Note: A simplified/”plain-speak” version is being worked on as more or less as a synopsis for part 2 of this article.
Edit: it’s here: https://medium.com/@CriticalReikan/traps-are-queer-baby-174ffa16e4a5
I am doing intuitive research and analysis on the internet phenomenon known as “traps” with the hopes that I can persuade individuals who are confused by the phenomenon, ignorant of what traps are, and those who have specific advocacy in direct relation to this topic. The questions I had asked on my journey to explain what I had known for so long as a recently self-discovered androgyne who now takes interest in cross-dressing are: What are traps? What is not a trap? What is the history behind this phenomenon? Who are the audiences directly involved with the becoming of this meme? What do they value? What issues do they have? Are their perceived issues justified? Finally, why should anyone care?
Keywords: liminality, performing ambiguity, transgressive sexuality, hegemonic public, counter-public, public memory, otaku, grand narrative, derivative works, amnesia archive
Androgyny: Reviving a Lost Human Condition —A Queer Analysis on Traps
🌈🏳️🌈 Are Traps Gay? 👱♀️🍆 🧐
Is this a transphobic question or is it an underlying psychological condition of the person who asks this question? If a person ironically asks this question, are they also participating in a larger societal transphobia or are they merely jesting? If you ever found interest in a person that you simply could not make a correct guess of their gender, then you are not alone! In this critical analysis, I will unveil the mysteries of androgynous cross-dressers and help you understand why something so ambiguous is a part of the human condition and why a trap is an object of embrace. It is in my humble opinion based on my liberal, progressive principles and research for the history of androgyny that androgyny is a part of the human condition in our ongoing, yet repetitive journey to rediscover and establish how we as a civilization value gender. It is also in my humble opinion that to engage in discourse with the intention of having positive outcomes for the sake of progression and the overall benefit of those who one would vehemently oppose requires self-reflection, basic inquiry on what afflictions one has, and critical thinking done because of the inquiry would all prove to be the most effective advocacy. Finally, transphobia is a quixotic term that ought to hold more value than personal discomfort and opposition to literature and media usage and individual behavior that is (usually) rightly attributed as a symptom of a systemic issue in any given society. This analysis will preview texts that define and explain concepts that exemplify androgyny as the perfect case study to support my principles.
Detailing the word “Trap” with Queer communities (trans, androgynous, & cross-dressing communities), cisgender/heteronormativity, and the usage by the hegemonic public and the counter-public. Trap is a term used by fans of Japanese animation (anime for short) to describe androgynous cross-dressers that are often subject to fetishization or comic relief. The issues presented by this phenomenon are plentiful, however, I will be analyzing the following:
- Sexual confusion for heterosexual, cisgender individuals (mostly men).
- Problems that the trans community and some intersectional feminist critics have with the term regarding the interpretation or “trap”; claiming that the word causes direct harm to trans individuals.
- The history of androgyny and uncovering a concept I call: amnesia archive to further analyze the public memory of the hegemonic public and counter-public by examining the commonalities of amnesia through a historical lens and deconstruct the misuse of “transphobia” as well as identifying the faces behind each relevant public.
- Addressing the problematic nature of the infamous internet meme: “Are Traps Gay?” through using queer critique.
Due to the very nature of “trap aesthetic” that is supplemented by female voice actresses voicing these androgynous characters, this elicits not only controversy within LGBTQ+ communities, but genuine sexual confusion for cisgendered/heterosexual men and women. This issue is brought up by trans people and intersectional feminists, which requires contextualized analysis from several angles: historical-lens, socioeconomic and sociocultural factors and influences that must be viewed from a queer lens, which naturally involves Marxism, postmodernism, post-colonialism, public memory, and involves several other lenses within the LGBTQ+ community. However, the concept of the slang “trap” is used by Western Anime fans. There is a focus on identity politics from the LGBTQ+ community and from intersectional feminists to critique, comment and advocate for political correctness by using an authoritarian mentality. This is a recent development of online societal discourse in the most recent decade (late 2000’s-present). Access to this phenomenon was observed and researched by using the internet and discussing this topic with people on many sides of the discourse around identity politics.
It is interesting to mention that the otaku, as well as intersectional feminists and some critics in the trans community, have trouble grasping the resisting nature of androgyny. Androgyny is a concept of ambiguity in a time when both the position of counterculture and hegemony are unable to secure a concise understanding of the mechanics involved with advocating, embracing and fetishizing what is really a component of the human condition. This component of the human condition is proven with history (as I will elaborate further on later in the critical analysis portion of this paper), as well as inherent liminality, performing ambiguity, and the transgressing sexuality of androgyny that every society must come to terms with. (LeMaster 2011) describes liminality:
“Liminality refers to an in-between positionality where the margins of difference are blurred and manipulated in ways that scripted interactions are rendered seemingly unstable or inarticulate. Specifically, liminality refers to being between two ‘‘socially recognized states, whether individual or collective’’ and it is in this in-between space that ‘‘sociocultural norms are often suspended and practices of ‘symbolic inversion’ proliferate.’’
The prevalence of the “trap” being exposed to a heterosexual, cisgendered audience creates sexual confusion, as well as sexual frustration due to the performing ambiguity of the animated, androgynous cross-dressers being consumed as an attractive product. Liminality allows typically heterosexual males to begin to dive into queer discourse and consciously or subconsciously embrace the performing ambiguity of the idolized and sexualized androgyne.
