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Tamamo-no-Mae is perhaps the most famous -- and tragic -- foxwoman in Japanese folklore. Variations on her story have been told and retold, the gist of which is that she was a kitsune (fox) who took on human form and became the Emperor's courtesan. But she was found out by an onmyōji (magician), declared to be the cause of the Emperor's illness, and chased out to the plains of Nasu and killed.

The retelling of her story in Fate/EXTRA, a visual novel / roleplaying game for the PlayStation Portable, is especially stark. In it, she grows up as a human and does not even realize that she is a fox until her ears suddenly sprout from her head. She manages to conceal them for an entire month, before being found out.

Here are some excerpts from the scene where she tells the player character her life story:

Words set against the backdrop of a foxwoman sitting seiza on tatami. Transcript: Tamamo is speaking in her normal cheerful tone, but the actual event must've been terrible to experience. To wake up one morning to find out that not (only) has your body changed, but that you're no longer a human being ... In the very center of power of human society, she was the only one who wasn't a part of mankind.

I couldn't even begin to imagine her confusion and her fear at the time. Not to mention her self-doubt, disbelief, and misery. The fear of eventually being found out and persecuted. And above all, dreading the moment when the one she loved most condemns her as a monster.

Words set against the backdrop of a forlorn foxwoman in a moonlit field. Transcript, in quotation marks: Aah, what a fool I was.

Words set against the backdrop of a forlorn foxwoman in a moonlit field. Transcript: It was in the comfort offered by the foxes around her that Tamamo-no-mae said those words to herself. She was betrayed and hunted down by humans who feared her. She did nothing wrong; she only tried to help them prosper. She was forced to flee the village she considered paradise simply because she "wasn't human."

Words set against a black background. Transcript: Standing in a hail of arrows, covered in blood, (she said) "I wasn't trying to fool anyone. I'll leave now so please just forget all about me."

Transcript

Tamamo is speaking in her normal cheerful tone, but the actual event must've been terrible to experience. To wake up one morning to find out that not (only) has your body changed, but that you're no longer a human being ... In the very center of power of human society, she was the only one who wasn't a part of mankind.

I couldn't even begin to imagine her confusion and her fear at the time. Not to mention her self-doubt, disbelief, and misery. The fear of eventually being found out and persecuted. And above all, dreading the moment when the one she loved most condemns her as a monster.

"Aah, what a fool I was."

It was in the comfort offered by the foxes around her that Tamamo-no-mae said those words to herself. She was betrayed and hunted down by humans who feared her. She did nothing wrong; she only tried to help them prosper. She was forced to flee the village she considered paradise simply because she "wasn't human."

Standing in a hail of arrows, covered in blood, (she said) "I wasn't trying to fool anyone. I'll leave now so please just forget all about me."

The nature of patriarchal, cisnormative, white (or Japanese) nationalist "identity politics" is that it doesn't matter what your intentions are, how harmless you are to the people around you, or even what you have done for them all your life. With the people who hold these beliefs you don't get to be "a good foxwoman," or "a good trans individual." You're just an object to be purged, as soon as you are found out. And the people and institutions you love and rely on may well enable your murderers, like by letting them use the "trans panic" legal defence.

Here's hoping that by looking to the past, and imagining alternate resolutions for these historical tragedies, we can find ways to make things better in the present. By supporting those who come out to us, by helping to make our families and societies more welcoming, and by keeping in mind that both fox- and trans women don't hide so that we can "trap" others.

We're the ones who are trapped, in a life-threatening situation.

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We tell stories, paint minis, collect identity words, and share them all with our readers. If something we write helps you, let us know.

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