I Was Gay for Visual Kei

March 19, 2014 • Love & Sex

It’s a Monday night and I would bet all the Comme I own that I’m not the only queer with their eyes glued to the newest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m probably not the only girl wishing she could strangle Gia Gunn (however much I admire her contouring skills) and become Milk’s new best friend.


src: newnownext.com

Still, Ru’s contending queens are never my crushes. Not a surprise. While the girls of Drag Race might lather themselves in feminine sex-comedy, they are–unabashedly–gay men… and I’m way more L-Word than S-Word or B-Word.
But when I was a twelve-year-old questioning middle-schooler, cross-dressing men were the sole objects of my affection. And they were all in Japanese visual-kei bands.


Go on, judge me. I’ll wait. 
Ten years ago, who was there to cater to the hearts of awkward little queer girls like myself? t.A.t.u.? Shane McCutcheon? The Indigo Girls? Clea DuVall in that one movie that nearly received an NC-17? Frankly, there were no safe objects of fixation for a girl “like me,” despite the abundance of Tiger Beat and J-14 centerfolds for my hetero-leaning counterparts.
Already a mall goth obsessed with Souxsie Souix and the emo-est Waped Tour acts, the transition from My Chemical Romance to Malice Mizer was an easy one. In Japanese, visual-kei just translates to “visual style”; it speaks nothing to their musical genre. Though, in the nineties and the earlier 2000s, a darker aesthetic prevailed:

The look could just as easily resemble something between Bob Mackie, cosplay, and prototypical Harajuku street style:


Most bands had members with purposefully androgynous or feminized appearances. They nearly always wore thick makeup and elaborate costumes. Often they appropriated or responded to the classic bishōnen (“beautiful boys”) trope that has existed in Japan for over a thousand years. Sometimes particular members played the designated “girl,” and occasionally they approached an uncanny valley of realism.

I was their target audience. Surely the foreign language and distant locales added another layer of exoticism or unattainability that wouldn’t exist if I fixated on some American celebrity, but visual-kei’s target audience is the same teeny-bopper crowd that drools over boy bands here.

They sang songs about being happy, being sad, being horny, and they were all meant for my ears. While I could gallop down memory lane and debate the superior musicianship of Plastic Tree to An Cafe, I would be lying if I said melodic talents were what kept me attached to these bands. I craved crush objects of my own, and visual-kei provided in droves. Even if I was in love with boys-who-sort-of-looked-like-girls and not cisgendered females, these idols got me through puberty and sexual confusion at a time when I truly needed it. And I know my experience is not unique; others struggling with their own gendered identity found early comfort in the androgynous looks of visual-kei acts, either by imitating them or just seeing it exist at all.


A similar phenomena, especially in regards to fan base, lives in the form of the (again, Japanese) all-female Takarazuka Revue. The troupe has made great efforts to sanitize its image since it began in the prewar era, but the obsessive idolatry of women in heavy drag by other women is undeniably sapphic by nature.

I am not some Japanophile attempting to convince you that everything is better in the East, desu. For all the bible-banging we get in our politics stateside, Japan has been nearly immobile when it comes to LGBTQ progressive politics. Yet, the diversity in gendered presentations and sexuality in pop culture is in many ways leaps and bounds beyond what can be found here.

Since I turned 12, gay marriage has been legalized in 17 states and endorsed by our highest elected official. Narratives by, for, or about gay men are everywhere. They have earned Academy Awards, been the stars of reality shows, and transformed many a straight dude’s closet. They are accessible on the most basic level to young boys everywhere caught in the throes of sexual discovery.

And for gay girls? Even though Ellen Page came out last month after years of speculation, the prospects for pin-up material are still pretty dim. Grace Jones and Jenny Shimizu are far too-dated models for tween affection, the decidedly very adult Lip Service was cancelled last year, and the few young lesbian females left in popular culture are almost universally played by femme-presenting straight women. Who, then, do they turn to?

I wouldn’t be surprised if queer and questioning girls still look towards male androgyny as objects of desire or gender representation. They might be fantasizing over effeminate K-pop idols instead of J-rockers (these kids today), or they might even be dreaming of Raja or Manilla Luzon. But just as it was when I was in middle school, that’s sort of all there is.

  • A.Mad

    Omg i had a love for visual kei phase too lol. I loved Malice MIzer, Lolita 23q, and moix dix mois. I have fond memories of looking at lolita street style books and magazines. Emerald Matenrou by Lolita 23q was like my anthem for a while .


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