By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of a “doomed queen” in my LGBT+ Literature class. It came in the form of Andrew Holleran’s fictional novel, Dancer From The Dance, which, if you don’t know, is sort of like an updated version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby set in New York City and Fire Island. Both works glamorize their respective decade settings and cultures. Fitzgerald’s work is set in the 1920s and looks at the upper class, meanwhile, Holleran’s is set in the 1970s and looks at the gay community. Both present a decadent exterior presentation of these communities while also showing the darker undersides of the same community through a narrator that is newly welcomed into the group.
Having not been a huge fan of The Great Gatsby from the many times it was forced down my throat in academia, Dancer From The Dance was surprisingly my favorite read of the semester and still sits on my bookshelf after all the other works from that class’s reading list were packed away into one of many other boxes of books.
What stood out to me about it was how it seemed to reflect another beloved read of mine, Shinozaki Hitoyo’s manga, Henshin Dekinai or No Secrets (2010). The stories themselves are very different. After all, one is set in New York City and Fire Island during the 1970s while the other is clearly taking place in early 2000s Japan. However, that concept of the “doomed queen” introduced by Hollaren was something that I couldn’t ignore as it fits so well into defining Kaoruko Someya’s character struggle as an okama (a Japanese slang word with similar connotations to the English “drag queen”) and homosexual in an ultimately conservative society, which is what I want to talk about today.
What Is A “Doomed Queen” Anyway?
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I think it best to talk a little more about the concept, no?
The “doomed queen” concept introduced in Hollaren’s novel may be best described as a male person who is stuck in a state of self-loathing as they try to reconcile with their desire as an effeminate, gay man and their desire to conform with the heteronormative depiction of gender normativity. The mindset caused by this self-loathing becomes that ‘normal’ society cannot and does not accept them because of their homosexuality and choice to take on a feminine presenting identity–but it is in fact the self-loathing that makes them doomed rather than society.
We see an example of this with Someya in Chapter 1:
Here we see that, indeed, the society around Someya is not very accepting. However, this perception of rejection is warped. For example, the men working under Soichiro Honda (his love interest) that we see depicted above are more so surprised than anything and, in later chapters, are shown to be happy at Someya’s visit. Later on, this sort of surprise, followed by a brief pause, then acceptance by those Someya interacts with becomes a recurring element that is enforced through the example of the restaurant Someya and Honda visit for lunch, and Honda’s younger sister’s initial confrontation with Someya ending with her wanting to see him again.
However, Someya doesn’t seem to note these changes around him at all. More than that we see Someya’s near-constantly self-assessing in a negative way as he believes that once Honda finally realizes he’s a man and not a woman, he’ll be treated with the same negativity that others often show him as a first response. We see this through his internal dialogue, but also in his responses to coming out and being out-ed in front of Honda like so:
However, that expectation of rejection doesn’t happen. Honda is very accepting of Someya, calling him a “queen” of his castle, an awesome lady, and treating Someya in the way that Someya presents, as a woman, with the same respect that he might give any other person.
This helps to hit home the final part of the doomed queen concept: doomed queens are “doomed” not because of how society treats them. Rather, it is the internal struggle with this conflicting desire for the two different depictions of self-identity that both feel true and untrue which causes the feeling of “doom.” The internal conflict which struggles to accept the self places a heightened expectation of rejection by the wider world into the mind, leading to further internal despair.
So rather than despair from a strictly external conflict of society vs. individual, we are seeing it primarily as a conflict of self vs. self: “The point is that we are not doomed because we are homosexual, my dear, we are doomed only if we live in despair because of it, as we did on the beaches and the streets of Suck City” (Andrew Holleran, Dancer from the Dance). In Dancer from the Dance, Holleran used this concept to critique the gay community through the character of Sutherland. Based on Holleran’s writing, the concept and feeling of doom depicted was a self-made ‘hell’ that stems from self-loathing rather than any sort of designated fate that comes with being a member of the homosexual orientation in a non-accepting culture or society.
This is not to say that external pressures and fears do not have their role in the person’s mental state; simply that being truly “doomed” is when you have lost the internal struggle against your own acceptance of who you are or could be–essentially when you have lost hope.
Kaoruko Someya, The Doomed Queen
At the start of Henshin Dekinai, Someya is every bit the doomed queen. Before others, he acts and seems to be as confident as he portrays. Only we, the readers, get to see his perspective through narration and see how Someya is riddled with moments of self-loathing. There is the example above, which was taken from Chapter 1, but we see Someya’s self-loathing over identity repeated throughout. This is particularly apparent in Chapters 2 & 3 where Someya dresses as a man.
In these Chapters, we see Someya’s deep-seated struggle with his two identities. The first is his desire to be the confident, beautiful queen of his established life as an okama host club. The second is the ideal image of a son for his father. Both are parts of him that he wants to be and doesn’t want to be at the same time.
In his childhood, Someya conformed himself to the ideal image of a son for his father. His father acts as a stand-in and potential straw-man for conservative practices and societal norms surrounding Someya.
