Gender[queer],  Japan[ese],  Queer[ness]

National Geographic: “Gender Revolution” (Japanese Edition)

just got the Japan edition of National Geographic’s special issue “Gender Revolution”. bearing in mind that i haven’t actually sat down and read through it yet, here are a few snaps along with my initial impression.

prior to getting my hands on this magazine (and in fact, before it had even been released), i already had a general idea of what to expect based on snippets of featured articles that i’d come across online. plus, you know, the fact that it’s NatGeo. as such, i feel like there was never any chance of me being pleasantly surprised in any way, even though i’d set my expectations low to begin with.

well, i’m glad i did, because i’m nitpicky as all hell. but we all already knew that.

at a glance, there are some great things going on in this magazine, such as the increase in awareness of trans, intersex and non-binary people that will happen as a result of this magazine. Japan is among the many countries around the world that does not have access to many of the resources that native English speakers often take for granted and thus will be greatly served by this issue on gender, especially since the magazine’s language of publication has been localized for Japan rather than simply being exported in English.

that said, one of the things i was concerned about was how they would handle the translation non-binary genders and other words that are commonly used in English, but that are only just now gaining ground in Japan. words like agender, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, non-binary, dypshoria, etc. suffice it to say that i was disappointed, but not at all surprised, that NatGeo lifted the vast majority of these words straight out of the English language, translating them phonetically into Japanese rather than using words of the same meaning that already exist in Japanese.

instead of using Xジェンダー (”x-gender”), the commonly used* Japanese equivalent of “non-binary”, they used ノンバイナリー (”nonbainarii”), a word that i haven’t actually seen anyone use here other than when explaining how to say Xジェンダー in English. instead of 無性 (”musei”), the commonly used* Japanese equivalent of “agender”, they used アジェンダー(”agender”) and only mention 無性 on the definitions page, even though i’ve only ever come across usage of アジェンダー a couple of times in Japanese. they did, however, translate words like dysphoria (性別違和感 / “seibetsu iwakan”), binarism (性別二元論 / “seibetsu nigenron”), etc and i am glad to see that i haven’t (yet) come across usage of 性同一性障害 / “seidou itsusei shougai” (Gender Identity Disorder), which Japan tends to favor over the English-derived トランスジェンダー (”transgender”).

that said, this is literally how English words get introduced into the Japanese language and eventually overtake native Japanese equivalents, which annoys me a lot. to say that this was a missed opportunity on the part of NatGeo to uplift and support Japanese people by using the actual language that they use is an understatement. at the same time, i get the ethical / moral issues that are present when it comes to the translation of specific people’s identities bleh bleh bleh, but…. ugh. ガッカリ。

language issues aside, there are a few other things that annoy me. i noticed that NatGeo mentions (photoed) that LGBTQ is sometimes also written LGBT and LGBQ…. LGBQ. what the…? what in the actual fuck, NatGeo. there is no forgiving them for that, imho, and the irony that they’d do that in an issue that’s fucking about gender. ugh. there’s also the use of linear spectrum illustrations to explain things, which while commonly used in general to talk about gender etc, aren’t actually accurate and ignore the existence of someone such as myself. last but not least, NatGeo ever so predicatively included an infographic about gender change laws around the world, which i personally hate because of how misleading they always are. for example, in this graphic Japan is marked as a country where gender change is possible with conditions (which is true), which it then gives examples of. America is marked as a country where gender change differs by region (true) or where there are “strict conditions”…. America gets marked as potentially having “strict conditions” while Japan does not, being shown in a more positive light even though you literally cannot change your gender on legal documents here unless you’ve been sterilized…………

anyway, from what i can tell given that i haven’t actually gotten my hands on a US copy yet, the magazine (sans advertisements) is the same as the US edition, more or less. the only actual localization of content is the inclusion of two single-page articles which seems at a glance to have very rudimentary information about the state of things in Japan.

as expected, the contents of the magazine is visually stunning, featuring glimpses of people and cultures from around the world. i know i’ve spoken very negatively of the magazine, but i want to reiterate that there’s also a lot of good in it. i just have to actually sit down and read to find it, which i haven’t done yet. plus, whatever the contents of the magazine may be, i’m totally getting a kick out of seeing TERFs throwing tantrums about it all over the place. as hurtful and annoying as it is to see the shit many people have been saying (and will continue to say) about this issues of National Geographic, the fact is that we can’t make progress without making noise, pissing people off, etc.

this issue of NatGeo has done just that and i’m thankful for that as we enter into what is going to be a very rough 4 years.

* by “commonly used”, i mean that these words are commonly used in Japanese non-binary communities.

edit: somehow (probably because i completely neglected to actually read this part of the magazine, assuming that they’d at least get that translation correct) i overlooked this glaring mistake on the cover of the magazine.

…the hell, NatGeo??? and the worst thing about this, imho, is that this mistake totally plays into the tendency within Japanese society to conflate the sexuality of trans / non-binary people with their non-cisness…. sigh.

YouTuber and Blogger, Vesper is an American expat currently living in Japan.

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