Written by TheBigN
In real life, gender is more or less definitive: a person is either one gender or the other. As far as many are concerned, that’s about it, and so help you if someone happens to be somewhere in the middle or somewhere else entirely in the gender spectrum. As with any sort of boundaries set in this world, this tends to be very constraining with regards as to the status quo (which is why we need more Shrine Maidens/Gap Demons in the world today). We as humans judge others by appearance, and gender tends to be one of the first things we make a quick assumption on. At first glance, we can mostly tell which people are female and which are male, immediately fitting that into how our social interactions and relationships go. Of course, the inevitable double standards occur concerning the roles that each gender plays and so on, and it seems very hard to change that initial mindset once its, well, set. It’s why sexual orientation and sexual/gender identification has become a big deal nowadays (or rather, still is). Yet one can say that one of the stronger aspects of anime is the medium’s ability to blur the lines of gender in many ways, shapes and forms. To me one of the more interesting forms consists of the idea of the trap/reverse trap.
Anime is a mixed bag regarding gender. Sometimes, one can really see that attempts are made to break the roles that the sexes are supposed to play, from a female prince with a revolutionary power to a male fashion designer who can switch-hit. At the same time, those attempts to shed the label can tend to reinforce them, with characters bucking the trend reverting back into “traditional” roles ever once in a while (but what’s traditional?) , or having those character’s behaviors portrayed as unnatural, eccentric, not normal. In our perspective, the idea of traps is unnatural too, but the beauty (or annoyance to some people) of it is that the “strange” aspects aren’t immediately seen unless they are deliberately revealed in anime. To our mindsets, they really are deceptions, and I like how they can make us think.
The general perception of a “trap” as glorified by imageboards and the like seems to be that of a person who for all intensive purposes seems like they are one gender by way of their appearance, mannerisms, actions, etc, but are actually the opposite gender. To us, they’re one thing, but they’re not in actuality, leading to confusion at the least. If you weren’t told so in the beginning, would anyone watching Otome/Oneesama wa Boku ni Koishiteru actually believe that the main character was actually a guy (Look at his face! See his mannerisms! Does that scream guy to you?)? Or that, if one such Haruhi felt like it, she could easily be a man (in her case, her androgynous appearance seemed to help things a bit)? Of course in those cases (and in the case of one popular Jun from Happiness!), the secret was mentioned at the start, but in other cases such as Shun from Here is Greenwood, we get hit with a brick of bewilderment for a little while. Something we hold to be true at first sight is proven to be wrong, and many of us know how uncomfortable, how unsteady it makes us feel.
This usually perfect switch of gender is good because it makes us think, while it does have its mixed results. Once we know the truth, it’s hard not to think of the situation as anything but weird in some way. Or we tend to block it out of our minds because it ruins the moment, or makes us feel bad/weird if we find we had/still have feelings for the character (some bloggers have sage advice for people who are stressing about it :P). On the flipside, we could embrace it as something extra, something awesome, something cool, something hot, something etc. Yet these people seem to be in the minority (myself included~); either way, it all depends on the viewer.
Traps superficially can force us to challenge our preconceptions that things like the idea that our gendersense can fail don’t happen. Of course we don’t have to think about it any more than just “IT’S A TRAP/DO NOT WANT” or “I’d still hit that” (or even, if s(he) does it with him/her, can it still be yuri/yaoi?), but it raises ideas of what it really means to be a certain gender, or at least it’s a nice curveball that it thrown at us. It’s an unknown (or at least it was until more and more characters have been traps/reverse traps recently) concept, a what-if scenario that people don’t think about until the situation is there.
While we can still be fooled by real life traps as well, anime, with its usually generic body types and facial appearances, can make these situations more palatable. It’s not hard to make a guy look more girly/act more girly or a girl to look/act more like a man in that sense, and it must be working in some way if they’re often used in anime, such as in yaoi and yuri. In that sense, we can easily get into a “reality vs. fantasy” angle here among other things. But with traps/reverse traps, anime can make us wonder, “If one thing we think about someone turns out to be wrong, is it okay to keep feeling the same way about that something?” We can solve that in a way that can apply to our “real lives” as well, and in that way, entertainment can also be a learning experience, or at least different. ;P