In elementary school I was never good at being a “girly girl” – I remember always volunteering to be the pet when everyone wanted to play house. Usually that pet was a velociraptor.
In junior high school a popular girl took an uncomfortably long look at me and then concluded that maybe I wouldn’t be quite as ugly if I wore some mascara. A couple days later the same girl would pelt me with batteries and other junk from her backpack, but somehow I thought that maybe if I wore mascara daily she’d hate me less.
Mascara was my one concession to being “girly”, because my hobbies remained overall “masculine,” and I wore exclusively baggy jeans and graphic T’s in the hopes that maybe I would be more acceptable as a tomboy. By high school the bullying had largely stopped I had no problems with the girls around me, but I still had a ratio of male-to-female friends that prompted my dad to ask why my graduation party looked like some kind of harem.
And then, at some point in time, I saw a magazine at the mall adorned with a band from Tokyo when J-rock was briefly almost a thing in the U.S. They wore suits and ties, but also makeup and fanciful hairdos. Their makeup wasn’t the slapped-on eyeliner of punk rockers or emos. It was purposeful, artful, with fake lashes and all, and I was transfixed.
Both the style and the genre of the band on the cover of that magazine is called visual kei, and it is an obsession I’ve never gotten over. It is beautiful in appearance and in vocals, but largely ugly in guitar distortion and lyrics. The band members collect groupies, but they smell of flowery perfume. For me, all this represented a freedom from having to choose one or the other.
The genre has changed a lot over the years, and the scene within Japan is different than how I could ever have imagined it before immersing myself. But recently a legend within the genre posted something on Twitter that reminded me of why I first became so fascinated with the scene from all the way across the Pacific Ocean:
“Because you’re a man”
“Because you’re the oldest son”
“Because you’re a visual kei artist”
“Because you’re at that age”
I’ve made my way singing to this point by sweeping away those curse-like words dropped upon me with the sleeve of my dress and by stomping on them with thick-soled boots and high heels.
I am me.
If you’re going to box me in, go ahead and try.
I’m just going to keep being me.https://twitter.com/Kaya_rose
Kaya started out strictly visual kei as the apprentice of one of the all-time greats of the genre, Mana. He still performs in that style and seems quite proud of his roots. These days, he creates poppy pieces reminiscent of RuPaul. He’s also a huge fan of 80’s Japanese pop ballads.
No matter which genre he chooses, he always sounds like Kaya – a little hint of opera, full of vibrato. And he always dresses like Kaya – garish, yet elegant.
“I am me.”
No matter how old we get, and no matter how far behind we think the days of worrying about society’s opinion are, it’s good to be reminded.