I just sort of wanted to put down my thoughts on this? I'm probably crazy, but I honestly think there is a fairly clear answer to the question of Lion's gender once you sit down and put the clues together. The way that Ryukishi and Umineko tend to go about things is that answers not being confirmed, per se, is an important part of the theme so as not to trap the people in question in that single, defining truth – but that doesn't mean that the answers—more understanding than “answers”, really—don't exist if you're willing to think them through. The answer was not outright stated as to “who Beatrice was”, but it was done in a way that it was made extremely obvious if you just put things together. Similarly, I think there's a fairly obvious answer apparent to at least the basics of “what really happened on Rokkenjima.” (spoilers: kyrie did it) And it's the same with the question of what's going on with Lion – and I think it's an answer that's really, incredibly important to understand Yasu and the source of a huge amount of her suffering, how she sees herself, and how that contributed to what drove her to do what she eventually did. It's really wanting to figure out Yasu, more than anything else, that sort of makes me concerned with the question to begin with. It's much less important to Lion and how I see Lion and the relationship with Will. WILL DOESN'T CARE AND NEITHER DO I in that capacity, but Yasu really, really does.
So tl;dr my thoughts on yaoi:
Note the first! Furniture complex.
It's pretty clear, at least, that understanding Yasu's furniture issues is key to understanding Yasu as a whole – all three of her different facets cannot shut up about it, it informs basically every level of their self-identity and why or why not they cannot be “human”. It can't be downplayed. It's central. And this seems to come down to an issue with Yasu's body, and is tied to the male/female gender identity split. The argument I've heard for Yasu simply being born female is that the cliff injury damaged her so that she couldn't have children, but that really... honestly, just sort of boggles my mind. I don't think it really matches anything with what we know about Yasu, what's important to her, and to the clues we get about how the divide in her identity works at all.
Fertility is just never invoked as being a priority of Yasu's. It's also just not thematically invoked, for women as a whole, as a way to start telling themselves “I'm the equivalent of a man” - we have Natsuhi lurking around, carrying infertility baggage for most of the series. She considers herself a failure as a wife, certainly, but nothing is invoked to parallel her to Yasu, or allude that this problem leads to a gender divide – not through Natsuhi herself, and not even through someone like Eva, who is openly hostile and insulting towards her over it. Nothing in the narrative ever evokes infertility on its own being enough for a woman to start thinking of herself as being a man. Natsuhi does not think she might as well have been born as THE MANRY NATSUHIKO if she hadn't been able to have Jessica.
And Yasu herself? I think the primary thing that drives her is just so clear – fertility questions just never even come to her mind or seem on her radar. At best, you can say that George is pretty obsessed with having a traditional family, but it's obvious that Yasu's furniture complex goes way beyond George – Battler never expresses any interest in kids, Jessica never expresses any interest in kids, and yet Yasu's furniture problem remains just as prominent and devastating in relation to those two. Yasu's focus is, and always had been, on her capacity for romantic love. When she finds out about whatever is wrong with her body, her reaction is not “this body isn't even a woman's”, or “this body can't even create life”, it's “this body can't love.”
This is a point Meg made while we were discussing this, but I think it's also worth bringing up – the implication from the way Shannon and Kanon talk about the problem with their body is that it's something that would become quickly apparent if one were to look. Kanon is surprised that Shannon has managed to hide it from George for so long. If... the injury was an internal issue, a matter of being rendered infertile, that wouldn't... really make any sense.
Kanon and the way he's portrayed here, though, seems key. The most important thing about Kanon comes down to two different aspects. First off is the narrative level: why Kanon even exists in the first place. I don't mean the question of why Yasu created him, per se, but rather, why Ryukishi created him and inserted him into the story. Why does Yasu need an active, embodied male element included, complete with a female love interest and a potential future? (And on another note, why bother making Zepar and Furfur explicitly opposite genders – rather, than, say, simply non-gendered – and invoke that as a clue to the nature of Beatrice?) Kanon, as is, ends up incredibly extraneous to the story as a whole: you could have cut he and Jessica's subplot out without any problem, and ended up with something much more understandable in a Beatrice/Shannon split without raising that question of gender, of Yasu having a male aspect to her. As it is – “there is a part of Beatrice/Yasu that is male” seems to be the main contribution Kanon has to the story.
