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gender and nuriko

[Spoilers at least up to episode 7...I'll mark more when they come up...]

The well-quoted words that Miaka uttered when Tasuki mused that he never could figure out whether Nuriko was a man or woman sum it up: it doesn't really matter; Nuriko is Nuriko. The main reason that I'm writing this is to debate over pronouns to use when referring to Nuriko. Because that's the part that confuses me, and since I have to take some sort of consistent stance, I figure that I may as well explain my reasoning by discussing the facet of Nuriko that everyone must puzzle over...

Alas, the English language is one in which there is not a polite way to continually refer to a person without any allusion to his or her gender (unless you're willing to resort to bad grammar and say "their" gender, but that can only be done if you don't know who the person is). While there are languages that have gender-neutral pronouns and pose no problems, English-speaking fans of Fushigi Yuugi have a hard time because they have to deal with Nuriko. And they find out just how integral gender is in their language.

Since Nuriko's a character who most definitely blurs gender barriers, the puzzling question arises: should Nuriko be refered to as a man or a woman?

Well, since Nuriko is a transgendered individual, "she" would be the correct pronoun to use. (By the way, as far as various terms go, I think that "two spirited" describes Nuriko best.)

But, of course, it's not as easy as that. Nuriko's a complex character. As he revealed in the early 30's (attention! if you haven't seen up to then, you will be spoiled), Korin's death caused Ryuuen to start crossdressing, becoming his sister to keep her alive. But he finally lets her go.

And this is the point where many people say, "See! See! This is the real Nuriko. His TRUE self is male, his TRUE self this and that"--and their logic seems flawed to me. I don't want to get into a nature verses nurture argument here, but you can't deny the effect that environmental factors can have in shaping people. If Nakago (ambiguous spoiler?) hadn't been through hell, he might've been a shy, peaceful farmer who wouldn't hurt a flee.

When it really comes down to it, people are capable of anything; however, their genetics and environmental factors make them more prone to one thing or another. Many aspects of Nuriko's personality would probably have been the same whether Korin had died or not--but the fact that she died shaped him as a person just like being responsible for his people at such an early age shaped Hotohori. Even as Nuriko insists, "This is the real me," his gestures and speech pattern remain feminine.

(By the way, I think the scene where Nuriko cuts off his braid and Miaka gasps, saying that he can't crossdress anymore is silly--as one person said as he saw that scene, does Yui's haircut make her look like a man? It's ancient China! The majority of men have long hair!)

So again, about Nuriko's "changing"--I buy that the noble seishi of the later episodes reveals more of Nuriko's true nature than the jealous creature of the early eps. I buy that Nuriko's trying to be womanly might block his (her?) true nature--in the same way that Tasuki's playing the part of the macho bandit masks his sensitivity. When it really comes down to it, I don't like social constraints that make people act more or less "masculine" or "feminine"--while I buy that there are general qualities that women are more prone to have than men and vice versa, most people fall somewhere in the middle ground. Nuriko falls so far into the middle ground that it confuses everyone.

Which I like. Because as Miaka states, Nuriko's life wasn't about being a man or a woman; once he decides to stop trying to BE something and simply be, social constraints don't really apply to him. But it all comes back to my confusion over pronouns...

At first, I kept catching myself referring to Nuriko as female. My sister did the same. Eventually, we both switched to male vocabulary because the subber whose work we were viewing and the pages we were checking for nifty tidbits all referred to Nuriko as "he."

Really, when it comes to Nuriko, anything goes. The most accurate form of expression is probably what my friend Emily did: referring to Nuriko as "she" until Nuriko decides that he wants to be a man and then switch to "he." I myself discovered that I was using "she" around my enlightened college peers, who insisted that was the proper thing to say, and "he" around my sister, who'd grown used to it and didn't want me to further confuse her.

So I tend to use pronouns interchangably. Which is confusing. Bear with me. I tried not to do it on this page, and I'll probably decide to stick with "he," as much as I'd like to confuse people to satisfy my uncertainty...

Here are more reasons why I think that Nuriko's transcendence of gender barriers is far more internalized than superficial (and this is a spoiler for the very end of the manga and the CD stories, sort of, so be careful):
-At the end of the manga, Nuriko's shown in his reincarnated form--only "he" is a little girl, glancing at little Hotohori as they pass each other.
-In the CD books, the Keisuke and Tetsuya round up real-world reincarnated forms of the seishi who died, and Nuriko's a cross-dressing spy.

Okay, I think that I've said all I'd like to. I'll stop rambling now. So you can go read some more of my thoughts on Nuriko or do something else...

©1999 shilpa

the subversive pomegranate
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