By Princess Harmony Rodriguez
“If you decide to live, anywhere can be heaven, because you’re alive. There will be chances to be happy everywhere. As long as the Sun, Moon and Earth exist…it will be alright.” – Yui Ikari
Self-esteem, self-worth, and healthy body images are built through being able to see images of someone who is like you. In other words, how you view yourself and people like you depends on the images you’re given access to. Society does not allow people who are not the racial majority or are gender/sexual minorities to have control of their images, it’s always the oppressor who has the control over which images of who get displayed. There were very few images of trans women in the media when I was a child. The few that did exist were in the back pages of newspapers like the Village Voice or on public access channels. I was lucky to get access to those images, I learned the words that described who I was and who I would grow up to be. But that didn’t last; those images disappeared for me as quickly and unexpectedly as they appeared.
There are people like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox who have been allowed to present themselves as trans women of color in the media, but positive representations of TWOC are still few and far between today and were non-existent when I grew up. Despite not having an understanding of the issues surrounding this erasure, even as a kid I knew I wouldn’t ever get to see anyone openly talking about what I felt. So I reveled in escapism and it became the method through which I was able to express myself as a trans child. While my parents were vehemently anti-trans and anti-queer, I could still run around playing as Sailor Moon or have pictures of characters taped to my room walls. Freedom came from anime, my reason to live came from the escape. This was how I preserved myself and how I continue to do so.
I grew up isolated and in a constant state of depression because of how much I hated my body. I never knew why I had the feelings I did. Even at 7 years old, I could see a body in the mirror that did not feel mine. I saw body parts attached to me which should not have been there, like wild skin decided to form organs between my legs which brought me nothing but misery. Even so, I did my best to imitate what I saw in others, the cheerful carelessness of childhood. But I couldn’t. The body I hated with everything in me became even more depression-inducing after I had been subjected to corrective rape.
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Without being able to perform my femininity without being abused or even being able to keep friends for longer than a few months (we never stayed in the same place), I yearned for death. I remember sitting in the bathtub attempting to hold myself under the water in the hopes that I’d finally die. While I would continue to live with severe depression – and comparatively momentary bursts of seemingly infinite energy – for years until I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 and Borderline Personality Disorders, I found an escape which would keep me from seeking death for as long as I would remain enthralled with it. Anime, Japanese animated shows, provided me the lushest of worlds where anything and everything was possible. I quickly became what is called an otaku, a nerd who watches, enjoys, and knows all there is to know about anime. Whether I simply say I’m a “nerd” or I’m an “otaku” doesn’t really matter. This part of my identity gave me the means to survive in a world entirely hostile to an afrolatin trans girl.
Anime was, and still is, my self-care. It’s my hobby and my safe-space. Even when I no longer had 3D images of trans women to look to for inspiration, I had gender non-conforming characters in anime that I could imitate. One of the most famous anime that became an instant hit in America was Sailor Moon, it’s still beloved today by 90s babies as one of the defining pieces of media of our generation. It was also well known for the American distributors erasing its queer characters: the gay couple Zoisite and Malachite and for the lesbian couple Michiru and Haruka. Whether it was done through gender-swapping (to make Zoisite a woman) or role-swapping (to make Michiru and Haruka “cousins”), it was still obvious that they were queer. But, my parents never noticed. I could revel in my own queerness by proxy. I finally had images that were sorta like me!
Gender non-conforming characters are present in most anime. The best example is Hideyoshi Kinoshita from the show Baka and Test: Summon The Beasts, whose gender performance resulted in a gender identity all their own: the eponymous “Hideyoshi”. Other characters known for their gender non-conformity are Haku from Naruto, Haruhi Fujioka and her father Ranka Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club, and Izana Shinatose from Knights of Sidonia.
In the 1995 OVA (original video animation) Armitage III, Naomi Armitage is one of a handful of third-type androids hunted down for destruction. Naomi Armitage has been read as transgender based on the premise of the series: a United Earth government orders the total destruction of third-types. They declared that third-types were mechanical Frankensteins, antithetical to what it means to be human despite that they’re no different from them.
The anime I tend to like almost always has the snarky transfeminine or feminist rebel characters (or characters with that undertone). It was a lifesaver to have those characters in my life because even though they aren’t real, watching them was sufficient enough to give me the hope that I could survive even the darkest depths of my despair and suicidality.
Within the trans community, the discussion of suicidal ideation among our youth and the lack of proper representation has been going on longer than I’ve been alive and we are still nowhere near the conclusion of those discussions. Leelah Alcorn’s death, as she requested, opened up those discussions around the world among people who normally would never think about it. Trans people are coming forward to talk about their own attempts to end their lives and with it, their suffering. I attempted suicide multiple times, the end result of the violence every trans woman experiences in her life. Through fictional worlds with their fantastical plots and bright colors, I maintained the stubbornness to continue living – if only to see more of these worlds. Of course, ending or maintaining one’s life isn’t a choice that’s easy, it was never done on a whim. But it was made easier through anime.
I know that I’m not alone, that there are others who share my pain and my love of anime. In fact, I know a lot of trans women who escape into animated worlds to heal from trauma and engage in self-care. I write this for them so that they know, whatever their age, that they are not alone. Their pain and their hobby is shared by people just like them, no matter the distance.
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Princess is an afro-latin trans woman, survivor of childhood and adult sexual violence, creator, otaku, and anti-violence activist. Her writing has been published on The Feminist Wire, Feministing, Black Girl Dangerous, Know Your IX, and FeministaJones.com.