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Fantasizing What Happens When the Goods Get Together: Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope Julia C. Bullock
In the 1960s a new generation of women writers exploded onto the Japanese literary scene, producing narratives that depicted autonomous expressions of female sexuality in graphic, sometimes fantastic, and frequently shocking ways. This was in startling contrast to then-dominant discourses of female sexuality that encouraged women to channel such impulses either into the service of male desires or, alternatively, into the birth and care of children by “good wives and wise mothers.”1 Authors like Kurahashi Yumiko, Kno Taeko, ba Minako, Kanai Mieko, and Takahashi Takako (among many others) thus opened the door to new conversations about “what women want.” Their efforts generated both controversy and praise, and some of them were even rewarded with the Japanese literary world’s official seal of approval, the Akutagawa prize.2
positions 14:3 doi 10.1215/10679847-2006-017 Copyright 2006 by Duke University Press
These discourses emphasized the importance of women’s contributions as wives and mothers within a nuclear family structure that was supported by a strictly gendered division of labor. The urgency of maintaining these norms. they relied more and more on women’s supportive roles in both the workplace and the home. While these stories are undeniably “queer” in . these emerging discourses of masculinity. or at least the perception of conformity to them.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 664 This level of acclaim was remarkable given the atmosphere of chauvinism that characterized male critics’ assumptions of women’s intellectual abilities at the time. must be understood against a landscape of shifting gender roles in postwar Japan. and the increasing willingness of women to challenge this type of attitude. an opportunity newly granted to women as part of the postwar constitutional revisions that guaranteed equal political and educational rights to both sexes. Attempts by women writers during this period to construct new forms of feminine sexual subjectivity must therefore be read against the normative discourses of gender in which (and through which) they were produced. women who ventured into public space (literally or literarily) still had to contend with normative discourses of their proper “place” in society. which subordinated male desires to the project of national rebuilding. required a complementary model of femininity that subordinated feminine desires to home and family. intensified with the rapid economic growth of the 1960s.5 Practically as well as ideologically. This “type” of writing was considered inherently inferior to literature produced by male authors by virtue of its concern with the particularities of feminine experience. As Japanese men attempted to shed the stigma of wartime defeat through self-reinvention as a nation of corporate warriors.4 Such chauvinism. While women’s roles changed greatly during the 1960s and 1970s.3 They struggled to carve out an intellectual space for themselves within a literary world that had heretofore ghettoized writing by women as jory bungaku (“women’s literature”). thanks in part to the new rights and opportunities mentioned above. Many of these writers were among the first generation of women to attend elite universities alongside men. that depict the erotic desire of one woman for another. written by ostensibly heterosexual female authors. One striking example of this kind of literary experimentation with new modes of sexual subjectivity is a small but intriguing subset of stories.
The function of female homoerotic themes in Takahashi’s literature.9 The 1920s in particular experienced a boom in publications devoted to analyzing sexual “perversion” in a highly commercialized and prurient fashion. In this essay I examine a set of such short stories by Takahashi Takako. Furthermore. a writer who debuted in the late 1960s and rose to prominence on the literary scene in the 1970s. has thus far largely gone untheorized in both Japanese. indicates the extent to which such .”6 it is difficult to interpret them as “lesbian” if one understands this term to denote an expression of sexual identity in a politicized and categorical sense. the introduction of Western sexological discourse in the early twentieth century did not supplant so much as supplement this attitude of tolerance with an array of medicalized discourses useful in narrating a range of behaviors newly discovered to be “perverse” (hentai).10 The discursive loquacity surrounding ostensibly “abnormal” forms of sexuality. and indeed in the literature of most heterosexual Japanese women writers.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 665 the sense of “resistan[t] to regimes of the normal. Takahashi presents herself as exclusively heterosexual (judging from the biographical and autobiographical information available on her life). nor was there any operative notion that the sex of one’s partner defined one’s “identity” in any meaningful way. and yet a number of her stories depict female homoeroticism in ways that offer an intriguing commentary on the structure of sexualities and gender roles available to women in postwar Japan. they appealed to mass audiences who eagerly wrote in to narrate their own “perverse” experiences and desires.7 Like her contemporaries mentioned above.and English-language scholarship.8 Background Before entering into discussion of Takahashi’s literature. including (primarily male but also female) homosexuality. Even as such publications strove to maintain a veneer of scientific objectivity. I would like to contextualize this discussion by offering a brief survey of the field of discourse that affected literary expression of same-sex sexual desire in postwar Japan. As a number of excellent recent studies have shown. in premodern Japan (before 1868) same-sex sexual contact was not stigmatized as it was in the West.
