Location: Rochester, NY
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. This is a difficult question for me because I feel like there are 2 distinct points when I “discovered” anime. I watched Pokemon VHS tapes my Mom got from the library because we didn’t have cable, but I had no idea what “anime” was. I really learned about an anime when I discovered Naruto in junior high and was so enthralled with it that I binge watched it on YouTube (Yes, in 360p resolution and each episode split into 3 videos). I got far enough into the series that only subbed episodes existed and had the epiphany that this series about ninjas with Japanese names for everything was Japanese. I could be oblivious at times.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? That they were different from American cartoons in the right ways. American cartoons were/are pigeonholed into being either comedies for kids or comedies for adults. Even the most generic shonen anime shows had more thematic and emotional variety. Plus, I’m a sucker for long narratives.
Also, perhaps just as important, anime was a space for people who are different. I was a “weird kid” even before I discovered that I was transgender and anime has helped me through my life journey the whole way.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I don’t think I really joined the “anime community” until late high school/early college years. Attack on Titan soon became the new hotness, but I recall Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Monogatari, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Sword Art Online, and K-ON being also popular.
I tend to seek out shows based on topic and recommendations more than popularity, so I rarely watch things when they come out and do really keep track of trends.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I don’t know if I would call myself obsessed, but I basically only read/watch Naruto for the entirety of junior high/ high school. I realized pretty early on in my life that my hobbies were niche and no one wanted to listen to me talk about them, so I mostly just read a lot of fanfiction at the time but expressed no outward interest in it. It wasn’t until college that I actually met other people who were interested.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was great at the time, at least as a consumer. I started buying anime DVDs in the early 2010s and the access and pricing were so much better than in the ’00s or ’90s. If there was something I wanted to watch, it was only a few clicks away either via an online retailer. It’s even better now with all of the legal streaming sites, but it was still very convenient.
Reddit wasn’t the world encompassing behemoth that it is now, so anime focused forum boards and fansites still had some life in them. I still fondly remember some of the WordPress anime reviewer sites I’d frequent and wish that they hadn’t moved on.
Can you tell me more about the WordPress blogs you used to read? Do you remember any of their names? Some of my readers might, too! Mainichi Anime Yume was one that I read for a while, although she started slowing down output when I started really reading. I forget its name, but there was a blog that “Arkada” from Glass Reflection and Jacob Chapman from ANN used to write on (I think). It’s been many years since they were associated with it, but I recall reading a little on it. I don’t know if it was WordPress or not, but I barely remember the exact format. [Editor note: I think this is That Guy With The Glasses, now known as Channel Awesome. This is the DesuDes Brigade, thanks to Brainchild for figuring it out! ] Oh yeah, and Anime Maru. I was writing for our college’s satire magazine regularly at the time, so I appreciated an anime version of the Onion.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet was a massive source of information about anime, but I’m generally shy online, so my fandom experience was deeply tied to my college’s small anime club. The club itself usually only had 15-20 people show up on a good night, so it was small enough to be its own social circle. More specifically, it was functionally another LGBT club, except half the people there didn’t know it (myself included).
The LGBT-friendly themes and tropes drew us all together, and lacking another space to be ourselves, we turned it into our own socializing space, where Friday night anime viewings led to late night partying. It was pretty clear, especially in my later college years, that this was a massive turn-off to a large number of potential recruits who wanted a more traditional viewing experience. I recall that another anime watching group popped up at the time and we joked about it being the “straight-people anime club”.
My experience with a post-college local anime club has turned out much the same way, so if anything I owe anime a debt for like 90% of social life.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
The first convention I ever went to was GeneriCon at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. It’s a tiny convention mostly focused on anime and our anime club organized a day trip there. I was only a college freshman and didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed shopping at the artists’ alley and seeing the cosplay.
My second convention, the following year’s trip to GeneriCon, overshadowed the first year’s. I was anime club treasurer and, for some reason, in charge of both funding and chaperoning the whole thing. The club mitigated to cost of hiring a bus by splitting the cost with the Japanese culture club, but despite being only a sophomore, I was put in charge of keeping track of a dozen other college students because the rest of the club’s leadership had no interest in going.