While Someya conforms to the heteronormative expectations, appearing in the form of a dutiful and perfect son, he clearly showed an interest in wanting to be beautifully transformed like a butterfly which he believes won’t be accepted by his father. This becomes the start to Someya’s internal struggle, which snowballs over time as being the dutiful son gets him overlooked. This overlooked feeling is perceived as an outright rejection and pushes Someya to his breaking point.
With the realization that who he is will not be approved of by his father even if he hides this side of himself, Someya dives into becoming the “butterfly” he’s always wanted to become, exploring and developing his feminine side. Only then does his father take note of him, pointing out a ‘wrongness’ with Someya’s new identity and trying to make Someya change back.
We see all of this prefaced in the phone call between Someya and his father at the start of Chapter 2, the first time we see them talk. Here, Someya’s two identities are presented as conflicting. In the conversation, Someya agrees to attend a Buddhist ceremony with his father in a suit with a masculine presentation, while also saying that despite this he has no plans to conform to the image of an ideal son any longer.
From there, Chapter 2 and 3 has Someya, in his masculine presentation, meeting Honda and others he knows. He’s notably embarrassed and worried about Hondo recognizing him in this form, and confesses to Hondo at the end of Chapter 3 that while he looks confident and assured in his self-expression, internally he’s actually fighting with self-hate on a regular basis:
It’s followed by a touching moment of Honda hugging Someya, providing a much-needed comfort. However, this is taken away by the intrusion of Someya’s childhood friend who confirms what Honda had just discovered (that being the Someya in front of him is, indeed, the Someya he’s been crushing on). Someya, embarrassed and still distraught over the emotions brought up in confessing about these conflicting sides of himself, runs away.
In Chapter 4, this self-loathing comes to end as Someya confronts Honda following his departure from before. This starts with him overcoming his self-loathing enough to apologize to Hondo, and is carried through by Honda’s acceptance of Someya’s two sides. Without intending to, Hondo has presented a third option to Someya: one where he can be both the butterfly and the dutiful son without needing to view them as conflicting identities.
Now, it’s not an immediate change because there is still the external factor of acceptance to deal with, which we see in Chapters 5 and 6. Starting first with Chapter 5, Someya has come to accept himself but still worries about society and others. This chapter focuses mainly on him and Honda. He worries that Honda doesn’t fully understand that a relationship with him is going to be very different from one with a woman. Firstly because, as stated, Someya is a man but also because of the culture they live in and how Someya dresses–things will be different. Honda takes this in stride–confessing over and over again in the same open and accepting way that he has been all along.
Probably due to Someya’s history of rejection and self-loathing, Someya has the more difficult time of coming to accept that someone like Honda not only exists but really wants to be with him and likes him for who he is as a person regardless of his identity.
Chapter 6 deals with Someya and his father’s relationship. They have a very confrontational meeting, in which Honda tells Someya’s father that the two are dating. Someya’s father loses it, and insults the relationship and Honda, which causes Someya to jump up in defense of him. The defense of Honda becomes the gateway to Someya’s conversation with his dad and leads to their reconciliation.
In the end, with the acceptance of self, that’s when Someya’s feelings of doom lift. It’s also when everything gets better–he starts a relationship, he reconciles with his father, and he finds happiness. It’s shown best in his wardrobe, as he comfortably starts dressing in both male and female clothes at home and outside of the home, which is to say that the internal struggle has ended with the acceptance of these two sides within himself.
Someya is a perfect representation of Holleran’s concept, “the doomed queen.” He starts off in Henshin Dekinai as a person suffering from self-loathing as a result of two self-identities that he views as conflicting. This self-hatred leaves a doomed feeling around our okama queen. The doom is lifted, however, as he begins to find self-acceptance through his interactions with Honda.
Honda acts very much as a stand-in for a society that accepts the two sides of Someya. Sure, there are those that don’t automatically seem welcoming to Someya at the start but rather than outright rejection, many are simply surprised at first. Such as the juniors under Honda who, in later chapters, are shown to be happy at Someya’s visit. Or the restaurant and shop background characters that are more than willing to accept Someya as he is. Even Honda’s sister is shown to feel positively towards Someya despite initially being confrontational and prejudiced. By recognizing through Honda that much of his perceived rejection comes from self-inflicted pressure, Someya finds the avenue for self-acceptance that leads to his breaking the barrier between father and son, thereby helping Someya and his father to reconnect.
Someya finds that his perceived rejection by his father, the stand-in for a more conservative society, is not so black and white. There is hope for change, and that change does come.
This helps to tie in with Holleran’s final note on the doomed queen–that which calls for the self to reconcile, accept and rejoin or build up one’s community.
Someya’s journey is a completed journey of the “doomed queen” who is doomed no more by coming to accept himself and by expressing himself honestly to the wider world. It’s not an easy task, but an important journey that he takes.
Thank you for reading and Happy Pride Month.
Henshin Denkinai is a yaoi that does depict sex. If you chose to read the work yourself, please be aware of this fact.