Furthermore, alongside liminality that androgynous cross-dressers have the privilege of utilizing, the ambiguity that androgynous people have with gender identity due to gender expression, as well as physical characteristics have a recent observable history of this effect with celebrities such as: David Bowie, Missy Elliot, and Ellen Degeneres (Shugart 2003). Ambiguity is challenged by a patriarchal semiotic construction of binary-abiding bodies (Shugart 2003). Such ambiguity can also be used by everyday androgynous individuals who wish to use gender expression either as a protest to heteronormativity or as a means of empowerment to their preferred gender identity to reflect the ambiguity of the “trap” that anime tends to present.
To discuss how individuals, react to androgynous cross-dressers, a certain element of ambiguity allows individuals to see past the surface of reality that they can see — hence a need for using transgressive sexuality to analyze the parties involved with this discussion.
“A text’s focus on transgressive sexuality, including transgressive heterosexuality (such as extramarital romance), throws into question the rules of traditional heterosexuality and thus opens the door of imagination to transgressive sexualities of all kinds” (Tyson 326).
Put simply, the presence of androgyny being addressed in the mind of an individual has an inherent shock value. Shock brings a fight or flight response. The fight response can either bring violence or curiosity — a peaceful alternative that entails discourse and active participation in redefining something like androgyny. To then use a process of exposure and acceptance of androgyny would allow the creation and sociocultural influence in public policy. For fictional tropes, the attitudes can either cause the underground Internet culture to evolve a better understanding of androgyny and further deconstruct current traditional cultural norms by engaging in the normalization of the androgyne.
Further in this analysis, the history of androgyne will be examined and contextualized by providing the relevant hegemonic public, as well as the relevant counter-public’s memory and consequently, the amnesia commonality that both publics have with androgyny. Amnesia in queer critique such as this requires proper framing, in which (Berlant, Warner 1998) provide:
“Recognition of heterosexuality’s daily failures agitates him as much as queerness. “We’ve forgotten that civilization depends on keeping some of this stuff under wraps,” he said. “This is a tropism toward the toilet.” But does civilization need to cover its ass? Or does heterosexual culture secure itself through banalizing intimacy? Does belief that normal life is actually possible require amnesia and the ludicrous stereo typing of a bottom-feeding culture apparently inadequate to intimacy?”
For a quick context for the sub-quotes involved: this is a response and subsequently a critique of gay conversion therapy. Berlant and Warner had introduced the concept of amnesia and public memory to the practice of Queer Theory. Queer culture defines itself and creates its own history regardless of societal pressures as described by (Berlant, Warner 1998) specifically as such:
“Queer culture has learned not only how to sexualize these and other relations, but also to use them as a context for witnessing intense and personal affect while elaborating a public world of belonging and transformation…These intimacies do bear a necessary relation to a counter-public — an indefinitely accessible world conscious of its subordinate relation. They are typical both of the inventiveness of queer world making and of the queer world’s fragility.”
The Internet (especially social media) is not necessarily the best place to exchange intellectual discussion, albeit the most convenient means readily available to most people in Western civilization (Huyssen 2000). In relation to publics, the speed in which we discuss important issues has an unseen consequence that is not discussed enough: the issue of memory.
“Lived memory is active, alive, embodied in the social — that is, in individuals, families, groups, nations, and regions.” (Huyssen 2000).
Not only is the average human’s memory flawed, but how can we also expect society’s memory to be fine especially in a digital age? (Huyssen 2000) explains further about the fragility of memory:
“To insist on a radical separation between “real” and virtual memory seems quixotic, if only because anything remembered — whether by lived or imagined memory — is itself virtual. Memory is always transitory, notoriously unreliable, and haunted by forgetting —in short, human and social. As public memory it is subject to change: political, generational, individual. It cannot be stored forever…nor, for that matter, can we rely on digital retrieval systems to guarantee coherence and continuity.” (Huyssen 2000).
“If we are indeed suffering from a surfeit of memory, we do need to make the effort to distinguish usable pasts from disposable pasts. Even if amnesia were a byproduct of cyberspace, we must not allow the fear of forgetting to overwhelm us… And then perhaps it is time to remember the future, rather than only worry about the future of memory.” (Huyssen 2000).
The byproduct of amnesia in the discourse between publics ought to be subject of more study with a specific focus on not only what is currently remembered, but what has been forgotten and how we can use what has been forgotten to our benefit in the future.
Heteronormativity is challenged by counter-culture that creates its own public memory (counter-public). Both suffer from amnesia (either by ignorance, cognitive dissonance, or by natural forgetfulness). When traditional norms are torn down for counter-public norms, the byproduct is an ongoing amnesia to preserve counter-public norms necessary — which is a sloppy, unregulated process in which individuals who take part of the counter-public often divert progress of any kind (a special kind of resistance to new ideas). With historical context added into the equation using androgyny as a case study, the amnesia that is added, removed, reformed, and added once again between the hegemonic-public and any counter-public shows a commonality of amnesia between one another that civilization will continue to preserve. This is the Amnesia Archive. For every concept, there are elements within a concept that are either lost in translation or lost in time. These elements can be improved upon or rediscovered even if any public accepts or denies their existence (intentionally or unintentionally). Like a melting-pot or stew, there is a limit to how much society chooses to remember to preserve itself at any given time in history.