Which leads into the second, in-universe factor: Kanon is portrayed as having an equal chance to Shannon in becoming the shape of Yasu's future. Yes, Kanon lost the love duel. But as Beatrice demonstrated, an unqualified person can lose by default without even bothering with the duel mess: she was kicked out instantly because Battler wasn't there. But if Yasu was simply a girl, and the choice was set up between a) a guy and b) a girl she was just tricking into thinking she was a boy—or, otherwise, if Yasu's furniture problem really came down to fertility as a woman, then Kanon should have been kicked the hell out from the onset as well.
Instead, it gets emphasized over and over that Kanon and Shannon's chances are equal. Whenever Kanon and Shannon discuss their problems and their relationships, they refer to themselves in equal capacity: they are equally furniture. Shannon can't love for the same reason that Kanon can't love. Their problems are the same. Again: if Yasu is a girl courting George on one hand, and tricking Jessica on the other, that is not an equal situation. Kanon didn't lose because he was more of a delusion, or his existence as a boy for Jessica was any less viable than Shannon's existence as a girl for George. He names the reason explicitly: he didn't take the opportunity of time to develop, emotionally, his relationship with Jessica as Shannon did with George. If he had? In his words, he could have built a love that wouldn't have lost, would have been equal to Shannon and George's.
In other words, Kanon was, in theory, just as tangible a prospect for Yasu to live as as Shannon. To live as a male in a male/female relationship was a viable possibility for her.
Note the second! The man from nineteen years ago.
As Will noted, there were four games in which Yasu was basically presented as female and one game where Yasu was presented as male. But the context of that game where Yasu was presented as male is critical. Namely, the four games where Yasu acts as female center around her roles after the disfiguring accident. The one game where Yasu acts as male is when the reference point is from before.
If it was just Natsuhi's memory referring to the child as male... okay, I think the argument is that Natsuhi must have hated the child so much that she wouldn't have touched it to the degree of not knowing the gender of the child, which... seems like a stretch. But even given that, it's not just Natsuhi thinking of the baby from nineteen years ago as male. It's Yasu herself, without any input from Natsuhi, who identifies herself as aggressively male in the role of Natsuhi's lost child: in other words, the role she had before the accident with the cliff. Yasu does not introduce herself as “your child” in reuniting with her “mother”. Yasu introduces herself as “your son”, taking on a masculine speaking style, as well.
Natsuhi had a son. Natsuhi knows it. The child in question, Yasu, knows it. When acting in the role of Natsuhi's child, Yasu acts the most aggressively and explicitly male of any of her roles. It's after the cliff incident that Yasu is shown to think of herself and be treated as female. It's after the injury that Genji starts fretting about Kinzo making the same mistake again – I don't remember him plotting any dramatic interventions to take Natsuhi's son from being around Kinzo before the accident occurred, which certainly wasn't Kinzo's responsibility.
Basically, lining up the timeline of the genders that Yasu inhabits, it seems to end up like this:
Male → Cliff → Female → Battler → Male/Female Split
well played, cliff and battler
Note the third! Lion as Lion, with a bit of Will's input on the side.
Just a few things to say about this. I think a lot of people tend to judge Lion's gender by how Lion's behavior “feels” to them, which makes a lot of people skew female, because, well – male love interest, ass-pinching (I... guess?), excessively polite, gets dramatically rescued by the male love interest, I don't know. If I had to say, from a modern, western, 2011 standpoint, Lion's “feel” tends to skew feminine for me, too, but from the standpoint of the Ushiromiyas, with Natsuhi the very traditional mother and Kinzo the very traditional patriarch, what we know about their beliefs about gender, and 1986 Japan? Yeah, skews masculine. That's a subjective take, of course, but either way—
I also sort of think it's important that if Lion was explicitly a girl, there's... really no question this would rock the boat amongst the family in terms of her qualifications to be the Ushiromiya family successor. Even without Kinzo himself's point of view, Krauss and Eva have a lot of baggage to that degree, and Eva is a huge bitch with a chip on her shoulder specifically with sexism getting in the way of her ambitions. But the thing is, the question of Lion's suitability to be successor is raised a couple of times throughout the text, but the objection raised is on the basis of age. In the scenario where the adults rally against Kinzo because of Lion's position, it's because Lion is too young, not because Lion is a woman. In Lion's profile, it even specifies that “Except for being too young, more suitable for becoming the next head than any other.”
