Stigmatising language and suicide

Content warning: discussions of suicide.


Research has found that “suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, with around 3,000 people dying by suicide every year.” It’s now recognised as an area that requires more funding and more support, extending to the 2017 Budget, which announced there would be an increase in funding towards mental health services, including Lifeline and counselling and psychological services. 

Yet despite this recognition, suicide is still stigmatised within social, cultural and institutional structures. A crucial element reinforcing this stigmatisation is “negatively associated language“. Language plays a dangerous role in reinforcing and perpetuating negative perceptions of suicide as “selfish”, “crazy” and “taking the easy way out”. 

So where did this stigmatising terminology stem from? Historically, the term “commit” was used through many religions to condemn those who took their lives or attempted to take their lives. This connotation between moral sin and suicide extended into laws, making suicide a crime. In fact, it is still considered a moral sin in some religions and is still a crime today in certain countries such as Singapore, Jordan, Malaysia, Bahamas and Kenya. (For a table regarding laws across the globe on suicide, click here).

While laws characterising suicide as a crime in Australia are long gone (though assisted suicide and euthanasia are still illegal), the stigma surrounding this legal classification has remained. It informs our social, cultural and institutional structures around discussing and providing support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts. It isn’t just inappropriate to retain language from a by-gone era, it’s also harmful. It prevents us from creating a space for thoughtful discussion and compassionate understanding for people experiencing suicidal thoughts. It prevents us from creating safe spaces for people to seek help and therefore “reduce[s] help-seeking behaviour“. 

The images below are screenshots from reportings on suicide this year. Sourced from a range of media outlets, it’s clear the use of inappropriate and harmful terminology is still far too prevalent.

Screenshot 2017-06-04 16.33.25

03/02/2017 9 News. Melbourne mum tells of daughter’s gang rape and suicide to warn bullying ‘costs lives’

17/03/17 ABC News. Jordan Robert Anderson tried to commit suicide in a Perth prison and is on life support, parents calling for investigation.

Screenshot 2017-06-04 17.02.57

10/04/2017 The Sydney Morning Herald. Teenage girl who faked her death faces charges in 11-year-old boy’s suicide

Screenshot 2017-06-04 16.34.35

11/03/2017. SBS News. Indian immigrant found dead in Melbourne

08/04/17 The Sun via Tysen Benz commits suicide after his 13-year-old girlfriend pretended to kill herself

Continuing the use of “commit”, as well as other inappropriate and harmful language such as “successful suicide”, “completed suicide, “failed attempt at suicide” and “unsuccessful suicide”, reinforces the stigma of suicide. Beyondblue offer an appropriate list of terminology based off the Australian Psychological Society, which includes “died by suicide”, “suicided”, “ended his/her/their life”, “took his/her/their life” and “attempt to end his/her/their life”.

Using appropriate language serves to both show “respect in caring for people affected by suicide, as well as being accurate in relation to their experience“. By simply changing a few words around, we are able to break down the stigmatising barrier and humanise those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

When initially approaching this project, I decided to make it an audio piece as the main concept being addressed here is language. I wanted the audience to focus on just that: the words, the language. The repetition of the phrase “committed suicide” highlights how prevalent the use of outdated terminology is and how harmful that is. I made a point of including music with my voiceover, but cutting it at the end to emphasise how isolating and again, harmful, this language is. I decided to include information on Beyond Blue, as I felt that gave this project a clearer direction by providing a next step of action to take after learning about the stigmatisation of “commit”.

Changing around a few words can make a great difference. Let’s end the stigma of suicide, and work towards a supportive future, because stigmatising language is silencing.


Recommended viewing to help humanise and de-stigmatise suicide is ‘You Can’t Ask That: Suicide Attempt Survivors’, available at this link

If you need support, Lifeline 13 11 14 offers 24-hour assistance. For further information about mental health, beyondblueheadspace and Reach Out can provide guidance. You can also talk to a medical professional or someone you trust. 


Beaton S. 2013. Suicide and language: Why we shouldn’t use the ‘C’ word, InPsych, Australian Psychological Society. Accessed 11th May 2017. Available from

Beyond Blue. 2017. Language when talking about suicide, Beyondblue. Accessed 11th May 2017. Available from’re-worried-about/language-when-talking-about-suicide

Beyond Blue. 2017. Statistics and references: Suicide, Beyondblue. Accessed 11th May 2017. Available from

Cowan K. 2015. Suicide and Its Unrelenting Stigma, Huffington Post, available from

GLOOM. 2014. Is Suicide Illegal? Suicide Laws By Country, Mental Health Daily, available from

Medhora S. 2017. How the 2017 Budget will affect you, Triple J Hack, ABC News, available from

Sydney Criminal Lawyers. 2017. What is the law on suicide in Australia?, FindLaw Australia. Available from

Soundbites in order of appearance

K Percy. 2016. ABC TV news looks at Farmer Suicide in Australia, Youtube, available at 

ABC News Australia. 2011. Approved refugee committs suicide in detention, Youtube, available at

SBS Viceland. 2017. Farmer Suicide In Queensland I The Feed, Youtube, available at

7News. 2012. School pays for bullied teen’s death, Youtube, available at

7News. 2013. 7News – Family’s mission to stop teen suicide, Youtube, available at


Rafi:ki. 2015. rafi:ki / mixtape 015 / instrumental hiphop / trip-hop, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0), Soundcloud, available at

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The Girl On The Train reviewed

Last week I went and saw The Girl On The Train following it’s hype as the “next Gone Girl” (a book I really enjoyed). Before entering the cinema, I had not read the book that The Girl is adapted from, so I really had no idea what I was in for apart from the aforementioned comparison to Gone Girl.

This review contains spoilers.

The Girl started off strong, it had me hooked on the lives of the three central women: Rachel, Megan and Anna. First we’re introduced to Rachel, an alcoholic who appears to be violent when drunk and often blacks out. Rachel used to be married to Tom, who is now with Anna and their baby Evie. Megan is Anna’s neighbour, who Rachel obsessively watches from the train, envious of her apparent blissful love life. Megan is also having an affair with Tom.

I liked the way the timeline of the film was sort of scattered, reflecting the way Rachel’s alcoholic memory was functioning. Alex Vause’s cameo was also a nice surprise. Who knew she’d spend her limited time outside of prison being a much too gracious host to Rachel??