as is evident from the wildly popular “lesbian” pornography marketed to male audiences and its counterpart in the “boy love” comics depicting homoerotic relationships between beautiful young boys.”11 After a period of suppression during the 1930s and early 1940s. for example. such discourse in the 1950s tended to deemphasize sexological diagnoses in favor of a nonjudgmental. narration of the pleasures of “queer” desires. Like many readers (and quite possibly writers) of more “lowbrow” articulations of perverse desire. for the pur- . these authors can be seen as trying on alternative versions of sexual expression. this boom in mass media discourses of “perverse” sexuality was paralleled in the postwar period by the ascent of a large cohort of women writers of so-called pure (as opposed to popular) literature ( junbungaku) — this would include Takahashi — who were equally interested in exploring unconventional expressions of feminine sexuality. even celebratory. Whether this experimentation was motivated by playful impulses. or something in between. This created situations whereby. which were aimed primarily at a readership of women and girls. Like their prewar predecessors. these “perverse” publications once again flourished in the immediate postwar atmosphere of relative press freedom. so that by the 1970s the field had become divided into niche markets devoted to particular “types” of sexual discourse. Such relationships were assumed (often wrongly) to be more spiritual than sexual in motivation. such periodicals continued to present a polymorphously perverse range of sexualities in a format that featured first-person testimonials from readers alongside “expert” commentary.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 666 medicalized discourses were imported and popularized without supplanting such behaviors or rendering them unacceptable. However. and thus “to some extent [were even] encouraged by parents to steer their daughters away from pre-marital heterosexual relations. passionate friendships between young girls in the early decades of the twentieth century were tacitly accepted. genuine personal desires.12 While such publications gradually became more specialized in the 1960s. what is important for our purposes is to note the range of available fantasy outlets through which consumers could “try on” alternative sexualities. even as they were considered to be aberrant. This occurred even across gender lines. as mobilization for war gradually overtook all other goals. as Mark McLelland notes.13 As noted above.
lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender. of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” — in other words. and frequently worked to support them both so her husband could concentrate on his writing. Takahashi Kazumi. meaning that all parties were assumed and expected to harbor strictly heterosexual desires. in particular. Her literature frequently depicts similarly independent women who are unfettered by the . In one of the many definitions of queer that she provides in her book Tendencies. Eve Sedgwick describes this term as referring to “the open mesh of possibilities. her alma mater.”14 In Japan of the 1970s. On graduation she married another writer. Born in 1932 into a well-to-do household. And most unusual in an era when womanhood was still conflated with motherhood in the societal imaginary. to women. into the fulfillment of marital and reproductive obligations.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 667 pose of this essay these narratives are interesting because of the “queering” effect that they have on the field of normative sexualities and gender roles that they depict. These expectations were then enforced by channeling feminine sexuality. the decade in which all of the texts under consideration in this essay were written. any way of being in the world (or imagining such being) that differs from what is considered “normative. Such ideologies of appropriate gender roles and sexualities of course obscure the large number of people who fail to conform to those standards. Takahashi herself did not conform to this ideal of genderappropriate behavior. gaps. This model of normalcy was also implicitly heteronormative. the norm still would have been a nuclear family headed by a father who worked outside the home and a mother whose primary responsibility was to the domestic sphere. and yet these imaginary relationships to reality continued to hold great sway over how ordinary Japanese citizens understood their own lives and behaviors. she chose not to have children. dissonances and resonances. she was one of the first generation of young women to take advantage of the postwar educational reforms that opened up elite universities like Kyoto University. preferring an independent lifestyle that left her free to pursue her own intellectual interests. particularly the bearing and raising of children. and her own unconventional background no doubt gave her a personal stake in the alternate visions of femininity that she depicted in her texts.15 Interestingly. overlaps.
and “Kesshtai” (1976) — demonstrate a remarkable regularity in the way they queer normative conceptions of sexuality and gender roles. and the propensity of their perspectives to merge at crucial points in the narrative. “Kysei kkan” (1973). While the women are rivals for the affection of the male partner. So although the triangular relationships depicted in these stories are firmly grounded in a heterosexual economy of binary gender roles. and though Shko seems con- . has remained single and therefore outside the structure of marriage and motherhood. she does so from an emphatically queer perspective. In fact the stories to be discussed in this essay — “Shiroi hikari” (1973).positions 14:3 Winter 2006 668 bonds of the traditional nuclear family. “Kyosei kukan” (“Symbiotic Space”) ¯ ¯ In “Kysei kkan” (1973) this divided self is expressed through two sisters who are simultaneously opposite personality types. her older sister. Therefore it becomes possible to read the feminine dyad as representing two halves of the same person. effectively (if temporarily) subverts the notion of clear role divisions. the protagonist. they nevertheless are articulated in such a way as to blur the boundaries between heterosexuality. desiring fusion with one another yet inevitably fractured through their participation in a heterosexual economy that divides women into types according to their usefulness to the family system. and intimately linked to one another through a mysterious psychic connection. the intimacy between the two women. Fujiyo. they simultaneously experience a fascination or attraction for one another. The two sisters thus represent opposite life paths for women. intellectual equal versus sexual object.” the first story under discussion here. Whereas Shko. On the other hand. When she does depict family life. as we will see in “Kysei kkan. in each case the two women are depicted as possessing opposite personality types or performing complementary roles: wife/mother versus lover. All of these stories deal with love triangles involving two women and one man.16 Furthermore. is a housewife who is apparently pregnant with her first child. and (if we take both female characters to represent the same person) autoeroticism. which is expressible only through an intimacy that is mediated by the male lover. rivals for the same man. homoeroticism.
