April 20, 2012

Ponyo for Crossdreamers

Another conversation between Jack and his inner woman Jackie, this time on what the Japanese animated movie Ponyo has to teach transgender crossdreamers (Yeah! Really! And it has a bit about Jung too...)

I wrote this dialogue between Jack and Jackie over a year ago, but at the time I decided not to publish it, as I considered it too strange.

It probably wouldn't make much sense to most of you. Now that I have started presenting my Jungian approach to the transgender psyche in detail, however, I believe  it may be of help.

Ponyo certainly helped me understanding more of myself.

 JACK: What do you mean, I get too academic? This blog is born out of my own life struggle, dammit. It is not academic!

JACKIE: Of course it is academic, Jack. There are not many in the world who have spent more time than you on deconstructing the autogynephilia theory of Ray Blanchard.

Not all transgender crossdreamers, crossdressers or transsexuals are interested in that kind of thing.

JACK: Well, they should be!

JACKIE: Yeah, yeah, yeah... but they don't, so get over it! They want to share their life experiences, be seen, respected, affirmed, comforted.

JACK: This is a girl thing, isn't it?

JACKIE: I hope for your sake that that was a joke!

JACK: Of course it was. Now, what do you want me to write about?

Writing about Ponyo

JACKIE: I want you to write about Ponyo.

JACK: "Ponyo", the Studio Ghibli movie? You want me to write about a Japanese children's manga?

JACKIE: Yeah, that is what I want, and since I am the one with the female intituion, that is what you'll do.

JACK: But why?

JACKIE: Because the movie is about you and me!

JACK: Really? Ponyo is about you and me?

Sosuke and the gold fish

JACK: Let me see... The movie is about a five year old Japanese boy Sosuke who lives with his mother and father in a house at the top of a hill. His mother is working at a service center for the elderly and he goes to a kindergarten nearby. And yes, his father is a sea captain who is always absent... I fail to see...

JACKIE: And...!?

JACK: Well, Sosuke goes to the shore one day and finds a gold fish kind of a creature trapped in a glass jar. He gets it out of the jar and puts it in a green bucket and brings it along to the service center. He calls the fish Ponyo, and it turns out it is a magic girl fish....

Hey, I do get the fact that our six year old godchild  enjoyed the movie, and so did I. I mean, it is one of the best animated movies of all time, but it is a movie for kids, Jackie. It is not about crossdressers or transgender people!

JACKIE: Oh ye of little faith. Come on, Jack, you can do it!

JACK: All right, all right, I admit that I have come to trust your female intituion.

Hey, have you noticed that when a woman has a hunch, it is call "female intitution", but while a man gets one it is called "a gut feeling"...

JACKIE: Don't derail the conversation, Jack, you may have a gut, but I am a definitely not a gut feeling. Why is Ponyo relevant?

Fujimoto and Gran Mamare

JACK: Ponyo is the daughter of a magician that lives in a house under the sea. Fujimoto is a sorcerer who used to be a man, but is now angry at everything human. He is a kind of Prospero, really... He blames us for posioning the sea. Her mother is the moon goddess, Gran Mamare.

Her father, Fujimoto, manages to fetch Ponyo back from Sosuke, but at that time she has already tasted a drop of Sosukue's blood when helping him to stop a bleeding.

She has fallen in love with Sosuke, and she wants to become a girl and be with him. Since she is of both human and divine origin the combination of human DNA from the blood and magic makes it possible for her to change into a girl.

She releases her father's magic from a secret storage and manages to escape. Her use of magic, and the fact that her mother, symbolized by the Moon, is getting closer to Earth, generates a tremendous storm tide, and the sea starts to rise.

Sosuke and his mother drives as mad to get back to their home before the storm stops them from doing so.

In a scene we can see them drive up the hill to their house, followed by the waves. Ponyo is running across the waves, trying to catch up with the two.

Note that this movie was made before the latest tsunami. The imagery did not have the same connotations then as it has now.