With the development of the three main characters, it became very apparent that babies, and the capacity to both want them and have them was central to each character’s storyline. Rachel was an alcoholic because she couldn’t have a baby, Megan didn’t want a baby because she’d faced the death of her infant daughter years earlier and Anna loved her baby, but not so much caring for it. While these are valid human experiences, I couldn’t help but internally groan at how it seemed to feed off the overdone rhetoric that all women want children, want to reproduce and cannot function if they fall outside of that ability or desire. I guess it just felt so forced, so one dimensional, that I failed to engage with their baby-centred stories.

The plot really takes off when Megan goes missing. Rachel is an obvious set up for her murder – too obvious, so you know it can’t be her. Then the film goes into the classic who-done-it formula, throwing possible suspects at us left, right and centre.

Until we finally got to the plot twist.

Serious spoilers ahead, guys.

Ahh the plot twist. While I will say it took me by surprise, it wasn’t the type of plot twist that ‘nek levels’ the storyline. No, it stayed within a far too familiar context.

Turned out the man at the centre of these three women’s lives was the true violent presence in the film: Tom. He was an emotionally, psychologically and physically abusive man and he murdered Megan. While this revelation left me underwhelmed, I was still optimistic about where the storyline could go. And then I was immediately crushed.

The film could have taken this opportunity to expose his domestic abuse in a way that respected the survivors and highlighted the very real dangers that victims of domestic violence go through. It could have shown that perpetrators of domestic violence are unaccepted by society at large and that there are lawful consequences to their acts – they are accountable.

However, this is not what it did. Instead, it reveals that Tom had in fact murdered Megan and then goes to show said murder in a grotesque and objectifying way. As Tom violently attacks her through brutal force and malicious repetitive attacks, the focus emphasises his power over her. Through being so graphic, the scene took away any ability to have empathy for Megan, forcing you to instead focus on the gore of the act. I found myself wincing in the cinema, and I wasn’t alone. I could hear several other people audibly gasp in horror.

Following this revelation, sobered up Rachel then goes to Tom’s house to confront what she now realises: that she was never the abusive violent drunk, he was the abusive violent man who manipulated her to believe she was the one at fault. As she attempts to confront him (with Anna and Evie present in the room) Tom physically assaults her and tries to manipulate her into drinking alcohol. Again, the level of violence shown here was not respectful towards the character and highlighted his power over her and everyone else in the room.

Tom’s eventual murder was the final plot point that made me completely lose interest in The Girl. Yes, it was in an act of self defence, but again – the level of violence just wasn’t called for. After Rachel accidentally stabs him with a wine opener in the neck, Anna leans over his dying body and proceeds to screw the wine opener deeper into his throat. Just like how the women’s storylines so obviously revolved around reproduction, the intentions for this scene were so obvious that they were laughable.

This scene was supposed to make the audience feel satisfied, as if the women gained justice through revenge. Justice and revenge do not go hand-in-hand, they are two separate things. I would argue that by using revenge instead of justice, the film reinforces the idea that revenge is more plausible than justice – which is a problematic reflection of rape culture in our society.

Revenge also forms the idea that this was a conflict between individuals and resolved between individuals. This inadvertently removes the context of rape culture from a story that in fact falls within rape culture. Having justice would have acknowledged this context, and could have even overcome it by making Tom’s actions accountable by law and seeing him rot in prison for the rest of his life. Revenge only serves to continue the behind-closed-doors ways that domestic abuse is dealt with. Considering we live in a world where known abusive men, such as Woody Allen, Jonny Depp and Brock Turner are not held accountable for their actions, it’s so vitally important for stories to create a space for justice.

In the closing scene where Anna and Rachel explain Tom’s murder was self defence, Anna makes a strange comment about Rachel being “right about everything” and being “right about Megan”. This choice of words baffled me. “Right”? Is that what this whole thing was about? Rachel being right? Because it seemed like it was actually about three women who experienced abuse from a violent man. She could have at least said Rachel was right about Tom, why Megan? Even in her death is she still being treated as the ‘whore’? That statement just didn’t sit right with me. Finally, the closing scene with ‘renewed Rachel’ on a train was so damn corny I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Overall, the film had a solid start and a lot of potential but it took that potential and went somewhere where I could not follow. And no, it was nothing like Gone Girl.

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Podcast series: Non-Normative Genders in Anime

For transcripts, click here. For full reference list, click here.

Episode One: An Introduction to Non-normative genders in Anime


Episode Two: Hange Zoe and the progressiveness of Attack On Titan


Episode Three: Ruka Urushibara is a transgender woman


Episode Four: Haruhi Fujioka in a heteronormative world


Episode Five: The Wrap Up and feminism in Japan

Want to learn more about non-normative gender identities? Check out these Youtubers: Riley J. Dennis, Ashley Mardell, Kat Blaque, Laci Green, Kachina ProPidgeon.

Opening theme: Let’s Talk About Gender Baby by Planningtorock

Posted in DIGC330 (Digital Asia), Non-normative genders in Anime | Leave a comment

Non-Normative Genders in Anime: Transcripts

Episode One

Have you ever watched anime and felt…uncomfortable…about how gender ambiguous characters were being portrayed?

Well, I know I have. And I think it’s high time we talk about it.

[play intro theme: Let’s Talk About Gender Baby – Planningtorock]

Hi, I’m Charmaine. And welcome to my podcast (series) on non-normative genders in anime. Last year, after lamenting over how I felt I couldn’t engage with anime due to my very shallow experience with it being problematic, (I’m looking at you Death Note) it was recommended to me by a friend, and avid anime watcher, to watch Black Butler.

[play Black Butler theme]

Well, turned out Black Butler was also very problematic, but it was particularly the character Grell that bothered me. Grell was certainly non-normative, possibly transgender and all out crazy. I felt their character was created as a comic relief, making a spectacle of gender identities outside of normative ones. And it was at this point that I had an epiphany. Is this a thing? Is this a trope in anime, to make a spectacle of people whose gender is non normative? And if so, how does this trope fit in with Japanese culture and the acceptance or intolerance of non-normative identities in Japan?

