[Discourse] ‘Trapped’ by fandom: The very real harm of calling ‘trap’ a genre

Recently Juné, a yaoi manga publisher, included the word “trap” as part of their marketing (in a tweet that has since been deleted, but we have a screenshot below). On Twitter, Anime Feminist rightfully pointed out how bad that was, referencing GLAAD’s inclusion of “trap” as a slur and linking to an article about problematic translations. Seeing all this, the fit of rage I felt as a trans person was massive. This rage only built upon seeing Juné’s (non)apology. What they said is fundamentally wrong and ignores just how hurtful the “trap” mentality is.

CONTENT WARNING: Brief mention of sexual assault, suicide statistics, and murder

Tweet from Anime Feminist: "Just a reminder that 'trap' is a slur and GLAAD lists it as defamatory language. We talked about it in this article: [link to article on problematic translations]." Quoted tweet from June manga: "June will now be offering "trap" manga! Got an affliction for a bit of both genders? We got you covered. [winky kaomoji, link to marketing campaign, image of a girl winking with her finger on her lips]" 69 retweets and 60 hearts
There’s nothing nice about this
Referring to a person who dresses and passes as a woman as a “trap” is extremely dangerous. The idea that trans women are traps implies that they cause harm to (cis) men and women, which perpetuates the fear-mongering that allows society at large to defend people who murder trans women.

In some states it is basically legal to kill trans women because of this “trap” logic. Called the “trans panic defense,” defendants will argue that the trans woman “tricked” the man and therefore “deserved” to be murdered. In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that the first conviction of an anti-trans hate crime even happened. Eleven trans women (that we know of) have already been murdered this year simply for being trans. The previous two years have each broken the record for the number of openly trans people who have been murdered.

These trans women were often considered “traps” by their killers, someone who “tricked” them into being with them. Once their murderer realized the woman was trans, they felt justified in getting back at the person who tricked them. It’s disgusting, but it’s exactly what “trap” denotes. It states that a trans women is a figure that exists to ensnare someone.

One of the Osomatsu brothers jumps back from an upset woman covering her face. Subtitle: "Huh? Whiskers?!"
Crossdressing men literally ensnare other men in a transphobic episode of Mr. Osomatsu

One could claim that “traps” in anime/manga aren’t technically trans women, but there’s no narrative that expressly respects trans women while also featuring “trap” characters. No, most “traps” exist in worlds where trans women don’t get to exist; rather, they are seen as “really” being men hiding behind feminine clothing and features. These narratives further the fetishization and the violence enacted on trans women.

Even in narratives that include trans women, they’re often the butt of the joke. When we see an actual trans character in most anime, they’re usually portrayed with overtly masculine features and flamboyantly feminine personalities. Both the idea that trans women can’t pass and that those who don’t pass deserve to be mocked are extremely harmful.

Cisgender “traps” get to pass while the narrative reminds you again and again they aren’t actually women. Trans women who pass are a “trap” and it’s funny that a man would want to be a woman. Trans women who don’t pass are scary and are here to be ridiculed for their attempts. Trans women are placed in a no-win situation.

A sparkly image of a beautiful young man with feminine features smiling. Subtitle: "If he weren't a guy, I almost would've confessed and gotten rejected there."
Saika Totsuka in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

This can’t simply be dismissed as “Japanese culture.” Trans women exist in Japan and it’s not a pleasant world for them either. Trans people in Japan must be diagnosed with a mental disorder in order to get their IDs changed, wear school uniforms that match their gender, and so on. It’s only now in 2017 that LGBT+ kids in Japanese schools are getting any protection and that people are pushing to stop treating trans folks as if they’re mentally ill.

There were many reports in Japan about how, during the tragic earthquakes and tsunamis, trans people, particularly trans women, were not able to get aid, temporary housing, and other basic tools simply because of their gender identity. In a time of national crisis, trans folks were tossed aside and left to fend for themselves. (Instances like this are not limited to Japan, of course; in the United States, the Salvation Army has an awful record with trans homeless as well.)

This is not a trap; this is suffering. If there’s any “trap” here, then it’s the social structures that justify the continued use of the “trap” trope. The reinforcement of this harmful trope and others like it create a cultural stigma that spreads. Trans women aren’t seen as women by the majority of society, which forces them to either torture themselves by hiding who they are, or to be on their own.

A tearful girl shouts "But he's a dude!"
Ruka Urushibara in Steins;Gate

Just because something is historically offensive doesn’t mean it gets to keep being offensive. Calling something a “genre” doesn’t give its offensiveness a pass. We don’t live in the long long ago, we live in the now, and now more than ever it’s important to think critically about the terms we use. Language evolves. We have to understand how these words work and that some simply aren’t worth keeping. Furthermore, it’s up to the communities hurt by a word to decide if it’s a slur — any decision to reclaim or reject those words is up to that community and no one else. It’s not for an outsider to the trans community to gleefully decide if it’s bad or not. Right now, “trap” needs to stop.

