’s a really, really layered being and I certainly enjoy the subtleties that show so much in his character. You have to look closely for it, but you find that he is quite emotional while trying to be so logical. He’s a torn person; he’s constantly at war with himself, which I find very interesting to play. And the new movies—I love them. I love J.J. Abrams; I think he does a great job of producing these things. It’s not the ’60s Star Trek, and that’s fine. We evolve. I think there’s a place for ’60s Star Trek and I think there’s a place for what’s going on now, so I’m a big fan of all of it. ♦

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Ashley M. Jones’ “Magic City Gospel” Tells History of Alabama with Haunting Poetry

I have some great news to report (and some nepotism to perform)! My sister, Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award winner Ashley M. Jones, has a great book coming out called Magic City Gospel! The book is a product of three years at FIU’s creative writing program, creating a body of work representative of her life and her experiences. I was there at every step of this book, watching her create each poem and providing feedback (some of my suggestions may have found their way into her poems).

Magic-City-Gospel-Ashley-M-Jones

However, I’m not lauding this book just because she’s my sister. Jones’ Magic City Gospel is a collection of haunting poems detailing the sorrows and the highs of living in Alabama, a place soaked in the blood of black slaves and Native Americans, a place that is as known for the KKK and Jim Crow as it is fried chicken and good potato salad. In short, Magic City Gospel focuses on the strange complexity that makes Alabama, and more specifically Birmingham, a simultaneously fantastic and horrifying place to live. Here’s the official blurb and more about Ashley:

Magic City Gospel is a love song to Birmingham, the Magic City of the South. In traditional forms and free verse poems, 2015 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award-winner Ashley M. Jones takes readers on a historical, geographical, cultural, and personal journey through her life and the life of her home state. From De Soto’s “discovery” of Alabama to George Wallace’s infamous stance in the schoolhouse door, to the murders of black men like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner in modern America, Magic City Gospel weaves its story through time, weaving Jones’ personal history with the troubled, triumphant, and complicated history of Birmingham, and of Alabama at large. In Magic City Gospel’s pages, you’ll find that “gold is laced in Alabama’s teeth,” but you will also see the dark underbelly of a state and a city with a storied past, and a woman whose history is inextricably linked to that past.

ashley-m-jonesAshley M. Jones received an MFA from Florida International University. She was a finalist in Hub City Press’ New Southern Voices Contest, Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Contest, and the National Poetry Series. Her work has been published by the Academy of American Poets, pluck!, PMSPoemMemoirStory, Prelude, Kinfolks Quarterly, and other journals. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2015 B-Metro Magazine Fusion Award. She is an editor of [PANK] Magazine, and she teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

“But I wanna read some of her poetry before I trust your word, for it, Monique!” Well, lucky you; Ashley’s got tons of her work at her website, most—if not all—of it will be published in Magic City Gospel. Here’s just a sampling:

Danez Smith and Jericho Brown, two big names in today’s poetry, have already given Magic City Gospel their seal of approval:

Ashley Jones lays Alabama bare, wide, beautiful, terrifying and familiar in Magic City Gospel, this wonderful collection thick with where form, history, and even the wind are all rendered blackly and masterfully. Jones’ poems are alive with ghost and kin, God and Black girls, and all are sung, SANG really, under her capable hand. The red dirt is smeared all over this book, where we get to see Sammie Davis Jr. sing for Mike Brown & the Virgin Mary painted Black and Southern. Let Jones show you her land and her people, let me drive you across roads and time and show you what Alabama is about. —Danez Smith, author of [insert] boy

Ashley M. Jones’ Magic City Gospel is exact and exacting. Her intention is to name—and she does so in a way that renders into beauty all that is harsh about the American South. This is a poetry book that knows how to be a history book, a religious text, a book of redemption. —Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament

Ashley’s book will be out Jan. 3, 2017, but you can pre-order it right now! Click here to pre-order and secure your copy. You can also connect with Ashley through her website and Twitter.

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Diversity Alert: “Star Wars: Episode VIII”, Ava DuVernay, “Roots” and “Underground” TV Trailers+ More

There’s a couple of big ticket items to discuss! Topping the list is Star Wars: Episode VIII, Ava DuVernay’s projects, and some trailers from Roots and Underground.

