Media Mix, July 3, 2021

Sari Kaede

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the LDP’s LGBTQ “understanding” bill that stalled and what it really represented. One implication of the incident is that it’s difficult to legislate people’s opinions and feelings, and that popular culture and media exposure are more effective in changing people’s minds. The Japanese documentary mentioned, You Decide, is still playing in Tokyo as I write (it opened June 19) and will be released in more Japanese cities over the course of the summer. It’s a fairly straightforward profile of a transgender woman named Sari Kaede Hatashima, who decided to lay her life out for everyone to see in a bid to show the world that not only is she no different from anyone else, but that she’s really no different from what she was before she made the decision to live as a woman. What’s important to note is that in her mind she has always been a woman, and essentially what has changed is the trappings—the clothes, the makeup, and, yes, the hormones and the surgery. The title refers to a rhetorical rejoinder to the imagined question of whether another person would think of her as a woman. It’s up to that person to decide for themself. 

What makes the movie more complicated than it’s presumed intention is Sari’s own transformation. Though she has always thought of herself as female in the conventional sense, she is still working out what that means in a social context. A good portion of the documentary is taken up with her participation in the Japan edition of the Miss International Queen beauty contest for trangender women. Her coach is Steven Haynes, who is also an executive producer of the movie, and he approaches the preparation sessions as if she were auditioning for one of RuPaul’s reality TV shows. It’s all about conveying confidence and pride, and when he becomes annoyed with Sari’s seeming lack of either he says she must become a “star” on stage. Later, during the actual contest, we see Sari’s performance, a classic drag club musical number featuring two buff men as backup dancers, and she’s still pretty awkward. The awkwardness is not due so much to a lack of confidence, however. She just doesn’t seem cut out to be a performer, but she sees the contest as a kind of rite of passage, something that other trans women have done in order to show the world their commitment. 

She seems much more at home working with her students (she is a licensed architect) and doing volunteer services for LGBTQ employment opportunities. These scenes support the film’s theme much better than the contest footage or, for that matter, the interview with her father, who seems accepting of Sari’s decision but doesn’t really have a lot to say about it. Similarly, when the filmmaker interviews Sari herself and the conversation turns to love and sex, she seems reluctant to go there, not because it’s an embarrasing topic but because it’s not really that big a deal; which is a revelation, and a refreshing one. Because many people think transgender people have “changed sexes” they may also think that sex itself is a very important part of their lives, but it may not be. And, contrary to what popular culture and mass media tell you, it probably isn’t for a lot of people.

You Decide home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Musuko no Mama de, Joshi ni Naru

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