To Pee or Not to Pee: Gender and LGBT Representation in Manga and Anime

This week we looked into the theme of gender identity and sexuality, more specifically LGBT representation in manga and anime. I enjoyed reading both Kazumi Nagaike’s article, “The Sexual and Textual Politics of Japanese Lesbian Comics: Reading Romantic and Erotic Yuri Narratives”, which discussed Yuri manga, otherwise known as female-female (or lesbian) relationships, as well as the article “Wandering Son and Gender Identity” by Paul Jackson, which focused on the manga and subsequent anime Wandering Son, a story about about transgender gender identity: a boy who wants to be a girl, and a girl who wants to be a boy. I found this article particularly interesting, and I found it useful to read a portion of the actual Wandering Son manga before watching an episode of the anime in class. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between the manga and the anime, and I found it to be an overall beautiful and well-put-together episode that depicted a very real and sincere representation of the struggle that many people go through while discovering who they are as a person, and in exploring their gender identity. The class discussion after this anime was very heartfelt, and it was nice to hear everyone’s comments about the importance of Wandering Son: that it was one of the few representations of transgender people that was both positive and educational and didn’t make fun of the characters.

A comment I found to be important in Jackson’s article was the usefulness of manga and anime as a means to educate people about transgender identity, in an effort not to target and pick-apart a real live person. Jackson states: “Fiction is a valuable teaching tool because it gives students the opportunity to consider a potentially difficult subject without the sensitivities of real-life cases. As such, Wandering Son provides a very effective introduction to questions of (trans)gender and offers numerous avenues for discussion (Paul Jackson, “Wandering Son and Gender Identity”). The articles goes on to discuss more of the issues explored in the manga and anime, such as the constructive nature of the the protagonists’ (Nitori Schuichi and Takatsuki Yoshina) school while exploring their gender identity due to the fact that male and female segregation is constantly enforced. For example, an obvious segregation of gender at their school is the different uniforms for boys and girls. The girls’ uniform is very feminine: sailor outfits with short skirts, while the boys’ uniform is a plain black trouser suit. Later on in the series, Takatsuki is said to start wearing a boy’s uniform but “her identity remains in a state of flux for the rest of the series as she slowly learns to accept herself – a challenge that, to some degree, faces all adolescents” (Paul Jackson, “Wandering Son and Gender Identity”).

Furthermore, another issue shown in this series that is a currently in the news is the lack of gender neutral bathrooms. With the current legislation in many places, including the United States and Canada, people are forced to use the gendered bathroom to which they are assigned at birth if there is not a gender neutral bathroom offered. This makes it extremely difficult for many transgender people who do not feel comfortable using these bathrooms, and it may result in further discrimination and discomfort. Jackson’s article concludes with several discussion topics for individual reflection or to be discussed in a classroom. His last question in the article is: “If you do choose to explore this avenue of discussion with your students, useful context might include the ongoing debate about gender-neutral bathrooms and the #WeJustNeedtoPee social media campaign” (35). I was pleasantly surprised about his inclusion of the #WeJustNeedtoPee campaign, because last year the founder and leading advocate of this campaign, Brae Carnes, spoke in my social justice class. Brae actually attended my high school some years earlier and was then known as Braeden Carnes. Since graduating, she transitioned to a female and now goes by Brae. The article “Transgender woman launches campaign blasting bathroom bans as she shares photos of herself applying makeup and changing in men’s public restrooms” by Chris Spargo for DailyMail.com gives a good description of her campaign. Her aim is to show how ridiculous these bathrooms bans are by taking pictures of herself in men’s bathrooms, putting on makeup and sometimes changing clothes. Brae’s movement went viral and inspired others to do the same. Something as simple as providing gender neutral bathrooms in public spaces is a good first step towards solving this issue.