While a publisher may be free to publish “trap genre” stories, they shouldn’t be free of any repercussions. If a publisher chooses to sell something harmful, we are free to say “Hey, that product is bad!” The product doesn’t need to targeted at me to negatively affect me. “Trap” content can be poison to the trans community with slow, awful effects. A publisher can’t get a free pass for transphobia because the content they’re releasing is a fetish genre. Trans people are not your fetish. We are not here to be exploited for dollars, especially with something as insulting as the “trap genre.”

A 'crossdressing pageant' featuring a range of men in female cosplay, including one men with large muscles and a stern face in the iconic white dress and blonde hair of Marilyn Monroe.
Casual transphobia in Persona 4

For many trans people, anime, manga, and JRPGs are an escape from their shitty world. It’s irresponsible to further alienate them with terms just because it’s a long-standing part of a subculture that, frankly, hates them. At best, it sees them as another piece of porn and at worst it sees them as a harmful monster waiting to pull off their mask. We should push for better stories and celebrate the ones that manage to treat trans people right. (And hey, surprise! Trans people get horny, too! I think that finding well-drawn porn is fantastic. But porn shouldn’t be harmful to a community, at the very least not on such a massive and widespread scale.)

These narratives could be very empowering for us if only they were done with more care. With slight tweaking, so many of these Japanese treasures could actively empower, celebrate, and embolden trans folks, but sadly we’re stuck with mostly toxic narratives. It creates barriers that make it all but impossible to enjoy our favorite things without also causing us pain.

I can’t really indulge in Persona 4 because the crossdressing pageant actively makes me hate so many of the characters involved. Sometimes it’s even a simple matter of which translation I read, as the right word choice can turn Princess Jellyfish into a narrative that doesn’t completely remove the possibility that Kuranosuke is non-binary or trans.

Just at the base level, these mentalities fill trans people’s feeds with images that require them to come up with headcanons or ignore them completely just to keep it from having an unhealthy impact on how they see themselves. Being a part of this community can be an affair that leaves scars on a trans person’s life forever.

Kuranosuke, an attractive young man with feminine features, sits mostly undressed with bed hair., as comfortable as a half-naked boy as he is dressing and presenting as a girl.
Kuranosuke in Princess Jellyfish

Young trans people engaging with these communities begin to get toxic views of themselves. I personally had a toxic view of trans people until only a few years ago when I finally came out. A lot of that was because I saw myself as a porn object. So many stories tell trans people that they aren’t people. They are a joke, a gag, a fetish, a trickster. It misgenders them and then tells cis people it’s totally okay to misgender them too.

This is painful and does nothing to help the trans community’s tragically high attempted suicide rates. A recent study found 50% of trans people attempted suicide. In addition, two out of five trans people surveyed had been sexually assaulted, showing how often trans youth are fetishized. We can’t pretend “trap” porn is innocent when it actively assaults trans folks.

Trans folks are not traps, we are people. People who are hurting in almost every country. While some places are making progress or are in the process, it’s a scary time for the whole community. We need to stop excusing shitty terms just because it’s “easier” to say the same bad shit that was always said. We need to start considering how we can create narratives that include trans people and represent them.

In the end, everyone gets better stories if we work to improve our language and storytelling. It doesn’t matter if we’re translating or creating original content, we need to understand that words can cause pain. The “hentai community,” the “anime community,” and everyone else can all do better. Create content that includes trans folks, or at least doesn’t actively hurt us. Together, we can make a more positive community a reality.  

 

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

Not sure where to begin? Some questions to kick-start conversation:

  • If you are a trans, non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming, how do you feel about the word ‘trap’?
  • If you are a cis person who has re-evaluated the use of ‘trap’ as a neutral descriptor, what made you change your mind?
  • People use ‘trap’ to refer to a particular trope – what better terms could we suggest that companies like Juné could use instead?
  • “With slight tweaking, so many of these Japanese treasures could actively empower, celebrate, and embolden trans folks” – what examples can you think of that, with small changes, could shift toxic narratives about trans people to become positive?
  • “Young trans people engaging with these communities begin to get toxic views of themselves.” Do you identify with this?
  • Alexis mentions celebrating positive representations of trans people, including the pornographic – do you have any recommendations? (No links to piracy sites, please, but feel free to recommend by name and description so people can choose to purchase in the original Japanese.)