In this analysis, the phenomenal Internet term: “trap” will be examined and explored by using Queer Theory as will many different LGBTQ+ terminologies as well (to define terms from the counter-public) as Roman cultural terms brought up by the hegemonic public. Androgyny, as described throughout history and even in contemporary thought, usually is defined by gender expression, gender identity, and is also a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics that create ambiguity in gender (Hargreaves 2005). This brings to question a contemporary synonym that tends to be interchangeable based on individual preference:
“Genderqueer is a term that some people use who identify their gender as falling outside the binary constructs of “male” and “female.” They may define their gender as falling somewhere on a continuum between male and female, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms.” (APA 2012).
The genderqueer can express themselves by performing ambiguity via androgynous fashion and makeup to transgress one’s sexuality as well to present an intriguing idea that gender is fluid based on mood. Genderfluidity is a new concept introduced in recent years by genderqueer individuals who feel a dynamic shift in gender identity at any given point in time for indeterminate amounts of time. This concept is important to mention for androgyne and anything under the genderqueer umbrella due to entertaining the possibility of gender identity possibly being a dynamic, fluid sense of self for any possible individual.
The concept of genderfluidity alongside androgyny brings to question what gender is. The American Psychological Association defines gender as follows:
“Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gendernormative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender nonconformity” (APA 2012).
One of the research questions involving androgyny were: “Is the term: “trap” transphobic?”. This begs the question what transgender is as well, which is also defined as:
“Many identities fall under the transgender umbrella. The term transsexual refers to people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex.” (APA 2011).
This is not to be confused with Futanari 双形 [(to be of) two kinds]. Futanari (abbreviated as “futa”) is a pornographic trope in which a female grows male genitalia (usually out of the clitoris) for the sake of commodifying intersex fetishization. Futa are an entirely different topic of discussion, however, are worth mentioning in the broader context of gender and transphobia. While the transitioning from female to another gender would fall under the transgender definition, the actual usage of the word in Japanese history is used interchangeably with hermaphroditism and androgyny. Only in recent decades has the concept of futanari ceased a usage of androgyny in place for a bigger emphasis on exaggerated, factionalized intersex transition. On the topic of intersex, (Hargreaves 2005) mentions that at times in modern literature (including classical texts by the Greeks) that hermaphrodites were interchangeable with androgyny in the past as well — which is interesting to note that androgyny is an umbrella term itself that spans across cultures all around the world. To quickly clarify intersex:
“(i.e., atypical combinations of features that usually distinguish male from female).” (APA 2012).
Later in the critical analysis, the history of how cultures found androgyny to be interchangeable will be explored.
The main component in the discussion of traps is the cross-dressing aspect of androgyny. The transgressing sexuality that is allowed from performing ambiguity is essential to deconstruct the aspects of what cross-dressing entails and what it does not entail. Firstly,
“Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation” (APA 2011).
Secondly, cross-dressing by itself is not a form of drag and cross-dressing is not labeled as transvestism anymore. Drag is prevalent and can be interchangeable, insultingly so, by the hegemonic public. Rooted in thespian culture, drag kings/queens take masculinity and femininity to logical extremes for theatrical purposes.
“The term drag queens generally refers to men who dress as women for entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. The term drag kings refer to women who dress as men for entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.” (APA 2011).
In some instances, not generalizing for the sake of nuance and clarity, there is derogatory usage of transvestism from some individuals in the transgender community. While transvestite is an outdated derogatory term for cross-dressers from the hegemonic public, its usage is still used as a derogatory term by the Queer community (the counter-public) to differentiate cross-dressers by an arbitrary aesthetic standard, which would blur the line between cross-dressing and drag because of said standard. An explicit focus must be made for gender expression to explain the cross-dressing relevance for androgynous individuals:
“Gender expression refers to the “…way in which a person acts to communicate gender within a given culture’ for example, in terms of clothing, communication patterns and interests. A person’s gender assigned at birth — and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics (Frisk, 1974; Knudson, De Cuypere, & Bockting, 2010). Only some gender-nonconforming people experience gender dysphoria at some point in their lives (Coleman, et al. 2011).” (APA 2012).
For the genderqueer and androgyne, defining gender identity, sex categories, sexual and romantic orientation are necessary to contrast with each other due to the interchangeability displayed in past literature and mainstream discourse made by the hegemonic public (and often mistakenly stated by the counter-public as well due to the complexity of the issue). The World Health Organization contrasts what sex is by saying:
“Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term “gender”, and how it differs from the closely related term “sex”. “Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
To put it another way:
“Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories.” (WHO).
To bring clarity for gender identity, gender identity falls within the umbrella of gender as a gender category further explained:
“…gender identity refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else.” (APA 2011)
clearly showing commonality with the World Health Organization’s definition of gender. Finally,
“Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person, whereas gender identity refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else.” (APA 2011)
which brings a clear contrast to contemporary thinking against modern and classical literature on this issue in which all these terms are ignorantly interchanged (Hargreaves 2005).