rather than perceiving this as a problem as she does now. giving her the illusion that she and Fujiyo have joint possession of Nobuo. The story begins with Shko receiving a letter from her older sister to the effect that she will be paying a sudden visit the next day. although Shko’s first reaction when she hears about Fujiyo’s planned visit is to feel suspicious and concerned that Fujiyo may still have a romantic interest in her husband. since her marriage to her husband. We learn through a series of flashbacks that the sisters have always shared an uncannily close bond bordering on extrasensory perception. as she and her husband have sex in their own room. However. Thus. It turns out that both women had initially been interested in Nobuo. causing Fujiyo to leave home. and to the very end of the story it remains unclear what (if anything) Fujiyo thinks about their present or former relationship. Shko describes the feeling this gives her as “horrifying. she imagines that the psychic boundary between herself and her sister in the next room blurs. with Shko somewhat resentful of her sister’s relative freedom. Shko is dubious about her sister’s motives because. But a deeper cause of Shko’s ambivalence toward her sister is highlighted during a dramatic scene in which. the formerly close relationship between the sisters grew awkward. Significantly. this seems due less to a fear of having her husband “stolen” or appropriated from her than to the possibility that Fujiyo may actually have won the contest precisely because she was not chosen.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 669 vinced that Fujiyo is jealous of her status as a properly married woman. There is ample indication that Shko may not be a reliable narrator. particularly when it comes to her perception of her sister’s intentions. all of this information is recollected and filtered through the protagonist Shko’s perspective. it seems just as likely throughout the text that the jealousy works both ways. the two have been estranged. Nobuo. Shko frequently describes them as sharing the same soul or as two halves of the same person. at the same time she seems to want to believe in the intimate bond she thinks she still shares with her sister. She . at times she seems paranoid and even unstable. It is only when Nobuo appears and chooses one over the other that this symbiotic relationship becomes untenable. but after he chose Shko over Fujiyo. during their youth growing up in the same household this depth of understanding seems to have been a source of pleasure and solace — at least from the perspective of the main character.” but significantly.
Nobuo’s suggestion that this could be all in her own imagination gives her a mental image of her side of the scales crashing down. rather than indicating joy or eager anticipation of motherhood. only by convincing herself that they think the same thoughts and want the same things can she maintain the illusion of a “second self” that is free to live the life now forbidden to her by virtue of her incorporation within the heterosexual economy. I can still be with Nobuo. the husband thus serves as a necessary (and perhaps fictive) link to her sister. when Nobuo suggests that Fujiyo may not share Shko’s sense of psychic connection. at the same time she seems to need the illusion that they are still connected as they used to be. but I can feel all this yet still remain a maiden. At one point she remarks that whereas Nobuo was “simply happy” about the pregnancy. Being alone like this. the notion throws Shko completely off balance. this fiction is simultaneously necessary to maintain the sense of connectedness with her sister. You may be corrupted. and reflects that the notion of morning sickness seems perfectly natural — merely knowing that a living thing was growing inside her was reason enough to want to vomit. Though she has consoled herself with the thought that Fujiyo was jealous of her “good fortune” in snagging the man they both wanted. “It’s much better to be alone.”17 This one moment seems to epitomize the real source of Shko’s anxiety. as their psyches merge. I’m much happier than you are.19 The notion of Fujiyo as a free and independent part of herself thus seems to have made Shko’s confinement within the system of marriage and motherhood bearable. From Shko’s perspective. You are my substitute body. seem in fact to reveal dread or distaste for the incipient child. because only in this way can part of her remain free of the patriarchal order. as if weighted with some terrible burden. but I am the real thing. her frequent references to her suspected pregnancy. . At the very end of the story. she didn’t feel that way at all.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 670 imagines Fujiyo saying to her.18 While she clearly feels a very real sense of rivalry with her sister. whereas she had all along imagined herself and Fujiyo as complementary identities occupying each side of a set of scales.
and by the middle of May they are fully “grown.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 671 “Shiroi hikari” (“White Light”) “Shiroi hikari” (1973) is a short story composed of three separate but loosely related vignettes. and the stories with which Watashi and her boyfriend regale each other sound very much like verbal foreplay. The boyfriend’s story concerns an island called “Waku-waku-jima. announcing to him that she has brought him a present. and particularly heterosexual intercourse. In the course of her walk she recalls stories of a sexual nature told to her by her boyfriend. In this first section.” in which the second woman can be understood as a younger version of the protagonist (Watashi). and so she decides to pay him a visit.20 She takes the girl with her to visit her boyfriend. The path she travels to his apartment takes her from the somewhat surreal and isolated realm of the flower garden to the bustling. The three sit down for a drink and conversation. I am primarily concerned here with a sequence comprising roughly the last eight pages of the section entitled “A Day in the Flower Garden. and the feeling of nostalgia she experiences when looking at the girl (along with numerous other clues) suggests that this represents a younger version of herself. urban reality of the mundane world. and the plants she sees make her think of similar stories she would like to tell him about both actual experiences and fanciful thoughts she has while there. they fall from the tree and die instantly. She notes the crowds of young women there and reflects on the gap in age and beauty that separates her from them. fresh and young. from the fruit of a particular sort of plant. Thus (unlike Watashi) they never age or lose their youthful beauty. The story begins with Watashi wandering around a nearly deserted flower garden on a very hot day in midsummer. . her observations of the plants consistently suggest metaphors for human relationships. Her eyes fixate on one particular young girl. and the island is resupplied every spring with crops of fresh young girls. which reminds her frequently of the boyfriend.21 Their bodies begin to emerge slowly in early spring. though she is only around thirty-five she considers herself to look ten years older than that and thinks about how she might have compared in appearance with these girls when she was their age.” where beautiful young girls literally grow on trees.” Yet just at the peak of their maturity.