To start off, let’s look at gender. Gender is a social construct, that from the moment we are born and marked as ‘male’ or ‘female’ shapes the way we are treated and the way we are taught to behave. There are also many different societies and cultures that hold different values and norms around gender identities and gender roles, so it can be constructed in many varied forms.

In the Western context, I know that systematic understandings of gender identity are in binary/cisnormative terms. Binary understandings of gender relate to the idea that there are 2 forms of gender: women and men. Nothing in between. Cisnormative understandings of gender are an extension of these binary constructs. Cisgender refers to people whose sex and gender are in line with social and cultural standards. I.e. women who have female bodies, men who have male bodies. So what counts as non-normative then? Well, everything outside of identifying as cisgender, like transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer – the list goes on.

Systematic understandings of gender shape cultural understandings, which means western media representations of non normative genders are often extremely problematic. They produce misconceptions and misrepresentations about diverse identities, which cause direct harm to the lives of these individuals, such as the violence against trans women.

Therefore, when I see characters such as Grell, it concerns me that these problematic representations I’ve seen in Western media may also be part of anime and therefore Japanese culture. I wonder if the portrayal of gender ambiguous characters are meant to be seen as a spectacle, as other, rather than as normalised? And are non normative characters in anime even created to represent non normative people?

It is at this point that I will acknowledge that this problematic trope I’ve noted is an assumption based on a very limited viewing of anime. My experience of anime is limited due to the few animes I’ve watched being generally very male-centric and quite often blatantly sexist, homophobic, transphobic…all the phobics.

It’s important to recognise that I will, of course, be analysing these characters through my own context, which is a Western, intersectional feminist lens and also as someone who identifies as outside of the binary constructs of gender.

For this series I will be looking at 3 different characters, which I picked based on the amount of conversation they’ve generated amongst fans, confused about their seemingly ambiguous gender identity. The first will be Attack On Titan’s Hange Zoë, followed by Steins;Gate’s Ruka Urushibara, and finishing up with Ouran High School Host Club’s, Haruhi Fujioka.

So follow my journey looking at 3 characters from separate anime universes to find out just how characters with non normative genders are represented, or misrepresented in anime. Throughout this series I will be analysing my assumption and epiphanies, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot about both my context and the Japanese cultural context that shapes these animes.

Episode Two

Hange zoe. They’re a brilliant, if little over enthusiastic, scientist, they’re a respected commander and a compassionate human. Oh, and their gender identity is non normative.

[play intro theme: Let’s Talk About Gender Baby – Planningtorock]

Hi im charmaine, and this is a podcast series focusing on the representation of non normative genders in anime. Throughout this series i will be looking at 3 characters from separate anime universes to find out just how characters with non normative genders are represented, or misrepresented in anime. If you’re wondering just what non normative genders are, please refer to my first podcast where I explain it alll. Ok, lets get into it.

[play attack on titan theme]

Woah, yes. As you can tell from the opening song, Attack on Titan is all levels of epic. This week’s focus is Hange Zoe, from Attack on Titan, who I will refer to through they/their pronouns. They are a Commander in the Scout Regiment, and also a scientist conducting research on the mysterious titans. The 2014 show is about the fight to save humanity from these mysterious giant titans who take pleasure in eating humans with huge creepy smiles across their faces. The anime follows three main characters, Mikasa, Eren and Armin (R-EE-MIN), along with various groups of soldiers and scouts who are fighting these Titans. Prepare yourself, for this podcast will contain spoilers.

I felt that overall the show represented different gendered characters really well. The women were multilayered like the men, held important positions and were badass fighters. I initially took to Mikasa, but her unrelenting devotion to psychopath Eren grew to be very tiresome. I really didn’t like the character Eren, and often found myself rooting for the titans. Especially the female titan. Who knew cool chick Annie who I admired from the start would be female titan, oh wait, everyone, cos it was super obvious. But she was a badass fighter so I was totally down with that. The third main character, Amin, is also quite ambiguously gendered. In the subbed version I watched through AnimeLab they were referred to through he/his pronouns, however I read that like Hange, the creator intentionally made their character non binary too!

Also, did anyone else notice the very minor but totally cute lesbian couple just chilling on the periphery? Yeah, people noticed, the many fan made drawings confirm that.

Hange’s first makes an appearance in episode 4, with a nice sweeping pan across their face that lasted for about 3 seconds. I thought this was the moment they’d be introduced but no, they weren’t to resurface again until episode 9, where the same panning shot took place again!

When they eventually talked, I noted Hange was insightful, intelligent and respected by their commander. As I learnt more about their character, I found them to be extremely likeable, fearless, great sense of humour and providing a different, refreshing perspective to the titans are evil narrative that everyone else shared. While some characters were wary of their intense enthusiasm, it was never seen as connected to their gender identity. They were also always on at the front line in battle with their comrades and friends.

Episode 15 was when Hange’s personality really came through. As they conducted experiments on captured titans, they treated them with respect, and even love. I really liked that they wanted to understand the titans, rather than approach them with blind hate. Of course the non binary character is able to form a view outside of the ‘hate all titans’ rhetoric that really was doing no-one any favours.

This anime series was developed from a manga, and in that manga, Hange’s gender is deliberately not specified. In the series however, they are voiced by a female actress and in the English subbed version, they are referred to with she/her pronouns. What’s interesting is that the voice actress who voiced Hange, often voices male and female (or non binary) characters. I wonder if this was a conscious decision to stay true to the character. What’s even more interesting is that while Hange is referred to as she/her in the subbed versions, when I looked up dubbed versions they’d gone for gender neutral pronouns!

Language is a tricky area when analysing gendered pronouns, because that actually isn’t a thing in the Japanese language. Sure, they have gendered language, which is the way males and females speak differently from one another within a language, but that doesn’t appear to be in this script. The gendered pronouns would have come through when translating the subtitles, though I read that the creator specifically requested english translation to not use female pronouns. Come on sub team!

The biggest revelation for me was that I think with Hange, if I hadn’t had the context of already knowing they were non binary, I probably would have assumed they were female. I first assumed that was because I prefer to see female characters, so I always err on the side of female when it’s ambiguous. Though when I thought about it further I realised, as much as i try to be outside of this damn binary construct that i was raised in, i still automatically think that way. I still think male or female. So when i saw this character, had i not already known that they were non binary i would have assumed that Hange was female. Of course, the subtitles referring to them with she/her pronouns wouldn’t have helped with assumptions either, even though I know that you can refer to yourself with any pronouns you like and still be non binary. Unconscious biases…no one’s safe.