To start wrapping up this literature review, I must admit that there is often not enough context for the contemporary view of queer, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, romantic interest, sexual behavior — contemporary thought is incredibly new to civilization from the discarded research I had bothered looking into from over 100 sources about androgyny. Older texts focus on the sexuality of ambiguity and often see androgyny as an ambiguous “in-between” (sometimes third sex) in a gender binary; thus, creating a glaring paradox in the traditional, Abrahamic positivist worldview (Hargreaves 2005).
“Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, multigendered, gender nonconforming, third gender, and two-spirit people. Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person and may change over time but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders. Some people who use these terms to describe themselves see traditional, binary concepts of gender as restrictive.” (APA 2011).
The APA (and most other mainstream) definitions for androgyny and transsexuals are problematic, vague umbrella definitions that intermingle possible gender dysphoria in need of medical intervention in contrast to every other genderqueer identity that are not in need of gender reassignment treatment (hence the emphasis on a much-needed focus on the transitioning from a societal enforced sex to the correct sex, identity, and expression transformation for transgender people) (Hargreaves 2005), (Stryker 2008). This leaves room to misuse and overuse the term: “transphobic”. Proper terminology ought to be used correctly or else a backlash effect will happen because of over-usage. This reflects the ignorant perception of attraction and hype around contemporary androgyny brings a dangerous misconception to misuse the term: “transphobia”. Many do not know the differences or history behind the terms: transgender, androgyny/trap, transvestite, intersex, cross-dressing, and drag. That is why I will explain the history and explain the context behind the memes, the source of conflict, as well as the unsaid issues of androgynous people by doing close readings of memes, Anime characters, and scholarly sources by using Queer Theory. Traps, through transgressive sexuality, liminality and their performing ambiguity, can consistently summon public discourse and challenge hegemonic publics (through sexual frustration and embracing nature of a queer aesthetic that is deemed cute and sexy simultaneously) as well as counter-publics by challenging ongoing discussion and have the potential to call to question authoritarian language used by counter-publics. Shifting what is socially acceptable for authoritarians in the counter-public only occurs due to the amnesia archive being made present in situational discourse such as the transgressive nature of traps tend to do these days.
Analysis of Traps through Queer Theory.
I am analyzing the concept of the “trap” meme to reveal why the term “trap” in of itself ought to be normal due to the subjects involved: androgynous cross-dressers. The normalcy of traps has been forgotten by hegemonic and counter-publics discussing the term in a collective amnesia of what androgyny is in mainstream discourse. Androgyne are not a foreign concept in society, in fact, it is quite normal queer behavior, identity, expression, and there is both contemporary and historical evidence to suggest that the queer interactions with androgynous individuals can be shown as a positive social status. This indicates that there is a consistency across all relevant cultures all around the world and all relevant ancient societies that have embraced the existence of androgyny into a relevant gender spectrum (respective to any given society) — signifying the existence of an Amnesia Archive that is constantly edited and passed along from one culture to another because of cross-cultural communication, globalization, and the speed in which information disperses (i.e. the Internet). Because of the Western hegemonic and counter-publics having amnesia on the concept, there are unique problems that result in polarization — which further regresses the discussion and exposure of a much-needed liberation of androgyny.
Amnesia Archive: Androgyny as a Constant Normal
Androgyny is recorded and commented on in several ancient cultures such as Sumerian culture, ancient Athenian culture, Roman culture, and Japanese culture. Androgyny, as a case study example for this queer critique, is a normal aspect of civilization — I would go as far as to state that it is a part of the human condition to coexist with androgyny as a reflection of diversity and sort-of social homeostasis. Early signs of systematic policy and/or cultural acceptance were enforced by the hegemonic publics to bring equity to queers of their time existed in Mesopotamian cultures, Indus Valley cultures, Greco-Roman culture, and even Japan as well.
In Sumer and other Mesopotamian cultures that existed during the Akkadian period (2334 — 2154 BC), the goddess Innana (later known as Ishtar in Egypt), existed a cult that worshiped her. The cult sported gender neutrality policies due to their understanding of transgenderism at the time. Eunuchs, androgynous individuals, women, intersex individuals, and queers alike had the opportunity to be gala priests and worship Innana for a living — to be clear celibacy was not mandatory either for priests (Ehlric 2009).
In Indus Valley societies (e.g. ancient India and Pakistan), the concept of androgyny takes on a different tune, however with the effects of colonialism, original practices were removed as explained in detail:
“Historically, the hijras hold a sacred place in the Indian subcontinent. Hindu hijras trace their origins to the revered epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata, 3 whereas Muslim hijras claim an indigenous lineage dating back to khwaja siras (eunuchs) 4 of the royal courts of Muslim rulers of India (Afzal-Khan, 2010; Rehan, Chaudhary, & Shah, 2009). The eunuch slaves played highly valuable roles as powerful administrators, political advisors, courtesans, 5 warriors, and guardians of the harem (Hall, 1997; Reddy, 2005b). However, with the advent of British colonial rule and the decline of the Muslim courtly traditions and princely states, hijras were thrown out of their court positions into the public sphere (Preston, 1987; Reddy, 2005b; Taparia, 2011).” (Alizai, Doneys, Doane 2017).
Not to mention the Hindu pantheon having patterns of androgyny as a source of pride for queer individuals in those cultures.