as I heard it. . and I felt myself expanding as far as I could see. .22 There are many ways to read the intersections of sexuality and power depicted in this story.” Even though the sound came from the room next door. Furthermore. Yet Watashi is apparently complicit with this arrangement.” but Watashi insists that he take the girl instead of her. thinking that she has become too “old and worn-out” to offer herself sexually to the man. she is visibly stimulated by the stories as well. . and I could hear pleasure reverberate faintly inside my body. which complicates any attempt to interpret the narrative as a straightforward critique of male-dominated regimes of sexuality. I heard the young girl cry “waku waku. We could consider the possibility that she is merely acceding to his wishes were it not the case that she suggests the scenario in the first place and takes the initiative to recruit the girl and bring her to the man’s apartment. Thus it is possible to read this story as an indictment of a heterosexual economy that is dominated by masculine erotic demands. she clearly benefits from the arrangement as well — in fact. In the next room. Then I felt the pleasure of scattering endlessly into the beyond. Yet as her boyfriend has sex with the young girl in the next room. and Watashi describes the effect on herself as a kind of intoxication that far exceeds that of the alcoholic beverage she has consumed. Finally the boyfriend is ready to “begin. Watashi is somehow able to experience pleasure from the act as well through an apparent psychic link with the couple: The body that I experienced as a giant cell felt as though it were merging with the outside world across the thin membrane separating inside from outside. The thing that was me floated out into that which wasn’t originally me.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 672 While the young girl remains silent throughout. even though such sentiments are clearly expressed. this is not the whole story. giving him the opportunity to enjoy the intellectual stimulation that conversation with Watashi provides while simultaneously allowing him to gratify himself sexually with an attractive and nubile (and revealingly silent) young girl. which literally fragment women into body and soul. it felt just as though it came from within me. her pleasure is all that is recorded . The three-way relationship may be seen as working to the boyfriend’s advantage.
the scene can be interpreted as simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual. this is not necessarily the only way to read it. It is even possible that the entire structure of this three-way relationship has been devised by Watashi to service her own needs and that the boyfriend might actually prefer to get his intellectual and physical stimulation from the same woman. “Kesshotai” (“Crystal”) ¯ The short story “Kesshtai” (1976) offers perhaps the clearest articulation of the emotional structure of such triangular relationships. But for whatever reason. Rather. The story revolves around the convoluted relationship between the protagonist. Is this a sacrifice made on the boyfriend’s behalf? Or on her own? Is this a gift given purely out of selfless motives? Or self-interested ones? There is no way to tell based on the information given in the story. Shizuko. or even autoerotic. It is also unclear whether the source of her pleasure comes from enjoying the boyfriend’s caresses through identifying herself with the girl’s subject position or from enjoying the girl’s body as a sexual object vicariously through the boyfriend as medium. and through the girl she is able to recapture the sensation of lost youth. her . In other words. We could also read this encounter as an example of vampirism. in effect by enjoying the pleasures of sex without the messy complications of actual physical contact. since her exclamation of “waku waku” links her to the fabled young girls who grow on trees and die at the peak of their maturity.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 673 in the story. In other words. because she (with the cooperation of the boyfriend) uses the girl as a vessel for her (their) own gratification. while it is possible to read both Watashi and the young girl as victims of a heterosexual economy that uses women for their sexuality and then discards them after they lose their appeal. She may in fact be disposed of in the end. the system does not work that way. the girl is treated as a passive and disposable object (a “mechanical doll”23). “Shiroi hikari” portrays a complex web of power relationships in which subject and object are indeterminate and constantly shifting. Yet when we consider the doppelgänger effect at work in this story — that the “disposable” girl in this story can also be interpreted as Watashi’s own youthful self — the situation becomes even murkier.
and she decides that while she feels herself perfectly comfortable in the role of interloper/mistress. that person would risk falling headlong into the endless pit at the center of the triangle. Thus there is no dramatic breakup scene featuring the hurling of recriminations or throwing of objects. When the story begins Tamako has already left her husband. Shizuko considers this arrangement to suit her needs perfectly. In other words. husband. calmly asking Shizuko (who is sprawled naked on the bed with Tamako’s husband at the time) to take care of him before walking quietly out the door with her belongings. With the wife gone. the job of wife does not suit her at all. Shizuko repeatedly laments throughout the story that Tamako’s departure has taken all the fun out of the affair. Yet her patience evidently reaches its limits and she eventually decides to leave. with the apparent consent (and often in full view) of his wife. and Tamako’s husband.” Tamako manages for years to remain impassive about the situation and even chat airily with her husband’s mistress over tea.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 674 friend Tamako. Takao. But rather than rejoice that she now has Takao all to herself. gnashing her teeth or crying her eyes out. At the center of this crystal lies a “chasm” of silence that must be maintained in order to prevent it from collapse — she imagines that the moment any of them really begins to consider the untenable nature of their relationship..e. and mistress each performing their roles) for the whole structure to be sustainable. Japanese tradition holds that a good wife never shows jealousy. but the narrative consists mostly of flashbacks to the time when the couple was still together and Shizuko would often come to their house to cavort with Takao. even when faced with evidence of her husband’s sexual affairs. the triangular relationship simply comes to an end when one party (not surprisingly. comparing it to a crystal in which all parts must be arranged in perfect order (i. with whom Shizuko is openly having an affair. She tries repeatedly to convince Tamako to return so that things will go back to the way they . the wife) decides that it is no longer sustainable. Shizuko is now called on to perform wifely duties such as shopping and entertaining guests. and in an almost classic (or parodic?) performance of the “good wife. this is no typical story of infidelity in which the husband and his lover sneak off to consummate their passions in secret while the wife bitterly waits at home. wife.