So then, how is gender understood in Japan? Well as in Western culture, gender is understood as a social construct. However, genders outside of the binary/cisnormative constructs have only recently been recognised in the last decade. X-jendā  refers to “a gender that is neither male nor female, or, depending on the definition, both”. X-jenda is also often regarded as a “sub-group” of transgender identities – So I can see where people may get confused with non normative genders, these definitions seem to lump all non normative gender identities as a collective group.  

And what do my fellow feminists think? I found my views were echoed in Autostraddle and The Mary Sue, who are both feminist and queer friendly. The fact that the creator refuses to fit Hange in the gender binary construct has been celebrated as a feat in non binary representation. I’ve also come across the view that Hange is actually transgender and the creator not confirming their gender is a form of trans erasure. This is a valid point to make, considering that transgender presence in anime, and across all media is far too often very problematic.

The show overall was quite gender neutral. As I mentioned earlier, the female identifying characters were of equal power, character development and screen time to their male counterparts. The uniforms of the scouts/soldiers were also gender neutral and gender roles non traditional, shout out to that lesbian couple again!

Considering their gender identity has been left deliberately ambiguous, I’ll take Hange as a non binary character. Considering mainstream understandings of gender identity in Japan, much like in the West, are still quite limited, I’m impressed at the level of progressiveness shown in this series, and I look forward to tuning in to the next season. My only request is more Hange, less Eren.

Episode Three

Ugh, oh come on, oh thats gross. That was me throughout the excruciating experience that was watching steins gate, a show that treated non normative character Ruka Urushibara abysmally.

[play intro theme: Let’s Talk About Gender Baby – Planningtorock]

Hi im charmaine, and this is a podcast series focusing on the representation of non normative genders in anime. If you’re wondering just what non normative genders are, please refer to my first podcast where I explain it alll. Ok, lets get into it.

[Stein’s Gate intro song]

Hi im charmaine, and this is a podcast series focusing on the representation of non normative genders in anime. If you’re wondering just what non normative genders are, please refer to my first podcast where I explain it alll. Ok, lets get into it.

Steins;Gate follows a bunch of teenagers who – oh who actually cares. Some self indulgent plot about time travel that we’ve all come across a thousand times before. The effects of time travel meant the timeline is always shifting, if only the attitude of it’s characters also shifted. The two main male characters, Okarin and Daru are disgusting. They both happily claim to be perverts and constantly sexually harass women, both verbally and physically. The biggest joke is that this is positioned as them teasing or flirting with women, and even though the women surrounding them are always calling out their misogyny, it’s never addressed as a real issue. In case you haven’t picked up on it, I really did not enjoy this anime. I tried to watch the whole thing, I really did. But I made it 11 episodes in found it really doesn’t matter how compelling your overall storyline is, when the dialogue is as sexist, transphobic and homophobic as this was, it’s not worth my time waiting for the moment it’s finally revealed that the self proclaimed mad scientist was actually right.

In the 2011 series, Ruka Urushibara appears in half of the episodes and from the moment she is introduced the language is transphobic. I refer to Ruka with she/her pronouns, as she explicitly states she wants to be and is a girl throughout the show.

We first see Ruka, who presents as feminine, with a gentle demeanour. She also seems very uncomfortable, shown through her awkward stance and timid voice. She is referred to with female pronouns by her friend Mayuri. Her gender is then completely undermined by a voiceover from Okarin, who describes how feminine she appears before undercutting that through exclaiming “but he’s a dude!” He appears to revel in purposely misgendering Ruka by using male pronouns to describe her. Okarin also appears to think he’s the only one who knows Ruka’s “secret”, another thing he revels in when he again purposefully misgenders her, this time in front of her and everyone else.

Throughout the series the women are constantly being objectified and sexualised. Like constantly. Despite the audience being constantly reminded that the main characters perceive Ruka to be male, she still is subject to the same objectification! When Mayushi pressures her to wear a short, figure hugging dress because it’s cute, Okarin and Daku stare at her body lustfully, making her obviously uncomfortable. Daru even states that he needs an “upskirt shot”. Are you starting to understand why I couldn’t finish this series now?

Her plot almost exclusively centres around her gender identity. In her biggest episode, she asks that they organise to change the timeline so that her body matches her mind, saying “I want to be a girl. I’ve always felt that I might be more comfortable with myself if I were a girl.” While she’s stating this, she is objectified through panning shots over her crutch and chest. She ends up having to almost plead with them to help her, which they end up doing while still not taking her seriously.

In the following episode, it’s revealed that Ruka’s plan worked, and in this alternate timeline, her body matched her mind. And don’t you worry, they confirm this by an unsubtle zoom into Ruka’s crutch, follow by her chest. All the lab members, save Okarin, defend her when he misgenders her because in this timeline she’s biologically a girl – which is still problematic and invalidating of trans women’s identities. Afterall, she’s accepted when she’s cisgender, but not when she’s transgender.

Okarin refuses to accept it and goes as far as grabbing her violently, holding her threatening and forcing his hand into her crutch while she’s terrified and trapped, simultaneously assaulting her and dehumanising her. It is after this act that he accepts that Ruka is a girl. All I could think was this is beyond disgusting. But this anime exists in a universe where that entire scene isn’t considered disgusting, so naturally it’s never mentioned again, and in the next scene Ruka is hanging out at Okarin’s lab as normal. The objectification of Ruka’s body continues.

What context allowed for this show to be so transphobic? It’s time to talk gender identity in Japan again! The term ‘transgender’ itself is actually rarely used in mainstream discourses, it is instead referred to as Gender Identity Disorder. This categorisation of transgender people is clearly problematic as it medicalises valid identities, regarding them as having disorders or an illness. The way in which the Gender Identity Disorder categorisation represents transgender identities speaks to a wider issue around acceptance and understanding of diverse trans gender identities. You see, this way of categorising trans identities has given them more visibility and acceptance, but at the cost of articulating trans identities outside of medical terminology, as separate from having an illness and also removes any room for the diversity of trans identities.

