The wakashu, traditionally played by teenage boys, represented a specific subculture within Edo Japan. Wakashu are described by kabuki scholar Imao Tetsuya as ‘floating between the polarities of male and female, synthesising the principle of both sexes.’ The wakashu, etymologically resisting gender identification, is translated into English most closely as ‘youth,’ constituting what many scholars consider a ‘third gender.’ By rejecting the imposed male identity, wakashu represented the possibility of an existence outside of Edo society along with the prospect of future transformation for Edo culture.
When he was out running errands or working in his study, bent over a book or teaching the students who filed into our house to sit with him and fix their test scores, I’d slip into his bedroom and rifle through his belongings: fingering his penknives and leather-strapped watches, feeling the soft silk and woven wool of his neckties, inhaling the funky, wonderful smell of his aged leather belts – which I handled with a mix of awe and fear, the two or three times I behaved very badly, these doubled as instruments of punishment – and studying that weathered, bizarre source of power, his wallet.
A man in his own clothes is as much sexless as possible. He shaves his face so that, if he be young & fair, you’d not know but that he might be a girl, and any protuberance by which his sex might be known is carefully and shamefully suppressed. It is an organ of drainage and not of sex. It is tucked away and all sideway dishonoured, neglected, ridiculed and ridiculous – no longer the virile member and man’s most precious ornament, but the comic member, a thing for girls to giggle about – comic and, to nursemaids, dirty. ‘You dirty little boy, put it away.’
I’ve dressed kings, queens, beggars, prostitutes, lawyers, bankers. I dressed Gram Parsons, Dolly Parton, John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, The Rolling Stones, The Jackson Five and all four Hank Williams. I made Elvis’ gold lamé suit, and people say that I put Johnny Cash in black, but I’ve never in my life felt the need to be important or rich. I hate money, because of what it does to people. When Barbara Walters asked Johnny Cash about the black suits I made him he said, ‘I wore black before, but nobody put me in a better black than Manuel.’
When the burkini appeared in the news a decade ago, it carried with it a dense web of historical associations, political connotations and moral valences. The histories of the bikini and the burka – including the ways that each garment has been framed as the other’s antithesis – played an important role in shaping how the burkini was represented and interpreted in the new century. In Europe and the Anglophone World, modest swimsuits and the figure of the burkini-clad women were appropriated as catalysts for contemporary debates about the possibilities and limits of cultural pluralism in an era of economic globalisation, mass migrations, war and terrorism and ethnic nationalist movements.
There was a masquerade ball at the Elysée-Montmartre that evening. It was the ‘Mi-Carême,’ and the crowds were pouring into the brightly lighted passage which leads to the dance ball, like water flowing through the open lock of a canal. The loud call of the orchestra, bursting like a storm of sound, shook the rafters, swelled through the whole neighbourhood and awoke, in the streets and in the depths of the houses, an irresistible desire to jump, to get warm, to have fun, which slumbers within each human animal.
Behind these images of ‘real’ people – building, plastering, carrying heavy weights, fixing things or more generally just getting their hands dirty – is a not-so-subtle invitation to eroticise the workers, their bodies, their performance of ‘real’ masculinity. The hashtag #realpeople implies a distance, both erotic and social: they are ‘real’ people, we are not; this is ‘real’ work, ours is not.