I’m an introvert and dislike large social gatherings, but one exception is Pride. I’ve gone to my local LGBTQ+ Pride Parade every year since 2015, and I always have a blast seeing everyone in the community. But we won’t be getting any parades this year, for obvious reasons, so I guess I’ll have to celebrate Pride by doing the same thing I do all the time… staying inside, watching anime.
There are a ton of amazing anime with queer themes and characters, and many of them don’t get the credit they deserve. So this month, I’m going to write all about them! We’ll take a deep dive into all the gayness of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Madoka Magica, Given, and a certain show about existentialism and giant robots. Among others. (Probably.)
But okay, why? With all that’s been going on, why focus on LGBTQ+ identities in particular? Besides the fact that it’s relevant to me and all of these shows are really fucking amazing, I think that media representation matters for every community. Although anime isn’t perfect, it’s a great medium to express different identities, and help people come to terms with their own.
So I wanted to kick off this month with a weird and personal story about growing up queer in the 90’s and Sailor Moon.
I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts in the 90’s. There were no cell phones, cable TV was just becoming a thing, and even Internet access was prohibitively expensive. The only things I could do for fun were watch one of like 6 channels on TV, or go outside. (Remember that?)
People romanticize the 80’s and 90’s a lot today, but they sucked as a closeted trans girl. I didn’t know anybody like me. The only media representations of queer people were blatantly offensive caricatures or murder victims on Law & Order. Most of my family hated gay people. And I was bullied in school for my high pitched voice, effeminate hand gestures, and long hair – in other words, for being queer.
It made me feel broken. Invisible. Alone.
But despite all that, I was a happy kid. I had things that kept me going: my loving mom, the few friends I had who were misfits like me, my childhood dog Shadow, and, once we got cable, there was Sailor Moon at 5:00 on Toonami.
It’s hard to overstate how much of a big deal Sailor Moon was back then. Before this, the only anime on US TV was old stuff like Speed Racer or, if you were lucky, an actually good show would air at 5 AM on some seedy cable network. But Cartoon Network gave Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z a primetime slot, at 5 and 5:30 PM respectively. It helped make anime more mainstream, and gave us 90’s kids a chance to watch the best shows of the decade back to back.
I was a DBZ fanatic as a kid, but I didn’t talk about Sailor Moon as much. I didn’t want to be made fun of for watching such a girly show! (Considering how many straight guys love Sailor Moon today, I probably shouldn’t have worried.) But I secretly loved it. Everyone was so stylish and adorable! It was all about female friendship and empowerment at a time that action cartoons were almost exclusively for boys. And it was super duper gay.
Sailor Moon was my haven. It was a place where, for 23 minutes (plus commercial breaks) I could feel safe and comfortable with who I was. And this is remarkable, because the version we got in the 90’s censored most of its LGBTQ+ content. The original English dub changed the genders of various characters to make them “straight” and even went so far as to make Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune cousins to hide the fact that they were in love! (It didn’t work. Obviously.)
But even this censored, sanitized version couldn’t hide everything. I still identified with all the different Sailor Scouts, even though I didn’t even know what being gay or transgender was at the time. The show helped me understand myself a bit better and feel less alone in the universe. And it got me more into anime! If it weren’t for Toonami and Sailor Moon, I probably wouldn’t even be doing this blog, so that alone makes it special.
LGBTQ+ media representation matters, because the struggles we face today are just as real as they were when I was a kid. So many people around the world are harassed, discriminated against, or even killed, just because they are gay. It makes us more at risk for addiction, eating disorders, mental health problems, and suicide. Just the act of showing a queer person on screen – not as a stereotype, but as a fully formed human being with their own thoughts, desires, hopes and dreams – can make us feel more validated and accepted.
One of the best things about anime is that it’s cool with folks on the margins of society. All the freaks, geeks, and genderfluid cat people of the world can see themselves in the characters, when they might not anywhere else. So this month I want to support queer media, and show how the world of anime is a lot gayer than many people realize. Hope you enjoy the ride, and happy Pride Month everybody.