Really? In a family where the basis of Eva's desire to be Head was denied on account of her being a woman? Where Krauss had a grand old time lecturing his little sister about the place of women, and then later to his wife about how women don't have any place in business? With Kinzo, who rages like hell and throws tantrums about women who try to act like men? The only issue with Lion's qualifications to succeed Kinzo's position, reinforced on both occasions here, is because Lion is young?
It also seems to be implied that Will's impression of Lion, before the connection between Beatrice and Lion clicks for Will and throws things up in the air, skews towards “male”. There is actually a point where Will refers to Lion as a guy - “bocchan”. (Witch Hunt translated it as gender ambiguous, for understandable reasons.)
Note the fourth! ...wait there isn't really a note the fourth
Basically, whatever Lion is, I think it's pretty clear that Lion is not a woman. Natsuhi had a son, and neither she or the son in question express any ambiguity about that—it's only after the accident that gender confusion/angst starts to really, violently emerge. Even after the accident, Yasu considered it a viable option before her, for her soul, and her future, to exist as a man. The only issue raised with Lion's succession, in a demonstratively sexist family, is his age.
(After further consideration and discussion, I've really come to think that Lion simply being male actually makes far more sense and makes basically everything about Yasu - and Lion himself, even - click into place! So, uh, disregard the above strikethrough.)
But if Lion was born with a “normal” gender – it was male. I just... can't see “born female” really making sense with the clues presented. And I think the revelation made to Yasu about not being the gender she was raised to think she was accounts for her complexes, her mental breakdown, and the imagery surrounding her much more than “you can't have kids” does, especially since she would have learned this before her relationship with George actually got particularly serious.
I also kind of can't help but mention too that I've heard the argument tossed around that “Japan thinks Lion is a girl!”, which... I can see how you could get that impression by browsing Pixiv, or what have you, but... it's not actually true? I would say it's much closer to say, “Japan wishes Lion is a girl.” I mean, these are just my impressions browsing around, so by all means take it with a grain of salt, but going around the blogs and discussion, what artists and such actually say about Lion, what comes up most often are things along the lines of: “I would like Lion either way, but it would be nice if Lion was a girl.” In discussion, you do have people noting that there are things that skew male-ish to them for Lion, too. And in what doujinshi I've seen/have, I think the ambiguity/acknowledgment of wishful thinking also emerges—girl Lion explicitly being a fantasy, sometimes for Lion, sometimes for Will, that they subsequently wake up from and get trolled with.
I also really... just can't get on board with the way a lot of the fandom characterizes Lion anyway, regardless of gender. Female Lion is potentially fine – in some ways, you could do some really interesting things with it! But pretty princess, helpless, dewy-eyed, waifu Lion obediently waiting for Will to come home in a flowery pink apron and such sort of makes me crazy. No, Lion is not pining over Jessica's ability to wear frilly skirts and giggle about boys. I liked Lion because he is assertive, proud and confident in his ability to succeed Kinzo, has an internal fortitude that surprises even Will, and doesn't put up with Will's shit – things like telling Will to get the fuck off his island, or telling Will to shut up and fall in line with the family's rules, or when Will actually tries to step in to comfort Lion about his origins, Lion hilariously throwing it back in his face. Playing around with Female Lion is okay in theory, but in practice, it tends to end up around on the level of BROCON ANGE for me in terms of ajklsfjklsjafjf. Which... is a pretty bad degree of ajklsfjklsjafjf.
FINALLY if Lion and Will end up together, I—I have to say I'm pretty sure Lion would end up as the husbando regardless of gender. Lion is the successor to the Ushiromiya family, trained under Kinzo's guidance, he has things to do and a drive to do them. Will is a lazy NEET whose life goal seems to be sitting around and playing with his cat. just saying.
...did I seriously just write four pages about this I sort of want to die