I attended my first anime convention as a teen; unbeknownst to myself and my parents that it would not be “just a phase.” If you weren’t just like me, you probably knew someone who was. If anything, this interest was the beginning of my identity as a working artist and a sexually confident adult. As a queer person who is also a fan of anime, I’d like to share some thoughts about how this genre empowers the LGBTQ+ community and why we should all be watching more “gay anime.”
Of course, including queer anime characters or couples doesn’t serve the same purpose in every show and we’ve come a long way in terms of the quality and effectiveness of that representation. At its best, gay anime is allegorical for our own lives and serves to model positive behavior around queerness. At its worst, it showcases one-dimensional stereotypes, fetishization and just flat-out scientific inaccuracies (yes, we will talk about hentai). As LGBTQ representation in all media becomes more common, we gain new tools and vocabulary in which to think critically.
I was able to explore my own gender identity long before words like “trans” and “non-binary” were part of my vocabulary. I drew fanart, cosplayed androgynous characters, and made queer friends at conventions in a time where most 8th graders were still using “gay” as a derrogitorry term. Ironically, they weren’t wrong. A generation of queer kids grew up weilding a new power: anime was breaking into mainstream culture and yes, it was “gaaaaaaaay.”
At its origins, anime freely questions gender identity and heteronormative sexuality.
Without jumping into a full lesson on art history and Japanese censorship, let me give you some background: At its origins, anime freely questions gender identity and heteronormative sexuality. “Father of Manga” Osamu Tezuka created Princess Knight in 1953, decades before Disney’s Mulan was breaking gender-roles. Unknowingly, Princess Knight had tapped into an audience across the full gender spectrum by including a protagonist “born with both the blue heart of a boy and a pink heart of a girl.” Admittedly, taking a stance on gender politics was probably not the intention here; creators of the 90’s anime Ranma ½, which features another gender-swapping hero/heroine, confirmed that they simply wanted to appeal to a wider audience by including a protagonist that is simultaneously male and female. Even so, the wide acceptance of queer-coded anime characters helped carve out a niche for more overt representation in shows like Revolutionaty Girl Utena, Sailor Moon, Devilman Crybaby, Yuri on Ice and a surprisingly long list of other titles.
For those of you who might be asking, “What about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? Or that one scene from Naruto?” We could write a dissertation on queerbaiting and the full array of anime with a “gay aesthetic,” for lack of a better term. When referring to “gay anime,” I am limiting the highlights to shows that feature actually gay and gender nonconforming characters with on-screen confirmation of a queer identity without perpetuating negative stereotypes. As much as I would love to deep dive into gay DragonBall fan theories, it will have to wait.
Media that features characters with LGBTQ+ identities allows us to celebrate those characters within a larger fandom, without having to put a label front and center. This provides an access point to those who may be looking to start a conversation but aren’t ready to put themselves in the middle of it. For those who are looking to go beyond that, there are plenty more examples of anime and manga that truly acknowledge and address the queer experience. Claudine and Wondering Son broke ground by not only featuring transgender protagonists but showcasing the challenges those characters faced as a direct result of their gender identity. Sweet Blue Flowers, No. 6, BananaFish, That Blue Sky Feeling, My Lesbian Experience with Lonliness are a few others commonly recommended for their LGBTQ+ centric plot and characters.
For your reference, the New York Public Library has a beginner’s guide to LGBTQ+ manga.
Are we only talking about manga/anime here?
Even American adaptations of anime like Sailor Moon was victim to censorship of it’s queer content
This history of LGBTQ representation in American comics and television is a much different story. “The establishment of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 forced creators and publishers to adhere to a strict set of rules and guidelines that promoted a heteronormative agenda and forbade anything that would challenge that.” Sure there are examples of queer visibility that meet their minimum requirement for diversity but these characters are often not significant past that role or are not accessible to younger viewers. Even American adaptations of anime like Sailor Moon was victim to censorship of it’s queer content. Examples of western cartoons that get a positive review on representation do exist, but the list is short. After a few decades of anime existing within American culture we’ve finally gained some widely accessible content with integrally queer themes—not just characters who are retroactively inserted into a queer identity to appease a changing political climate. Again, there are plenty of other resources for in-depth reviews and analysis on each of the above mentioned shows but this is a sex blog, after all.
LET’S TALK ABOUT HENTAI.
Tentacles, great! Misogyny and unrealistic depictions of all gender expressions, not so much.
Like porn of any genre, proceed with caution before using it as a guide for your own practices. My thoughts here are not exclusive to the anime category but we can take a look at what sets it apart from typical, live-action porn. Animation allows the imagination to run wild; by nature it removes actors from public view while spanning a wider range of kinks and sexual preferences. We get x-ray vision, interdimensional orgasms, sexy super powers; the list goes on. When we embrace the idea of fantasy, it leaves room for exploration and play.
As we strive for a society that is more comfortable addressing sexuality, we must also address taboos. Similarly to youth who are questioning identity on a fundamental level, adults are no less in need of role models. To reference some core philosophies of BDSM, communication is key and be familiar with your limits. Understand your preferences and respect that every person has their own boundaries in terms of what they are comfortable with. Futanari might not reflect my personal experience with gender nonconformity but to those who feel empowered, validated or aroused by anime babes with (sometimes literal) monster cock, I support you. If it opens the conversation at all I see it as a net positive. In fact, I have found hentai to be a useful entry point in talking about gender expression with cisgendered people on more than one occasion, even if it is critical of the genre. The same goes for Yaoi (Gay) and Yuri (Lesbian) anime; there is a lot (a LOT) of content to sift through, and not all of it is helpful to the discussion of queer visibility. Intersectionality also leaves a lot to be desired. There are ways to improve this.
To be clear, I am not asking you to stop and analyse social nuances in the middle of watching hentai. Enjoy your porn but consider how it fits into the bigger picture. Look for content created by LGBTQ+ and BIPOC artists. Fight censorship on social media. Make room for marginalized voices and elevate the conversations around the content we consume so bigger studios know what their audience wants to see. Supporting intersectional content creates a positive feedback loop.
So to anyone who still has a brain cell to spare, I am here to represent a generation of queer anime fans that want a better future for all. We are a group that is intimately familiar with fringe culture, alternative lifestyles and public criticism. We are working to serve as positive role models and to establish a safe environment for people looking to explore new identities. Watching gay anime is a good place to start or extend your allyship to the LGBTQ community. Of course there are outliers, and we must acknowledge both the good and bad experiences as we figure this sh*t out. The takeaway here is understanding how to approach both for the benefit of a more inclusive world.