The Sea of the Subconscious

JACKIE: Where have you seen such waves before?

JACK: In my dreams! You are right! I have had many dreams like that. They are always about my home, especially my childhood home which was by the sea. The sea is rising and the storm and the waves are threatening our house.

JACKIE: So what does the rising sea signify?

JACK: Well, often the sea is a symbol of the unconscious, while the house up on dry land is consciousness and my ego. A rising sea means that the fragile ego is threatened by unconscious forces and drives that has not been integrated into your consciousness.

JACKIE: There is something in your psyche you have not faced and understood?

JACK: Yes, you could say that. There could be trauma, instincts or desires that do not fit with the image you have of yourself.

JACKIE: In this case it is the meeting between Sosuke and Ponyo that releases the magic and causes the sea to rise, yes?

JACK: Yes, I guess...

Sosuke and Ponyo are one

JACKIE: And although Ponyo is a fish, she is a half human fish girl the same age as Sosuke, so you could say that the two mirror each other in a way?

JACK: Sure, land and sea, boy vs. girl, mammal and fish. It is a common literary device, I believe.

JACKIE: So what do we have here? In the uncounscious "sea level" we have a male wizard that has abandoned his humanity in disgust and tries to raise his daughter as a fish. He is a doer and a thinker. The mother is absent, and when we do meet her, she is a kind of distant -- but loving -- magical being.

On the conscious "land level" we have a strong human mother, Lisa, who is trying to raise her boy as a human being, but the father is absent. In fact, the father is a kind man and you see that the boy loves him, but the father is also guilty of not saving the sea, in spite of the fact that he is a sea captain.

The two pairs clearly mirror and balance each other. On land a proactive mother and a distant father. Under the waves a proactive father and a distant mother. This clearly shows that we are not talking about active and passive as masculine and feminine characteristics, but universal traits that are shared by the genders.

JACK: And Ponyo is the proactive one of the kids, while Sosuke is the more passive one.

JACKIE: Well, at least in the first half of the movie. Ponyo is the one that does everything in her power to get to Sosuke. Sosuke is just waiting for her, like a princess imprisoned in a castle.

He becomes more like a traditional hero later on, though, saving Ponyo in the process. But my point is that the movie is a story about reconciling parts of the psyche that are traditionally considered masculine and feminine, but that in this movie transcends these stereotypes.

Anyway, the girl in the sea needs to connect with the boy on land to regain her humanity, and the boy on land needs to reconnect with the girl in the sea in order to...

JACK: ...integrate his unrealized feminine side. Hm. Maybe you are on to something.

Feminine submission

But naaah, I am not convinced. You know, the crossdressers' and crossdreamers' idea of their feminine side is very often a submissive and ultra-feminine woman; not a hyper active tomboy like Ponyo.

In this movie it is, as you point out, the girl that is the most aggressive and proactive one. If this was a movie about a boy trying to get in touch with his feminine side she would be more...

JACKIE: ... Barbie like? You are not listening to me, are you? You have to stop stereotyping like this, Jack! Dammit! Am I your regular, submissive, airhead?

JACK: Hardly....

JACKIE: This is Jungian psychology 101: the repressed part of your psyche represents the opposite of your conscious personality type. If you are introvert, the subconscious will contain the extrovert part of your personality, and so on.

You know as well as I that the idea that women are less aggressive, extrovert, analytic or ambitious than men is just sexist nonsense.

On an aggregate level, there may be a small statistical difference, but this has not been proven in any way. On the individual level women may behave more "manly" than most men. That does not stop them from being women.

JACK: All right, all right! I get your point. A man's inner woman represent a part of his Self -- i.e. the totality of his psyche -- that he has not integrated into his consciousness.

 So if you are a quiet, introvert, boy, it would make sense for the inner girl to be active and outgoing, just like Ponyo. But it is still a fact that a lot of crossdreamer fantasize of being submissive, brainless, bimbos.

