Wandering Son Reflections: Episode 4 - "Watashi no Namae o Ageru"

Wandering Son Media Hōrō Musuko transgender

This post was originally posted in February of 2011 here. It has been updated substantially.

You can watch the episode here.

Spoiler Warning

This is the first episode that made me cry.

Sure, each of the other episodes made me get teary-eyed at least once, but this one actually gave me a need-a-tissue, tears-streaming-down-my-cheeks crying fit. It did this by being painfully sweet. But we’ll get to the scene that made me cry a bit later. First, I want to talk about swimming.

I fondly remember the days when throwing on a bathing suit and going swimming was straightforward, or even possible. As my gender dysphoria increased, and I started shaving the hair from areas that gave me the greatest bodily dissonance, swimming slowly became more and more awkward, until it was basically impossible for me to comfortably go swimming in public. Now that I have transitioned, swimming is still awkward. It is difficult for me to find a bathing suit that doesn’t make me feel exposed, and even then my body’s shape makes me feel very uncomfortable when it is that obvious. So when this episode opened with the cast swimming at school, I winced inwardly.

The scene is used to show more of Shūichi and Yoshino’s dysphoria. Shūichi is visibly envious of Yoshino’s figure, and Yohsino is distinctly self-conscious when she is complimented as looking ‘womanly’. And this leads us to another aspect of trans experience that this show portrays very correctly - the unknowingly harmful comment.

Speaking for myself, as always, I know that as I began transitioning, offhand comments directed at me while I was dressed as a boy could often hurt, even when there is no ill intent (or special knowledge) on the part of the speaker. A good example occurred when I was at the bank. The teller attempted to compliment me by saying “Your hair is so cute! Girls must be jealous of it.” While it is good to know my hair is cute, the way the comment put me solidly on the ‘boy’ side of the line stung. (Edit: Luckily, this is no longer a problem for me. It remains, however, an experience common to many trans people.)

The episode gives us another example of this, too. When Shūichi gets out of the bath, his sister comments “A boy shouldn’t take such long baths.” In this case, though, it is possible the comment may be more intentional. Even given only the evidence seen so far in the series, Maho would have to be pretty oblivious not to suspect that her brother is gender variant at this point. However, the show hasn’t really given us any indication that she is aware of Shūichi’s struggles, and actually implies an active lack of empathy towards him. When Maho’s friend Anna* makes Shūichi cry, Maho’s response is “It’s fine, he does that all the time.” This is both callous and suggests that Shūichi is suffering from depression, likely caused by dysphoria.

We also see a little more of the show’s fourth trans character, Yuki, in this episode. Yuki is a grown trans woman who has befriended Yoshino. She has a boyfriend (Shi), whom she has known since childhood, and he was “the only one who never bullied [her].” Yuki comes across as a very warm and genuine person, as well as being pragmatic. She also represents a trans success story - she is a successful, confident, attractive woman who survived being teased and bullied. She’s a representation of the It Gets Better narrative, which has been criticized (rightly) for being naive. But where the It Gets Better campaign feels like it is encouraging a complacent ‘just wait, and everything will be alright’ attitude, Yuki’s character doesn’t bear that connotation (she doesn’t strongly oppose it, either - we simply don’t know enough details about her story for that to be any part of the narrative here).

The touching scene in this episode (the one that made me cry) comes when Yoshino and Shūichi are alone and talking to each other. Yoshino offers Shūichi her name, in exchange for his. The impact of this hinges on another thing that is fairly unique to the trans experience. Names are important things for a lot of trans people. We cast off our birth-assigned names when we cast off our birth-assigned genders. This is a deliberate act, and choosing a new name also has to be a deliberate act. Here, Yoshino is offering Shūichi a name. I have been in something similar to Shūichi’s place, here; my name was given to me by someone I hold dear (although it was not offered as an exchange). Even so, Yoshino’s actions here made me realize just how precious that gift really is. I felt like I had taken it for granted, when I should be treasuring it.

So, that scene made me cry, for deeply personal reasons. And now that I was good and tearful, though, the next part of the scene just fed the cry fest. So, moving on…

Shūichi tells Yoshino that he wants her to be Romeo in the play, and for him to be Juliet. He says “I want you to see me as a girl… because I see you as a boy.” This seems to be both his way of giving Yoshino a gift in exchange, as well as an attempt to tell her how he feels. “I see you as a boy.” I remember the first time someone said to me, “You are a girl.” The words came at exactly the time I needed them. Simple words; to cisgender women, it is a statement so obvious as to be not even worth saying or hearing. But every time I feel bad, every time I feel too much dysphoria and I’m trying not to hate myself, I remember those words. “I am a girl” is easy, for me. But knowing that someone else sees me the way I see myself… that helped immeasurably. That simple second person pronoun makes all the difference.

When Shūichi returns home, he repeats to himself “Boku no namae wa Yoshino.” He is still using the masculine pronoun ‘boku’, despite the fact that he is clearly starting to come to terms with his identity as a girl. This makes sense, though - it takes time to clear all of culture’s gender essentialism out of your brain. I still misgendered myself, in my own thoughts, for quite a while when I began to transition.

The other scene worth commenting on from this episode is a meeting between Saorin and Shūichi. Saorin asks him to come over, ostensibly to talk about the play. That is where it starts; Shūichi added to the play the idea that Romeo and Juliet could give each other their names, and Saorin offers Shūichi her own name. On learning the origin of the scene in the play, Saorin feels slighted, but Shūichi explains to her that he doesn’t want to become a girl for Yoshino’s sake, but for his own. Saorin responds with a selfish tirade that includes a lot of gender essentialism. She equates GRS with gender, saying “[without an operation], becoming a girl is impossible… It’s all just an act.” She also says that she doesn’t want Shuuichi to become a girl, because she is in love with him (presumably as a boy).

At this point, Saorin has very little to redeem her character. She contradicts herself a lot (and this seems intentional, as she seems very confused about her own feelings). She is consistently portrayed as selfish. She seems to fetishize Shūichi’s gender variance on the one hand, and be terrified of it on the other. She seems, in short, to be deeply cissexist, but her feelings for Shūichi make her willing to encourage his dressing as a girl. When the idea of it being more than that, however - when the idea of Shūichi actually being a girl comes up - she reacts with defensive hostility.

* So, as a character shares my own name in the show, I feel obliged to comment on that. I really want Anna to be a good character! She seems to have the potential to be; at least, she felt remorse after making Shūichi cry.