 

Alexis Sergio is a freelance journalist, diversity consultant, and comic book writer. You can support this queer latinx trans lady by going to her Patreon or by smashing oppressive systems near you.

At this stage, we have raised enough money to be able to pay for contributed posts, behind the scenes admin, and audio editing for weekly podcasts. Our next goal is to pay the editors who have worked on AniFem as volunteers since before launch, making enormous contributions for no pay. Help us pay them for their work at a rate of $15 an hour by becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month! 

  • Silas Janzen Lohrenz

    I feel like there is a perfectly suitable genre name in “Mistaken Identity” which ought to work just fine. The narrative of coming out to a potential partner doesn’t always have to be about deception; doesn’t always have to been seen as a negative. There’s a lot of potential to show really good stories of love and acceptance, or wrenching stories about overcoming blind prejudice, or even those shattering stories about rejection and picking up the pieces.
    Trap is too narrow. Trap says “there’s only one way this thing can go”. Trap, as a genre descriptor, needs to go the way of “minstrel”. Historically descriptive, but certainly no longer okay.

  • rubi-kun

    I’m curious, why does Kuranosuke have to possibly be non-binary or trans? Is Kuranosuke being cis offensive? Speaking personally as a non-binary person, I’d argue that it’s really important to be able to have cis male characters who are able to crossdress and present femme without having to question their maleness. And compared to, like, every other crossdressing male character in anime, Kuranosuke’s written very respectfully and not mocked.

    • Erasing the possibility for a character that if you remove any bit of him insisting he is male would very clearly be strong trans representation of some kind sucks. I love Princess Jellyfish but Kuranosuke very much reads to me like myself minus the insistence that he is male. It would be extremely powerful for him to be some kind of trans and be able to be a massive success in feminine fields and found attractive as a woman.

      Also the lack of questioning feels more like trans erasure then loving acceptance of feminine men.

      • rubi-kun

        It feels like the “erasure” question is lose-lose when the two possible options (of being a GNC man and of being trans) are both things that don’t get represented well nearly enough.

        • I mean my argument will always be Men at least have more power, trans people have less power. I am not saying we shouldn’t represent GNC but when we look at who has more toxic rep % wise I would really like to see at least the possibility open that Kuranosuke is not cis. Again in particular when his narrative is very close to a trans narrative and almost feels like homophobia is the reason it isn’t one? It’s gotta be a romance, that romance has to be straight so how does it work in this narrative.

          Princess Jellyfish is one of my fav anime’s, one of the few I own the complete series of, in the end I am cool with it just being a GNC man but he is a character the rings in so many ways to me that when he asserts maleness it feels dysphoric for me. That’s obviously personal baggage but the point in noting it in the piece was because it was personal. I felt if I couldn’t talk about this issue in the things I love most then I wasn’t doing my own piece justice.

          Ultimately it be nice if we could have everything more common in everything. I would like a positive trans character for every man in a dress joke I have to endure.

      • Stephanie Gertsch

        While I do like the idea of a male being allowed to explore his feminine side while still be attracted to women, I also agree that there’s a feeling in a lot of Japanese media that it’s okay to play with gender representation as long as you’re not serious about it. An attractive young male wearing dresses? Adorable! An XY chromosomed person wanting to use female pronouns and be officially recognized as a woman? …..crickets. The same can be said for homosexual relationships. Flirtation is fine but you’d better not want to actually get married or have an official relationship. That’s just going too far.

    • ImaniToo

      Sometimes it’s even a simple matter of which translation I read, as the right word choice can turn Princess Jellyfish into a narrative that doesn’t completely remove the possibility that Kuranosuke is non-binary or trans.

      I didn’t interpret that line as Alexis asserting that Kuranosuke had to possibly be anything. Kuranosuke “possibly” being trans would not preclude non-binary persons from identifying too. That could be quite neat if done well! I think it’s a push for inclusiveness rather than prioritising any particular identity over another.

      This serves to highlight the scarcity of great gender non-conforming characters in anime. It’s somewhat like YOI. There is a very vocal group who are 100% for Yuuri and Victor as an out and proud gay couple, dare you say otherwise (like me lol). But I dig the interpretation of others who see it as a wonderful portrayal of a platonic, sporting relationship with two men who are comfortable with relating to each other in a more emotional way than cis men are encouraged to do in many cultures. When these two views clash the results are often unfortunate. If there was greater diversity we wouldn’t all have to pin our hopes on the few who bear the burden of “representation”, so to speak :-).

