Image source: TVアニメ『ブレンド・S』公式 on Twitter

Recently, a new character has been added to the Blend S crew, Kanzaki Hideri, the idol character. Hideri’s most interesting aspect, however, is not the character Hideri plays. Rather Hideri represents a very real issue that Japanese society, like societies around the world, are grappling with: gender-variance and transgender identities and rights. 

Blend S is about the staff of a cafe called Stile. Stile isn’t just any kind of cafe, as it serves a particular type of customer. It is a maid cafe, to an extent, but “maid” isn’t actually the draw for the type of clientele who chooses to visit. Instead, every member of the staff plays a character different from themselves. In addition to Hideri’s “idol” character, the other characters are “sadist,” “tsundere” (a character that pretends not to like who they actually do like), “little sister” and “big sister.” Even the manager, Roma Dino, plays up his foreignness to be a “foreign manager” character.

Blend S Is About A Maid Cafe Where Every Girl Plays an Anime Stereotype

[This article contains spoilers for the eighth episode of Blend S.]

It’s important to note while it is fun to speculate about what Hideri’s gender expression might mean for Hideri’s gender identity, the only way we will really ever know is if Hideri tells us directly. With gender-variant people, it’s generally best to go off of presentation first and then make a correction if told to do so. Otherwise, just ask as politely as possible. (Many gender-variant people will rather you ask than assume and keep to your assumptions.) As for telling coworkers and audience members directly, frankly, I don’t feel like Hideri has. 

Let’s look at the strongest evidence that Hideri is a “boy” in the episodes so far. There are two main pieces of evidence that could suggest this. The first is that Hideri uses “boku” (a masculine personal pronoun usually associated with boys or younger men) and the second is that Hideri says something like “you’ll hire me even though I am a boy?” when Hideri’s coworkers pressure the manager, Dino, to hire Hideri. This, of course, comes as a shock to everyone as Hideri fully “passes” (is completely read as girl/female). However, there are problems with using both of these to try to determine Hideri’s gender identity.

Image source: TVアニメ『ブレンド・S』公式 on Twitter

Blend S Reminds Us We Are Only as Normal or as Weird as the Company We Keep

First, the use of “boku” is no longer as definitively gendered as it once was and it’s a habit that many Japanese transgender girls and transgender women find difficult to break. These days “boku” is used by cisgender girls who want to be a bit more “boyish” or “masculine” without actually suggesting they think of themselves as boys. More likely with Hideri, however, is the example of Nitori Shuu from Wandering Son (as well as Japanese trans women I know personally), who after years of thinking of her personal pronoun as “boku” simply finds it difficult to switch. Nitori is undeniably a trans girl, so the idea that “boku” is sufficient evidence to label someone a “boy” or a “girl” is divorced from lived experiences.

I, myself, use the feminine “atashi,” but this was a gradual change from the gender neutral “watashi“ because I am not a native speaker of Japanese. Since many of my Japanese female friends used “atashi,” I started using it, too. Now, it’s completely natural. My friend Eriko from junior high school uses “ore” (an overtly masculine pronoun), but she doesn’t think of herself as a boy. The use does inform others about Eriko’s gender expression and sexuality (she is overtly queer, and on the “butch” part of the scale for queer female gender expression), but her gender identity remains “girl.” 

Second, Hideri’s question is not an independent one without prior context. In the opening scene of Hideri’s introductory episode, we get the implication that the manager is just about to ask about Hideri’s sex (I say sex here for legal reasons, which is important for discussing transgender issues in Japan). At that moment, however, Maika rushes through the door and we never hear this question actually asked. After Hideri asks the question about being hired, however, the manager clearly instructs Hideri to put “male” as sex on the application. Hideri’s response goes in the other column (evidence that Hideri’s gender identity is “girl”), so we’ll go back to that in a bit. 

This is actually a really important point that the manager makes, because it’s a very real problem that transgender people in Japan have when it comes to employment. The process to change one’s gender is complicated and comes with some requirements that some people consider unfair and inhumane. Without this legal change, very few businesses will budge on allowing internal documents to follow a person’s gender identity. Dino’s response here is, unfortunately, normal and an indication of legal and employment norms. Not so much Hideri’s actual gender.

