Mobile Bodies: The Gender Performance and Migration Experience of Filipino Trans Women Entertainers in Japan

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Tricia OKADA, Tamagawa University / Waseda University, Japan
The growing visibility of Filipino trans women in media, politics, and activism happened after decades of struggles. One of their unique stories is how their work experience in Japan has mattered in this visibility. Although there has been scholarly works on Filipino entertainers in Japan that usually pertain to women, there is absence of extensive literature on Filipino trans women. This study aims to contribute to understanding an understudied group of entertainers in Japan---the Filipino trans women or the transpinay, a portmanteau of “transsexual” and “Pinay” (Filipino woman). It recognizes how the flows of migration to and from Japan have affected their lives. This research explores how they engage in gender performance before their migration, post-migration, and when they extend their stay in Japan or become return migrants.

Using a qualitative approach to my research, I gathered data through participant observations, semi-structured interviews, and focus group discussions in Tokyo, Manila, and Cebu. The twelve interviews and two FGDs comprised questions related to their personal background, gender identity, visa and job application process, migration and work experience in Japan, romantic relationships, and personal beliefs. In the course of their narratives, a collection of perceptions regarding gender identity, performance, and mobility arose. The analytical lens focuses on how they as performers, migrants, and romantic or life partners negotiate gender and race both in their private and public lives. Mapping the journey of these transpinay entertainers in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, I argue that their experiences in Japan as transpinay migrants have affirmed their gender identity and strengthened or weakened their sense of belonging to the Philippines where transgender visibility and activism has drastically changed over the years.