      When it comes to gender identity it’s a question mark I have 99% of the time with male characters who present as feminine in the anime/manga I’ve consumed. Those characters’ perspectives are rarely explored so I don’t know how they identify. They could be cis who just enjoy wearing feminine clothing. They could be genderqueer. They could be trans etc. It’s rather frustrating and I don’t want to rely on head canon to add my own nuance. *stomps foot*

      I haven’t seen Princess Jellyfish but I’m curious about it now (added to my mountain high To Watch list).

      • rubi-kun

        Eh, Yuri on Ice is so explicitly romantic, with the kiss and the engagement rings, that I don’t know how anyone could claim it isn’t without being in denial. For platonic sporting relationships watch Free or any of the other fujoshi-targeted-but-not-actually-gay sports any out there.

      • Imani, you should definitely check out Princess Jellyfish! It’s free to read on CR if you’re a paid user, I highly recommend it.

        • I think the dub is pretty good too if your into dubs and that’s on Funmation for free I think.

        • AsteriskCGY

          And the manga is starting back up again!

        • ImaniToo

          I am, so that works out perfectly. Thanks :>.

  • Lebdawho

    I really appreciated this article. My life has become rather pocketed and while I engage in the world through retail and see a lot of different people (the good and the bad side of EVERY designation) and that makes me want to hole up in my cave of a house and just watch anime to escape. It’s good to be introduced to a new why to love this hobby as well as be able to push for growth at the same time.

  • fohfuu

    cw discussion of problematic language, slurs fetishisation

    I think it’s a mistake to conflate crossdressing men and trans women when classed under the term “trap”. The majority of “traps” are crossdressing boys, whether that’s against their will or not, for example in Princess Princess. Characters like Ruka, which are women who are constantly misgendered (I swear the transphobia really pushed S;G down a notch for me. Even if you assume Okabe is very ignorant he was still really, really rude and mean up until the last second.)

    For that reason, I think that there are really two uses of the word trap (with a hell of a lot of crossover); one which is used as a insult at the expense of trans women, eg “it’s a trap” jokes, with the implication that the subject is secretly hiding their masculinity and that makes them a threat, and one which is used to fetishise crossdressing men and sometimes trans women in the otaku subculture, where the implication is that a character is very feminine in every way except their genitals. One is “scary”, the other one is “surprising” or “a disappointment” but mainly “exists to be sexually stimuating” instead of a sexual threat. MASSIVE DISCLAIMER: I do not think either of these usages are positive or less problematic. They are both problematic in different ways, and there is a lot of overlap. I’m really just trying to distinguish between the kind of tropes that appear in gag manga, and the ones that appear in harem manga.

    The reason I bring up a distinction is that the former is not going to appear in that line (or at least, they won’t be a main character). Classifying it as gender bender (men), or crossdressing (men) is a better way to put it in my opinion. If the story contains an nb or trans women, then it’s irrelevant to the genre, and should be put in another category – whether that’s romance, drama, action etc. or if it focuses on her transness, an LGBT section. I think that is the best way for June to target the demographics interested in crossdressing manga/pornography without the lingual violence towards trans women.

    Please tell me if you think I’m wrong here.

    • This is totally my personal take without more deep thought then I had put into this article but I think that most GB and crossdressing stuff is problematic for trans people. It be a whole other piece really but many trans women have talked about the problems of drag queens pose for trans people. Gender Bender in particular is an odd thing because it places as a gateway for many trans people to find their transness. You can ask most trance nerds if they read gender bender stuff and almost everyone I’ve spoken to has said they did. It would have been so much healthier if these narratives were trans inclusiveness.

      In particular because if the world ignores trans people exist but uses “almost” trans people to tell their story I feel like we have an issue. It’s cis people getting to have their cake and eat it too. They get to use narratives that could mostly belong to trans people while saying “oh well they aren’t” so they can avoid being offensive. I feel like this could very closely tie into issues of “white washing” but instead move into the field of “cis washing”

      That’s my personal take without too much thought, maybe I’m wrong here or maybe i’ll find myself feeling more extreme but hope my response makes sense.

      • Black Emolga

        ” It’s cis people getting to have their cake and eat it too. They get to use narratives that could mostly belong to trans people while saying “oh well they aren’t” so they can avoid being offensive. I feel like this could very closely tie into issues of “white washing” but instead move into the field of “cis washing”

        You are ignoring that cross dressers and GNC people are real people that actually exist. Not just substitutes for trans people. How is this any different from someone saying bisexual characters are “straight washing” gay people (something I’ve actually heard). Or the idea that butch lesbians are just an embarrassing stereotype. This idea that some groups of people can only exist as negative stereotypes of another seems problematic.