Turns out it was hard to find feminist analyses of Ruka Urushibara because there’s not many around. While I did find one particular article on Tumblr that provided a great analysis as to why Ruka is transgender and how the Steins;Gate universe let her down, most of the rhetoric around Ruka on the interwebs was really disheartening. In fact I came across the term Trap quite a lot. A Trap, as I learnt from another tumblr post by Rian Syngh (thanks Tumblr) is an individual whose perceived gender identity does not reflect their biological sex. Rian states, “the problem with referring to this situation as a ‘trap’ and not as, ‘a Transgender or gender non-conforming person’, is that it connotates that by identifying the way they do an individual is intentionally deceiving the audience”.

The fact that I see more about Ruka being a trap than a transgender woman says a lot about how far society still needs to go, both in the West and Japan, in terms of understanding non normative genders and adequately representing them.

Ruka, I wish you a different anime universe where you can be a transgender woman freely and openly.

Steins;Gate, it’s been real and I can’t wait to erase you from my memory forever.

Episode Four

Haruhi excels at academia, is adored by everyone and is very comfortable with their identity. Which is, wait for it, non normative!

[play intro theme: Let’s Talk About Gender Baby – Planningtorock]

Hi im charmaine, and this episode I’ll be discussing Ouran High School Host Club’s Haruhi Fujioka. Finally, an anime where a non normative character is also a main character!

[Ouran theme song]

Ok, before we get into it, can I just point out how much that intro reminded me of the Lizzie Maguire intro? AHh the naughties.

The 2006 series follows the Ouran High School Host Club, whereby the male students in the club play certain types of hosts for female guests. It’s a parody of shoujo anime, which is anime catered specifically to the young girl demographic, by making a satire of the cliches and stereotypes in these animes. And it also makes a commentary on gender identity and gender roles, though it stays within an already established construct when doing so.

This was actually my first introduction to Shoujo-type anime, and I’ve actually thoroughly enjoyed watching this series. In the first episode Haruhi’s androgynous look has everyone thinking they’re a boy. Yes, I will be using the gender neutral pronouns they/them to discuss Haruhi. They seem ambivalent about what their gender is so I’ll just keep it nice and neutral. One of the hosts, Tamaki (who we’ll come back to later) walks in on them changing and says “You’re a girl?” to which they respond “biologically yes.” and then follow that up with “being a boy or a girl falls lower than that of being a person”. While Haruhi is super ambivalent about how their gender identity is perceived, the show itself is quite fixated on this and a lot of the storylines are revolved around Haruhi fitting or breaking with social standards of gender performance.

Haruhi themself is an interesting character. They’re often the voice of reason amongst the madness of wealthy people, disconnected from the realities of being dependent on money for day-today living, which their extravagant houses and private beaches. Coming from a low socio-economic background and attending this school through a scholarship, they’re often scoffing at the behaviour of the wealthy, saying “damn these rich people”. Haruhi is always having other characters tell them to be more feminine or more masculine, and they are never phased by any comments on how they should perform their gender. They’re just constantly chill, and it’s nice to see that Haruhi is so comfortable with themself.

But that’s not to say that the show didn’t come with flaws. Despite Haruhi’s acceptance and comfortability with being non normative, and (for the most part) other characters also accepting their identity, Haruhi is still in a heteronormative universe. While the show discusses homosexuality openly and isn’t (again, for the most part) outrightly homophobic, it’s portrayal of homosexuality is that of being a performance. Heterosexuality is still the assumed sexuality for all characters. Even the fact that fellow host Tamaki is in love with Haruhi is made “ok” by the fact that we know Haruhi isn’t a boy, thus making it still a heterosexual interest. Also the overlying fact that the hosts have to be male for female only guests says it all.

Ok now let’s go back to Tamaki for a minute. He’s in love with Haruhi, another thing their ambivalent about (maybe they’re still thinking about their first kiss with a girl). The way he demonstrates his love however, is worrying. He’s possessive, controlling and always tries to make them fit with traditional and quite frankly outdated female gender roles, such as baking him cookies, making him lunch and wear feminine clothing – though not bikinis, for no one can look at their skin except for him! He possessiveness is projected as protectiveness in the show, and it made me quite uncomfortable. Particularly in Episode 8, where Tamaki, and all the other guys in the host club for that matter, tell them they can’t do certain things because they’re a “girl”. It was particularly worrying when Kyoya overpowers them and threatens rape as a way of telling them they are vulnerable in society and responsible for their own safety. Um, that’s called rape culture. Look it up Ouran writers!   

In episode 9, we’re introduced to another host club called Zuka Club. This club is everything Ouran host club isn’t, the club is run by women, and it’s feminist and queer friendly. Like, they talk about equality and having female lovers. It’s great. The club offer Haruhi a place in their club, saying they’d be more suited there. When Haruhi turns them down, Haruhi says that they have interesting ideas, but it’s not for them. I couldn’t help but feel like these “interesting” ideas Haruhi was referring to was feminism and sexualities outside of the heteronormative construct. And the show does reaffirm this quite regularly: heterosexuality is the only real sexuality.

The twin brothers in the host club often display romantic and sexual gestures towards each other, and even refer to themselves as homosexuals in episode 5. Turns out this twincest is an act to excite the straight female guests under the “brotherly love package”. As I was watching I realised that this idea acting up homosexuality for straight women was something I’ve come across before. The 2015 documentary series Gaycation, went into Japan and looked into this very thing!

There are comics in Japan with a strong niche following, which are known as “yaoi, or boys love”. What exactly are these comics about you ask? Yep, homoerotic male fantasies with very pornographic images throughout. And here’s the most interesting part: they are written by straight women for straight women. Straight women are the main demographic! There are other articles written on this phenomenon too, confirming that there seems to be a disconnect between these mangas and real life LGBTQ+ people. The existence of these comics doesn’t contribute to the acceptance of homosexuality, it simply acts to objectify it.

And what do my feminists say? I’ve come across many appraisals as to Haruhi’s gender expression. While feminists feel it’s great to see Haruhi so relaxed and comfortable around their gender identity, the fact that it’s still concealed from others shows that Haruhi is still the exception in a binary focused universe. One particular article from Bitch Flicks (link in description) agreed that the heteronormative framework that Haruhi is in diminishes the value of their character. They also argued that the homophobia and rape culture displayed throughout the show was certainly an area for concern.

