Kitsune Hatfield, the author
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That transgender individuals are poorly depicted in media is well known. The butt of jokes and/or persons who are dangerously disturbed are nonetheless commonplace in movie and television depictions of transgender people. If anything, representations outside of the United States are considerably worse. Even in Japan, anime and its portrayals of transgender people are often depicted in a way that is far worse than what is found even in the United States. Gender identity is often linked to sexuality in Japan, making matters more confusing.
Transgender people are often depicted in anime and manga as falling into a number of harmful stereotypes, including the Okama, an extremely feminine but often foppish masculine looking gay stereotype, a “Fuka” (TMI: most medically transitioning transwomen don’t have stallion sized dicks) or the deceptive “trap” character that is trying to “trick” viewers and/or “fools” them.
They portray transgender and gender nonconforming characters as jokes or superficial people to be criticized rather than filled out beings. I’d like to see these stereotypes burn to the ground!
Okama-Bentham is an example (Mr.2 Bonclay)
In no way am I implying that all anime and manga depictions of transgender people are horrible (if that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this post), but certain anime and manga series contain depictions of transgender people that are light years ahead of even the most common US portrayals. Inspired by a number of transgender/gender non-conforming characters in anime and manga that were portrayed as interesting and relatable without being fetishized
While Ranma Saotome, for example, was primarily a source of well-needed wish fulfillment, in this article I intend to focus on the characters that best represent the transgender experience. In order to avoid presenting cringeworthy characters that made me want to slam my book, tv, or computer against a wall in annoyance rather than diverse characters who have made a difference to me as a transgender person and as a transwoman, I will focus on the early characters.
1. Haruhi Fugiyoka
Haruhi is one of the few fully realized non-binary characters in anime. Hosts in a posh high school host club are forced to host after Haruhi is mistaken for a boy and accidentally knocks over an expensive vase (a club where wealthy men entertain women). It’s not long before Tamaki, the flamboyant leader of Haruhi’s host club, realizes that she’s been registered at the school as a girl all along, and he immediately falls head over heels in love with her (as Tamaki always does).
“Listen, Senpai, I don’t really care if you folks recognize me as a boy or a girl,” Haruhi tells Tamaki after putting him in his “special zone.” Rather than focusing on a person’s gender, I believe it is more vital that they be recognized for who they truly are. Next, Haruhi is irritated by the club member’s obsession with everyday “poor peoples” things like instant coffee.
Anyone can learn a lot from Haruhi. Just like you (unless you are affluent, you rich snob XD) and me, they despise the wealthy and refuse to be defined by anyone. To this day, even in the United States, many individuals attempt to categorize others based on their skin color, with pink being associated with “girls” and blue with “boys,” with nurturing and dolls being associated with “girls” and violence and machines being associated with “boys.”
Forget that, Haruhi exclaims, let boys play with dolls and be affectionate, and girls stage big robot battles (I love dolls and giant robots). To the extent that their actions don’t do harm to others, people should have the freedom to be whoever they want to be and do what makes them happy. The world is a better place when everyone is allowed to be themselves, including transgender people, whose identities frequently don’t fit neatly into a box.
2. Konatsu Kunoichi
Transgender folks will find a lot of characters in Ranma 12 appealing. When it comes to characters that transgender people may identify with, there is no better role model than Ranma the Robot. A lot of transgender women (like myself) and nonbinary persons can identify with Ranma’s experience of transitioning from a male body to a female one, and many transgender men may empathize with his predicament. It’s hard to see Ranma as a strong or detailed example of actual transgender character or role model. For me, Konatsu Kunoichi, a beautiful transgender lady and female ninja, is a far more significant figure in Ranma 12’s transgender representation.
As a transsexual woman, Konatsu was one of the first characters I could identify with. She was gorgeous, hilarious, and everyone around her appreciated her for who she was. Konatsu’s gender identification is the subject of occasional jokes, although her gender is primarily portrayed in a good light, with individuals showing respect for her. A lot of the humor surrounding Konatsu’s messed-up nature is based on her hyper femininity (she is one of the most ridiculously and traditionally feminine characters ever) as well as her steadfast loyalty, naivete and extreme poverty.
