Last Friends, beyond friends—articulating non-normative gender and sexuality on mainstream Japanese television
YUEN Shu Min
ABSTRACT With the official recognition of sex-reassignment surgery in 1996, the concept of Gender Identity Disorder (GID), i.e. a disjuncture between one’s biological sex and gender identity, became accepted as medically-correct in Japan. Since then, media representations and popular perceptions of gender/sexual variants have tended to revolve around notions of ‘illness’ or ‘disorder’, where they are often perceived as souls ‘trapped’ in the wrong bodies. While some people have benefitted from the medical discourse and are happily settled in their new identities across the gender border, there certainly are gender/sexual non-normative people who do not fit into the pathological category of GID. Using an award-winning drama Last Friends as its main text of analysis, this paper seeks to highlight the difficulty, if not impossibility, of classifying one’s gender and sexuality into clear-cut polarized categories of male/female, heterosexual/homosexual and homosexual/transsexual. Once the basis of the male/female dichotomy is ruptured, other categories that have this divide as their foundation will also start to destabilize. Coming at more than a decade after the re-legalization of sex-reassignment surgery, I argue that Last Friends plays an important role in questioning the gender status-quo and opening up a new path for articulating gender diversity on Japanese mainstream television.
KEYWORDS: Japanese Drama, Gender and Sexuality, FTM, Gender Identity Disorder, Transgender, Homosexuality, Family
YUEN Shu Min is currently a teaching assistant at the Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore. Her research interests include Japanese popular culture, minorities in Japan, gender and sexuality, and LGBT studies. She is currently researching on female gender variance in contemporary Japan.