it really does fall apart.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 675 were. yet rather than revealing sadness or nostalgia over the loss of the relationship with the husband.” striding gradually into the frame. a sundress that Shizuko remembers not from their shared time together. though Tamako is clearly concealing her feelings so as not to appear hurt by the openly displayed affair. stimulating him both physically and intellectually. training Tamako to be the image of the perfect wife who fulfills all his everyday requirements and herself as the “bad girl” (mistress) who spurs his fantasies through her erotic stories and games. sharing a keen understanding of each others’ characters and thoughts. and as she lovingly strokes each outfit she remembers their outings together and what she and Tamako each wore. Tamako is a complete mystery to her. and by the end of the story. and when she leaves. Takao has apparently been completely forgotten — until she reaches the last piece. the scene reads as nothing so much as a breakup with the wife. at first literally “out of the picture. but the soon-to-be ex-wife politely declines. Yet the women are hardly powerless in this arrangement. By contrast. Shizuko has decided that she has no option left but to end the now unsatisfying affair. and Shizuko at least seems to relish her role as temptress and center of attention by wearing what she thinks Takao will like to see her wear and crafting fantasy scenarios that she thinks will titillate him. Whereas Shizuko emphasizes that she and Takao seem always on the same wavelength. At the very end of the story Shizuko asks for permission to look through Tamako’s wardrobe before leaving. for they are far more than merely rivals for the affection of the same man. In her mind she imagines herself. Who holds the power in this three-way affair? The answer is far from simple. she shows in the end that she has the most power of all — her presence is in fact crucial to keep the structure of the “crystal” intact. but from a photograph she saw of the couple together before Shizuko knew them. Another crucial ambiguity of the text is the exact nature of the relationship between the two women. wielding a parasol “like a weapon” with which to destroy the couple’s happiness. Shizuko insists over and over again that Takao has arranged the whole thing according to his own needs. and at times a far greater source of interest and absorption than . The final scene has Shizuko paying a visit to Tamako to inform her of her decision.
Shizuko insists on discussing her relationship with Tamako’s husband. As mentioned above. one at the beginning of the story and one at the end. Thus Tamako’s sudden departure puts Shizuko out of a job — or rather into the default position of wife. since as Shizuko notes. In separate conversations between the two women when Takao is not present. yet this does not seem motivated by a crude desire to rub her rival’s nose in the unpleasantness of the situation. and likewise she seems to enjoy the fact that he describes her body in equal detail to Tamako. By provoking a reaction in her interlocutor. why am I like that?27 — seem to posit Tamako as a mirror of her own troubled soul. Shizuko is described as tall. Shizuko intimates that the two women’s opposite natures are constructed through the complementary roles of wife/mistress that Takao would have them play. Shizuko seems to take pleasure in the notion of sharing Takao with his wife because of the opportunity of intimacy with Tamako that this relationship affords — her erotic games with the husband revealingly include listening to him recount every detail of his wife’s body. as if Tamako represents a side of herself that has been pared away or suppressed in order to perform the role designated for her within this particular relationship structure. she attempts to get to the bottom of her own murky motivations. and even-tempered. The questions she asks — Why is it that when I’m lying in your bed I feel like I’m turning into you?26 I would never have thought of breaking up with him if you two were still together. Rather Shizuko seems genuinely frustrated by what she sees as Tamako’s “expressionless” and “unfathomable” countenance and curious to probe what lies beneath the veil of composure. blunt.28 Though she has not been “trained” for wifely duty. you can’t be a mistress if the man has no wife. she finds herself slipping into Tama- .25 She appears to see Tamako as a kind of inscrutable other who alone can provide the key to understanding herself. and aggressive.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 676 her lover.24 The two women seem opposite in every way — whereas Tamako is small in stature. soft-spoken. This bipolar schematic again seems to represent the two as functionally complementary types within the heterosexual economy — the “good” woman whose sexuality has been safely contained within the structure of the family versus the “bad” woman whose sexuality has been harnessed to serve the fantasies and desires of men.
” Leaving the apartment. 29 In other words. She hits upon the solution of borrowing Takao’s clothes. Yet when she puts the clothing on. the subject positions in this narrative. the effect is more than she had bargained for — the change of “costume” alters the appearance of features that should be intrinsic markers of identity. Tamako having already moved out. Takao’s character was infusing into her body by way of the sweater and pants. and the self that had become like a man walked fast through the rain. and after donning his sweater and pants. she strides boldly through the rain “like a man. and even her face looks like it could belong to someone else.”30 This incident begins as a playful yet practically motivated appropriation of the outer trappings (the costume) of masculinity. the change of costume has a curious effect on her behavior as well. Shizuko looks out the window to find it raining heavily and fears that going out into the rain in last night’s kimono would ruin the fabric. Furthermore. . . and Takao’s clothing offers itself as a temporary expedient. Waking up in Takao’s apartment. feeling it on her skin. No longer restrained by the feminine injunction not to soil her outfit (or even to wear clothing that is so delicate that it needs special care). it really looked as though Takao were standing there. Shizuko even imagines the dimensions of her body shrinking to conform to Tamako’s short stature. It was as if she had slipped off the woman inside her along with that pink kimono and left it in Takao’s room. and by extension the power dynamics as well. When she squinted.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 677 ko’s role and even appropriating (or being appropriated by) her identity — lying in the bed that used to belong to the wife. as her hairstyle and build now begin to suggest themselves as masculine. are explicitly fluid and mutable. Shizuko simply does not want to ruin her good kimono. She stood there. Furthermore. she wound up putting on the contents too. she revels in the freedom that this new gender identity gives her: “The self that had worried about ruining her best kimono had completely disappeared. an intriguing “gender-switching” scene in the beginning of the story reveals that this shifting of subject position can even take place across the sexual divide.” Where does the “shell” end and the “contents” begin? This scene illustrates beautifully Judith Butler’s . she observes her transformation in the mirror: “Shizuko thought about the power of a costume. It was odd that even though she had only borrowed Takao’s shell. . In true ladylike fashion.