Even though she works for next to nothing, Konatsu thinks sleeping in a bed or eating a nice meal are huge pleasures, and she can be a major pain for her boss Ukyo because of it. She also has a hilarious loyalty to everyone, even those she dislikes and those she dislikes. After being discovered, Konatsu apologizes profusely and politely for trying to set fire to the charred remnants of her wicked step sister’s tea shop (it is never made clear what they are other than incredibly terrible and ugly). Konatsu’s eccentric demeanor makes her portrayal of Ranma 12 just as enjoyable as the rest of the characters.
Furthermore, Konatsu is a terrific character in that she is someone who understands herself better than anybody else does, and has no trouble being feminine and a lesbian. She is in a cultural context where being transgender or a lesbian is seen as a deviation from the norm, and where fitting in is viewed as crucial (not that anyone in Ranma really fits in though XD). Even when others try to define her and persuade her to appear more manly, she ends up finding a method to accidentally subvert and fuck up the request by dressing up like a glamorous male impersonator from an all-female Takarazuka Revue stage.
Despite being born a boy, she nonetheless manages to be one of the series’ most feminine characters, even when dressed as a man. Konatsu is an outstanding early example of a transgender character and often steals the attention in the stories where she appears, even though she only appears short, only in the manga series, and would be considered dated by contemporary standards of gender identity in the US. She was one of the first transgender characters I read about, and watching her be herself and happy while being a goofball made her a beautiful character that was both encouraging and entertaining.
3. The Entire Cast of Wandering Son
When it comes to transgender representation in anime and manga, Wandering Son is the gold standard. Japan’s strict gendered society is depicted via the eyes of two transgender youngsters (one a transboy, the other a transgirl). Transgender people in Japan are the focus of the documentary series Wandering Son.
You should watch or read this series if you’re curious about what it’s like to be a transgender person or a child in Japan. It is the best anime and manga depiction of a transgender person, free of the dumb trans tropes prevalent in other works, and it has a genuine, authentic feel to it. As far as transsexual persons in Japanese media go, this is the best one to choose from.
A series like this would have been ideal when I was a youngster. Despite the distance between us, I felt a strong connection to the transgender character Shuichi Nitori. As a trans person, I understand what it’s like to feel different but also to be unable to open up about it to anyone outside of a small circle of friends. It took me a long time to figure out how and what to inform my parents about my gender identification and transition when I was first starting out. When it comes to dealing with a changing body and being identified as a transmaculine like Yoshino Takatsuki the transboy, I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience but my own.
As well as a realistic depiction of transgender persons and their allies, Wandering Son also makes them likeable. There are many intriguing and important people in Shuichi’s and Yoshino’s social circle, including Saori Chiba, Nitori sister Maho, and Yuki and her husband Yuki’s transgender mentor Yuki. You owe it to yourself to watch Wandering Son on Crunchyroll and/or read the manga, which has stunning art and a heartbreaking plot.
4. Aoi Futaba
I can’t help but admire Aoi Futaba, one of the main characters in the manga. One of the first fully developed transgender characters in anime and manga, she is also gorgeous, intellectual, and caring. As part of a rapist sting operation, Aoi disguised herself as a guy and found she was in fact a woman. The fact that Aoi is a woman is not a major concern in her field, despite Japan’s intense focus on gender. There is no doubt that Aoi is a lady among her coworkers. Despite the fact that she’s transsexual, she’s generally regarded as more feminine than any of the other female employees.
An further noteworthy aspect of Aoi’s portrayal is her struggle to reconcile her new identity as a transgender woman with her old identity. The politeness of her coworkers and her transition haven’t helped Aoi with simple questions like where the bathroom is. Early on in transition, many transgender people have difficulty with this. Using gendered restrooms can be frightening and/or uncomfortable, and the only place to find non-gendered restrooms (if there are any) is in a secret bunker two countries away. It’s also difficult to know who to tell about your identity if you’re trans without having to deal with a shithead or someone with questions they shouldn’t ask or just google it (usually about your junk or if you really are the gender you are).
However, when it comes to dating, mentioning that you’re trans may either cause people to flee the room like you have the plague or make them want to fuck you like some blow-up sex doll they want to keep from their friends and family (especially if they are already married or in a relationship which has many times been the case when they were trying to solicit me XP). When a famous actor falls in love with her, Aoi is unsure about what to do and afraid of being rejected. It’s only because she doesn’t know what else to do that she eventually rejects him despite her feelings for him. For myself and many transgender women and femmes, Aoi is a wonderful character because she is both perfect and relatable at the same time.