        • I totally see what your saying, I think the core difference is that these representations are not actively trying to represent GNC people or even exploring the depth of cross dressing culture. I mean ignoring that trans people intersect in big ways with these communities does indeed feel like erasure. Many GNC people and cross dressers do one day come out as some kind of trans and ones who aren’t still likely interact with trans people.

          It is the age old problem of having like 2 lesbians one who only exists to date the lesbian main character then the rest of the cast is straight. Like that’s not generally how people from these communities exist.

  • anony

    I am cis, and I just want to mention that a character I really like in anime is Rui from Gatchaman Crowds. While Rui isn’t canonically confirmed to be trans, they never get any negative reaction for dressing as a girl, and Rui is just a smart and gorgeous character.

    It seems to me that some characters in anime come close to representation but ultimately the show doesn’t state it explicitly / betrays a real misunderstanding of trans issues (like Ruka who “wants to be a girl”, or Persona’s Naoto, or Zoe from Attack on Titan). So … it’s nice when fandom can rescue these characters from bad hands 🙂

    • I totally agree, this is actually something I totally plan on writing about one day. The power of the trans headcanon as a narrative tool. It doesn’t make up for the lack of representation but being able to say “the seeds are all here” can be something amazing. We just really need people to back us up once we “prove”
      a character is trans.

  • Brainchild129

    Alexis, I must applaud you. I’ve been waiting for an article like this in light of the June controversy and you delivered on all fronts and then some.

    Even as a cis woman, it’s a trope that bugs me. Even going beyond the offensiveness to actual transfolk, it’s also just a really lame joke. It’s not even at Dad Joke levels of failed humor. It’s like an anti-punchline. What’s worse is that it’s far from a modern phenomenon. It shows up in older anime and manga with some frequency. In those cases, it could be arguably worse because the creators tend to conflate transwomen with gay male transvestites, so it’s combining the worst of the “trap” jokes with the worst of the “predatory gay man” or “flamingly femme gay man” stereotypes to boot.

    • Yup you pretty much hit the nail on the head there.

  • Kana Ha

    As a transwomen I hate it when someone calls me a trap but for the longest time I didnt mind it when used as a genre descriptor but I know that was me being deeply closested and still dealing with disphoria and depression now i hate it. I much prefere the original japanese term Otokonoko since 9 time out of ten its just a very femme male chareacter or non binary character. like in Urostuki lily (im sure i misspeled that) the main character is clearly male he just loves wearing the girls uniform as being masuculine terrifies him.

  • Black Emolga

    I agree with the argument that trap is an offensive term that should not be used to describe either trans women or cross dressers. I think it is important to point out what genre of fiction June is terming as “trap” here. “Trap” is a term used in western fandom to describe these types of characters. But this is not the term that is used in Japan. Instead the more popular term is otokonoko. Otokonoko refers to a sub culture of cis gendered cross dressers that has developed in Japan. And the otokonoko genre of fiction is targeted to both otokonoko as well as people who are interested in fiction about otokonoko.

    Although June refered to these stories as “hentai”. Otokonoko stories aren’t necassarily sexual in nature and a lot of them are romances with little to no sex at all. June’s insistance on calling this genre of fiction “trap” and hentai when it isn’t. Seems to me an attempt to cater to the lowest common denominator.

    • I think that in all seriousness, trap is a whole different thing from transgender, crossdressers, non-binary people, and all other real non-fictional humans.
      I mean all the self-identified works of “trap” (and even anime cisgirls in “moe”) that I see don’t even look human, because they have the deformed “moe anime girl” shaped body with unrealistically long legs, thick thighs, wide hips, tiny shoulders/arms, are underaged, etc.
      I think it’s more like some fictional gender that the author creates that doesn’t really exist irl, which is also the impression I get with most moe anime girls that are totally unrealistic/impossible to real women, and also seems common with young prepubescent boys(femshota) that are fantasized to be like inhuman with impossible traits like the post-puberty woman hips/butt.

      I mean I was surprised to learn that there are MTF transgender who take delight in being called “Futa” and regularly identify as such… This is what my transgender roommate told me after being upset from a post on FB calling futas “half a girl” (which I also disagree).
      I still find this really weird myself, because Futa really is a word from Japanese genre of fantasy anime porn, which you cannot expect to be respectful to any gender-related issues as it was never meant for referring to real live people, it was meant to please some people’s (mostly mens’) sexual fantasies/fetish, just as “trap” or “otokonoko” was created to…

      I feel like it’s an ever-evolving mess, because of all these fictional terms being thrown around which were never meant to refer to real people, only fictional…
      Nobody should be calling anyone in real life “trap” or “futa” without the person insisting to be called it. Just like nobody should call a mother “milf” without her being okay with it, nobody should call a FTM transgender a “cuntboy”(rare genre of hentai), nobody should be called “shemale”, nobody should be called “twink” or nobody should call a real underaged girl/boy a “loli/shota”, because these words all were made for fetishes or porn.