In order to talk to Tamako. she first takes off her masculine costume and changes into appropriately feminine attire. when Shizuko returns home excited to call Takao in order to talk to him about this fantasy. because the triangular schematic of man. Shizuko has to revert to her proper role as mistress.”31 If clothing can be seen as one of the disciplinary mechanisms used to produce the “docile bodies” necessary to modern regimes of authority and power. The contingency of these gendered subjectivities is further underscored in the scene directly following this.and autoerotic. and Takao touches her from a feminine subject position by touching himself. as Michel Foucault suggests in his study Discipline and Punish. Shizuko needs to talk to Tamako about the experience in order to understand it herself. wife. then we can see Shizuko in this scene as creating the opportunity to express a differently constructed version of self than that of the role of mistress that had been sculpted for her.32 Again. blurring the boundaries not only of the “categories” of sexuality but also of the very nature of gendered subjectivity. this scene operates as an expression of a desire that is simultaneously hetero. The relationship between the two women is thus unavoidably mediated by their relationship with Takao and the “crystalline” structure that binds the three together. and . emphasizing this point by specifying that “the one calling Tamako was the Shizuko who had reclaimed her female self. Yet when she picks up the phone she inexplicably calls Tamako instead. This is dramatically underscored by a fantasy she has of Takao putting on her feminine self (the kimono she left behind). again raising the question of which member of this couple is her “real” object of desire. She touches him from a masculine subject position by touching the “self” that has become Takao. who has become Shizuko. allowing the lovers to touch each other from an oppositely gendered subject position.”33 It is at this point in the story that we discover that the experience of feeling “transformed” into Takao has reminded her of another transformation she has experienced recently — the sense of “becoming” Tamako when she sleeps in her bed. For whatever reason.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 678 notion that “drag fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer psychic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity. Significantly. right down to the change in stature mentioned above.
In “Kysei kkan. It is impossible on some level for women to connect with one another independently of the interference of their relationships with men. And in “Kesshtai. both within and across gender boundaries. Rather the very process of “queering” in this sense requires that such norms be retained on some level. Recall the cross-dressing episode in “Kesshtai. whereas the married sister gets a brief taste of femininity unfettered by the demands of motherhood or the family system. Takahashi allows her protagonists to effectively “try on” alternate sexualities. And yet this “queering” of ostensibly heterosexual relationship structures is evidently a temporary and contingent sort of disruption. then in what sense can we consider these stories to be “queer”? We have established that through blurring the consciousnesses of her characters. Shizuko. such fantasies pose no real threat to the heteronormatively structured family system. While momentarily subverting these norms.” the unmarried sister is thus able to experience sexual gratification without actually becoming “soiled” through physical contact. all the fun of heterosexual play minus the domestic responsibilities inherent in the marital contract.” the older woman similarly experiences sexual pleasure without the messy complications of actual sex. regaining a reminder of her own youthful beauty in the process. Conclusion If the relationships depicted in these stories are inevitably structured according to a heterosexual matrix. even though this heterosexual structure can simultaneously be seen as “leaky” in the sense that it fails to contain the totality of human desires or ways of relating to one another. In “Shiroi hikari.” the crystalline structure of this triangular relationship affords the protagonist. We could perhaps read this as an allegory of the way bonds between women are irrevocably mediated by the exigencies of the heterosexual economy.” in which Shizuko dons her male lover’s clothing as a means of appropriating his “masculine” role and then fantasizes about having a sexual encounter with him in this cos- . given that the pleasure of “perversion” itself is produced through the tension generated between role compliance and role subversion.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 679 mistress has from the start formed the ground on which their association is predicated.
the specificity of the roles played by each woman. her fantasy requires that he also “switch” gender by dressing in her own discarded “femininity. although she finds a creative yet temporary solution to the dilemma in the sacrifice of a younger version of herself. even as she clearly desires her. she must have him within the circumscribed position created for (or by?) her as mistress. trumps their “femininity” in determining the kinds of sexual experiences available to them. It is not enough for Shizuko as a woman (feminine or not) to have Takao as a man (masculine or not). she seems obligated to reclaim her feminine persona before making contact with the other woman. These stories further underscore the paucity of any model of sexual subjectivity predicated on a monolithic understanding of gender roles. The protagonist in “Shiroi hikari” finds the possibility of sex itself foreclosed to her by virtue of her perception of herself as too old and unattractive to be a viable sexual subject (whether encouraged or not in this assessment by her male partner). That is to say. In other words. when Tamako opts out. In fact.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 680 tume. the problem is not that she is a woman. . override the obvious homoerotic attraction at work in this scene. this does not translate into a similar experience with Tamako. And in “Kesshtai” the position (and identity) of the mistress is predicated on the continued cooperation of the wife. vis-à-vis men and other women. for in these narratives. the crystalline structure itself collapses. Shko in “Kysei kkan” is far more constrained by the specific role of wife/mother that she plays within the context of the family than she is by the mere fact that she is female — a point that is driven home by the freedom enjoyed by her older sister. Revealingly. Yet curiously. but that she is an older woman. Adopting her lover’s masculine subject position thereby allows her to desire him as a man desiring a woman. roles that require the mediation of the man who structures them. too. while dressed in the trappings of masculinity (which is evident by her urge to call the wife rather than the husband). Loving the man is thus subordinated in importance to playing the role of his lover. the matrix of heteronormativity that structures this triangular relationship is in fact crucial to its survival.” thus preserving the style of heteronormativity while (temporarily) altering its substance. It would seem that the roles the women must play vis-à-vis each other (mistress versus wife). as we have seen.
