Motoko Rich’s New York Times report on Japan’s new generation of “genderless” danshi is unexpectedly heartwarming: these young men speak eloquently about their desire to wear make-up and traditionally female clothing because, well, the feel like it. Interestingly, most of these “genderless” danshi do actually identify as men, and seemingly also as heterosexual. (Rich points out that in the West, unlike Japan, there’s more of a correlation between one’s gender expression and sexual identity.) But these distinctions aren’t super important to them, certainly not as much as their outdated parental counterparts. Rich’s report below is great, but watch the full video on New York Times to experience the danshi in all their glory.
Japanese culture has long had a formal tradition of cross-dressing in theater, from classic forms like Kabuki and Noh, where men dress as both men and women, to Takarazuka, where women play both genders.
The unisex look for men has also been popularized in the Japanese cartoon form called anime, and by members of popular boy bands.
The term “genderless danshi” was coined by a talent agent, Takashi Marumoto, who has helped develop Toman’s career. Mr. Marumoto recruits other androgynous men for fashion shows and contracts as potential models, capitalizing on their social media followings to market to fans.
Unlike in the West, where cross-dressing tends to be associated with sexuality, here it is mostly about fashion.
“I think Japanese people react to these men who look quite feminine differently from how people in Euro-American societies react,” said Masafumi Monden, who researches Japanese fashion and culture at the University of Technology Sydney and is on a fellowship at Tokyo University. “In Japan, how people look and their sexual identities can be separated to a certain extent.”
Toman Sasaki said that when he first began dressing in the genderless danshi fashion, people frequently asked him whether he was gay. (He says he is heterosexual.)
He said that he wore makeup to conceal his flaws. “There are many things I’m insecure about; I really don’t like my face,” he said. “But I also feel that who I am changes when I wear makeup.”
*Image of Toman via Tumblr