While Haruhi’s character is a great example of a person with a non normative gender identity, they still exist in a context that is heteronormative, and this shows through the representation of homosexuality, gender roles and the binary framework through which the characters discuss Haruhi’s gender.

Haruhi, keep doing you. Boys at the host club, feminism 101, look it up.

Episode Five

So, turns out non normative genders do exist in Anime!

[play intro theme: Let’s Talk About Gender Baby – Planningtorock]

This is the final episode in my series exploring the representation of non normative genders in anime. Thus wraps up my journey into 3 anime universes, and how different they all were!

Attack on Titan – dramatic, epic, very gender neutral

Steins;Gate – self indulgent, all the phobics, stuck in the binary

Ouran – funny, light hearted, mostly in the binary

I think this experience definitely made me more open to engaging with anime. All three animes could not have been more different, and I’m I found Ouran the easiest to watch, which is surprising because it really isn’t a genre I would normally seek out to watch. It’s script was refreshing I guess, from the repetitive Attack on Titan and the vulgar Steins;Gate.

On reflection, it’s very clear that Attack on Titan came out on top as the most progressive anime, in terms of not just representation of non normative genders, but also female identifying characters and queer characters. Ouran High School host Club still had a lot to work out with it’s views of non normative genders. It was also stuck in a heteronormative universe, alive with homophobia and storylines that strayed into rape culture territory. I’ve successfully erased my memory of Steins;Gate so we all good there. Haha, I wish. It also played into rape culture, quite overtly at times.

This experience has taught me that the trope I assumed in Episode 1 of all non normative characters being misrepresented, is certainly a trope in many animes, but not all. Certainly not in Attack on Titan, where Hange was a respected leader and creative scientist.

I also learnt a lot about my own context, and how that shaped my perceptions of the animes. Particularly Hange. The realisation that I still have an unconscious bias towards binary thinking was an eye opening moment for me.

Learning about Japan’s context was a bit harder. It was strange how difficult it was to find information on gender identities, sexualities and sexism in Japan. I may have had a different outcome had I searched in Japanese, but I still felt the information that was available was quite limited. It also informed me that diverse gender identities and sexualities in Japan are still only marginally recognised. Especially considering how relatively recently the term xjenda has been in circulation, and transgender identities being considered disorders.

For this wrap up, I’d like to go a little more into that area and then talk a little about feminist movements in Japan. It’s hard to believe, but transgender activists actually pushed for the recognition of having a gender identity disorder (GID), which is defined as “a desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex.” It appears that having a diagnosis allows transgender identities to be accepted, and less able to be challenged. In Japan, having a disorder doesn’t have the same stigma as it does in the West. Because shame comes from being outside of the norm. It is seen as a choice to be different, difference being identities outside of a patriarchal heteronormative, binary and cisnormative construct! Wow, what a mouthful. Whereas having a disorder is not viewed as a choice and therefore is accepted.

Intersectional feminism is a space where non normative gender identities are able to prosper and gain recognition. So I’m interested to know how that whole things going down in Japan.

Japan as a society is very patriarchal society. They have the highest wage gap in the developed world and sexual harassment of women in public spaces is such a problem that women-only train carriages are now a thing. Feminism is of course alive and well in Japan, it simply manifests itself differently in a culture that’s more collectivist based than the West.

While feminism has a long history in japan, the main reason it has faced so much backlash and not progressed at the rate that it has in the West comes down to culture. The cultural ideal that “being able to endure the worst situations without complaining or making a scene is central to the idea of strength and morality, even in contemporary Japan”. This is also in line with the idea of not rocking the boat. It seems Japan is very set in binary gender roles, with women and men having very distinct roles separate from each other. 

I’m obviously just skimming the surface of a multilayered issue and there are of course feminist movements in Japan – I applaud them all!

And that’s a wrap on this podcast series. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it. Until next time!

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Podcast series: Non-Normative Genders in Anime references

Episode One

Dr. Grollman E.A. 2010. Transgender, Genderqueer, Cisgender… What Do These Terms Mean? Kinsey Confidential, available at

Duck-Chong E. 2016. Why it’s time for parents to re-think declaring their children’s gender, Daily Life, available at

Lachenal J. 2016. Jamie Clayton, Jen Richards Call Out Matt Bomer, Mark Ruffalo for Casting Cis Male to Play Trans Woman in Anything, The Mary Sue, available at

Episode Two

AnimeLab: Attack On Titan (2014) Episodes 01-25, available at

Asselin J. 2014. Attack on Titan Creator, Publisher On Character’s Gender, The Mary Sue, available at:

Dale, S.P.F., 2012. An Introduction to X-Jendā: Examining a New Gender Identity in Japan. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, available at

Ko K. 2009. Be careful not to bend your gender in Japanese, The Japan Times, available at

Rose. 2014. Q-taku: Your Colossal Guide to “Attack On Titan,” And Its Shiny New English Dub, Autostraddle, available at

Romano A. 2014. ‘Attack on Titan’ creator gets the last word in debate over character’s gender, The Daily Dot, available at

Romano A. 2014. When it comes to transgender representation, anime has room to grow, The Daily Dot, available at

Episode Three

AnimeLab: Steins;Gate (2011) Episodes 01-11, available at

Aisling Fae. 2014. Will Someone Please Tell Ruka-chan that She’s Trans‽, Tumblr, available at

Mock J. 2014. I’m a Trans Woman, but Please Stop Asking Me About My Genitalia, Elle, available at

Lunsing W. 2005. LGBT Rights in Japan, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 17:143–148, available at

SafeForTrans. 2014. Ruka Urushibara: Steins; Gate, Tumblr, available at

Shu Min Y. 2011. Last friends, beyond friends – articulating non-normative gender and sexuality on mainstream Japanese television, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 3 (2011):383–400, available at

Sygh R. 2015. The problem with “traps”, Rian Sygh, Tumblr, available at

Tsukamoto Kininmonth N & Feder J.L. 2016. Why Transgender People In Japan Prefer To Be Told They Have A “Disorder”, Buzzfeed, available at

