Emojis are more than just a fun way to express yourself online, they’ve become an integral part of the way we communicate. But as some Twitter users helped us learn, emojis can represent important parts of history, as well.
Whores of Yore, a project aimed at centering the historical and cultural significance of sex workers throughout history, gave us the back story on the “tengu mask” emoji, added in 2015.
Often depicted in traditional Japanese woodblock prints, tengu are creatures from Japanese mythology—goblins that are easily tricked or confused by humans. (Though sometimes tales of tengu are used to scare children into behaving.)
Tengu masks would often appear in shunga woodblock prints of erotic encounters and, unlike the West, explicit same-sex scenes weren’t taboo. In fact, they appeared as frequently as heterosexual pairings.
In a painting shared by Whores of Yore, a woman has a tengu mask tied around her waist, using the creature’s long nose as a strap-on to penetrate her lover.
A 17th century shunga woodblock printing from Japan depicting two women having sex. One has tied a tengu mask around her waist, and penetrates her partner using its long nose. pic.twitter.com/UxKMksN2t0
— Whores of Yore (@WhoresofYore) February 17, 2018
Whore of Yore’s original tweet received more than 13,000 like and 4,500 retweets, but when it was re-shared by Ari, a lesbian from Honolulu, it went viral, with more than 100,000 likes and retweets. A few homophobic comments have crept in, but most of the engagement has been positive.
bro. That’s why we have this emoji shook. We must all now use this emoji to represent a strap.
We shall mark this day down in Lesbian history. https://t.co/bCPAcrNn5b
— Ari (@jewlari) April 18, 2018
In a tweet, Ari wrote about the importance the tengu mask has to queer history. And she wasn’t the only one.
— horchata_lover (@RochaBernice) April 19, 2018
— (@goldencurlss) April 19, 2018
— shurimani (@modestydog) April 19, 2018
It’s fitting that the tengu has been adapted to emojis. Like the woodblock prints of yore, emojis are an important part of storytelling and communication—and are often adapted to address sex and sexuality. Eggplant anyone?
h/t: Gay Star News