By Briana Lawrence
Growing up, I was always that nerdy Black girl who spent her part-time job money on Dragon Ball Z VHS tapes and wrote fanfic in her father’s basement via AOL CDs (I’m dating myself on purpose).
When I tripped out of the closet by falling for this girl whom I wrote fanfic with, I, well, had a full-blown panic attack because there was no way I could be gay (the only word I knew besides lesbian and confused back in 2001). I ended up doing what a lot of questioning folks do: I turned to the media since I had no idea where else to start.
I didn’t find much back then, but I did discover that a lot of my favorite series, while wrapped in mystical powers and epic battles, had messages of fighting oppression, overcoming the odds, and accepting yourself (and others). That’s why I always champion the importance of media, as it tends to be someone’s first exposure to, well, the world and the lessons we take from it.
And so I say, let this be the happiest of Pride Months, everyone! Let’s watch some anime!
Actually, let’s do more than watch. I want to talk about some important lessons that anime has touched on for me with regard to the queer community, complete with enough references to make my old English professor, well, still wonder what the heck a Sailor Moon is, but appreciate the effort.
It’s OK to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community
This might sound like one of those “unpopular opinion” statements leading to something that’s not unpopular at all, but LGBTQ+ detractors can be excruciatingly loud, especially during the adolescent years.
It’s important to reassure people of this one simple message, whether they’re queer or not (because if they’re not, they need to know that it’s OK that others around them are).
This is perfectly illustrated in a short conversation between two of the protagonists from given, a romance anime that aired last year. Uenoyama, having realized his feelings for fellow bandmate, Mafuyu, not only receives reassurance from their drummer, but he doesn’t make a big deal out of Uenoyama’s boy crush.
He normalizes being queer because, well, boys just like boys sometimes.
You’re the one who identifies yourself
Anime has had its fair share of characters blurring the gender line, whether it’s Cowboy Bebop’s radical Edward only referring to themselves as “Ed,” or Attack on Titan never clearly stating Hange’s gender.
Intentional or not, this leads to many gender questions, mainly from fans, but sometimes you’ll get a Sailor Moon character who bluntly asks about the newest senshi heartthrob.
If you’re Haruka Tenoh, your response is simple:
“Is it so important if I’m male or female?”
Or maybe you’re Ouran High School Host Club’s Haruhi and you shrug it off:
“You’re a girl?” “Biologically, I guess.”
However, if someone does state their gender, then My Hero Academia’s Toga and Twice have some sorely needed advice. In a confrontation with Season 4’s Yakuza villain, Overhaul, the two are quick to correct him after he misgenders the League’s Big Sis, Magne. Apparently, even villains know how to respect pronouns, so it’s best to apologize and learn to do better.
Exploration is normal
There’s a huge amount of pressure put on adolescents to have a plan for who they are and what they’re going to do with themselves for the rest of their lives.
Ironically, there’s also a conflicting idea that LGBTQ+ issues are “too adult” for young people. There needs to be more emphasis on exploring and learning as you grow.
This is the case for a manga series like My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness or an anime like Stars Align, where both illustrate the exploration and uncertainty of learning about yourself.
My Lesbian Experience is an autobiographical manga about sexual exploration and mental health, while Stars Align’s Yuta researches LGBTQ+ terminology until they discover that they might be nonbinary.
Neither of these characters are sure. It’s OK to not be sure.
It’s not just one or the other
I often wonder what would’ve happened had I known more about bisexuality and pansexuality back when I was in high school.
It’s easy to label someone based on their relationship status. It didn’t matter that I said I was attracted to multiple genders. People labeled me based on whom I was with (heterosexual at 17 with a boyfriend, lesbian at 18 with a girlfriend).
This is similar to the magical girl icon herself, Sailor Moon, whose heart belongs to Mamo-chan…but that doesn’t stop her from being completely enamored by…well…everyone—and unapologetically so. Honestly, there really is no heterosexual explanation for Moon Prism Power in my opinion, but it’s not just a gay or lesbian one, either.
Don’t hold onto that pain
Oh, Episode 1 of Wandering Son and the sisterly scorn that Shuichi receives for wearing her clothes.
This kind of pain is, unfortunately, something that many queer youth can relate to. Lucky for Shuichi, they run into fellow gender-explorative friend and classmate, Yoshino.
Yoshino lets Shuichi cry so they can take a breath and open themselves up to the idea of comfort. Support and understanding is important, but unless someone is able to safely let go of their pain, they might not be receptive to any form of comfort.
Treat us like everyone else
“You and your wife are so…normal….” That’s a real quote from a family member who was surprised to learn that, yes, I was still the same anime-watching, video-game-playing nerd I’d always been.
My bisexuality hadn’t changed anything about me, but some people go in thinking that “queer” means “completely different person.”
That’s why seeing the way Tiger is treated in My Hero Academia is such a breath of fresh air, even if they’re not mentioned as being explicitly queer. Characters like that tend to be met with shock from the rest of the cast, prompting the audience to treat them as a joke.
Not only is Tiger treated like all the other heroes, no one makes a single comment on how they present themselves; Tiger is never singled out, Tiger is simply a part of the Wild Wild Pussycats.
Manga like My Brother’s Husband completely focus on this idea as Yaichi comes to terms with his estranged brother’s sexuality through Mike—his late brother’s husband. Yaichi isn’t a raging homophobe by any means, but it’s clear that he has some misconceptions about the queer community. This leads to him realizing that Mike is, well, a person, which is exactly what happened with my own family member.
My sexuality is different, but I’m still me.
It’s a big step, but totally worth it
My mother used to ask me what took me so long to come out to her.
While I knew that my mother would support me no matter what, I also knew that coming out would be the start of an ongoing process, making some feel like it’s safer to stay in the closet instead of stepping into the unknown.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a fantastic series drenched in beautiful imagery and a rose garden’s worth of symbolism.
The gorgeous academy is full of dark secrets, but Anthy is so used to her broken place in life that the idea of leaving is terrifying. She knows what to expect in that rose garden, but outside the faux paradise is a completely unknown landscape.
However, in both the series and the OVA, the message is clear: you might not have a clear vision of the world outside, but if it allows you to break away and be free, then it’s the better option.
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