JACKIE: Sure, and that woman may be their inner woman if they are expected to live a life as a aggressive alpha male. Heck, many crossdreamers have no satisfying sex life where they can be who they are. No wonder their desire is channeled into hyper sexualized fantasies!

Their inner woman may compensate for this by letting them express the exact opposite in their fantasies, but that does not mean their inner women are blond airheads.

Still, in most cases I think we have to keep their inner woman apart from the fantasy of being a bimbo. And if you see how crossdreamers express their inner woman as avatars in crossdreamer forums, you will see that many of them are strong and expressive women, not anything like the submissive sluts you find in some of the caps and stories.

The inner woman

JACK: So what are you, really? What is "an inner woman"?

JACKIE: Do you remember the discussion you with your friend over at Imitations of Reality?

JACK: You mean about me arguing that the inner woman can be the anima demanding to be heard in the second phase of life, when some of the regular “life-building” is over?

JACKIE: Yeah, your friend correctly argued that Jung’s concept of the anima is an archetypal value which is part of our collective unconscious or as Jung put it; “…it is universal, and is of an impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.”

JACK: That was kind of embarrassing.

JACKIE: No, it was not! His was a very helpful comment, and you had definitely jumped to conclusions before thinking them through.

Jung believed there were three levels of the consciousness of the totality of a person, of the Self as he called it. The upper level is your consciousness, that of which you are aware, the next is your personal unconscious, the things you have repressed or forgotten, and the third is the collective unconscious, the instincts and drives you share with all human beings.

Let me quote Jung for you:

"The collective unconscious, however, as the ancestral heritage of possibilities of representation, is not individual but common to all men, and perhaps even to all animals, and is the true basis of the individual psyche."
(Collected Works 8)

JACK: When did you read this?

JACKIE: I am you remember? I read all that you read.

All right, we are talking about pure nature here, basic instincts. And in men this collective unconscious is normally expressed as the anima. In dreams, fantasies, art and myth the anima often gets the form of a woman, very often a mother figure or a goddess.

Anima and animus

JACK: I see. In Ponyo the anima is represented by the Moon Goddess. That makes sense. The moon is traditionally used to represent the feminine and nature. The 28 phases of the moon represents the journey from birth to death and from death to rebirth.

JACKIE: And the menstrual cycle, of which you know nothing!

JACK: Look who is talking! Anyway: Ponyo is the daughter of the anima and the sorcerer.

JACKIE: Yes, and if you had read more Japanese Buddhism we might even know what kind of goddess she is.

JACK: I believe she is the Goddess of Mercy.

JACKIE: So she is Guanyin, the female incarnation of the Buddha. That makes sense. Think about that: a transgender mother goddess!

JACK: Stop gloating! I can do you one better: The sorcerer is also gender-crossing. He wears colorful feminine clothes, has long hair and ear rings.
And the sorcerer is what Jung would have called the shadow, in this case Sosuke's evil twin?

JACKIE: No, I don't think so. Your bimbos may be part of the shadow, or the personal part of the subconscious. But Fujimoto is clearly a parallel to Gran Mamare. 

The two of them represents the two sides of the collective unconscious. He is the analytic, action oriented man, she is the compassionate, uniting woman.

JACK: You cannot have both an anima and an animus! In men the unconscious is represented by the anima, the female figure, in women by the animus, the male figure. Sosuke cannot have both.

JACKIE: I guess Jung would have agreed with you, but I don't...

JACK: I see, this is a transgender movie and Sosuke has both.

JACKIE: See! I knew you would get around to my side. 

But the truth is, it could be that this set of symbols does not so much reflect the psyche of Sosuke, but of the one who has made the film. Or, even, as it is you and I who are interpreting the movie, our interpretation is equally much about us.
The four corners of the psyche according to Ponyo

The daughter of the anima

JACK: Fair enough. OK. I see, so you are not my anima, but the 
daughter of my anima and my animus.