Episode Four

AnimeLab: Ouran High School Host Club (2006) Episodes 01-09, available at

SourceFedNERD. 2015. What is shoujo?, Youtube, available at

McLelland M, Nagaike K, Suganuma K & Welker J. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, available at,+Culture,+and+Community+in+Japan&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjLjprCvoHQAhVFnJQKHV52CFsQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=Boys%20Love%20Manga%20and%20Beyond%3A%20History%2C%20Culture%2C%20and%20Community%20in%20Japan&f=false

Page E & Daniel I. 2016. Gaycation Episode 1: Japan, Viceland, available at  

Episode Five

Devin Stewart interviewing Natsumi Ikoma. 2016. Feminism: The New “F-word” in Japan?, Global Ethics Network, available at

Hayes T. 2016. The Cultural Limits of Japanese Feminism, International Policy Digest, available at

Scottee S. 2015. Is feminism taboo in Japan?, Vice, available at

Shu Min Y. 2011. Last friends, beyond friends – articulating non-normative gender and sexuality on mainstream Japanese television, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 3 (2011):383–400, available at

Tsukamoto Kininmonth N & Feder J.L. 2016. Why Transgender People In Japan Prefer To Be Told They Have A “Disorder”, Buzzfeed, available at

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A critique of Syria Debunked

Throughout this semester I have been following the development of Dean Simmon’s project ‘Syria Debunked‘. The project developed from Dean’s general interest in global politics, as well as his discontent with Western mainstream media coverages of political issues. With the war in Syria consistently being in the Western news cycle since it’s outbreak in 2011, Dean decided this would be an important area to focus on.

Following the decision to base the project on the conflict in Syria, Dean then outlined possibilities for what to cover. There were many aspects to consider, including humanitarian issues, refugees, drone warfare, international involvement, and the ethics of reporting on the war. Dean decided to look at these areas through the lens of a critical analysis of Western reporting. From there, Dean decided to directly focus on analysing and critiquing misinformation and propaganda spread by Western media outlets. With the project idea clear in his mind the purpose was also clear: to provide a platform for audiences to see not only a different perspective on the war in Syria, but also a critical view of the Western media narratives they are familiar with.

Next step was to focus on brainstorming which formats would work best for his project. Based on people’s suggestions there were three options Dean considered: creating a Wix page (being in control of the aesthetics could help with drawing the audience’s attention), using Storify (great for embedding tweets and videos), or WordPress (easy to use, has ready-made layouts to choose from and also has embedding options). Dean went with WordPress and (as you can see below) the layout is simple and the text direct, which makes the content accessible and digestible.


In his pitch, Dean outlined a clear trajectory and methodology. He also discussed where he would be sourcing his information: through citizen journalism streams on Reddit and Twitter, Independent media and live maps. He also highlighted relevant examples of misinformation being spread by Western media outlets, emphasising the importance of his project. Dean’s pitch served to show that his project has a clear purpose and provides a means for alternative media reporting on the war in Syria.

The main case study he discussed in his pitch, and later posted about on his blog, was the case of Omran and the White Helmets.  This was a great choice because the story of Omran trended across Western media outlets, so the class/readers of his blog would all be familiar with it. Dean then provided sources that showed there were inconsistencies and misinformation in the way this story was reported, which worked to provide a clear example of how Western media can skew information and emphasising the importance of his project as an alternative media source.

In his beta demonstration, Dean clearly outlined his development of the project and his project focus. He reiterated that he created the project as a response to false reports on the war in Syria. Dean showcased his project by showing the class through his blog posts, with the main focus being on his article about The White Helmets. The demonstration clearly outlined what his project involved, however it would have been great to see more from the blog in the demonstration and he could have been clearer about the direction he was taking it.

I would have liked for him to have gone into more detail about the sources he used to publish his articles in his demonstration. He mentioned that he used the Activist Post and Reddit streams to source his content. It would have been interesting to hear more on the methodology of how he located these sources and how he determined their credibility in comparison to mainstream media sources.

My constructive suggestion for improving the beta would be to put his first post in his About page. In this post, Dean provides a summary of what to expect from his blog, the areas he will be covering and where he sources his information from (it would also be great if the sources he links could be hyperlinked). Placing this post in his About page would provide audiences with a direct and accessible means to understand the purpose of the blog and know what content to expect.

I would also suggest using more hashtags to generate more traffic towards his page. It’s great to see his Twitter stream embedded on the blog to give audiences an idea of the author and another means for contact (there is also a contact option on his WordPress). He could also use his Twitter account to bring in an audience by going further than tweeting out the articles alone, and tweet links to various sources he’s accessed or generate discussion around his existing posts. This could help generate an audience on Twitter, which could then be directed to his WordPress blog.

My final suggestion would be to include an archives section on the page, so readers can see the posts without having to scroll through the whole feed for specific articles.

The content itself is well written and incorporates relevant and interesting images and videos. They are also well researched and scattered with hyperlinks to all his resources, which is important to maintain credibility and interest in your content. The posts are a good length and aren’t overcomplicated, making them accessible and digestible, which is consistent with the layout of the blog. This is good for preventing the posts from becoming an ‘information overload’ and losing the reader’s interest.

As was pointed out in Dean’s beta demonstration, misinformation leads to the cause of or continuation of conflict. Syria Debunked is an important project that seeks to make sense of a conflict that is very complicated, multi layered and misrepresented. By focusing on removing misinformation and applying a critical analysis of the war in Syria, this project serves to educate audiences not only on the war in Syria, but also on the practices of Western media and how they serve to spread propaganda.

This project provides audiences of Western media with a great opportunity to see the media narratives they are familiar with deconstructed and critiqued in a way that can open minds to critical thinking.

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Non-normative genders in Anime Pt. 2

In my initial post (and in my thought process that lead towards creating this project) I made an assumption of tropes based on my limited viewing of anime. My experience of anime is limited due to the few animes I’ve watched being quite blatantly sexist or very male-centric. Considering there are actually more than 10 000 animes in existence, it’s fair to say that my observations were more generalised assumptions. But do my assumptions hold up?