      The real issue to me, is why would people call others these terms in real life?? That should be the thing to focus on, to get people to stop referring to real life people as fetish terms, because the fetish will never die… it could be renamed (like to the original otokonoko), but it will still be the same thing in the end and it will still exist as a fetish or gag/joke device in anime/manga. We can’t change people’s fetish. Just as sexual-orientation conversion camps do not work and are inhumane.

      • Black Emolga

        Trap is a term invented by western fans. Otokonoko is the term used in Japan. And it refers to an actual group of people not a fictional character type. There are actual real life people in Japan that identify as Otokonoko and some of them are writers of Otokonoko fiction. Here is an example of a Otokonoko writer.

        http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2010-11-18/ex-johnny-jr-idol-makes-cross-dressing-essay-manga

        Otokonoko fiction is a genre in the same way that shonen and shojo are a genre. It’s a genre named after and for it’s target demographic which is Otokonoko. Since fiction for an audience as small as cross dressers is inherently limited in profitability. A lot of Otokonoko panders to non Otokonoko as well. But the genre was largely created by and for Otokonoko.

        • So in other words, it would just need a name change to Otokonoko or the term that is already commonly/neutrally used, “Crossdresser” or “cd”?

          I think it is different from “New Half” and transgender after all, but seems a lot of people take it as attacking new half or transgender people to say “trap”. Would simply renaming the genre “otokonoko” fix the problem?

          I think using a fictional term different from live pornography would be best because it wouldn’t refer to real people and would differentiate anime from live people, so I think “crossdresser” isn’t exactly the best word for it either since some crossdresser may be offended by the genre…

          But now that I think of it, hasn’t it always been referred more generally as “genderbender anime/manga” genre before?

          • Black Emolga

            From what I understand most of the outrage is due to the term “trap” being used. “Trap” implies deception and since many people confuse cross dressers and and trans woman this can bleed into anti-trans discrimination. The genre itself isn’t really what’s being condemned here.

      • Blusocket

        I don’t agree that porn is off-limits for media criticism simply because it was designed to appeal to someone’s fetish, but that aside–for genres of porn you listed a bunch of slurs/derogatory terms and then “twink.” One of these things is not like the others! “Twink” is gay slang and is used in a ton of different ways to describe a generally/diversely young and effeminate gay male aesthetic. It’s not an inherently offensive term. Straight people probably shouldn’t use it because you almost certainly will not use it correctly if you haven’t spent a lot of time in gay social/cultural spaces, but it’s not a slur lol.

  • Martin Wisse

    The widespread and casual use of “trap” as a supposedly neutral term within anime/manga fandom came as rather a shock when I started getting involved in fandom; everywhere else it was understood to be a slur at least. There’s a bit of progress happening though in that i’ve seen “genderbending” used to describe this sort of character/story more recently, which is slightly better, even if it still sounds somewhat porny.

    Otokonoko might work for those stories that do feature characters that fit that usage; Ouran High School Host Club had the father of the protagonist as one, IIRC. Mistaken identity, as suggested in this thread, would be awkward as that implies that these characters are wrong about their choice of gender expression.

    One fairly positive representation of a character who might be trans, is in this season’s Twin Angel magical girl show, where a side character is introduced as a crossdresser, says themselves that they are a boy, but the entire rest of the series looks and behaves like the other girl characters. Idol show Pripara has several characters you might call genderqueer.

    In manga, Hanayome wa Motodanshi (the Bride Was a Boy) is the autobiographical story of the cartoonist, Chii, an how she transitioned, came out to her family and found a boyfriend whom she ultimately married. Very much a happy story and written for people unfamiliar with what being trans means, with each chapter ending with a page or two of background information.

    Another recent manga I liked that touched on these matters was Kodomo wa Wakatte Agenai/Children Wouldn’t Understand, which features a protagonist not quite having come to terms with his trans sister (he keeps calling her his brother) among other family matters. Only available in scanlation, but i really liked the translator’s careful notes about just exactly how the protagonist addresses his sibling and how this changes.

  • Justice

    The article argues against the point that the term isn’t explicitly tied to being trans by highlighting the lack of other trans representation of anime but this doesn’t mean that there is actually a connection, it’s just pointing out the general lack of trans representation in anime. I would go so far as to argue that in its common use the term further supports this and is trans exclusive. While it’s entirely possible to have trap characters who are also canonically trans the vast majority of these characters are not and are not even remotely suggested to be so, the lack of trans representation is anime is problematic but I don’t believe it’s inherently tied to this issue. The comparison of the word in the context of anime to crimes committed in the west under a similar description does not justify a western appropriation and demonisation of the term.

