Crossdressing and genderbending are not only long-time staples of Japanese anime and manga, but also of TV and celebrity culture. From this, anyone would think that Japan was one of the most open and accepting countries when it comes to people who don’t fit into traditional gender roles or relationships. However, the reality outside of media and entertainment is often quite different. Family and work life are both still clearly divided down gender lines, and men who engage in anything that blurs or crosses these lines are generally shunned. But could the girl who dumps a guy just because he turns up to a date in a dress be the one who’s really missing out?

The recent announcement of the divorce of Japanese power couple actress Miho Nakayama and her writer/director husband Hitonari Tsuji has set tongues in the celebrity gossip blogosphere wagging, not least because one of the reasons for their split is rumored to be that Tsuji’s wife was not happy when he began to adopt a more feminine look, including growing his hair long and painting his nails. Spurred on by this, an article on dot.asahi has interviewed people quick to come to the defense of relationships where the man steps outside of traditional images of masculinity.

Terms such as transgendered and transvestite have loaded meanings in English that don’t always correlate with Japanese views, so in this case we’ll be using the Japanese term ‘otoko no ko‘. The terms otoko no ko and josoushi are used  to describe a man who dresses like, and sometimes also lives like, a woman. Otoko no ko has the same reading as the word for ‘boy’ (男の子), but in this case the final kanji character is replaced with the one for ‘daughter’ (男の娘), which changes the meaning.

According to Naoko Tachibana, the otoko no ko boom began around 2009 and continues to grow with the launch of makeup magazines and salons catering specifically to them. It’s certainly true that companies have been scrambling to get their fingers in the pie of this niche market with all kinds of unnecessary products!

Naoko is a photographer and author of otoko no ko photobook Yuri Danshi, and she sees between 20 and 30 crossdressers in her studio every month. As such, she has plenty of opportunities to find out about the love lives of these guys, and apparently they’re doing pretty well for themselves. She says that women are attracted to them because they have ‘the cuteness and beauty of a woman’, but the contrast with their still very much intact ‘maleness’ is exciting.  It’s also fun for girls to dress them up like a doll, putting makeup on them and choosing clothes for them.

Of course, a man will not necessarily be aware of his own inclinations when he marries, and it may only be years later that he ‘awakens’ to it. According to Naoko, ‘there are three times in a man’s life when he might awaken to the fact that he enjoys women’s clothing. First is puberty, the next is in his 30s/40s, and finally in his 60s after retirement. At times when the role expected of a man in society and the household changes, they can experience a ‘gender crisis’.’

▼ Never too old.

Unfortunately, due to societal pressure to conform, many men will keep it to themselves, which couples counselor Mariko Murakoshi says leads to much anxiety. She points out that there are plenty of sporty and androgynous women out there, so why shouldn’t there be men who enjoy more feminine styles. She also believes that women can find lots to love in a softer kind of man who shares their world view, rather than the stereotypical domineering husband. And not only that, but they’ll be able to go clothes and makeup shopping together! Unless of course she’s actually a tomboy…

Naoko agrees with Mariko that the key is to be open, and insists that ‘couples where the woman approves of her man being an otoko no ko are long-lasting! Since learning that you enjoy wearing women’s clothing isn’t something you can just ‘grow out of’, you shouldn’t hide it. I have seen many couples whose bonds have been strengthened by accepting this.

While this article is overly sugary and fails to address the many fears and worries that not only the otoko no ko themselves but also their partners must face, it’s refreshing to hear people talking positively about something that most of Japanese society still doesn’t really know how to deal with.

Source: Jin115
Images: Naoko Tachibana, Twitter