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In Session: Proudly Different in Japan: Body, Sexuality, and Gender in Manga
4: Strange Romance: Melancholic Desire in Shōjo Manga
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
City University of New York, John Jay College, United States
This paper will examine the figures of gender-fluid boys in shojo manga since the 1970s, in particular in the works of Ōshima Yumiko, in order to demonstrate how such characters embody girls’ melancholic desire for non-heteronormative models of romance. Like many other shojo manga, Ōshima’s works center around the absence of mothers: they often depict a girl’s struggles in coming to terms with this loss, and her desperate but futile attempts to restore her mother. This resonates with what Judith Butler defines as gender melancholia. According to Butler, the normative gender is constituted in the melancholic identification that results from no longer being able to have, and so compensating oneself by becoming, the same-sex parent. However, this melancholic identification is accompanied by the retention of the absent objects: repressed and hidden under gender identification, same-sex desire for the lost love objects always resides. Works such as On July 7th and Banana Bread Pudding reflect shojo manga’s melancholic desire for retaining and restoring the prohibited same-sex love object. I will demonstrate how genderqueer male characters enable the protagonists to preserve, even foster, their desire for the object lost, allowing them to remain in girlhood and daughterhood without forcing them into compulsory heterosexuality. Ōshima’s stories embrace female queer desire under the disguise of hetero-romance. Gender-crossing boys are thus a coping mechanism for girls to come to terms with the loss of the same sex love object, precisely because they enable girls to achieve hetero-romance without having to “cure” themselves of melancholic longing.