WALK LIKE A MAN, TALK LIKE A MAN: DANSŌ, GENDER, AND EMOTION WORK IN A TOKYO ESCORT SERVICE

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Marta Fanasca

Abstract

My thesis offers a theoretically engaged ethnographic examination of the female to male (dansō) escorts phenomenon in contemporary Japanese society. Dansō is a Japanese word that means "male dress" and it is commonly used to describe a girl or a woman who crossdresses. Since 2006 and mainly in the Tokyo area, dansō escort companies started to offer their services to customers, giving them the possibility to enjoy a romantic date with a crossdresser woman. From September 2015 to July 2016, I worked on a voluntary basis in a dansō escort company with the aim of unfolding the meanings of this form of crossdressing. I had the opportunity to observe on a daily basis dansō escorts in their working duties and in their free time. I also experienced the creation and performance of a masculine identity. Moreover, I was also able to meet customers in the framework of paid dates and public events held by the company while presenting myself as my male alter ego. I adopted as methodological tools semi-structured interviews and participant observation with both crossdressers and clients in order to represent the phenomenon of dansō escorting as a whole, with a focus on the issues of gender identity and self-expression, emotional labour and commodification of intimacy. My research questions are: how can dansō be defined in gender terms, and what kind of masculinity do they express? Who are the customers who benefit from the crossdresser escort service, and why? How can dansō-customer relationships be described in terms of emotions involved and exchanged? Therefore, I focused on the two major actors in the practice: dansō and their female clients, to look specifically at how dansō-customer intimacy develops in the context of paid relationships. Drawing on Butler's gender performativity theory, I argue that dansō represent a new gender definition, a way of self-interpretation which avoids binary categorizations such as male/female and heterosexual/homosexual. In this perspective, to do dansō is a way to express dissatisfaction with conventional Japanese gender roles enacted by Japanese women who, for different reasons, fall outside prescribed categories and embodiments of femininity. Then, I highlight the most common typologies of customers and their reasons for dating a crossdresser escort. My contention is that dansō are providers of emotional support and intimacy, both perceived by customers as impossible to achieve in relationships with men and outside the frame of a monetary transaction. To conclude, after presenting the points of view of dansō escorts and their customers, and the benefits they obtain from the crossdresser escort service, I argue that this occupation is a form of emotional labour, and I highlight the negative consequences on the psychological and personal wellbeing for the individuals involved, underlining the relevance of this study in a wider frame involving the commodification of intimacy.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2019