5. Ruka Urushibara
Ruka, the protagonist of Steins;Gate, is a tragic figure in many respects. Ruka was born a man, despite her beauty and femininity. Rintaro, a self-described “crazy scientist,” falls in love with her and wants to find a way to communicate with the past and travel back in time. However, when Rintaro is able to alter her past in order to be born as a cisgender woman, things start looking up for Ruka. As a result, she is finally able to tell Rintaro how much she loves him. Change has a price. Rintaro’s modifications to the past have resulted to the death of their close friend Mayuri, and it is only through undoing Rintaro’s changes that Mayuri can be saved. Ruka is forced to choose between the life she wants and the life of her best friend, which is a difficult decision. To save her friend Mayuri’s life, she must ultimately make the most heartbreaking of sacrifices.
Despite the awkward transgender jokes (“the he’s truly a male har har har,” ((no SHE’S not)), Ruka obviously is portrayed as a beautiful lady because she is prepared to give up something that many people dream of having an expression of love and a feeling of comfort with your own body (even non-transgender people struggle with to an extent and something many people can relate to). To do the right thing, she must sacrifice her body, her memories, and her public declaration of love. A huge sacrifice and decision like Ruka’s is beyond my comprehension. Most people would find it difficult to give up their most cherished goals and aspirations (I know I would have a lot of trouble doing so). I respect the series’ serious treatment of Ruka and her problems, despite occasional poor representation and unpleasant transgender jokes.
6. Alluka Zoldyck
It’s amazing that Hunter X Hunter gets transgender identity so right in its popular shonen anime. Hunter X Hunter has a transgender character, albeit a small one, that is handled with sensitivity, unlike One Piece, which depicts transgender identity as accurately as the Rocky Horror Picture Show. What’s especially interesting about her portrayal is the fact that her gender is so rarely mentioned. However, it is hinted that the previous Alluka was born male, but Alluka has always been female.
The fact that Alluka has the ability to grant wishes has more of an impact on the plot than her gender. She’s been taken over by a spirit that makes enormous demands of others. To get their wish, they must follow her instructions, but if they do not, awful things will happen if they don’t (really bad things, the type involving violent death). Unlike most trans characters, Alluka places more emphasis on her abilities and bond with her big brother rather than focusing on her gender as a defining characteristic of her persona.
She is handled like any other non-transgender character would be, even if this may diminish some of the effect of her identity. Her gender isn’t the only defining component of who she is. While my gender identification is an important part of who I am, it isn’t everything. Using Alluka, we can see that transgender people are more than just their gender identity.
7. Seiko Kotobuki
Seiko is a great transgender character in Shojo manga. When it comes to portraying transwomen, Seiko stands out from the crowd. She is also available for her pals at all times, even if she views them as love competitors. In contrast to the traditional transgender persona, Seiko is a wonderful friend and a source of inspiration. However, Seiko is someone who does not let her body to get in the way of the things she enjoys most. When she does have an issue, it is a real one that many transsexual people have, and she is able to work through it.
A fighter like Seiko is something I can identify with. It’s common for non-transgender people to be unaware of the daily hardships and battles faced by transgender people, particularly transgender women. Transgender people are often accused of either trying too hard or not trying hard enough to represent their gender identity. Transgender persons are typically viewed as “ugly,” making it difficult for non-transgender people to find a partner or develop romantic ties with them.
Personally, I’ve had to deal with these inconsistencies, as well as filter out and not internalize these negative views. Despite these obstacles, Seiko’s desire to find love is truly inspiring. Despite the fact that she has a different body type than the rest of her peers, Seiko isn’t shown as someone who others should be ashamed of admiring. While Seiko has faith in the ability of others to look past what she perceives as a flawed physical appearance, she is equally fearful of being rejected because of her gender identity and viewed as disgusting by the boy she likes. This fear of harsh rejection is also all too real and has made it difficult for me to feel safe pursuing a non-transgender companion. For me, it’s difficult to believe that if I did, I wouldn’t be viewed unfavorably for being trans and/or rejected and/or treated unfairly.
Counting all the rejection and heartache I’ve already endured along life’s path, and all the doubts I’ve had about my own worthiness that I’ve worked so hard to dispel, seems impossible. When Seiko is shown to have the fortitude to seek her true self, even when it is difficult, I applaud her portrayal.