Star Wars: Episode VIII

The biggest news of this week is the beginning of filming for Star Wars: Episode VIII! John Boyega, who just won a Rising Star BAFTA the night before filming, tweeted out this declaration Monday.

 

Other big news surrounding Episode VIII is the additional casting. Coming to the already diverse cast list are Benecio Del Toro, Laura Dern and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who has worked with Sarah Hyland in XOXO and has various TV credits, including TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and NBC’s About a Boy.  

Star Wars released this official production announcement, which is also marks the start of the Star Wars hype machine once again. 

Ava DuVernay’s film and TV projects

Ava DuVernay is doing major things right now! First, she’s working with Oprah on the OWN adaptation of Queen Sugar. The first table read happened Sunday, and DuVernay chronicled it on Twitter:

Also, DuVernay is in contention to direct two films: the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (a very creepy book, if you ask me), and Intelligent Life, a sci-fi thriller potentially starring Lupita Nyong’o. The latter film is what’s exciting me the most, since black women in sci-fi is still a revolutionary thing to see (Nyong’o also’s got her sci-fi scorecard filled up thanks to Star Wars, but even in that, she’s simply voicing a character, not appearing as herself on screen, something a lot of viewers took issue with). But all of this directorial news is encouraging, given the #OscarsSoWhite climate we’re in. DuVernay’s upcoming jobs are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to Hollywood fixing its diversity-behind-the-camera problems, but her opportunities do show that 1) Hollywood can act responsibly when it feels like it; it’s ineffectiveness is just mostly due to laziness and status-quo thinking over anything and 2) that the talent of people of color (in this case, women of color) can and will be recognized, despite the fractured systems that were created to keep them out and on the sidelines.

Roots and Underground

The trailers for History’s Roots remake and WGN’s upcoming slave series Underground have left me impressed, and I’m sure you’ll be just as impressed by them as well. Below are the trailers as well as the Underground first look. On a shallow note: Kunta Kinte’s turbans are my favorite things ever. Roots premieres Memorial Day; Underground premieres March 9.

(Read about my EW Community articles about the original Roots and the upcoming Underground here and here!)

The Danish Girl

If you loved The Danish Girl, it’s coming to DVD/Blu-ray March 1. If you want to rewatch it even earlier than that, the digital download will be available Feb. 16.

Here are the pertinent deets via Universal Pictures’ press release:

With love comes the courage to be yourself in The Danish Girl, coming to Digital HD onFebruary 16, 2016, and Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on March 1, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Inspired by the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, the remarkable love story is “a cinematic landmark,” according to Variety’s Peter Debruge. The Danish Girl on Blu-rayand DVD comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. The Focus Features release is nominated for four Academy Awards® including Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado), and Best Production Design (Production Designer, Eve Stewart; Set Decorator, Michael Standish).

Academy Award® winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Academy Award® nominee Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) star for Academy Award®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables). In the 1920s, a strong and loving marriage evolves as Gerda Wegener (Vikander) supports Lili Elbe (Redmayne) during her journey as a transgender woman. Through the other, each of them finds the courage to be who they are at heart. “Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are sensational!” declares Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz, while Debruge of Variety raves, “Redmayne gives the greatest performance of his career.”

Also starring Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Sebastian Koch (Homeland), Amber Heard (Zombieland), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd), The Danish Girl is a moving and sensitive portrait that Lou Lumenick of The New York Post calls “a remarkable and timely story.”

BLU-RAYTM AND DVD BONUS FEATURE:

  • The Making of The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hooper, and others on the filmmaking team share some of the creative processes that enhanced the beauty of the movie.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
 

Casting News:

Zhang Ziyi to Star in ‘East/West’ Comedy for Universal

American Gods Author Neil Gaiman on Why Casting The 100s Ricky Whittle as Shadow Is So Vital 

Idris Elba in Talks for the Lead in The Mountain Between Us

John Ridley’s ABC Pilot ‘Presence’ Casts Marcus Anderson

Archie Panjabi to Star in ABC Anthology Drama ‘The Jury’

Other News:

How a Bruce Lee Origin Tale Is Taking Flight With Chinese Money and Abundant Diplomacy

Sundance Fights Tide With Films Like ‘The Birth of a Nation’

The Magicians’ Arjun Gupta on Hollywood Diversity and Penny’s Portrayal in the 4th Episode

What do you think of these stories? Give your comments below!

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