Image source: TVアニメ『ブレンド・S』公式 on Twitter

Okay, so let’s flip this and ask what evidence we have that Hideri’s gender is “girl.” I actually think we’re on stronger ground here. The first is that Hideri’s character is “idol” and not “otokonoko” (literally “male daughter”). There is really no evidence that the customers are aware of what seems to be the case, that Hideri’s legal “sex” is “male.” Hideri’s femininity is a pre-existing aspect of Hideri’s normal, everyday personality and identity. While it’s true that Hideri wishes to actually be an idol, the character that Hideri portrays acts as though she (the character) is already an idol.

Hideri does not appear to be a part-time “crossdresser” or a “drag queen” (the difference between the two often has to do with sexuality of the cisgender male individual and the purpose for crossdressing). Feminine Hideri seems to be the real Hideri. Hideri even says that Hideri’s parents are aware and disapprove, meaning there’s no attempt to hide this expression and identity. This may well be why Hideri’s response to the manager is, “can’t I just write girl on the application?” Of course, in Japanese, “male” and “man” as well as “female” and “woman” are written without the different forms we have in English, so it’s not as easy to say something like, “She was born male but is a woman” as we do in English.

As explained earlier, without the complicated process of changing one’s gender (which under Japanese law is the same as sex), the answer to this question is “No.” This causes a lot of problems for trans people who, like Hideri, “pass” completely and pretty much go through their days without anyone noticing anything. It can be frustrating to have to deal with the consequences of legal documentation which doesn’t represent your lived experiences. Constantly being outed is not only annoying and embarrassing, it can be dangerous. Even in Japan.

Further evidence that Hideri’s gender identity is “girl” is that it appears that Hideri’s normal choice of clothing is overtly feminine and girly, and Hideri’s long hair appears to be natural and not a wig. Indeed, I couldn’t pull off most of the stuff that Hideri wears whether I would like to or not! When Miu runs into Hideri while shopping, it’s even clearer that this is Hideri’s everyday personality and identity and not something put on just for the Stile Cafe. Another big hint that Hideri thinks of “herself” as “girl” is the bathroom scene. Like many trans people, going to the bathroom is a huge ordeal. Hideri tries to hold it in and avoid going, because there are all sorts of potential problems. Even if nobody notices, there’s still fear and embarrassment. When Miu finally convinces Hideri to go, Hideri chooses the women’s bathroom without hesitation

Image source: TVアニメ『ブレンド・S』公式 on Twitter

Then Miu does something which is EXTREMELY dangerous and something for which I found myself quite angry with Miu over. Miu stops Hideri from going into the women’s bathroom and sends Hideri into the men’s bathroom. This is where I remind everyone that Hideri looks like a normal teen girl. The men who come out of the bathroom are really confused by this teen girl coming into the men’s room, once again showing that Hideri “passes” completely. Japan may be one of the safest countries on Earth, but it also has a huge problem with sexual harassment and sexual assault. Since Hideri is read as female pretty much all the time, by everyone, without any issues, there is absolutely no reason for Miu to force Hideri into the men’s bathroom except for her own personal comfort. 

There is of course a third option here. Hideri could be “non-binary.” That is, Hideri could think of Hideri as Hideri, either as neither “boy” nor “girl” or some combination of both. My own personal opinion is that Hideri is a trans girl. This may be some of my own bias showing, but I feel like Hideri’s moments of “boyishness” say more about the silliness of our association of certain behaviors  and not the reality. They are not examples of Hideri’s “hidden boy nature” but rather evidence that gender aspects are arbitrary. Aspects used to “prove” Hideri is a boy would not be seen as evidence that a cisgender girl was really a boy, so why apply it to a transgender girl? Hideri, by all accounts, lives a normal everyday life being perceived as, and encouraging the perception of, “girl.” 

Blend S can be watched subtitled on Crunchyroll.

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