There are, unfortunately, not very many trans, intersex, nonbinary, or otherwise non-cis characters in anime. However, this is not the same as there being none. In light of this, I’m announcing a new project: The Non-Cis Character Database, because “The Database of Non-Cis Characters Appearing in Japanese Pop Media — A Study in Representation” is too long and cumbersome.
The criteria for inclusion are as follows:
- The character must be transgender, nonbinary, intersex, or otherwise non-cisgender, as strongly supported by the text
Originally, the database excluded characters from media with a specific LGBTQ+ focus, mostly because I usually don’t find them very interesting to discuss — however, I realized it was kind of ridiculous not to at least include them on the list. Whether or not I actually wind up discussing series like Wandering Son and Our Dreams at Dusk remains to be seen, but they’re on there.
The goals of this project are:
- To create a reference for anyone looking for characters that fall under the above criteria, whether it be for personal, professional, or academic reasons
- To dissect the ways in which genderqueer characters appear in Japanese pop media through a series of case studies, and try to pick apart what exactly makes for “good” representation
So. How to define “genderqueer” in the context of Japanese pop media.
The thing that makes this thorny is that there are a lot of characters who could be described as gender non-conforming — girls who dress as boys, like Tsugumi from Nisekoi; boys who dress as girls, like Bridget from Guilty Gear; characters whose genders are ambiguous, like Haku from Naruto or Ed from Cowboy Bebop. This is not necessarily the same as being genderqueer. In real life, yes, someone assigned male at birth who consistently presented female (or vice-versa) would most likely not be cisgender; however, this is often depicted primarily as fetish material, or as a plot necessity. Sometimes a character’s androgyny is just a quirk of the art style.
I’m going to be taking creator intent into account here as well — while there are examples of fairly tasteful genderqueer characters who I don’t believe were written that way intentionally (I’ve talked extensively about Satan from Devilman on this blog), for the most part, if the creator was thinking “boy in skirt hot” when they made a character, they’re probably not the most sensitive depiction. I’m going to try avoiding the term “tr*p” in these posts, as it is a slur, but it’s relevant to the discussion here.
For the sake of discussion, a line has to be drawn somewhere between characters that are gender non-conforming, and those that are genderqueer. Part of the purpose of this project is to figure out where and how that line is drawn, and to catalogue characters on both sides of it. However, the focus will primarily be on characters who are textually non-cis, as well as hard-to-define border cases, as they make for the most interesting discussion into what “textually” actually means in this context.
To be clear: there is nothing wrong with reading gender non-conforming characters as trans or genderqueer, even ones that are poorly written and/or intended as fetish material. Especially those, in fact. They’re ours now and we love them. But they’re not the focus of this project. Likewise, a character being “bad representation” isn’t the same as them being a bad character, let alone unlikeable — there are characters who are fairly terrible and offensive portrayals of genderqueerness who I personally adore. (Orochimaru, I’m looking at you.)
I’m going to do my best to stick to the same general criteria when ruling whether or not a character qualifies as genderqueer within the context of this project. This is for the sake of maintaining something resembling objectivity — if I allow too much weight to my own personal readings, it risks the line blurring between my headcanons and the media as it actually exists. The points I look at are as follows, in order of most to least significant.
- What the character says about their own gender. If they explicitly state “I’m a _______,” I will take it at face value unless there’s some overwhelming evidence against that being true. Anything short of this — for instance, referring to themself with gendered terms — is right behind it.
- What other characters say about their gender. This one is a bit tricky because it’s so conditional — there is a lot of misgendering, especially in media that handles trans characters poorly, and it will always be secondary to what characters say about themselves. However, in cases where the character in question doesn’t say anything about themself, and it’s clear the person speaking is doing so in good faith, it’s worth taking into consideration.
- Circumstantial evidence. Sometimes a character is just extremely trans-coded, to the extent that it’s apparent even if it’s never explicitly discussed by anyone. This can get a bit subjective, since what one does or doesn’t consider evidence or coding can vary — there are characters in the database who I’m not entirely sure qualify for exactly this reason.
- What the creator says about the character’s gender. I think the fact that I have this below “circumstantial evidence” about says it all. It can be useful to determine the perspective a character is being written from, but otherwise, I believe very firmly in “death of the author” in the context of this database.
Personally, I hate attempting to quantify something as slippery and subjective as representation in any kind of concrete form. All things being equal I would much rather just give a detailed summary and analysis of the ways in which the character’s gender is depicted without trying to bring ratings into it. However, that would make for a less useful database, and that is at least partially the point of this project. So ratings it is. Please keep in mind that these are only my opinions, and this criteria itself is more a guideline than anything and subject to change at any time.
|Elements of Good Representation||Elements of Bad Representation|
|– The character’s gender is made clear to the viewer.|
– The character’s gender is respected by the narrative.
– Any biological aspects discussed are factually accurate.
– If the character is misgendered, it’s made clear that the person misgendering them is in the wrong.
– The character’s gender is an aspect of their personality, but doesn’t define them.
– The character’s gender is depicted in ways that are respectful and true to life.
|– The character’s gender is depicted in ways that are extremely ambiguous or contradictory.|
– The character’s gender is treated as a joke.
– The character is misgendered frequently and/or casually.
– Factually incorrect information about the nature of transness/genderqueerness/intersex/etc.
– The character is used as a stand-in for their entire demographic.
– The character is defined wholly or largely by their gender.
– The character is written with harmful stereotypes (i.e. predatory; fetish material).
The database as it currently exists — including characters I intend to write profiles of, but have not yet gotten around to — can be found here. Barring complications, I will be posting a new profile every Monday. Due to the limitations of my own knowledge, the list is incomplete, so if there are any characters you think should be included, please tell me!