The Greeks and Roman societies encouraged what contemporary Western societies would deem to be queer behavior (Williams 1999). The Greeks had plenty of mythology exploring gender and sexuality in what way they could understand at the time. Plato’s Symposium is a highlight for providing a satire on creation myth by using androgyny as a comic relief tool in that literature (Hargreaves 2005). The Greeks also had a wide emphasis on Eros and were sexually curious (heteroflexible and homoflexible) (Williams 1999). Greek society permeated into Roman society (widely documented and obvious). Much of the same attitudes towards gender and sexuality were kept. (Williams 1999). The interpretation of Eros did have a curious shift towards a heavier focus on patriarchy — hence the Williams text literally being all about “Roman Homosexuality”. Otaku will justify resisting a trap’s transgressive sexuality by digging into the amnesia archive to invoke Roman Homosexuality as faux liminality (which is a new closet queer behavior).
Even Japanese society has a more modern development of androgyny and has continued to evolve the usage of the concept even today. The earliest recorded texts for queer history in Japan are found during the Heian Period (794 AD — 1185 AD) and only appeared as late as they did due to the majority of Post-Paleolithic Japan (Jomon Period — Heian Period) were largely dictated by Chinese dominance in the archipelago which fueled Japan’s feudal political system — stagnating cultural progress for the Japanese people. A good overview of literature is reviewed by (Pflugfelder 1992, 1999) that examines my claim about Chinese dominance by explaining how the Japanese people performed ambiguity and lived with an idea of fluidity for gender, romance, and sexuality around the Heian Period (794 AD — 1185AD) to the Showa Period (1926 AD — 1950 AD) by the end of World War II (Before the Reconstruction Era of Japan) in many different texts and research done by other Japanese scholars who study this phenomenon.
“In Robertson’s (1998) investigation of historically situated constructions of androgyny in Japan, she finds that, despite the workings of a normalizing principle, neither femininity nor masculinity has been deemed the exclusive province of either male or female…but viewed from the perspective of women’s desires, these men retain their masculinity, which is concurrently presented with a surface beauty.” (Miller 2006).
Even in the past few decades, the gender-bending activism that is done follows the same trends presented earlier in this analysis so far (e.g. performing ambiguity, transgressive sexuality, liminality, etc.). The LGBTQ+ counter-public of Japan is participating in reviving androgyny to utilize the amnesia archive, which reflects the underlying motivations for Anime creators to utilize traps in their works. All throughout history there have been different hegemonic publics that have deemed substantial interest in androgyny. As time passes, memories fade from individuals as well as each public involved in any given society and are transferred to new publics that replace and create a new hegemony and counter-public respectively. A new “melting-pot “of ideas and discussion is formed between these publics. Whatever ideas that are subject to amnesia from said publics after each transition are added to an archive of ideas to later be reintroduced into the public — this is the amnesia archive. Androgyny exists if humans exist as history shows us. How people react to androgyny depends on how current publics utilize existing paradigms and eventually find ways to utilize the amnesia archive.
“Are Traps Gay?” A Question of Androgynous Power
Androgyny is not a sexual orientation; therefore, traps cannot be gay on the grounds of an androgynous identity, sexual and/or romantic behavior either. The usage of gayness in this context is from the standpoint of hegemony — meaning it is a direct reflection of how this group of people views gender studies: with limited knowledge in the matter. The identity that is given to others from the hegemonic public ought to reveal signs related to their sexual orientation, romantic orientation, gender expression, and perhaps their gender identity depending on how the person is affected by the amnesia archive. The problematic nature of using sexual orientation as an identity label brings to question how the hegemonic public views themselves, hence the initial confusion. Adding the transgressive properties of the trap enhances this confusion from minuscule proportions to extraordinary proportions with the response to such artifacts. Because of this issue, the idea of closet behavior, bi-curiosity and the desire for discreetness come to mind. Normally in public, a cisgendered heterosexual individual who partakes in the current hegemonic public normally react with closeted behavior which results in a preference for discreetness. In cyberspace, the need for discreetness for closeted behavior is already an inherent condition that is met due to anonymity given in forums like 4chan and Tumblr (where most of the amnesia archive is undergoing reform by the hegemonic culture and counter-public respectively). With the amnesia archive being reformed as each respective public discusses the concept of a trap, the boundaries surrounding sexuality, gender, and identity blur and solidify with each discussion had on this issue — further moving the “goal post” to answering this question. Homosexuality as an identity-label, a social construction, and is ever changing by many publics is left to simply say: “Is it gay for me to be attracted to traps?” in the face of such ambiguity. To that answer, the self-reflection process begins to further define a personal narrative — thus bringing individual justifications to their sexual confusion. Bi-curiosity alone is insufficient for reaching a conclusion to such a damning question to an individual’s quest to determine their sexual and perhaps even their gender identity due to the term itself being confined in a gender binary defined only by biological sex. Another term: “hetero/homoflexible” comes to mind to answer this. To really define flexibility, one cannot forget the prerequisites to what it means to be “flexible”. When a person is flexible, they are usually put in a position in which they must change the status quo to meet a better alternative to adapt to different circumstances that they find themselves in. This requires a desire to change. With the otaku audience in mind and how the hegemonic public discusses traps, the desire to change does not seem to be present. The desire to justify heteronormativity is what seems most relevant to the discussion. Logically speaking, this leaves closeted behavior to be the sole answer. In plain speak: being attracted to traps makes a heterosexual male who is confined in the hegemonic public simply not heterosexual.
