In the narrow alleys of Tokyo’s ultra-trendy Harajuku district, a growing number of Japanese men who self-identify as “genderless” are boldly broadening their sartorial and cosmetic choices. With faces expertly made up, hair dyed and stylishly coifed, eyebrows plucked and painted, they sashay from one indie boutique to the next.
Harajuku has become a catwalk for jendaresu-kei (or “genderless style”). Although women who dress in a more stereotypically masculine way may also identify as “genderless,” in Japan, the term jendaresu-kei more commonly refers to biological males who are neither interested nor invested in looking like “suits.”
Some, like celebrity model Ryuchell, insist that they are neither cross-dressing nor, necessarily, gay. Nor are they transgender in the sense of having a gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
What blogs and news stories on this genderless-male sensation often fail to articulate is that Ryuchell and his cohort have — whether consciously or not — separated sex (the biological body) from gender (the accessorized body). For them, a male body need not conform to a stereotypical manly appearance.
Matching colorfully patterned fabrics and fingernails with “kawaii” (cute) hats and purses, they signal a vibrant new masculine style. But they may also represent wider changes in the way male roles are perceived in Japanese society.