I have both an animus and an anima, since I am transgender. And the reason you have the personality of a woman, is because I have been unable to fully integrate my feminine side into my personality.

JACKIE: Yes, you have read so much about mother goddesses like Demeter, Inanna, Isis and the Virgin Mary, that you have come to believe that your inner woman is that goddess. I am not. I am much more like you.

JACK: Like me?

JACKIE: Yepp, your ego is also a child of your unconsciousness, personal as well as collective. You own some parts of what we are. I own other parts. Together we can at least claim to understand a fraction of who Jack/Jackie truly is.

JACK: Only parts?

JACKIE: Oh yeah. No human being will ever know the totality of who he or she is.

JACK: So I -- I mean we -- are basically schizophrenic?

JACKIE: Of course not! You are still in control of this ship, are you not?

JACK: Barely!

JACKIE: A schizophrenic believes that his other personality or personalities are distinct from him or herself. You know that we are part of the same Self. That is why we are writing this post together, is it not?

JACK: I guess you are right. You are not a parallel personality for real, but a part of me. I am giving a separate identity in order to be able to talk to you. You are like one of those imaginary friends kids create in order to be able to talk to themselves about life, the universe and everything.

JACKIE: I like to think of myself more like a character in a novel. You know, the author may think he is in control of his creation, but he is not. If the story is any good, the author will soon find that the characters have a will of their own.

JACK: And the reason for this is that you, in the same way as the imaginary friends and the characters in myths and fairy tales, express a part of myself I have no control over.

JACKIE: Yes, the powers of the rational mind is highly overrated. Mother Nature wins out in the end. Always.

JACK: We need a scholarly term for what you are, you know, our inner women?

JACKIE: Goddamn it, Jack! We do not need a scholarly term for everything! But all right, Jung would probably have called me a complex born out out your collective unconscious and colored by your life experience. But why don't we settle for "a ponyo"?

The power of myths

JACK: I kind of like that, my dear ponyo. You know, this is heavy stuff. And you can read all of this out of a children's movie? Do you think the Japanese movie makers have intended all of this?

JACKIE: It is hard to say. The collective unconscious normally expresses itself through myths and fairy tales, and these days the myths and fairy tales are found in comics and movies.

JACK: Yeah, in the way the Jungian Joseph Campbell influenced Star Wars.

JACKIE: Exactly! Although the script writers and movie makers do not always understand what they themselves are doing. That is the way of fiction and art.

Hayao Miyazaki, the film director and maker of Ponyo, is know for his strong, female, protagonists and his love for fairy tales and myths. And in like much of Japanese manga and anime, there is a strong animistic undercurrent in his movies, and that often leads to a strong expressions of collective archetypes.

The story so far

JACK: OK, let me see if I have got this right. Sosuke finds Ponyo in a bottle on the beach. This represents his budding understanding that the ocean -- his subconscious -- contains things of great value.

He immediately take a liking to the gold fish, which is -- in reality -- another part of himself, and she, Ponyo, finds and loves in Sosuke the humanity she has lost.

They both now go on an adventure that is aimed at making Ponyo human. In other words: to make her a conscious part of Sosuke's personality. This quest is their search for Sosuke's mother who became trapped at the home for the elderly after the sea has risen to the door of their house.

JACKIE: Yes, and you can see that this sea truly is the deep collective unconscious by the fact that the fish that swim below the boat are pre-historic.

Sosuke is now literally travelling on top of our biological history, of our instincts and our primeval archetypes.

Actually, Fujimoro's plan is to return the Earth to the primeval state of the pre-historic oceans, where the magic forces could flow freely. He believes mankind is destroying life.

JACK: I see: Fujimoro is the part of the artist's psyche that no longer believes in the possibility of reconciling culture with nature and who takes the side of pure natural instincts against humanity. He is therefore hoarding up all the magical power for a final battle against humanity. By doing so he impoverishes the conscious part of the psyche.

Ponyo is the part of his unconscious psyche that does believe humanity is worth saving. She releases the magic needed to merge the two again.