Otaku: summarizing a problematic, goldmine audience.
To begin analysis of the hegemonic public involved with traps, we need to unpack the audience involved with the hegemonic public, what the audience is not and the product that they consume. The typical otaku spends his or her money primarily on aesthetics that appeal to them — much like buying art (often posters, canvasses, actual art products are the product as well). When researching the history and contemporary impact of traps in societies around the world, there are subcultures of people who recognize the concept of an androgynous cross-dresser in a different way:
“Recently, the sense of being strongly attracted to one’s ideals has often been expressed as moe. This term, which literally means “sprouting,” is derived from another Japanese word moyasu or moeru, which means “burning (passion/heart).” Moe was originally used for female idols and animation characters, but currently it is also used to applaud the stylishness of hardware and has become popular among enthusiastic consumers. It has recently become recognized among overseas fans who enjoy Japanese otaku culture and pop culture such as animation and games.” (Kitabayashi 2004).
The product, anime, is defined as such:
“The Japanese animations that are loosely grouped under the term anime entail an exceedingly vast range of media platforms, aesthetic conventions, and fan activities; they are today distributed or circulated transnationally and, with increasing frequency, are also produced transnationally. Although some anime foregrounds the use of new technologies of animation production (they look high tech), the appeal of anime lies not primarily in high-tech or high-budget production. Many anime is decidedly low tech in their execution, in their look and feel.” (LaMarre 2009).
The hegemonic public in this instance are otaku. To unpack otaku, two different descriptions must be laid out to further unpack ideas and behaviors of what the word entails is necessary due to the word’s lack of value in the global scene. First, a general overview of what the term: “otaku” is:
“Simply put, it is a general term referring to those who indulge in forms of subculture strongly linked to anime, video games, computers, science fiction, special-effects films, anime figurines, and so on.” (Azuma, Able, Kono 2009).
(Azuma, e.t al 2009) excellently presents two postmodern characteristics of otaku as well:
“Here I use the phrase “derivative works” as a general term for the largely eroticized rereading and reproduction of original manga, anime, and games sold in the form of fanzines, fan games, fan figures, and the like. They are vigorously bought and sold mainly in the Comic Market (which meets twice a year in Tokyo), but also through countless small -scale exhibits held on the national level, and over the Internet. Founded by a base of amateurs, the market, where numerous copies circulate, and a great number of professional authors get their start, formed the nucleus of otaku culture both quantitatively and qualitatively over the past twenty years… The second postmodern characteristic of otaku culture is the importance placed on fiction as a mode of action for the otaku. This attitude determines not only their hobby but also how they relate to people. In many cases, the human relations of the otaku, detached from the relations of workplace and family in the so -called social reality, are determined by an alternate principle for which fictional anime and games form the seed… This is a postmodern characteristic because the process by which the coexistence of countless smaller standards replaces the loss of the singular and vast social standard corresponds precisely to the “decline of the grand narrative” first identified by the French philosopher Jean François Lyotard. From the end of eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century in modern countries, various systems were consolidated for organizing members of society into a unified whole; this movement was a precondition for the management of society. These systems became expressed, for instance, intellectually as the ideas of humanity and reason, politically as the nation -state and revolutionary ideologies, and economically as the primacy of production. Grand narrative is a general term for these systems.” (Azuma, e.t al 2009).
The otaku are consumers by design. The grand narrative for otaku mode of operating relies on derivative works as a way of life, a means of expression, and a nonchalant attitude towards society (Azuma, e.t al 2009).
Coupled with pre-existing trust issues, the aesthetic of anime and the exposure to “traps” enhances the effects of performing ambiguity, liminality as well as the transgressive sexuality of androgyne.
“In fact, one strong motivation to gender-swap in virtual space is to have [an avatar or alias] as a creature of another gender, something that suggests more than an emotionally neutral activity. Gender-swapping is an opportunity to explore conflicts raised by one’s biological gender [sex]…By enabling people to experience what it “feels” like to be the opposite gender or to have no gender at all. The practice encourages reflection on the way ideas about gender shape our expectations.” (Tuekle 1999).
Anonymity may be good for privacy and exploration, however, there are unintended consequences to keeping anonymity as a prime value in a subculture. The concept of “catfishing” is explored in greater detail in the (Tuekle 1999) text. Catfishing is a derogatory term and ought to be appropriately discussed as: “virtual cross-dressing” to bridge the parallel behaviors observed in existing LGBTQ+ studies. Performing ambiguity, liminality, and transgressive sexuality all apply to virtual cross-dressing as much as androgynous cross-dressers in real life do mainly because of the level of questioning and ambiguity exerted from the cross-dresser onto others. It is a taboo topic because of the consequences. The difference between physical and virtual may seem blurred, however, an unintended or intended deception can be made in casual, romantic, or sexual behavior between virtual cross-dressers and the other party involved. Because of this reality, bitterness, sexual angst, and/or distrust results in frequent exposure to this phenomenon — hence the straightforward nature of the trap memes (which is based on unsaid realities and truisms that can and ought to be further researched). To think that a demographic that is subconsciously the supply and demand of its own culture and products would somehow be overwhelmingly hateful and bigoted towards androgynous cross-dressers (i.e. traps) is laughable only for the fact that the transgressive ambiguity of one of the most popular and loved tropes of this subculture is somehow a venue for perceived bigotry? A demographic that is fearful of catfishing, plagued by impulsive financial decisions, and is in the process of becoming their own sexual frustration while simultaneously trying to deal with such personal issues is no source for hate or illogical fear. Hatred would require disgust and revulsion. Fear is a basic emotion that causes physiological change due to a fight or flight response (naturally from a source that is a perceived danger to one’s survival). All the evidence available suggests the opposite is true to perceived bigotry and fear.