    • It’s a western term. It doesn’t exist in Japanese. Criticising a western term created by English-speaking fans and used in an English-speaking context for its impact on western. trans women is 100% appropriate. If you’re comparing the lives and wellbeing of trans women to a made-up term in a niche context and saying that the WORD is being demonised, you need to reassess your priorities. People who hold the very plausible fear that the baggage associated with this word could literally cost them their lives should be your concern here.

    • Like Amelia said it isn’t a Japanese term. Also we have to consider that the lives of trans people are seen via this lens. Just because I or you may get this person isn’t trans doesn’t mean that isn’t the impression a Japanese or western audience takes away when they meet a trans person. The fact as it’s taking what is essentially a nearly trans exclusive feeling and saying “oh this cis person feels it.” If that was handled well and in a bubble sure that is great. However, it doesn’t exist in a bubble but instead exists in the larger context of all media but in particular Japanese media. When we have next to 0 trans representation that isn’t insulting and so much “trap” content that it is apparently a sellable genre I don’t think we can ignore the issues at hand.

  • Yvette

    This is a wonderful article; I hope it goes a long way toward educating people.

    Not to try and upset anyone more, but it wasn’t just a single tweet by Juné that they then deleted. They had tweeted another one the day after people were already complaining about the first tweet, before the tweeted (non)apologies. Their DMP account also used ‘trap’ recently too.

    I have to admit the attitude of their reaction doesn’t surprise me. I’ve previously had conversations with former and current employees at the publisher trying to appeal in more business oriented ways explaining how offensive terminology they use is not as helpful as they seem to think, and can also harm the company brand. Usually my feedback has been brushed off in a similar manner, because they have yet to change how they market material.

    At worse, even in cases where several people voice concerns over something the publisher does, one employee seemed to dismiss any criticism as irrelevant because they felt it was coming from people with other agendas who generally dislike what the publisher does anyway.

    But I’m glad people step up and keep trying to explain how it does matter.

  • Well, our tweet of this article has been retweeted 95 times with 100% positive commentary when it has been quoted, including from multiple trans women, INCLUDING trans women who said they had previously been comfortable using the word trap. That suggests this issue is not “overstated” so much as overlooked.

    All marginalised populations condemn certain words that we as a society decide are unacceptable and should not be used. ‘Trap’ in this context should be one of those, for all the reasons Alexis stated in her comprehensive article.

  • Great article.

    I’ve long argued that trans identity being treated as comedy or (as Juné called it, an “affliction”) sours me on most series with ostensibly trans characters. There are, of course, exceptions. And in most of them the difference is the sincerity with which the character is portrayed. I’m immediately reminded of one of the stories in “Mermaid Line”: http://okazu.yuricon.com/2008/04/18/yuri-manga-mermaid-line/ in which the character, their transition and their relationship are all handled with dignity and empathy.

    But there’s another point I want to make. The Juné editor is assuming the audience treats all BL as a guilty pleasure. No one seems to care that BL is full of harmful tropes (rape, incest, manipulation, abuse) and no one appears to be requiring it to tell better stories. As a form of “porn for girls” it’s held to the same no-standards as porn for guys. It therefore does not surprise me that they don’t take their own word or stories seriously enough to care that they offend. I’m surprised and pleased that the blowback was serious enough that they removed the tweet.

    The last point I want to make is that human society is still so vastly, chokingly misogynist, it no longer shocks me when women also are horribly misogynist. It does, however, piss me off royally. BL is largely written, drawn, edited by women. Women who gleefully cast female characters as obstacles to be overcome, who dismiss and demean LGBTQ characters and women who think that cross dressing is comedy. We’ve still got a long way to fix this and we have to start with ourselves and the media we support.

    Seven Seas is just about to launch a “comic essay” by a lesbian about her struggle with depression called “My Lesbians Experience With Loneliness” and it’s already selling well in pre-orders. Let’s encourage manga publishers to look to these kinds of stories as well as more banal entertainment and maybe we can be the change we seek.

    • Black Emolga

      The genre of fiction that June is calling “trap” here isn’t a category of BL. It’s typically categorized as Seinen and is created for an audience of male cross dressers and men who are into male cross dressers. It’s no more BL than Gay Manga is BL. It frequently doesn’t even contain gay relationships but straight male cross dressers having sex with women. Making it the anti-thesis of BL. The term “trap” being used here was invented by straight male western fans not fujoshi. And the genre itself has nothing to do with BL fandom and fujoshi culture.

