Anime Expo has always prided itself in being a safe space. A place for being who we are without fear of bullying or judgement, a place for bonding with likeminded people and being proud of what we are. So it’s not surprising that members of the LGBTQ+ community would identify with characters in anime and find refuge in the always-welcoming otaku community.
With that in mind, the awesome people at Crunchyroll hosted a panel at Anime Expo this year that served as a platform for LGBTQ+ industry professionals to share their stories with the audience as well as how anime has influenced or helped in their lives as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Who was there?
The panelists were mostly part of the Crunchyroll family. Always nice to meet who’s behind your favorite anime streaming service! They were: (from left to right) Cayla Coats (Editorial Programming, Crunchyroll), Jacob Chapman (Associate Editor at Anime News Network), Raye Rodriguez and Jamie Batrez (Artists, Crunchyroll), and Tylor Starr (Events Project Manager, Crunchyroll). They were all varied in age and their backgrounds varied stages of transition with Tylor was the pansexual of the group. Overall, a well-rounded panel of experts to share their stories.
Anime as a mirror.
A theme that seemed to permeate every paneslist’s story was the fact that way before they ever even suspected who they really were, every one of them identified with a certain character that, retrospectively, was a clear reflection of who they are now; like being a girl and identifying with a male character or vice versa, as well as identifying with crossdressing characters, or with a gorgeous trap.
Raye shared that watching Gravitation and learning that Shuuichi is in fact a boy and not a girl was the moment things clicked and made them realize that was more what they were into, made them think: “When I want to grow up, I want to be a flamboyant gay man!” Which, fortunately, is possible, so they are working through that goal.
Jaime shared that Ranma ½ was her favorite anime because it was so exciting for them to be able to change gender like that, though they didn’t realize they were trans at the time, they say it makes perfect sense now. Tylor, as the only pansexual, shared his bullying story and how he got tired of boys picking on him because he liked painting his nails and wore a naruto headband, and one day, being very into Naruto at the time, he felt inspired and finally stood up to his bully and said “No, I’m bisexual!”, reclaiming his self-confidence.
Cayla’s anime story involves Sailor Moon, which made her realize it was ok to cross gender boundaries, as is the case with many LGBTQ+ members of the anime community. However, the anime that has made the most recent impact is Wandering Son, which according to Cayla eerily mirrored her struggles. That’s when she realized that she should just go ahead and go through her transition, and she did!
Jacob revealed that Pokemon was a huge part of his life growing up and a big influence in his opening up about his sexuality. Born as a female, he was never into girl things -though he confesses he does now that he’s comfortable in his skin- so monsters and animals were really what he was into. And Team Rocket. Jacob went on to note that Jesse and James are “the most perfect encapsulation of gay and lesbian solidarity”. Though it was Revolutionary Girl Utena that really made it click that Jacob wanted to go from princess to prince and “kick ass with her handsome prince friend”, as he put it.
Another similar trait between the panelists was that they would take advantage of cosplaying to try out being a male/female for a while, while other just chose the opposite gender characters because they felt more comfortable. At the same time, however, Cayla also revealed that crossplaying and the like were at one point confusing to her, “Do I just like cross dressing? Or is it something else?”, which makes sense at a young age in a conservative household, but eventually, it was clear there was more to it than just a boy dressing up in girl cosplay.
The Anime Club
Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Utena and CLAMP works in general, among others, have been there for anime fans since before the current conversation about LGBTQ+ equality started. And in the same way, so has the anime community. The anime club is always a safe space.
All of the panelists agreed that finding their first anime-watching friends or their school’s anime club helped them begin to understand themselves while feeling like part of a group of like-minded people who wouldn’t judge them for being different, while at the same time discovering through anime that there were more genders and more types of people out there than what the Western media showcased back in the day.
It may be because gender ambiguity and non-binary characters and storylines are so common in anime, or it may be because anime fans in general tend to also be picked on and bullied for their eccentric taste and they know how their LGBTQ+ peers feel. Either way, the anime community is an open, welcoming, non-judgemental place where we can all be who we are, love who we want to love, and wear what we want to wear with no fear.
Thank you to Crunchyroll for facilitating this amazing panel and to all the panelists for sharing their experiences, answering questions, and inspiring other otaku to embrace who they are and continue to feel safe and support each other within the anime community!