Japanese Female and ‘Trans’ Athletes: Negotiating Subjectivity and Media Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Nation


Satoko Itani

PhD defended at: 

University of Toronto



The focus of thesis is two fold: 1) the construction of Japanese female athletes in ‘masculine’ sports by Japanese media in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and nation; and 2) Japanese female and ‘trans’ athletes’ negotiation with Japanese gender and sexuality norms in the formation of their gendered subjectivities. A theoretical framework informed by feminist, queer, and postcolonial theories is used to analyze the discursive constructions and constitution of subjectivities of Japanese female and ‘trans’ athletes in the ‘masculine’ sports of soccer and wrestling. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) was employed to analyze Japanese mainstream newspaper and magazines published between 2001 and 2012 and in-depth interviews with twelve Japanese female and ‘trans’ athletes in wrestling and soccer. The result of the media analysis illustrates that Japanese mainstream media used multiple normative and normalizing discursive tactics to construct Japanese female athletes within patriarchal, sexist, and heterosexist gender and sexual norms. These discourses were also mobilized in the reporting of international competitions in which the successes of Japanese female athletes were appropriated for the nationalist constructions of Japanese national identity to recuperate Japanese masculinity. The analysis of interviews with female and ‘trans’ athletes illustrates the intricate processes of negotiation with male domination of their sport, Japanese gender and sexual norms, the conflicting demands of athletic careers, and the medicalized discourse of ‘Gender Identity Disorder (GID)’. The discursive fissures opened up by these conflicting and oppressive discourses, however, provided a kind of ‘third’ gender space in which ‘female sporting masculinity’ is recognized as the ‘norm’ and not as ‘queerness’. Although this ‘third’ space may be temporary, it provided female and ‘trans’ athletes a space to negotiate heterosexist and cisgenderist Japanese sporting spaces and the society at large.