As far as transgender characters go, Hana from Tokyo Godfather has a powerful, realistic, and affirming approach. After Hana’s parents abandon her as a baby, a drag queen named Mother takes her in and supports and loves her. In the aftermath of a confrontation with a harsh client, she quits her job at Mother’s pub and joins the rest of the group in becoming homeless. Despite her comedic moments, Hana is shown to be a kind, thoughtful, and compassionate individual who genuinely cares about the well-being of those around her. Because of the attention to detail in her persona, she comes off as a real person with genuine emotions, motivations, and flaws.
Hana’s capacity to persevere in the face of adversity while still putting her heart and soul into helping others is what makes her a great role model. In Tokyo Godfathers, Hana goes into action when she discovers an abandoned child and names him Kiyoko, which translates to “pure child,” and declares that he is a gift from God. When it is brought up that the child’s mother may be looking for her, she agrees to assist in the search. As a homeless woman, Hana and her pals exhibit a strong desire to aid Kiyoko in any way they can. With the support of her two homeless companions, she starts on a wild trip to discover Kiyoko’s mother.
Real individuals, with real wants, goals, and desires, are depicted in Hana and her companions’ stories despite their homelessness. It’s hard for Hana to give up on the world even though she’s often overlooked and ostracized by the people around her. Even though her personal condition is bad, she continues to do all she can to help others. My favorite character in the book is Hana, who gives me hope by refusing to give in to despair despite her circumstances.
Many of the awful life tales that I’ve heard about and from transgender persons stem from their experiences being abused, abandoned or mistreated. That these folks don’t end up punching everyone in the face when they continue to work for a better life for everybody is often even more astonishing in these instances. Every effort is made to ensure that these people’s voices, life experiences, and stories are preserved and communicated to a wider audience. Hana is a more realistic representation of what it’s like to be a homeless transgender person; she’s not a glamorized villain or tasteless joke, but rather someone who seems real and relevant.
Instead of a sexy Yaoi romance and gay wedding story, this is one of the nicest transgender love stories you’ll ever read. Don’t be fooled by the title “The Bride Was a Boy.” The Bride was a Boy tells the story of how author Chii met and fell in love with her husband, and it’s both autobiographical and instructional. She tells us what it’s like to adapt to a new culture in Japan and how she interacts with her husband and family.
In her manga, Chii serves as a role model for how she delivers a lovely love story while simultaneously teaching the reader something new. Chii’s narrative is one of triumph over adversity, as she describes her encounter with love as well as her successful transition to womanhood in Japan (where transitioning is like jumping through flaming hoops backwards while blind folded)
10. Not that it is much easier in the US.
In contrast to the many accounts of transgender people’s heartache and hardship (FUCK these accounts with a silver spade), Chii’s story is one of joy and achievement. Transgender individuals, more than any other, need a happy story, and reading one in which a transgender person finds both happiness and accomplishment was an incredible experience for me.
However, even if Kino isn’t transgender, she is an excellent example of a gender non-conforming figure. The majority of anime and manga female characters have distinct personalities and characteristics. In most anime episodes, the gender of a character is usually indicated by their clothing, whether it be a skirt or dress, long eyelashes, wide eyes, or a prominent chest. In contrast, Kino, a transgender woman, follows in the footsteps of her transgender male namesake and travels the world as he did, despite being androgynous. Kino is a person who enjoys traveling, visiting new places, and experiencing the sense of freedom that comes with it. Traditionally feminine apparel, such as dresses, would just get in the way of her busy schedule.
For transgender persons, Kino is a role model because she dresses in a way that is comfortable for her and doesn’t care about how she is perceived by others based on her gender identity. Gender isn’t a big deal to Kino; in fact, it’s something she appears perfectly content to erase from her persona. Kino is Kino, and she doesn’t need or want anyone else to tell her how to live.
There’s something wonderful for everyone about being able to define who you are on your own terms. I’m a transgender person, and when someone tries to define me, I tell them to “Fuck Off” (unless it’s work). Everyone’s freedom of choice and self-determination is essential (unless they are a Nazi, in which case they should be shunned and punched in the face). Kino accomplishes this, despite the fact that it is difficult and dangerous to travel through a fictional world.
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