Organized Panel Session
While josou (roughly, ‘male-to-female crossdressing’) in Japan has a long and complex history, today the circulation of josou images through television, magazines and other media texts has visible influences in urban youth subcultures. One such subcultural articulation is “josou cafés,” where young men in feminine attire work as service workers: a site of precarious affective labor that mediates heterogeneous visions of gender, body, value, and communication. This paper zooms in on one former josou café worker, whom we call A-san. Raised in a single-mother household in a provincial city in southern Japan, he moved to Tokyo after high school and tried, in vain, to find stable employment. Along with other temporary jobs, he started working at a josou café in Akihabara. Stigmatized throughout his life for his non-normative gender expressions, he found a safe space of freedom and play in the café, while however it also harbored the danger of unwarranted gaze and contact. This paper explores how josou as a self-fashioning project prompts a question of how to demand the proper gaze of others, and where. In particular we draw on A-san’s own theorization of crossdressing as an everyday, counter-spectacular practice. Instead of being singled out like a protagonist on a performance stage, he desires to become an “ordinary” (futsu) element—‘extras’-like un(der)recognizability—in the ongoing flow of everyday communication. In his narration, this desire traces the space of being visible-otherwise in an unlikely assemblage: the café, the urban landscape of Akihabara, and the liberal space of Los Angeles.