Friday, 9 November 2012

How Visual Kei taught me to Be a Man

Posted by Zim

Hello all! It's me, Zim!


Hello mystery parenthesis person who I almost certainly didn't make up! Now, you may be thinking, "oh gee, it sure has been a while since Zim posted anything. I wonder what they have to talk about today?"

(No, I really wasn--)

Don't sass me, you.

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I'm here to talk about my feelings and whatnot. You see, I'm a dysfunctional human being who only seems to be able to talk about their feelings when putting them on display on the internet for millions to see as if somehow this were a remotely private affair, and I've been thinking a lot lately (read: since my last post,) about the labels I use to describe myself and how I feel about them. Recently I've come especially to think about a term I previously shied away from: Transmasculine.

I previously came across this term and avoided reading anything about it because - for a number of reasons - I don't think I could bring myself to ever medically transition. I won't go into my reasons here, but let's all just accept that that is a thing that will never happen and move on. It'll be better for all of us.

BUT. Having read up a bit on it recently, I realised it's pretty much a perfect term. It's - as I understand it - all about identifying with 'masculine' traits and expressions without fully identifying as male! It's perfect. It's exactly how I've always felt, but...

Let's put a cut here and then you can do that clicky thing if you want to read more and if not then you can just move along and get on with your day.

And if you're here than either you were linked directly to this post or you wanted to read it! Good on you for stroking my ego. Now where was I?

(You left us on a sneaky cliffhanger!)

Oh good! I love those. Except when they're at the end of a season and then the show gets cancelled. (Dark Angel, I'm looking at you.)

Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand. Identifying as in any way masculine is a bit weird for me, I mean there's not a single reason why the average person who doesn't know me would ID me as anything other than female. I have friends who've never seen me without make-up on. A lot of my shirts are fairly low cut. (And believe me, my lack of beardage is a constant source of woe.)

The thing is... I learned all that from men.

Let's have a history lesson. The subject is me. Failure will not be tolerated.

When I was, oh, I don't know. Thirteen or fourteen? I got into Linkin Park, that's not really important to this tale except as a gateway, because from here it opened the door to other bands that we won't talk about either. The important one here is My Chemical Romance which everyone is going to laugh at until I mention that I still love them and now we're all super awkward. The thing about that was - I was super butch at this point, I almost exclusively wore men's clothes and thought make-up was a stupid thing for stupid girls and looking pretty was silly and all of that stuff that made everyone assume I was going to grow up into a lesbian stereotype from the early 90s. Encountering MCR was like this sudden realisation that men could be pretty too! Men could wear make-up and blatantly dye their hair and wear tight jeans and pout and that was something that was attractive and desired! Granted, only by maybe two people I knew personally, but the internet told me that this minority of people was sizeable on its own.

I didn't really endeavour to be 'pretty' at this point, but I started experimenting with eyeliner and there was this one time I wore black lipstick. It was pretty cool even though I was terrible at it. I totally encourage everyone who isn't familiar with wearing make-up to just draw on their face sometime without worrying about looking "good." It's so much fun, even if it's not the kind of thing you'd like to do in your every day real life.

When I was in college, I discovered Visual Kei.

The short version is that Visual Kei is a Japanese music subculture that - although having fairly distinct sounds - is heavily invested in the look. It's roots come from hair metal and goth rock, and you can really see that in earlier bands like X Japan, Buck-Tick and Luna Sea. The even shorter version is that when I got into it, the scene consisted almost entirely of pretty guys in make-up and elaborate costumes.

One of my favourite things was watching bands grow out of their leather/spandex/bondage  and music videos that look like they were made in the late 80s phase, but that's neither here nor there.

The thing was, the guys in the scene ran all over the "how pretty can I be and still comfortably go on stage" spectrum. With people like Kisaki, Hizaki, and Bou, who are almost always fully in drag, to people like Miya, Girugämesh, and Reita, who are sort of as overtly 'masculine' you can get on the scene. (Miya even has a beard! That's an extreme rarity.)

With VK, no matter how much you push the envelope, the bands are all still... Well, pretty for lack of a better word. It used to be a running joke amongst fans that when you get into it, you look at the bands and go, "that's not a man!" And once you've been into it for a while, you look at the female-fronted bands and go, "that's not a woman!" Because of the way your perception of gender markers changes. (Granted, these days I realise that's pretty cissexist, but I was only a baby feminist at the time too.)

I could pretty much write an overture to VK (if I knew how to write overtures) for the massive impact it's had on my life. Because the general standards of basic competancy in Japan, their bassists are usually better and more interesting than in the average western band, and that's what made me interested in learning to play the bass. (Hell, my first bass is named after the bassist from MUCC and looks just like the bass Reita had in Gama-era the GazettE. Those aren't coincidences.) And given the fact that VK performers traditionally have stage names/personas, I'm really disappointed that I couldn't think up a better Lashings name than... my name, but we can't all be good at having alter-egos.

But I'm talking about expressions of my gender identity, and I know that VK bands aren't dressing this way in their every day lives - we've all seen candids of them just chilling in jeans and t-shirts. (By 'we,' I am of course referring to everyone writing this post. Which is just me. I'm very egotistical.) And it's a key reason why bands that have been going a long time tend to get more and more simplistic until they just stop wearing make-up and dressing up altogether. As a wee 16 year-old who was only just beginning to get that feeling in their gut that something about them was different, however, this was still powerful for me.

Sadly, the scene is bizarrely misogynistic despite being made up largely of women, and also kind of homophobic. (I'm gonna blame the prevailance of stage fanservice for this; it's the same kind of heterosexism I see in fandoms with large amounts of cis/straight slash fans, wherein they seem to think that fetishizing homosexuality is the same thing as supporting it.) It's a difficult scene for women to break into and off the top of my head I can only think of three bands with women in them, (exist†trace, Danger☆Gang and Aural Vampire,) and they have nowhere near the same following as all the all-male bands.

Of course I wasn't entirely cognizant of this problem when I got into the scene; like I said, I was a baby feminist who didn't really understand anything and I was recovering from a phase in my life where I seemed to think that claiming to hate women was something to be proud of. (At this point I'd like to apologise to every woman I claimed to hate for no actual reason - which was actually very few, and yet it never seemed to occur to me that maybe this was because women weren't a monolithic whole who all thought the same. Patriarchy!!! *fist shake*)

So to bring this back around to where I started, this has kind of given me an odd perspective on my own gender expression. As my expression has become more traditionally feminine, I've felt more masculine and more comfortable in my own skin. This, of course, has the side effect of making me feel like a bit of a fraud. As though I'm riding on the issues of other trans* people and co-opting their identity. Every time someone comments on trans* people who don't present a particular way, (or, in a few cases, genderqueer/fluid people who don't "change it up" enough?) I immediately begin to question my own identity. I just spent half an hour wondering where my false eyelashes were, that must make me like, totally a girl right? But then if that's the best way I know to express my masculinity, then where does that leave me?

Looking fabulous, but ultimately feeling like some sort of fraud, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. I like this a lot! Lots of 'me too!' and nodding and chuckling and I enjoyed being in your mystery parentheses. Awesome.