It’s a mixed-up muddled-up shook-up world.
Prompted by the intricacies of the Haruhi genderswap, the vicissitudes of Minami-ke‘s Mako-cakes and Baka-Raptor’s recent defiant (and probably tongue-in-cheek) statement that ‘Kyon is not a girl‘. [Regarding the above image: yes, there's version without cropping and with panties. No, I'm not posting it.] ‘Once you’ve fap’d to a trap, can you never go back?’ Granted, this subject is hardly new (here‘s one example of many others’ entries on it, and here‘s another) but I’m not averse to picking over the bones at someone else’s banquet. I’m a student: food really is scarce.
‘Trap’ implies a relationship. Someone (the viewer) is at risk of falling into the trap. To be an effective trap, the character obviously has to look convincingly female, otherwise what you’ve got is more like a minefield with a big ‘WARNING: MINES’ sign in front of it: a deterrent. Quite what the negative consequences of being ‘caught’ are is somewhat unclear, but a hint can probably be found in the phrase ‘One is GAR for men and gay for traps’. Being caught supposedly induces some kind of anxiety about one’s sexual orientation. This being the ‘net, such anxiety is in most cases more a humourous than a serious matter.
What’s particularly interesting is the influence of what you might call ‘canon fact’ on fan reaction. I say canon fact because we’re handling fiction, but fans still think it matters whether or not a character is physically female. Take my initial picture as an example. Laura Rola is the female alter ego of Loran, the hero of ∀ Gundam; the picture depicts (as far as canon is concerned) a man dressed up as a woman. It’s a trap!
But for those who (poor souls) have never watched ∀ Gundam and are unfamiliar with its canon, it’s just a picture of a pretty girl in white stockings and a comely state of disarray. To riff on my Laertes, there’s no penis objectively inherent in that image. In fact, if the penis resides anywhere, it resides in the canon, all the authorised information about ∀ Gundam‘s characters, which itself is something the viewer brings to the table. (You dirty viewer you, wondering around with a canon full of penises.) A good trap is visually indistinguishable from a woman, and in the world of the *boorus, the visual is all that there is.
Consider the case of Mako-cakes for a moment (and I’m sure others have realised this before me): within the Minami-ke canon (s)he’s treated by those characters who don’t know (s)he’s a trap exactly as though (s)he’s a girl. This is the pivot of a lot of the jokes surrounding Makoto, which have an extra coating of irony because it was his heterosexual lust for Haruka which Kana used to persuade him into crossdressing in the first place.
The situation becomes more complicated when we just have one image which appears to be a genderswap – as with the picture of a younger, female CHAR which I have used before. This image feeds off the Mobile Suit Gundam canon for its effect, but isn’t part of that canon. Are we to consider this a trap? Well, ‘if it looks like a duck,’ &c. Then we have situations where a character undergoes a within-canon change of physical sex, as in Ranma ½ - currently receiving Den Beste coverage [yes, a pun] beginning here – and, for a more permanent change, Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl. (Apparently physical changes of gender function rather differently in hentai.) Is this still a male mind in a female body? In Ranma’s case, perhaps. In Hazumu’s case, I really have no idea. Is it fair to talk about ‘a male mind’ in the first place? You tell me.
Finally we have the development of a separate canon (Fate/stay night did this to the Arthurian corpus)¹ as is the case with Suzumiya Haruki no Seitenkan. This, I suppose, tests the viewer’s ability to switch between canons; if you haven’t invested too much in the Haruhi canon, you can separate out the fact that Kyon is not a girl from the fact that Kyonko is not a boy. To continue in the same vein, recently DS created a kind of separate canon split off from real life – well, real internet life, which isn’t very real at all – which swapped the gender of a real person’s ‘net persona (or, as Kaiserpingvin likes to call it, nexistence). At this point, however, one either has to start talking about how there’s no division between fiction and fact anymore, or stop talking, and since I don’t want to do the former, I’ll shut up. Anyway, the canon-coherent implications of Ranma ½ are rather more worrisome.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and attend a free lunch, the bribe for being a research subject. University really is just one big culinary adventure.
UPDATE: Author comments. I think I was aiming at the humiliation people outwardly express on imageboards (‘Does this make me gay?’), which is presumably mostly pose. Doubtless the ‘indignity of being deceived’ is what is inwardly felt.
1. This too is, I suppose, a pun: said series genderswapped Arthur, splitting off from the corpus of Arthurian literature, and altering Arthur’s corpus. You cannot imagine how smugly self-satisfied I am at thinking of that.