Yesterday I was at the Akta Community Centre, Shinjuku, to set up my exhibition. When I got there, I found that I couldn’t stick anything onto the wall. This could be a problem, I thought to myself. In the end, after much deliberation, I used hooks hanging from the ceiling to hang my artwork. Standing back and looking at the whole display, I felt a sense of pride because I did this all on my own.
Usually, I need lots of help from others, like for SG Bienalle last year. From the chairs, to the installation, to friends and curators who helped hang my artwork, that is a lot of outside help, but I did all myself this time, just by setting my mind to it. Start simple, I told myself. Things moved swiftly, with the help of two friends who pitched in. One help translate to Japanese, while the other helped me hang my artwork. I guess starting with a simple foundation makes it easier to develop and add on to the concept I had in mind. We would be done in no time, I thought.
While we were setting up, a woman came to the centre, and she spoke to Janji-san, who was a volunteer at the centre. Looking at her, I wondered if she was a transwoman, like me, or a crossdresser. In Japan, the crossdressing movement is huge, and there is a lot of visibility. There is an activist named Junko Mitsuhashi who is regularly invited to give talks and share her experience. She also writes articles about her life experience, as well as activities within the crossdresser community.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a huge difference between crossdressers and transwomen. The former does not experience what is medically known as gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria – the feeling of being born with the wrong gender. For transwomen, the feeling of living in the body of the opposite ex is devastating. The suicide rate for transpeople is very high as they struggle with depression. They are often musinderstood and are shamed by the public for being who they are.
As a transwoman coming from a conservative, and at times extremeist, country, I find it a constant struggle to educate the public that we are not crossdressers, or transvestites, or even drag queens. We are women, who think, live, and function as women. Transvestites, or corssdressers, are men who express their femininity within a safe space, but only for certain periods of time before they go back to living as men.
In our efforts to get society to understand who we are, I think we may have undermined, or even overlooked, crossdressers, because society is easily confused by their presence, and our message could get lost in transmission. This is a society that doesn’t acknowledge, or care to understand, the simple difference between gender and sexuality. “Privilege-bodied” people, as I call them, see gender as binary, or black and white, and force others to abide by the heteronormativity that they were taught to believe and accept. Pink for girls, blue for boys. What if the girl likes pink? Or the boy wants to play with dolls?
I have crossdresser friends who meet regularly, in full makeup and women’s clothing. They hang out for a while, take photos for keepsakes, then go home to their lives as men. Some are heterosexual males. Some are married, some are single. Others are transwomen in the transitioning phase, who need a safe space to express themselves. There aren;t many spaces to do that if you are from a conservative background, in a conservative country. I hear a lot of their stories, here in Japan. That being said, crossdressers in Japan enjoy a higher level of visibility than in Malaisea. You can tell a crossdresser from a transwoman because of the skin and dimensions of the body. In Japan, because of the culture that respects privacy, crossdressers are safe in public.
The journey for a transwoman is a complex one. Some start out identifying as gay men, who eventually come out as trans. Some have always felt that way, but suppress theor feelings until much later in their lives, after struggling with depression.
When I was growing up, I wanted so desperately to undergo SRS (sexual reassignment surgery), but I was raised to believe I would be defying God’s will, and that I would go to hell. When I was young, the gender divide was very clear. My sister would be assigned to cook and clean, while I would do the heavy lifting and other “manly” errands around the house.
I always have this vision in my mind of standing on a platform, with one side for women, the other for men. I would be standing on the wrong side of the platform, trying to get to the other side. I just keep staring at the other side, watching trains pass by. Saturday 2:34pm
Yesterday i went to akta community center shinjuku to set up my exhibition, ironically i can't stick anything or use the wall but use the hook on the ceiling slightly infront of the wall to hang the artwork, i feel proud of myself because i did it all on my own for the first time in my life. Usually like last year big exhibition in SG Bienalle i need many people's help because of the installation, chairs and curators friends who helped hang the artwork on the wall. Yesterday i manage to do all with just a thought in mind. Make it simple. And with that thoughts i manage to do the setting up more breezely, switfly, and with the help of 2 friends, 1 who translate from English to Japanese and another help with hanging the artwork but setting up tying up the strings were fast, i guess with the idea of simple settings or start simple as foundation, then later i can just add on to make it more elaborate is the way to do it. During setting and putting up artwork, there was a woman who came to the center and she was talking to Janji san who volunteering at the center. I was wondering if she was a transwomen or crossdressers because in Japan, the crossdressers scene or movement is strong and very visible in public. There's an activists name Junko Mitshuhashi who shared her experience living as a crossdresser in Japan and she was invited to many talks, interviewed, written articles to media about her life experience and other activity in crossdressers community. The difference between crossdressers and transwomen is they don't experience what the medical term called gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria. For transwomen the feeling of having the opposite sex body and what they feel indside is devastating. The suicide rate for transperson is high. One often have an idea to hurt the body or someone to hurt them or som just end it by committing suicide. This kind of information is rately published in local media where they often misunderstood and shamed for being who they are. As a transwoman coming from extremist conservative country i find it very interesting because us transwoman trying hard from time to time to tell or educate the society who enforce gender binary that that we're not crossdressers or tranvestite or drag queen. We're just woman who live, think as one full time. Transvestite, crossdressers are men who express their femininity in their own safe-space in certain short time.
In our activism in a way we undermine crossdressers because for us they confused our messages to the public or society. A society who cared less about other fellow humans variety and the simple differences of gender and sexuality. Privilege bodied i call it often take this for granted and often force their handed down heteronormativity in their daily lives. Still buying pink for female assigned baby at birth and blue for male assigned at birth without questioning the origins of this stereotype.
I have crossdressers friends who meet occasionaly in one place, make up, wearing women's clothes congregate then take photos together and then go back to being a man. Heterosexual male. Some married some single and some transitioning transwoman. (For transitioning tranwomen its because she find a safe space to do so to express herself probably because she don't have the priviledge maybe coming from restricted, or conservative family and the difficulties of transition.)
I heard and read same stories here in Japan. Crossdressers often meet up in one place, a safe space for them to share their interests. But in Japan crossdressers are more visible in public than in malaisea. When i said crossdressers because they dont usually take hormones and 1 single look you can tell by the skin and dimensions of the body. But because of the Japanese culture as well that they don't invade other people's space then its ok for one to be or wear whatever one wants in public.
Transwomen journey also have many types before becoming oneself. Some thought they were a gay person who attracted to other opposite sex. But eventually found her true identity later. Some suppress it until later in life around 40s, 50s or 60s and eventually gave up and just be who they feel inside and start transitioning. Despite some medical disadvantages because of old age some even go through sex reassignment surgery late in the 60s to achieve their dreams.
When i was growing up, i strongly want SRS so so badly. The urge is very very strong. Some friends during that time kept preventing me from doing so because its a sin. This privilege born in the synched body woman friends of mind will never know for lacking empathy of information on gender dysphoria. When i was young the gender divide in the family is clear, my sister would do the cooking and i'll do the heavy lifting, buying stuff from the groceries stores. I always have this vision standing on a platform where one side is for women and one side is for men and i would standing on the wrong side of the platform and figuring out how to jump to the other side. Sometimes i just kept staring to the other side and see the train passing-by.