Traps Are (not) Transphobic
The term “trap” in of itself is not a transphobic word because transphobia is a term that applies to individuals who express fear toward transgender individuals and the purpose and effect of the meme in which the word derives from shows no evidence of being used for any intended or unintended malicious reason(s). Androgynous cross-dressers that are subject to a meme used by an otaku demographic are not necessarily a subject suffering from a perceived micro-aggression even if an outside party insists so. This takes agency away from the individual in question and often is a fictional character that does not exist in the real world — there is no agency to be had other than the signs produced by a given artifact. One would have to assume the gender identity of a fictional character without necessarily ever seeing dialogue that subtly or explicitly states a character’s gender or the operations in which a character ought to be contextualized based on romantic/sexual behavior as well as gender expression of a character. These factors are insufficient in diagnosing somebody’s gender. Thus, if a meme transfigures into the real world with effects unknown to the accuser of perceived bigotry and hate would be simply assuming based on observation (in-depth or impulsive — which are all highly subjective in nature). Ostracizing and shaming a perceived wrongdoing onto others without any evidence is bigotry. A hegemonic public may have overtones and systematic preconceptions that shape worldview, however disregarding audience and the individuality of a subject of critique lays the foundation for intolerance — hence the need to discuss a concept like amnesia archives. Androgyny and cross-dressing have been around since ancient societies as a part of hegemonic publics in the past. Nowadays, androgyny — especially for otakus, have readopted the form of eroticism that transgresses sexuality by performing ambiguity through the liminality of opposing both hegemonic and counter-public memory.
Transgender people (mostly) and various queer/intersectional feminists view traps as an exploited object of misogyny (in which I agree with) as well as a transphobic term (which is being disputed in this critical analysis).
There is a view by these critics that androgynous queers who claim to be straight and are convinced that they belong in traditional gender roles paired with feeling a sense of belonging as cisgender are subject to unnecessary ridicule for the sake of what I will define as “gatekeeping “. Let us examine another critic:
“Not only are these “traps” misogynistic, they’re also incredibly transphobic. Anime includes these characters not because they want to break the gender binary, but because they want to get their rocks off.” (Dingle 2017).
Not only is this person unaware of historic, societal trends that (Azuma, e.t al 2007) coined as “derivative works” to explain this phenomenon, but the problematic misuse of “transphobia” is used as a response to derivative works and the grand narrative due to personal discomfort.
“Notice that none of these characters identifies as trans, agender, gender fluid, demi-female, or even mommy-queer. It’s because the writers aer afraid of trans and queer individuals and their disruption of the toxic gender binary.” (Dingle 2017).
This also assumes that the hegemonic public of Japan has sufficient exposure and opposition from a counter-public. If a hegemonic public is left alone with a status quo, it is not necessarily a writer’s responsibility to oppose that which he or she is unaware of. If they are aware of a counter-public narrative and are unable to do any substantive change to this person’s liking, then that is a systemic issue with the capitalistic structure of the Anime industry rather than individual responsibility. Notice how these are not considered or mentioned. Much like the mistake that (BristleBristle 2017) made with cum hoc ergo propter hoc, the media company Anime Feminist has been persistent in that same narrative as well. There is a consistent issue with the current counter-public with falling for this fallacy. Instead of justifying their disgust with the exact same correlations that other trans critics have, herein lies the real issue:
“Trans women aren’t seen as women by the majority of society, which forces them to either torture themselves by hiding who they are, or to be on their own…Just at the base level, these mentalities fill trans people’s feeds with images that require them to come up with headcanons or ignore them completely just to keep it from having an unhealthy impact on how they see themselves. Being a part of this community can be an affair that leaves scars on a trans person’s life forever.” (Sergio 2017).
The first sentence quoted can be discussed at length will poll data and other research done to reflect the current trend of acceptance and inclusion in America and Japan. The other sentence is all that was needed to be said rather than throwing correlations and mismatching the current public. It is observable how the intersectional feminist/queer counter-public will not be able to differentiate between hegemonic publics. This differentiation is important because communicating ideas of inclusion and individual preference can be received easier if the overall strategy from the counter-public does not involve a “one-size fits all” mentality. It simply does not as discuss earlier in the (Azuma, e.t al 2007) (LaMarre 2007), (Miller 2006), (Pflugfelder 1999), and (Kitabayashi 2004) texts.
Differentiating the otaku from the likes of, say Incel is detrimental to the success of making social progress in this area. A quick note on Incel, perhaps the next upcoming fear that the Trans community would be right to have, is described well enough by Vox for you to catch up and understand further.
