I’m someone who’s interested in anime and manga about “nerds,” be they otaku, fujoshi, geeks, or any number of labels. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this stuff, and I’ve noticed that often when a character speaks using internet lingo in real life, the translation to English, whether it is official or fan-derived, often utilize some fairly offensive terms. A riajuu (someone who is content with their real life situation) becomes a “normalfag.” An otoko no ko (a boy who dresses rather convincingly as a girl) becomes a “trap.” On the one hand, it would be simply a matter of just not using those terms. On the other hand, I could see the argument that if a character is, say, someone who spends most of their time on internet messageboards, that the Japanese equivalent terms should be met with equally ubiquitous terms among English speakers. If term A comes from 2channel, why not look to 4chan for the English equivalent? However, the very fact that the vocabulary has this negative quality makes me feel that there is something buried deep within how internet anime fandom has structured itself that tends towards insults.
Obviously not all anime fans use these terms, but they pop up in a number of places that are not directly connected to the fandom that populates 4chan and similar sites. In this respect, one thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to how these phrases are used, it’s not simply a matter of trying to offend or upset others. For example, just as often as someone will call another person a “normalfag” or something similar, internet posters will use these terms to refer to themselves. At the same time that such phrases are clearly derived from words being used as insults, they’re also embraced on some level, becoming what I see as self-deprecating badges of honor, somewhat like willingly calling oneself an otaku or a geek. That said, the –fag suffix is clearly meant to maintain its offensive qualities, and as much as attempts are made consciously or unconsciously to separate the purely insulting quality of the phrase from its origins deriding homosexuals, it is nevertheless still present.
In contrast, “trap” is a term where the connections to homophobia cannot be denied. This is not to say that everyone who uses the word is trying to be insulting, and even I’ve thrown the term out in the past before later reconsidering my own vocabulary, but the origins of the term and the implicit meaning behind it is obvious. The basic etymology is that an extremely feminine male character excites a presumably straight guy, and when he finds out it’s really a boy it makes him feel “tricked.” The important thing to consider here is that this is not merely some imaignary scenario but that people have genuinely felt this way, and the term is on some level a way of maintaining a sense of heteronormativity. Just the same, however, is the fact that some of those guys who have been “fooled” into arousal eventually realize that they are especially sexually attracted to the concept of the crossdressing boy. Whether or not that makes them actually gay or not (Is attraction towards men somehow solely about the “penis” or is it something more holistic? For that matter, what about the Kinsey scale?), often I see the term “trap” then used willingly, from people asking for more. Again, as with “-fag,” there’s this sense of mild self-hatred with use of the term trap, because just as people announce their love for them there’s also the implicit idea that they are not normal because of their interest and do not consider themselves normal. In some cases, they might not even be realizing what they’re saying.
What I find is that these terms are turned against others, as if to maintain divisions (we’re this way, you’re that way), or they might turned inwards to be used as a defense mechanism to keep outsiders away. Can a person survive the barrage of insults they receive and still be there? Are they “one of us?” To share a common vocabulary, after all, is one of the easier ways to become “accepted” in a community. At the same time, the fact that these phrases are often used in a self-deprecating manner communicates the idea that they don’t necessarily feel as if they belong to the majority, be that the majority of society or the majority of an immediate online community. The easy thing to say would be that this all derives from “hate,” but the fact that it appears to be “hate” not only for others but also for oneself leads me to believe that the use of these terms is an attempt to carve out an identity while feeling somehow “abnormal.”
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