On the way to the home for the elderly Ponyo starts to change back to a fish, even though Sosuke does everything to help her.

Finally, they all meet at the nursing home, which is now deep below the sea. This is significant, as the reconciliation of the different aspects of the personality has to be deep.

There we find Sosuke's mother in deep conversation with the goddess. The goddess then gives Sosuke the final test, asking him if he will love Ponyo, whether she is a fish or a human being. And he says yes, accepting his feminine side in the process. And then, of course, Ponyo become human again while kissing Sosuke.

JACKIE: Yepp, that's it. Sosuke, who was reduced to a fish (part of the watery unconscious) is now human (part of consciousness). Sosuke and Ponyo are now one.

All are transgender

JACK: Fine, but according to this interpretation all men and women are transgender.

JACKIE: Yes, in a way that is true. Jung did definitely believe that every man has a strong feminine side and every woman a masculine one. Still, there is so much confusion around the word "transgender" as it is, so we should probably not use it for this kind of an "individualtion process".

JACK: Where do trans women figure in all this?

JACKIE: I do not think the movie is primarily about transgender people or transsexuals, it is about the cross-sexual nature of us all. But the imagery and the language of the movie can be used to understand what it means to be truly transgender: either to be forced to live in a body in disharmony with the sex of the soul, or to live in the borderland between the sexes and the genders.

In some men the female ponyo is the primary personality (ego) and the male identity is in the shadow. They feel like women at a very early stage in life and somehow they avoid suppressing it.

I believe the reason for this is a budding sexual orientation. Kids try out sexual roles at a very early stage, even the  erotic. If the young transgender male bodied kid is oriented towards boys, that might strengthen a female personality. They try out stereotypical feminine behaviors, training to attract men.

If the sexual orientation of the male bodied person is gynephilic (woman loving). His/her desire to attract women will make him/her more likely to adapt a male persona or mask. If that is the case social conditioning will cause the ego to become male, and the female identity is repressed.

Given that most cultures frown upon gender confusion, as people feel this threaten the very fabric of social order, most kids submit to social pressure and try to adapt to the gender roles appropriate to their physical bodies. The problem is actually not to explain why some transgender kids succumb to social pressure, as some believe, but to explain why some do not.

Over time, however, the female side will reassert itself.

JACK: That's all very well, but there is nothing here that explains why some kids become transgender and others not.

JACKIE: That is true. This movie only gives you a story that helps you understand and integrate the male and female sides of the soul. It does not explain why some are tortured by a disharmony between the soul and the physical body. There must be another factor that explains this, and I guess it is even more basic than the anima versus animus.

JACK: And that would be a sexual instincts I guess.

JACKIE: Maybe,"sexual" in the sense of "sex identity". It cannot be the sexual orientation, because the feminine vs. masculine dynamics are independent of sexual orientation. Too many gay men are masculine, too many lesbians are feminine, and too many straight people mix the two dimensions in their personality and life expressions for that to be the case.

JACK: So you do not truly know what has caused my psyche to develop a parallel female identity?

JACKIE: Not really, no. I am sure your ideas about basic copulation instincts and internal body images may have something to do with it, that they are some sort of crystallization nucleation points for the formation of a sex identity, but those are just theories.

If we are all "cross-sexual", I guess personal experiences can also be used to explain at least some of this. But isn't this exciting! I mean, this opens up a whole new field of exploration!

JACK: To be honest, I am a little bit tired from all this exploring, but it never gets boring, that's for sure.

NEXT: Falling in love with your own anima.

Click here for more post on archetypes and transgender psychology!

More video clips over at IMDb
More posts in the transgender psychology series.
Ponyo at Netflix


  1. Another interesting post as usual and it brings up a ton of new ideas, well frankly i don't usually like blonds and i like strong women too.

  2. Very much liked your analisis of the movie.
    It's a bit what I call the Yin&Yang of individuals :)

  3. Indeed, it is! Glad you liked it.¨



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