Monday, March 29, 2010

So blonde is manly? (金髪って、男っぽい?)

Considering the fact that the event which inspired this post happened approximately a year and a half ago now, you'd think I would have posted it a bit sooner.

But, you know how it goes. Study abroad kids are lazy as all get out, but senior kids doing thesis... well, we'll leap at pretty much any opportunity that involves getting out of our designated niche for a moment or two.

In any event, Halloween 2008. Me, studying abroad in Kyoto. For lack of a better idea, I decide to dress up as a host, because, hey, get me some blonde hair-spray and a dangly chain earring, and I was all set. (I mean, I didn't have the pointy shoes, but I wasn't going to drop $100+ on this thing. Come on.) I had seen my fair share of hosts of the lower class cruising in the area of Kiyamachi on Weekend evenings, so I figured I had plenty of research under my belt to pull off the role.

But why was I dressing up? Well, my glorious senpai had invited me over to Osaka for the evening, for a party and perhaps some clubbing to be had for Halloween discounted fares. This of course equated to getting out of crazy okaa-san's house for almost an entire weekend (I'll give you that story later), so really, party or not, I was ready to jump on that invitation like a kappa on a cucumber.

But I digress. In any event, while I was effectively meant to be gender-bending for my costume of choice, I did not have the means (nor the desire, as apparently it's quite uncomfortable) to bind my not-insignificant chest, so I gave it up for a bad deal and just figured I'd be a host with boobs. There are worse fates, I'm sure. Needless to say, I didn't think I'd actually be fooling anyone that night.

So, I waxed up my hair into a suitably large host-do, sprayed it golden (which had the unfortunate yet amusing consequence of dying my nose hairs golden as well, I found out later when I blew my nose) put on my fabulous host outfit complete with shiny (though not pointy) boots, leather emblazoned jeans and chain earring, and I was off for a night on the town.

Of course, living with crazy okaa-san in Shiga-fuck-nowhere, it took a while to get out on the town. Had a few obaa-san stare at me on the train into Kyoto, but I wrote this off to the hair. It was pretty fabulous. Or it could have been just plain ol' "oh god white person in SHIGA?" shock, but you never know.

Switched to the subway at Kyoto and headed out to Shijo, and thought things were going swimmingly. Until I saw two women whispering to each other. While staring fixedly. At. My. Crotch.

So. Three things.

1. These women are staring, point blank and unabashedly, at some gaijin's crotch.
2. Presumably they are in question about this gaijin's gender.
3. They are too STUPID to look UP and see the BOOBS that might answer their question definitively.

Clearly, that white shirt and jacket combo I have is much more capable of hiding my bust than I thought. Oh, and those jeans apparently completely obscure my curves and rather, ahem, femininely large behind.

I got off the train, a little disconcerted, but none the worse for ware. Waited for Debs to show up, dressed up adorably as Hibari from Hitman Reborn, after which we had a tasty dinner of Mos Burger before heading out to Osaka on the gloriously cheap Hankyuu. I noticed that, the closer we got to Osaka, the fewer stares the two of us recieved. I attributed this to Osaka's generally accepting and awesome vibe. (Only later did I realize that I probably should have attributed this to the fact that I was heading into the host capital of the world on a Friday night. Hur.)

We met up with senpai and headed off to her fellow gaijin friend's party, where things went well, as apparently fellow foreigners were not in the least bit fooled by my get up. Good times were had by all, and I met some very interesting people, one of whom had shaved off half of his body hair (literally, on a vertical axis) for his costume.

However, after we left and dropped Debs off at the train station... things again became a little strange.

We ran into two (presumably rather drunk) girls while walking out of the station who were either thrilled to bits over either senpai's costume or my 金髪, I can't quite remember which. Regardless, senpai started chatting them up in Japanese, asking them whether they thought I was カッコいい or not. Oh, yea, yea, they agreed whole-heartedly, inquiring as to whether or not I was half. Ok, fine, in dim light, and with beer goggles, I could be half, whatever.

But then senpai told them that I was not, in fact, a man, and merely a college girl dressing up for the night.

Cue startled squeals and gasps abound, with a few 本当?! to boot.

For goodness sakes, I think I had cleavage showing.

After this, senpai was convinced that she should take me out trolling in Shinsaibashi, seeing how many girls I could rake in to go to club "Mickey D's" with my apparently very convincing host schtick.

Ok. Let me make this painfully clear. I am very obviously a woman. I have been told this any number of times. I curve, quite pointedly. I bulge in the right places. I walk like a girl, and most certainly have a girlish face.

However, if I had a nickel for every time I was certainly or probably mistaken for a man while in Kyoto... (one time a guy actually asked Debs while we were out together whether I was a man or not on her way back from the bathroom. Come on, at least have the guts to ask me about it.)

So. The question boils down to this. (Oh, you thought it wouldn't all be wrapped up into some poignant thought on Japanese culture? For shame.)

Has gender become so ingrained into distantly obvious secondary characteristics (height, clothing, hair) in Japan, that clearly gendered secondary characteristics (curves, bust, bottom) must take a back seat when it comes to snap judgments? Is my 5'8" simply so tall as to be considered outside the range of possible femininity? Or am I just secretly so manly that Japan is picking up on it?

Or let's look at it linguistically. I do my best not to speak with a feminine inflection, as it tends to annoy me--acting meek and demure goes against my better nature. Is this affecting my gender image to such an extent that I am actually mistaken for a man?

In a similar vein, perhaps it's because I'm aggressive and unconsciously act that way in day-to-day life? If that's the case, again, has gender become so ingrained in how we act that how we look is no longer a consideration?

I'd really like to know, because frankly, I'd hate to be sending the wrong signals.

This is Edo, signing off a little gender confused.

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