Well, according to Western analyses of anime, they actually (mostly) do. In a 2014 article, Aja Romano wrote an article for The Daily Dot, where they stated the following:

“The more typical and “traditional” attempt to portray both crossdressing and genderqueer identity in Japanese storytelling narratives has usually been to make it a joke. This includes the old standby of using flamboyantly gay people who crossdress, or drag itself, as humor. Even though drag can often be a transformative process as part of a transgender coming-out, you’re more likely to see it portrayed for laughs, or even as a weird fetish.”

Aja Romano, The Daily Dot, 2014

As I researched further into non-normative gender representations in anime, I saw that this sentiment resinated with other anime fans too. From there I decided to dig deep into anime tropes around non-normative characters – and that digging delivered.

First up, I came across the term ‘trap characters’. While I wasn’t able to find any academic research on it, there were plenty of forumsreddit streams and a Wiki page for me to look through.

Image Credit: OverLordArhas, 2013

Image Credit: OverLordArhas, 2013. Some people refer to them as ‘traps’ and ‘reverse traps’. ‘Normal’ being female presenting males, ‘reverse’ being male presenting females.

I had to sift through some pretty vile conversations (filled with queerphobia and transphobia), until I came across a great and informative post on tumblr by Rian Sygh. I learnt that a ‘trap’ is “is an individual whose perceived gender identity does not reflect their biological sex”. As Sygh aptly puts it, “the problem with referring to this situation as a ‘trap’ and not as, ‘a Transgender or gender non-conforming person’, is that it connotates that by identifying the way they do an individual is intentionally deceiving the audience” (Sygh 2015).

Following research into that I discovered another term, ‘Hideyoshi’. Now this is where things started getting confusing. Like trap characters, there isn’t much research into Hideyoshi, which is the term given to describe a character who is gnc. It is also referred to as the ‘third gender’…and they can also be classified as a trap.

Image Credit: beeno98

Image Credit: beeno98

Image Credit: bakura108

Image Credit: bakura108

The term actually originated from an anime character named Hideyoshi Kinoshita, who was a gnc character on the 2010 anime series Baka and Test. While it seems there is no concrete definition for Hideyoshi characters, they’re characteristics are outside binary and cisnormative performances of gender. It also seems like the purpose of these characters is to provide comic relief, while still fitting within a heteronormative narrative (Wu 2014).

The final term I came across is ‘Otokonoko’. They are characters who “act/dress up like a girl only because they need to achieve something” (Wu 2014). They fall into the trope of “gender-switching” characters in anime, who ‘switch’ genders to seduce another to get what they want and still fit within a heteronormative narrative (Romano 2014). 

So with these anime terms in mind, it’s time to look at cultural context that shapes them: Japan. As in Western culture, gender (jendā) is understood as a social construct in Japan. However, genders outside of the binary/cisnormative constructs have only recently been recognised in the last decade. X-jendā  refers to “a gender that is neither male nor female, or, depending on the definition, both” (Dale 2012). X-jenda is also often regarded as a “sub-group” of transgender identities. The term ‘transgender’ is rarely used in mainstream discourses the term seidōitsuseishōgai is instead used, which translates to Gender Identity Disorder (Dale 2012). This categorisation of gnc and trans people is clearly problematic as it medicalises valid identities and connotes them with disorders, suffering and disabilities (Shu Min 2011). 

Another thing to consider is that cultural differences extend to language. In the Japanese language, while there are no gendered pronouns as there are in English, they do use a gendered language. Gendered language refers to “how males and females speak differently from one another within a language…it [also] refers to gender roles and is not ‘grammatically gendered'” (Ko 2009). As I do not speak Japanese, I will be unable to observe how my selected characters use gendered language. That said, I’m interested to see if I can research that as it would help to understand the construction of my characters genders.

To fit with my context, I’ve looked for feminist analyses of the characters I will be observing, which I will consider in line with the Japanese context when making my evaluation of how they represent non-normative genders.

In the original manga, Zoe Hange’s gender was left purposefully unclear by the creator, however they* were voiced by female actresses in the anime versions. Romano (The Daily Dot) argued this was problematic and saw it as a form of trans erasure.  Whereas an article from The Mary Sue argued that Hange’s gender is non-binary, which is great representation for gender non-conforming (gnc) people. 

In regards to Haruhi Fujioka, Romano praised them as “one of the rare instances in which an anime character embraces, if not a genderqueer identity, then at least a gender-ambivalent one.” Bitch Flicks also argued that the show and Haruhi’s character seek to defy binary ideas of gender and challenge heteronormativity by making a satire of anime’s that conform to these normatives.

It was harder to find feminist analyses of Ruka Urushibara, so I looked more to general fan analyses. I found arguments that Ruka Urushibara falls into the ‘trap’ category – their character is even placed under ‘Anime traps‘ on the anime wikia page. I’ve also read that Ruka is in line with ‘traditional’ (aka problematic) depictions of non-normative genders. While many fans have argued that Ruka is a transgender woman (such as here and here), the show seems to treat this possibility as a means for comic relief.

Through the information I’ve gathered on anime tropes, Japanese culture and feminist analyses of the characters I will be observing, the next step is to do just that: observe!

Next post will include my first podcast on Zoe Hange from Attack on Titan. 

*I will be referring to each character as they, unless a specific pronoun has been nominated.


Adler J. 2015. ‘Ouran High School Host Club’: Haruhi, Heteronormativity, and the Gender Binary, Bitch Flicks, available at

Asselin J. 2014. Attack on Titan Creator, Publisher On Character’s Gender, The Mary Sue, available at:

Dale, S.P.F., 2012. An Introduction to X-Jendā: Examining a New Gender Identity in Japan. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, available at

Ko K. 2009. Be careful not to bend your gender in Japanese, The Japan Times, available at

North A. 2014. Anime: Gender Roles and Representations, Hubpages, available at

Romano A. 2014. When it comes to transgender representation, anime has room to grow, The Daily Dot, available at

Shu Min Y. 2011. Last friends, beyond friends – articulating non-normative gender and sexuality on mainstream Japanese television, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 3 (2011):383–400, available at

Sygh R. 2015. The problem with “traps”, Rian Sygh, Tumblr, available at

Wu J. 2015. The Popularity of ‘Hideyoshi’: the Character that is ‘Neither Male nor Female’, The Artifice, available at

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