Shizuko even experiences the illusion of physical transformation into the other woman. Furthermore. imagining the contours of her body shrinking to match the size of her rival. through a volubly erotic sort of foreplay with their common (heterosexual) love object also indicates a marked fascination with the body of the other woman as a site of knowledge of self. but it is interesting that in these stories the other woman’s body is so frequently articulated as a privileged site of knowledge. The desire for sexual experience through a differently feminine subject position here translates into a desire for knowledge of self that is routed through another — or more precisely. In both “Kysei kkan” and “Shiroi hikari. While these relationships are characterized as expressions of heteroauto-homoerotic desire and attraction. then what do these stories say with regard to the corporeal feminine self? Takahashi’s narratives are not mute on this subject. Similarly. In both cases one woman’s body is treated as a disposable substitute. in “Kesshtai” Shizuko cannot resist using Tamako as a sounding board for her monologue of self-scrutiny — and is evidently frustrated when the other woman cannot (or will not) provide the answers she requires to understand her own motivations. and to have her own body known to Tamako. mother. which gives her the (rather unpleasant) sensation of adopting the other woman’s subject position both physically and in terms of the role she plays vis-à-vis Takao. the desire for knowledge of a different possibility of selfhood. If this is the case. even a floodwall. there is a significant undercurrent of aggression toward the other woman as well. to protect the other from being “soiled” through use in the heterosexual economy. or mistress that she plays. as a locus of opportunity for unusual types of intimacies and experiences. Shizuko’s loquacious desire to know the body of the other woman. that is. .Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 681 Obviously these roles are gendered in the sense that one cannot separate the woman from the role of wife. But it seems clear from the relationship dynamics explored in these stories that both women’s bodies and their femininity (as an expression of gender) are in some sense subordinated to the roles they play in determining the types of sexual subjectivity available to them.” one woman is explicitly articulated as a “substitute body” for the other.
All translations of literature by Takahashi cited in this essay are my own. and two anonymous reviewers. and with respect to the other woman. Uno. The male in each story serves simultaneously as a medium for intimacy between the women and as a protective barrier that prevents complete fusion. whose support and enthusiasm were invaluable to my work there. sponsored by Jsai International University (JIU) and Rim: Pacific Rim Women’s Studies Association Journal. Ridwan Khan. Notes An early version of the ideas presented in this essay was delivered in 2003 at the Takahashi Takako Symposium. While the specific implications of this term changed somewhat over the course of the twentieth century. in the period of time under discussion here (the 1960s and 1970s) it essentially referred to women who devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the domestic sphere (especially child care) while their husbands supported the family through work outside the home. For that opportunity I must thank Mizuta Noriko. Andrew Gordon (Berkeley: University of California Press. a fusion that would entail a dissolution of self rather than a blurring of its boundaries. Professor Juliette Apkarian of Emory University.”34 It would seem here that Takahashi is making Sedgwick’s point — that the structure of the heterosexual economy is foundationally dependent on (a disavowal of) the idea of homoerotic desire — from the opposite side of the fence. The material was revised once and included in chapter 3 of my PhD dissertation. Wise Mother’?” in Postwar Japan as History. “A Single Drop of Crimson: Takahashi Takako and the Narration of Liminality” (Stanford University. “straight with a twist. in the heterosexual economy thus becomes a crucial structuring component of these obviously “queer” fantasies of heteronormativity — narratives that are. . ed. 293 – 322. whose excellent advice and suggestions at various stages of editing should be credited for any improvements to the manuscript. this is bound up with a significant amount of fear and loathing as well. to borrow a term from Calvin Thomas.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 682 In other words. in Tokyo. president of JIU. It is for this reason that the triangular dynamic that structures these relationships must be kept intact. The role that each woman plays with respect to the male. and Professor Kitada Sachie. 1993). “The Death of ‘Good Wife. 2004) before taking final form as the essay printed here.35 Perhaps this is what happens when straight people write queer. Additional thanks go to Professor Jim Reichert of Stanford University. see for example Kathleen S. while in each case there is an obvious pleasure to be had in this kind of fusion with the other woman. 1 On the development of the ideal of “good wife and wise mother” in modern Japan.