      • Juné is a BL publisher. That’s all they publish. If we are referring to the Juné editor’s comments then it is in fact, in relation to BL.

        • Black Emolga

          The June that is being discussed in this article is an imprint for Digital Manga. Most of what they have been releasing under that imprint has been BL. But the new releases they have been labeling “trap” here were originally published by “Otoko no ko” magazines targeting adult male audiences such as Waii! not as BL. Personally I consider there choice to market non-BL works as BL misleading at best.

          • I understand that you consider this tag to be misleading, but clearly they do not, as they have embraced it. I disagree with them doing so, or using the term at all, I don’t think DMP has a lot of sensitive thinkers making those decisions, but the fact that they DO sell it under their BL imprint is the point I was addressing.

  • There is no genre name resembling “trap” in Japanese. In Japanese it’s known as “Otoko no ko (男の娘),” which could be translated as “girl-boy,” or simply as “(male to female) crossdressing (女装).” When I tweeted about this on Japanese Twitter, some fans expressed surprise that someone would look at the content of this genre and think “trap.” It seems to say more about the insecurities of Western cis-hetero men than about the original Japanese material. I would also point out (as a transwoman who’s lived in Japan for 22 years and counting) that Japanese transwomen are never killed by “trapped” cishetero men. If you can find a single case of that happening in Japan, and in which the perpetrator was Japanese, please correct me.

    • It’s worth noting on the note of trans violence in Japan there is less “violent” crime in general in japan.it’s also much smaller then the US. The things that happen to trans folks are gonna be different there for sure as I am sure you can attest too.

  • Petréa Mitchell

    For a straight cis guy rocking a dress, “crossplay” is an existing term that fits fine. Otherwise, if it’s an expression of a trans or nonbinary identity, I want to see a term appropriate to that identity used. (If there isn’t an equivalent English term, then just use the Japanese one.)

  • Stephanie Gertsch

    “Paradise Kiss” is good manga and anime that features a character who is actually unambiguously trans and also accepted by her friends.

  • ML Tyler

    I have come to anime and manga fairly recently, and relatively late in life. I started seeing more and more cross-dressing characters, I started asking about what I saw as a greater acceptance of gender fluidity, and was met with the word “trap”. I didn’t get it, it seemed glib, shallow, and dismissive, but there the word was, all over the place, being slapped on any character dressing outside assigned gender roles, whether the character was there for broad comedy, or was a deep, and nuanced character. I’m not surprised that GLAAD has deemed ‘trap’ a slur, but the violence behind ‘trap’ was brought to light by this article.

  • The point is that June, an established yaoi company, used the term ‘trap’ as a genre name to market their manga. We also agree that otokonoko =/= transgender, so why use a term which is a recognised slur against transgender people to market otokonoko manga?

  • The term trap is not completely unrelated to trans people though – in response to this piece on Twitter, many trans women have talked about their experiences of ‘trap’ as a slur used against them in real life by people with no connection to anime fandom. Alexis acknowledges in her article that people identify with the word ‘trap’, and it’s good to have that input in our comments, but anime fandom does not exist in a vacuum and it’s a word that has serious consequences elsewhere. For June to use an acknowledged slur (again, this is a word that journalists are advised not to use, in the same bracket as racial or homophobic slurs) in a marketing campaign was a poor PR decision at the very least.

  • Your comment was deleted because it was disrespectful to the trans community. We have published other comments by people who have positive views of the word ‘trap’, including those who identify with it. However, most who have come here to make that point have been incapable of claiming the word ‘trap’ without also insulting other trans people, feminists, and/or individuals on this site. Had your comment made its point without the rudeness, it would have been approved. The same goes for anyone who wants to contribute to conversations here.

  • Ashen

    Fantastic article. Really gave me a lot to ponder and review in myself and my own life. I hadn’t viewed terms like “trap” as derogatory or harmful until this actual article. I’ve had similar difficulties wrapping my head around the harm in the term “retard” when it’s not used to actively disparage a person with different abilities or mental faculties, but reading this has given me I believe at least a bit better understanding of how it can be harmful even if it’s not intended to be by individual speakers.

    What hurts or even bothers someone within the trans community will obviously vary, but I think it’s fair to say it’s not up to other ‘groups’ to dictate what is or isn’t offensive to others. Even if a term was once considered benign or “not that bad,” if it’s shown to perpetuate hateful beliefs and hurt others it should be seriously reevaluated.

    As for re-naming the “trap genre,” I’ve grown rather fond of the term “otoko no ko” http://danbooru.donmai.us/wiki_pages/3564

  • Peter

    Both the author and editor of this piece are trans.

    Additionally GLAAD includes “trap” among its list of defamatory language:

    https://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender