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May 10, 2012 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Hard Gay was a Japanese pro wrestler turned TV personality popular in the mid 2000s. Like Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno, he is a cartoonish gay foreigner portrayed by a straight person, but has come under considerably greater scrutiny for his more minstrelsy than satyrical approach. The BBC has profiled Hard Gay as part of their series, Japanorama.

Masaki Sumitani began his comedy/pro wrestling career in 1997 in a team with Makoto Izubuchi called Razor Ramon, after the American wrestler of the same name. He developed the Hard Gay character in 2002 and by 2005 was one of the biggest comics in Japan. From the wiki:
The term "Hādo Gei" is a Japanese reference to American gay subculture in similar fashion to, say, "punk". In Japan, gender subculture with distinct dress style are in fact trans-gender or drag, which in Japan is referred to as "Gei ゲイ". In turn, the term "hard gay" became the reference to more masculine oriented "drag" seen to be prevalent in America. The fact that Hard Gay does not portray any Japanese gay subculture also explains why the sketch was allowed to be aired on Japanese TV, which has its own code of political correctness.
Sumitami has since retired the Hard Gay persona, resigning him to the dustbin of Japanese One-Joke Wonders.
posted by modernserf (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's apparently a tradition of "gay" wrestlers in Lucha Libre as well.
posted by drezdn at 11:15 AM on May 10, 2012


FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!!

i feel it would be remiss to have a FPP about HG w/o his cover of YMCA (YouTube). Enjoy.
posted by raihan_ at 11:17 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


he is a cartoonish gay foreigner

I had no idea he was supposed to be portraying a foreigner.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I struggle to follow/understand any of the American wrasslin' posts/plot-lines here.. this.. this is just mindboggling, almost a "wtf japan?!!" kinda linkbait..
posted by k5.user at 11:26 AM on May 10, 2012


The fact that Hard Gay does not portray any Japanese gay subculture also explains why the sketch was allowed to be aired on Japanese TV, which has its own code of political correctness.

Plenty of openly gay people on Japanese tv, and have been for years and year, IMHO, although Japan has still not achieved the cultural pinnacle that is Will & Grace.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:27 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hard Gay" sock puppet in 3, 2, 1...
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:32 AM on May 10, 2012


So maybe somebody here can answer my inadequately answered AskMe question about stock "flamboyant transvestite" characters in anime?
posted by Nomyte at 11:38 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember being in Japan during that time and Tokyu Hands used to have Hard Gay dress-up costumes for little kids.
posted by snofoam at 11:43 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have no idea how gay men are perceived in 21st century Japan, but homosexuality seems to have been an accepted part of the culture at one time, if the dramatic literature is any reflection of social beliefs.

There's a great kabuki play whose title is translated to "St. Narukami and the God Fudo." One of the major characters in the play is a kind of detective-like super-samurai. The scene he is best known for is called the Whisker-Tweezers scene. In this scene, he tries to seduce first a female servant and then a male servant with equal enthusiasm. In both cases, he is shot down (though he takes the rejection in apparent good humor). If I recall correctly, the opening of the kabuki play "The Scarlet Princess of Edo" features a male couple who have resolved to commit suicide together that they might be reborn together (a common kabuki lover's trope - they're not committing suicide because they are gay necessarily, though my memory is weak on this point).

Furthermore, part of the semi-anecdotal history of kabuki was that it started off as an all female theatre form until the samurai started brawling for the affections of some of the more popular actresses. Women were banned from the stage and, for a period of time, young men were the main performers... until the samurai started brawling for the affections of some of the more popular young male actors. At this point young men were banned from the stage and we moved into "older male" kabuki (which is something that sort of lasts to this day).

Anyhow, yeah, Hardo Gay is... whoa... though he has a sort of equally stereotypical and offensive cousin in American professional wrestling's Iron Sheik. I also seem to remember some "Mexican" wrestlers that worked as a tag team and rode a giant lawnmower into the stadium. So, yeah, wrestling seems produce a certain number of ill-conceived characters in many cultures.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:44 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I remember working at a language school in rural Fukui (Japan's second-least known prefecture after Saga) and the head teacher (a Brit) spending a lot of time hand-holding a new teaching recruit who had never been outside of the States. The challenge? Finding gay bars so the guy would feel less culture shock. How difficult was it? Not difficult at all. There was even an established gay bar in Tsuruga, a small city of 50,000 at the time. The new teacher eventually quit anyway.

As far as I understand it, homosexuality it "tolerated" in Japan, but no openly gay man (or unmarried man, for that matter) is going to ever get promoted.

Civil unions and gay marriage are not in the cards for Japan at the moment, although I have read that if you are married overseas in someplace like Canada, where same-sex marriages are established and legal, it is possible for a same-sex couple, after producing a marriage certificate etc etc, to create their own family register at city hall.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:49 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The American equivalent is Golddust... according to that astonishingly detailed wikipedia page, he's the (straight and married) son of Dusty "The American Dream" Rhoads.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2012


I'd always had a hard time reconciling this: when I was a kid, I bristled at how US wrasslin' portrayed the gay guy (or any socio/ethnic group the audience naturally hated) as the heel. Therefore, I would always root for that heel, especially when he was pissing the homophobic crowd off. I always hoped that some guys in the audience did a little soul searching after watching that bout — like, "Hey wait, why am I hating on this guy when what I am watching here is almost exclusively naked sweaty musclemen grapple with each other and act out a soap opera while I cheer on?"
posted by not_on_display at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Err, Rhodes.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2012


(Examples of "Gay" characters in US wrasslin')
posted by not_on_display at 11:54 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, Adrian Adonis. He was such a heel.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:56 AM on May 10, 2012


Metafilter: Hoooooooooo!
posted by Picklegnome at 12:02 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always hoped that some guys in the audience did a little soul searching after watching that bout — like, "Hey wait, why am I hating on this guy when what I am watching here is almost exclusively naked sweaty musclemen grapple with each other and act out a soap opera while I cheer on?"
posted by not_on_display


I'd love to be proved wrong, but I suspect that if you are capable of this level of introspection you are probably not watching wrestling in the first place.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:06 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's become a fan meme.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:14 PM on May 10, 2012


Keith Talent: "I always hoped that some guys in the audience did a little soul searching after watching that bout — like, "Hey wait, why am I hating on this guy when what I am watching here is almost exclusively naked sweaty musclemen grapple with each other and act out a soap opera while I cheer on?"
posted by not_on_display


I'd love to be proved wrong, but I suspect that if you are capable of this level of introspection you are probably not watching wrestling in the first place.
"

Yeah, cause alla us pro wrasslin' fans are so dumb, durr hurr.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect that if you are capable of this level of introspection you are probably not watching wrestling in the first place.

The New Yorker would like to challenge you to a dog collar match.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:16 PM on May 10, 2012


More like "Marcia Gay Harden Gay" sock puppet in 3, 2, 1..." amirite?

Too gay?
posted by PapaLobo at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how gay men are perceived in 21st century Japan, but homosexuality seems to have been an accepted part of the culture at one time, if the dramatic literature is any reflection of social beliefs.

I remember coming across this when I read the Hagakure, kind of a guidebook for the samurai, and thought wait what:
When one is young, he can often bring on shame for a lifetime by homosexual acts...A young man should test an older man for at least five years, and if he is assured of that person's intentions, then he too should request the relationship.
It had straight-up gay samurai relationship advice sandwiched in with etiquette tips and exhortations about how great it is to die for one's lord.

Then again, being gay wasn't a big deal in ancient Greece. The Greek immigrants I grew up around were just as homophobic as everyone else in suburban Illinois.
posted by ignignokt at 12:25 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to mention Brandon Stroud's excellent The Best and Worst of Raw recap series. For example, his take on the promos leading up to the Wrestlemania match between The Rock and John Cena:
"The Rock, even as a legitimate Hollywood movie star, even as a guy cutting promos from his balcony in Los Angeles, cannot let go of that lowest common denominator horsesh*t he’s been shoveling as babyface Rock his entire career. 'Bloated transvestite Wonder Woman'... How does ... the star of Disney’s The Tooth Fairy can be transphobic as f**k on primetime television and nobody care? ... The stuff about Cena being a phony is good, and the stuff about him being a gay transvestite faggot woman needs to stop. For ev er. Remember when Stone Cold Steve Austin offered Stacy Keibler a beer and she politely turned it down, so he beat her up and everybody cheered? This is what your words are doing…"
There's also the great tumblr Feminist Pro Wrestling, or the the blog The Hammer Dialectic, or the print 'zine The Atomic Elbow.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:31 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was first introduced to Hard Gay when he was featured on Charlie Brooker's You Have Been Watching. I checked it out because one of the panel guests was Martin Freeman, who I think gives the very best reaction to a first viewing of Hard Gay ever (they are watching a brief clip of Hard Gay getting children to eat vegetables).

Here is Freeman's reaction in animated gif format. It's way funnier in context in context, though--you can watch the entire episode here (the Hard Gay segment starts at 20:50, and the reaction comes at about 22:35).
posted by tzikeh at 12:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd love to be proved wrong, but I suspect that if you are capable of this level of introspection you are probably not watching wrestling in the first place"
 Keith Talent

I watched wrestling a lot during my teenage years. I loved the acrobatics and George "The Animal" Steele. At the same time, I was (ahem, still am kinda) an above-average thinker.

It was precisely Adrian Adonis's coming out where I thought, "YES, this is gonna be GREAT. It'll force fans to come to terms with their own sexuality, especially in the context of what they're watching." Yet the gay was always shown as somehow perverted, conniving, etc. So on one hand, I was glad to see the fans having this dilemma shoved in their face (har har), but sad to see that it was such a hateful character — if the homosexuality was stripped away from it, I would never have rooted for that heel. That the homosexuality was, further, the root of the character's bad traits — that just made me sad. I'm lucky that I had the wherewithal in the contemplation area that it didn't twist my malleable teenage brain against gays.
posted by not_on_display at 12:49 PM on May 10, 2012


cartoonish gay foreigner

This seems like something to have on a business card.
posted by elizardbits at 1:15 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone who thinks Hard Gay was extreme should take a look at Danshoku Dino, whose gimmick involves a stunning amount of penis-centric wrestling moves. He's always fun to watch, with his recent "Bob's Rules / Dino's Rules" match against Bob Sapp standing out as a shining example of... something.
posted by delfin at 1:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine went to DragonCon as Hard Guy several years back. Those people who were hip to the joke laughed the heads off, those who were not reacted how you would expect to a leather-clad stranger coming up and gyrating at you (which is to say, reactions were mixed).
posted by Panjandrum at 1:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and elizardbits, his business cards at the time listed him as "Imperial Penguin Commander."
posted by Panjandrum at 1:33 PM on May 10, 2012


I need something that says... Daddy's into leather.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had no idea he was supposed to be a foreigner. That said, on any given night, there will be at least one show (or several) where openly gay or trans celebrities will be on the panel (there are rather a lot of these shows where the host basically talks to a group of celebrities about ... Something.) and they'll be given the same level of respect as every other member. Perhaps in public life, Japan has still got a ways to go, but in television they're much, much more accepting. Just as an example, Haruna Ai, who is transexual, ran the annual 24 hour marathon for charity a couple years ago (it's a freakishly big deal), making her, for the event and several days before and after, the face of a pretty significant television channel here.

Foreigners, on the other hand, are stil mostly on tv as sources of amusement. A friend and I were in Ueno for the cherry blossoms recently, and we got interviewed by a tv crew looking to ask gaijin what they thought of hanami. It was fun, and I was looking forward to seeing if I made the cut on the morning show that would be carrying the interviews. It was fifteen minutes of foreigners who couldn't speak Japanese, breaking rules they weren't aware of, with bonus points for singing, playing musical instruments, or doing their traditional dances in front of the crowd that had gathered. I won't lie, it's actually affected how I feel about living here, working hard to speak the language, trying to blend in.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:11 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


...if you are capable of this level of introspection...

Responded to by:

Yeah, cause alla us pro wrasslin' fans are so dumb, durr hurr.

and

At the same time, I was (ahem, still am kinda) an above-average thinker.

News flash for all you not-dumb, above average thinkers: intelligent =/= introspective.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really didn't think you were serious Serf. But now I know better.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Se Se Se Se Se Se

This was one of those things that really threw me for a loop when I was living in Japan. The reactions of Japanese people to this character were not what I expected. HG looked to my eyes to be doing mean-spirited homophobic mockery, but somehow the effect on the Japanese audience wasn't exactly what, say, Gold Dust was here in North America. People freaked out about Gold Dust, you'd see the most repulsed homophobic reactions to him. In Japan, people didn't seem to be reacting to his supposed homosexuality per se as much as his catchphrases and jokes and his making humping motions at everything. I didn't detect any sort of underlying sense that homosexuality was wrong or something--the reaction to HG just made the whole shtick seem somehow much more good-natured than how it would play in a North American context, if that makes any sense. Anyways, I don't think I'm articulating this well. Something about it was very different; problematic in different ways than it would be here.
posted by Hoopo at 3:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In turn, the term "hard gay" became the reference to more masculine oriented "drag" seen to be prevalent in America.

I cannot parse this. "Masculine oriented drag"?
posted by psoas at 4:03 PM on May 10, 2012


I believe what that article means by "masculine-oriented drag" is a stereotypical masculine or hyper-masculine persona (like the sort of chaps 'n' leather thing Hard Gay) has going on, as opposed to a stereotypical feminine or hyper-feminine persona (up to and including "drag"). But yes, the use of the word "drag" does make it a bit confusing.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:16 PM on May 10, 2012


To go along with what infinitywaltz mentions, there are very few 'butch' gay celebrities in Japan. For the most part, the gay tarento are more effeminate, and outside of Hard Gay, there's no leather wearing gay celebrity.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:26 PM on May 10, 2012


Interestingly, one of my wife's classmates was basically openly gay (she's a lesbian) in high school back in the 1980s in small-town, blue collar Japan. She wore a boy's uniform, and was actually quite popular with the other girls. I can't recall what she does now (I think she runs a shop), but she's in a longterm relationship, and her mom is also in the same care home as my MIL. So we see her sometimes when we're back.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 PM on May 10, 2012


I love Hard Gay, a truly old-school video, going back to the late 90s I think. I was just describing HG to a friend in the context of how he could meet his daughter's suitors at the door, years from now.
posted by rhizome at 1:14 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


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