REPORT: Junko Mitsuhashi Lecture

Undergraduate student, ICU

On May 8, 2006, Ms Junko Mitsuhashi gave a talk entitled Sexuality in Transgenderism as part of the ‘Approaches to Gender Studies’ course at ICU. Ms. Mitsuhashi is a cross-dresser as well as a gender studies researcher specializing in the social history of sexuality. The talk was a powerful and comprehensive presentation on the reality of the Shinjuku cross-dressing community that did not belie her claim regarding her own candidness.

Generally speaking, the correspondence between biologically determined sex and socially determined gender is assumed as an axiom and individual sexual identification is seldom an issue. It has been considered mandatory for the biological male to acquire a socially formulated ‘masculine’ behavioural pattern and thereby identify oneself with the accepted gender model.
According to my basic understanding of transgenderism, the existence of individuals who feel at odds with the externally structured frames of sexuality is a natural consequence of the inflexibility of that structure, and transgenderism such as cross-dressing is an expression of distantiation. However, Ms Mitsuhashi presented me with a different perspective on the issue.
According to Ms Mitsuhashi, men who are attracted to cross-dressing males are an essential part of the cross-dressing community as well as the cross-dressers themselves; this aspect of the cross-dressing community was new to me. Among the several types of men attracted to cross-dressers, I would like to focus on those whose sexual preference is based on the attraction to an amplified femininity, to which gender the cross-dressers have assimilated themselves. Ms Mitsuhashi says that the sexual orientation of this group is not explainable as that of gay homosexuality. Rather, its nature is a simulacrum of heterosexuality which explains their disfavour for the exposure of masculinity (such as male genitalia) in their partners. It could be said, from this attraction to the ‘femininity’ of their partners and their self identification as heterosexual males, that their gender perception is more behavioural than biological: for this particular type of men, the relevant sexuality of their partners is decided on the basis of a gendered code of femininity rather than biological sex. The framework of sexual orientation seen in this group of male partners for cross-dressers reveals to me the fundamental variableness of gender reception where the ‘individual’ framework of cognition could co-exist alongside the more common sex-orientated one.
As has been said, femininity and/or the feminine gender code play an essential part in the choice of sexual partner for this group of male partners to cross-dressers. Then, it seems that for these men to choose ‘natural’ women as their sexual object would have been a more probable outcome of their preference for gendered femininity. Another interesting idea presented by Ms Mitsuhashi was that the preference of these men for cross-dressing ‘females’ is due to an excess of gendered femininity in the cross-dressing ‘female’ which they assimilated in the course of ‘becoming’ women. It is my own guess that the decreasing stereotypical ‘womanliness’ in the common female population might be an underlying factor.
My next point is another new revelation regarding the sexuality and sexual identity of the cross-dressers. Before this talk, I had unquestioningly assumed that the cross-dressers have sexual relationships with men because of their self-identification as women, and that would explain the simulated heterosexualism in their relationships. Then, Ms Mitsuhashi stated that the sexuality of the cross-dressers is not uniform: there are people with gender dysphoria, who nonetheless identify themselves as men and satisfy their need by occasional cross-dressing sessions. On sexual relationships, for Ms Mitsuhashi, men can be sexual objects but not of love. For her, sex with men has an aspect of self-confirmation as well as sexual fulfilment: the success in arousing men’s desire allows her to measure the level of perfection of her constructed feminine gender. Also, it offers the satisfaction of ‘becoming’ an attractive woman herself. In addition, she informed us that for cross-dressers, their aspired female figure (achieved by dressing up) is often that of the sexually desirable figure for themselves. They try to embody the figure of desirable woman themselves and confirm the femininity of that woman through relationships with heterosexual men. Yet, they rather ‘love’ women than men: this seems to be a contradiction and mysterious turn of mind to a socially preconditioned eye, but seen from a slightly different angle, one might say that the desire for assimilating and identifying with the object of appreciation and beauty may be a natural feeling shared by many of us. One might say that the culture of rigid sexuality and lack of understanding of sexual diversity is the basis for our reception of cross-dressing as unnatural practice, because of its transgenderism. I have an impression that despite the committed individualism of our time, we are still strongly influenced by uniform sexuality.
The devotion of cross-dressers in identifying themselves with their object of desire by assimilating the representation of femininity drives them to adopt the gender code of those who with matched gender and sex, amplify it, and test their achievement through the relationships with men. The preference for pronounced femininity leads certain men to be attracted to the amplified femininity of cross-dressers. The existence of these people is not entirely explainable by the general sexual orientation based on physical aspects and the accompanying gender norms. This talk has opened my eyes to the social restriction in my own sexual orientation. The sexual norms that are in current circulation is selective: it ‘includes’ only a certain set of people and its implications and acceptability require rigorous reconsideration. The presence of transgenders like Ms Mitsuhashi who encompasses the ‘life’ of both man and woman questions the bipolar norm of sexuality and opens our minds to a freer understanding of gender.