Returning to the topic of gender representation through school uniforms in Wandering Son, as previously mentioned in Jackson’s article, I thought of  some similarities to a video game I have played. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 features many intricate storylines, some of which touch upon the themes of gender identity and sexuality. The biggest connection that comes to mind with Persona 4, is the character of Naoto Shirogane. When Naoto is first introduced, players are led to believe that Naoto is a boy, because of her male school uniform and male pronouns. Naoto is even referred to as the ‘Detective Prince’, which reminds me of our previous class discussions on Revolutionary Girl Utena, the girl who wants to be a prince. As the game progresses, we learn that Naoto was actually assigned as to be female at birth. When she faces her “shadow”, or “other self” (a recurring plotline in the game), her shadow reveals this to the other characters (and player), and taunts her by saying that the name ‘Naoto’ does not let her cross the barrier between sexes, nor does it allow her to truly ‘fit in’ with her male detective counterparts. Shadow Naoto then says that it’s time to begin the body alteration procedure, so she won’t have to ‘suffer’ anymore. Naoto objects to her shadow’s claims, which then triggers a boss battle sequence. In the end, Naoto admits that the “other Naoto” is a part of her, but does not define her. She fears that as long as she is girl, she won’t be respected in the heavily male-dominated workforce. She then decides that she shouldn’t strive to be a man, but rather to simply be herself. Despite this personal newfound realization, Naoto still struggles throughout the game to find herself and her comfort level in terms of gender identity. It is an interesting social arc that greatly reflects many of the themes discussed in recent articles we have read as a class. Additionally, there is another character name Kanji Tatsumi who, in his story arc, is trying to discover his sexual identity. On the outside, he is extremely masculine; he is originally shown alongside a biker gang, is tough, and has tattoos and scars. However as the player progresses with his social link and story arc, it is revealed that he actually has a more traditionally ‘feminine’ characteristics and struggles with discovering his sexuality. Ultimately, Kanji’s greatest fear is rejection, and he admits that his sexual orientation should not matter. As is true with many characters throughout the game, Kanji and Naoto both go through the challenge of learning to love and accept themselves for who they are and who they feel comfortable being. In my opinion, Persona 4 is a beautiful and meaningful game in the sense that, although it follows a broad main storyline, the game delves into many different and personal storylines that gives insight into many different social issues that each central character must face.

In conclusion, the depiction of LGBT characters in the manga and anime that I have looked at have been positive representations that provide insight and a means to educate people without having to study and objectify a real live person. The manga/anime Wandering Son seemed to be very well-received by our class, and it provided a sense of realism and honesty into the lives of the two young protagonists whose journey of self discovery and acceptance we follow. What’s more, the Wandering Son article provided a great lead-in to the discussion of gender neutral bathrooms, or the lack thereof, and the #WeJustNeedtoPee movement led by my fellow high school graduate, Brae Carnes. Lastly, I was able to find many similar LGBT themes in the popular Atlus video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, which I found to be very interesting. It is refreshing to see these positive depictions of LGBT culture, acceptance and activism throughout my learning of this subject.

 

Bibliography:

Jackson, Paul. “Wandering Son and Gender Identity.” Retrieved from https://moodle.earlham.edu/pluginfile.php/222163/mod_resource/content/1/Jackson 2015.pdf.

Nagaike, Kazumi. “The Sexual and Textual Politics of Japanese Lesbian Comics
Reading Romantic and Erotic Yuri Narratives” Retrieved from https://japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/2010/Nagaike.html.

Spargo, Chris. “Transgender woman launches campaign blasting bathroom bans as she shares photos of herself applying makeup and changing in men’s public restrooms” Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3042240/Transgender-woman-launches-campaign-blasting-bathroom-bans-shares-photos-applying-makeup-changing-men-s-public-restrooms.html.

One thought on “To Pee or Not to Pee: Gender and LGBT Representation in Manga and Anime

  1. Linnea,

    Wonderful, thorough response to the topics of the week. I liked that you a) analyzed the articles/class discussion b) connected this to your friend Brae, whose work sounds both relevant and timely and c) connected all of the above to a short analysis of characters in the aforementioned video game. Great work.

    Cheers,
    Amanda

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