The cosplay I had chosen, Kyoko Sakura from Madoka Magica only added to the stress. It was only the second time in my life I had worn women’s clothes and I was still extremely nervous around strangers because of it.
Thankfully, anime conventions are generally tolerant and everything went smoothly otherwise. Most of my convention memories blend together but finding another Madoka Magica cosplayer there who took a picture with me and complimented my outfit still sticks out. It was a very validating moment.
I’m interested in hearing about your anime fan timeline as lined up against your transition timeline. How did anime fandom figure into your transition? Were there any shows in particular that helped you define your identity? I think videogames were more directly influential (Thanks, character creation screens!), but Madoka Magica was definitely something I was into very much in college. Like I watched it 10 times across 3 years. It’s not really trans but there are lesbian undertones and I identified with the characters. Like me and my (also trans) best friend got Kyouko/Sayaka cosplays with the intent of being a pair. If anything, I’d wanna go back and tell myself (and everyone) else to watch other magical girl shows because they’re also good in similar ways.
Wandering Son is the only LGBT specific one I watched before I came out and I definitely enjoyed it, even as someone who wasn’t aware of their own feelings. I still remember basically begging the anime club people when I presented it one night to not make crude jokes or riff on it like they did with other shows. Even then, I knew it was important to myself and knew that the LGBT community was valuable to me. LGBT anime is something I seek out much more now that I’m aware of my own gender, but I think just hanging out with a bunch of LGBT people all the time in the anime club was a strong push in the right direction.
Did you find support within the anime community during your transition, and if so, could you tell me how? I’d like to know how your anime club reacted. I was one of the last people in our group to figure out I was LGBT in our group (I was just an ally who cross-dressed for a while), so they were all super supportive of me. It was just sort of a natural shift and I don’t think anyone was that surprised.
In general, I find many parts of the anime community to be accepting and I don’t think I’ve faced too much transphobia at cons and the like. Cross-dressing cosplay makes my wearing women’s clothing perfectly acceptable, but I get misgendered more often because everyone thinks I’m a cross-dressing man. It’s a frustrating trade-off.
I’ve found that many trans women find solace in anime because of the differences in what is culturally acceptable in the medium. I used to and many other trans women still do think of some anime characters as “transitioning goals”, which can give us hope, but I also think instills some unrealistic and harmful ideas about what one’s body should look like.
Much worse are the negative portrays we get, especially in hentai. I still hear people at cons saying the word “trap” and “futa” to refer to trans women and it’s very hurtful and reveals that we’re simply a fetish for a lot of people.
I think that a lot of LGBT anime/manga suffers from being made primarily by cishet people and they bring a lot of (sometimes unintentional) shitty attitudes towards us that I find off-putting. Toxic relationship and “forbidden romance” elements stain many otherwise enjoyable works. There’s definitely good stuff out there, but it takes a lot of work to wade through the dreck.
Open transphobia exists, especially in the more unsavory parts of the community, but there are plenty of allies and comrades in the greater community who I’m thankful for. It’s definitely a safe place in my life.
I would love photos of your Kyoko cosplay (or any others) if you would like to share! I cosplayed as Kyouko from Madoka Magica, an alternate costume version of Hungary from Hetalia, and a DIY Shiny Mega Gardevoir [from Pokemon]. They’re… God I look so bad in those shots. Let the record show that I’m way hotter now.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? The switch from DVDs to Streaming as the primary way of legally watching anime. Like I think it brings in a much wider audience and keeps fans from leaving because of restrictive DVD costs. What I’m able to cue up on streaming sites strongly influences what I watch, fortunately and unfortunately.
The switch to Reddit for anime discussion, along with every other hobby and topic, is super noticeable and it displaced at least a couple forums. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not really in a place to challenge it, so I just have to come to terms with it.
Gwynevere is not on social media. You can leave a comment for her here.