” PMAJLS 5 (1999): 311 – 20. Takahashi Takako. Maryellen Mori has done several intriguing studies of other “perverse” themes in Takahashi’s work. On the author Yoshiya Nobuko. 1993). Kno won in 1963 for “Kani” (“Crabs”). 1996). University of California. “Yoshiya’s Yaneura no ni shojo: A New Landscape ‘shjo’ in the Popular Literature of Taisho Japan” (master’s thesis. 4 Interestingly. see Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow and Atsuko Kameda.” U. See for example Peichen Wu. On the other hand.S.. Los Angeles. 8 For one autobiographical account. 5 See “Jory o tsukiugokasu mono. see for example Motoko Ezaki. 7 When female homoeroticism is discussed. “Rezubianizumu no yuragi” (“Lesbianism Wavers”) in Feminizumu hihy e no shtai (Invitation to Feminist Criticism). was a finalist in 1971 for “Kanata no mizu oto” (“The Distant Sound of Water”) but also did not win. and in the following year (the first postwar general election) thirty-nine women were elected to the national Diet. On Miyamoto Yuriko. Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past. it is typically in the context of authors explicitly identified or assumed to be lesbian. Paul Gordon Schalow and Janet A.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 683 2 Kurahashi was short-listed for the Akutagawa prize in 1960 for “Parutai” (“The Party”) but did not win. Iwabuchi Hiroko. “Performing Gender along the Lesbian Continuum: The Politics of Sexual Identity in the Seit Society. and Sarah Frederick. and ba won in 1968 with “Sanbiki no kani” (“The Three Crabs”).Japan Women’s Journal English Supplement. eds. 1995). Kawamura Jir was able to claim in a 1980 roundtable discussion with Takahashi Takako and Tsushima Yko that this category had effectively ceased to signify as a distinct genre of literature. Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality (Champaign: University of Illinois Press. “The Quest for Jouissance in Takahashi Takako’s Texts. Kokubungaku kaishaku to kyzai no kenky (National Literature: Interpretation and Textual Studies) 25 (1980): 6 – 25. “Sisters and Lovers: Women Magazine Readers and Sexuality in Yoshiya Nobuko’s Romance Fiction. see Takahashi Takako. see for example her article on the theme of semi-incestuous relationships between older women and young boys. 22 (2002): 64 – 105. Present. Watakushi no tootta michi (The . Kanai was nominated in 1970 for “Yume no jikan” (“Time of Dreams”) but did not win. thanks in large part to the diversity of critically acclaimed work produced by women writers in the 1960s and 1970s. Walker (Stanford. see for example Iwabuchi Hiroko. The public educational system was made coeducational during the first few years of the occupation.” in The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing. See “Jory o tsukiugokasu mono” (“What Motivates Women’s Literature”). 205 – 35.” particularly the section entitled “Women and Work. For a variety of articles detailing how these reforms affected Japanese women’s lives. as quoted in Calvin Thomas. 3 Women were granted the right to vote in 1945. and Future (New York: The Feminist Press. whose works form the subject of analysis of this essay. 1995). 2000). ed. 149 – 74. 13. Kitada Sachie. no.” 6 Michael Warner. CA: Stanford University Press. and Kra Rumiko (Tokyo: Gakugei shorin. ed.
2001). but Takahashi gives them a differently gendered — and contextually distinct — texture. see for example Kurahashi Yumiko. However. McLelland. to denote roughly the same meaning as queer. Chalmers. 1985). This triangular structure is reminiscent of the kind of homosocial relationships “between men” that Eve Sedgwick posits in English literature. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press. Queer Japan. See for example Gregory Pflugfelder. NC: Duke University Press. . 38 – 39). 25. as Mark McLelland does. See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Because the industry was primarily in the hands of male editors and publishers. 1993). Queer Japan. see chapter 3 of “A Single Drop of Crimson: Takahashi Takako and the Narration of Liminality” (PhD diss. As McLelland and Chalmers both note. Stanford University. “The Mystique of Motherhood: A Key to Understanding Social Change and Family Problems in Japan.. the purpose of this essay is not to address straightforward or “confessional” expressions of lesbian desire but rather to explore the uses of female homoeroticism as a literary trope by ostensibly heterosexual women writers. 26 (original emphasis). but I find the question of their sexual orientation less interesting than the “queering” effect that such narratives have on the field of normative sexualities and gender roles they depict. Beyond Common Sense: Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Japan (London: Kegan Paul. Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse. even so-called lesbian pornography was infused with a heavy dose of sadomasochism and was tailored to appeal to male fantasies. I do not mean to discount the possibility that some of these writers might in fact have lesbian or bisexual desires.” in Fujimura-Fanselow and Kameda. 2004). 2005). McLelland. 2002). 168. “Gekij” (“Theater”. For an analysis of additional Takahashi stories that deal with female homoerotic themes articulated differently from the triangular relationships discussed in this article. Emerging Lesbian Voices from Japan (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon. 1962). 1600 – 1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999). and Wim Lunsing. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.positions 14:3 Winter 2006 684 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Road I Have Traveled) (Tokyo: Kodansha. Tendencies (Durham. Japanese Women. Sharon Chalmers. “Natsu no owari” (“The End of Summer”. 71. MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Queer Japan. 1999). and thus it tended not to reflect the experiences of actual lesbians (McLelland. Emerging Lesbian Voices from Japan. 1960) and Kno Taeko. 23. I use the term perverse (hentai) here. See Masami Ohinata. 199 – 211. For stories by other writers that feature similar themes. there was a distinct gender gap in the availability and type of homoerotic discourse available to men and women during this period. See his Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age (Lanham.
15. Ibid. December 1971. . vol.. Ibid. Ibid. Takahashi Takako. “Kesshtai. Ibid.” in Takahashi Takako jisen shsetsu. 19. Between Men. “Shiroi hikari. 162 – 63..” Gunz.” in Ushinawareta e (Tokyo: Kawade shob shinsha. 32.. 161. “Kysei kkan. Ibid. 215. See Sedgwick.” 156. 2 (Tokyo: Kdansha. 233. 214. 158. Takahashi. 210 – 11..” 213. Ibid.. Judith Butler. That this is another case of a doppelgänger motif is confirmed at the very end when Watashi returns home and searches for a picture of herself taken at the same age as the young girl is now. Straight with a Twist. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge. 9. 174. Ibid.. 249. 1981).. Takahashi Takako.Bullock ❘ Female Homoeroticism as Literary Trope 685 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Takahashi Takako. “Shiroi hikari. See Thomas.. The image in the photograph and the description of the girl are identical (163 – 64). “Kesshtai. 215. 1994). 1999). 215 – 16. Takahashi. Ibid.. Ibid.. Ibid. Ibid. 226..