Gay men’s identity in Japan are subject to stereotypical categories based upon media created ideas of an idealized depiction of youth, body type and modes of consumption, says a social researcher studying gay culture in that country.
The gay male culture is highly stratified by body type and age, according to Thomas Baudinette, a PhD candidate from Monash University in his post that appeared in TASA Youth, a thematic group facilitating sociologically-based research relating to young people.
Baudinette points to Shinjuku Ni-chōme, a district in central Tokyo which contains a high concentration of gay bars, pornography shops, saunas, brothels and massage parlors catering exclusively to gay men. The district is also the source of most Japanese gay male media that plays an important role in rendering gay men as a commodity, the post says.
These identities have become codified into a system known as Typing (taipu), which refers to a stereotypical identity category based upon ideas of an idealized body type and modes of consumption.
His study aims to investigate both how media presents certain Types as being normatively desirable and how it has affected Japanese gay men’s identities and desires, Baudinette said.
He pointed out that while conducting fieldwork in Ni-chōme to analyze various gay media, it become apparent that “youth” (wakasa) represents an important trope and which is drawn upon in Japan’s gay media to construct a Type known as the ikanimo-kei (literally, “the obviously gay Type”).
Ikanimo-kei refers to an identity based on consumption of certain fashion labels and activities such as visiting large gay night clubs marking men as being “obviously” gay and an identity linked to youth, masculinity and highly gym-trained bodies.
Japanese gay media have promoted the ikanimo-kei as being highly desirable, and it is for this reason that “youth” and “masculinity” have become markers of being “obviously gay” and “highly idealized,” Baudinette wrote.
During his fieldwork, many men in their 30s and 40s with whom Baudinette spoke said they no longer felt attractive because of this. One gay man in his 40s even said that young gay men in their 20s used their youth as a weapon to deliberately discriminate against older men.
Many men in their 20s with whom he spoke also expressed concern that images of youth presented in Japan’s gay media were incredibly damaging. Young gay men who were unable or unwilling to build up highly muscular ikanimo-kei bodies said they experienced discrimination as “undesirable.”
“Even those men who self-identified as ikanimo-kei occasionally expressed their concerns that as they age they would be unable to maintain their lifestyles and be trapped in limbo as men younger than them came to increasingly dominate the scene,” Baudinette said.
“Through my PhD project (I hope to) determine how Japanese gay men negotiate the complicated system of Typing in order to construct their various identities,” he said.