Incel is the exact hegemonic public that ought to be clearly identified with the energy, anger, fear, and collective critique from intersectional feminists, transsexuals, queers, and everyone else in clear opposition to this public danger to advocate from a position of compassion (i.e. progressive policies like single-payer healthcare with universal single-payer mental health care as the selling point to the hegemonic public). The type of man that the counter-public cite as the kind that brutally murder transwomen are these types of individuals. Not the typical otaku spouting rehashed memes. The basis of the opposition and discomfort to the term: “trap” despite recognizing that androgynous cross-dressers are actively reclaiming the word is based on an Urban Dictionary definition and responds accordingly:
“So basically the word “trap” in theory refers to cross-dressers who are deceiving people by presenting as a different gender, and for that should perhaps be a threat.” (BristleBristle 2017).
Keep in mind that the Urban Dictionary definition has no mention of androgyny yet mentions cross-dressers that are feminine enough to hide a secret. Not only is this assuming too much from cross-dressers, but to then see the blogger (BristleBristle 2017) turn around and assume that this correlate to what they call: “pervasive and harmful stereotypes” to real life events to trans people in transitioning from one sex to another is also cum hoc ergo propter hoc — whether intentional or unintentional. Perhaps it is time to return to the days of the Gay Liberation Movement where inclusivity, open-mindedness, and inquiry were valued as high of a priority as advocacy (Stryker 2008).
These critics, by the way, do not have any right to gate-keep who can be included or excluded in the LGBTQ+ community. The entire point of the community is to be inclusive and understanding of the complexity of our species, not be partisan, polarizing hacks who like to feel correct, comfortable and virtuous by ostracizing a minority community as a side effect to their main critique on cisgender, straight, white men (and Japanese men too in this case — both are subject to smears). To quote one of the problematic bloggers:
“And no, I refuse to believe that someone can just be a feminine boy. If you’re a boy and you act and look like a girl, you’re probably just a queer or trans person in denial or something. Not that men can’t break masculine stereotypes and whatnot, but they must do it on our terms. It’s transphobic if they do so otherwise.” (Dingle 2017).
Not all intersectional feminists and academics in the LGBTQ+ community have a full consensus about the tactics used for this discourse Invoking transphobia is often used by counter-publics to express discomfort, offense, and personal disagreement rather than point out actual accounts of fear and hate expressed by the hegemonic public (Elliot 2010). The origins of transphobia are as old as sexism, which is also as old as civilization itself due to patriarchal systems (Ehlric 2009). The origins of transphobia are also tied to a systematic malpractice in the field of psychology due to sexism (Stryker 2008). When a system is put in place to actively discriminate against what the hegemonic public deem “normal”, then that is where transphobia ought to be discussed and clearly defined as to how such feelings of hate and fear manifest. It does not require a cisgendered, heterosexual person to be the sole owner of transphobic status either. Feminists, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and people from all walks of life can and have engaged in transphobia due to hegemonic norms and worldviews associated with discrimination (Stryker 2008). From this perspective, it is based on questioning established systems that prevent the progress that counter-publics from achieving equity in the workplace, in government, in law, in everyday discourse, and in education to liberate the individual queers from a fundamental freedom that humans ought to have: freedom from fear and want. It also begs to reevaluate how the counter-publics view the efforts of androgynous people who cross-dress that want to reclaim the seemingly defamatory term: “trap” as their own just as genderqueers did with the once defamatory term: “queer”. There is a substantive debate about this question on how to deal with what I call the amnesia archive to further progress a much-needed liberation of androgyne (Elliot 2010), (Stryker 2008). In a time where a counter-narrative is being created to replace the existing hegemonic public’s sense of gender binary, it is important to mention that the counter-public is not unified in a strong, cohesive approach to doing so. Understanding the dichotomy between being inclusive and understanding of an individual’s journey to understanding their gender identity, gender expression, etc. rather than limit the human condition in arbitrary social standards versus the gatekeeping being done for a community that prides itself in inclusivity is puzzling. Holding double standards is illiberal and gross to witness when there are other means of spreading ideas than such a rash means that outspoken critics tend to do in recent times.
In this analysis, the idea of publics holding onto ideas that are partially forgotten in context has been presented as amnesia archives — a melting pot of ideas with limits suggesting that every society has a limited memory which suggests a place for ideas to exist that can be “remembered” or “rediscovered”. Androgyne serve as a solid case study of the need for a concept like amnesia archives due to ongoing issues that Western civilization faces today with identity politics and presenting the hegemonic and counter-publics an opportunity to rediscover an alternative fluidity to sexuality and gender. The history of androgyny has been discussed and correlated to the idea of the amnesia archive and the audiences that it relates to. With such revelations possible and discussions that need to be had in a context-driven narrative, perhaps groundbreaking progress can be made in mainstream and subcultural society’s ongoing journey to address our issues with gender identity politics. Perhaps addressing an audience that is already familiar with androgyny would not only be an excellent foundation for such progress, but a rediscovering of an aspect of what it means to be human by embracing the transgressive sexuality, performing ambiguity, and liminality of the beautiful, the powerful, and the (un)forgotten status of traps that can release us from a cycle of polarizing and stagnating sociocultural decay.
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