On queering and “straightening” in fandom, with a small slice of bisexuality and trans matters as the cherry on top.
For some reason, a little bit earlier Hyouka’s ending popped into my head. The fact is, while I really enjoyed the conclusion for Houtarou and Chitanda, as it was a culmination of the understated build-up of their awareness of and affection for each other, I was less than satisfied with what came of Mayaka and Satoshi. Quite simply, where the former relationship had a subtle deepening, there wasn’t much a case made for Mayaka and Satoshi having romantic involvement – we are told off the bat that Mayaka has a crush on Satoshi and has previously confessed her feelings for him to little avail, and Mayaka does display an interest in Satoshi across the show, but Satoshi’s sentiment for Mayaka does not ever in depiction go past that of platonic care. We are instead at the very end informed that Satoshi does like Mayaka back but has rejected her because he feels himself unworthy; I’ll agree that the feelings of unworthiness in a larger sense are made fairly clear by previous content, but, again, the whole matter of him feeling mutually about Mayaka simply isn’t built into the story.
I find the failure of the show to move organically toward such a truth (i.e. Satoshi likes Mayaka romantically) disappointing, but all the more so because it does such a good job handling Chitanda and Houtarou.
I bring this up to explain how I ended up getting to where I wanted to write this post, and also because it seems a good jumping-off point to a post addressing the labeling/identification of characters as being of a particular sexual orientation (or not), and fandom’s/other fans’ reaction to that process. Emily and myself each wrote a post that developed out of a conversation we had regarding the fact that we perceived of Satoshi as gay based on his depiction in the Hyouka anime. Unsurprisingly, I myself got some negative reaction, as some people failed to understand that pointing out that media often uses stereotyping to indicate that a character is gay isn’t the same as saying that in real life that all gay guys love fashion or all gay women love flannel shirts. On the other end came the more predictable response – how dare I say that a character was gay! That was really stupid and offensive, and, ugh, those homos want everyone to be gay!
What is interesting here is that the only way this works is if we operate under the presupposition that a character, or any person, really, is straight unless explicitly stated to not be. Even though Satoshi hadn’t given any indication to heterosexuality to that point in the show, he was presumed straight by these individuals simply because it hadn’t been explicitly shown that he wasn’t. Satoshi wasn’t making kissy faces at boys, therefore he likes girls, and only girls (of course, assuming here that the sorts of people who get het up about these things believe in a little thing called bisexuality).
Expanding out to fandom at large, this is hardly an uncommon reaction, whether it be to fanfiction, fanart, or posts like my own which argue in favor of a queer interpretation of a character. Some folks just get really angry when you render a character queer.
“But, wait!”, perhaps someone says, “What about when a character established as straight is rendered gay?”
I’ll be honest – I get irritated when a gay character is “straightened” out. I don’t tend to get bugged when a straight character is queered. Is this an inconsistent stance on my part? Maybe to a tiny extent, except that they really can’t be considered as being of the same weight, ultimately, because one group has fairly persistently throughout history been demonized, persecuted, and erased whereas the other hasn’t.
Of course, this is all complicated by the fact that characters tend to be presumed heterosexual unless otherwise stated whereas gay characters are the ones who get specifically labeled in some manner. Or, perhaps better put in the context of anime/manga – characters who behave in “homosexual ways”, if you will, get some sort of explicit identification, whether it be as homosexual, or, more commonly, as “I’m not gay, its just you.”sexual. (There are, of course, some exceptions to this – I don’t think Fire Emblem, for example, ever specifically says “I’m gay.” or has someone else say, “He’s gay.” in regards to him, but these are the exceptions to the madding crowd.)
(Perhaps worth mentioning – when characters do get defined as straight in fiction, it generally is done so in opposition to others questioning their sexuality – the BBC’s Sherlock miniseries stands out in my mind here given how frequently Watson protests that he isn’t gay in light of others either assuming he is or accusing him of being involved with Sherlock; Sherlock for his part doesn’t seem to really give a shit either way, but, hey, that’s fairly in keeping with his overall character, certainly. Going onto a tangent somewhat, I suppose what is intriguing with this show, though, is that we are given a female character who is identified as gay and a male character who is identified as straight and either straight out told or have implied that they’ve fallen for Sherlock in non-platonic fashion. Its a somewhat Kinseyan take on sexuality, certainly, and its probably the only time I haven’t been annoyed by a straight wrench chucked at a gay character.)
I haven’t really addressed bisexuality in media and fandom takes on media, even though its existence does provide potential cover for straightening or queering of characters. Bisexuality in media is a bit of a curious little beastie, as I would argue that in an overall sense it doesn’t quite exist; when it does appear, it often is trotted out as a means of titillation for a straight male audience, a female character engaging in a one-off relationship before reverting strictly to male love interests. Alternately, you have a character who has previously dated exclusively people not of their sex who takes up an interest in someone of their sex and BAM! they’re gay, gay, only gay. While these are both things that happen in real life, they are only a couple of scenarios amongst many, many others involving sexuality, so these being the most common scenarios distorts the picture a fair bit and is pretty limiting. They aren’t necessarily invalid depictions when taken individually, but when put together they paint a portrait that is misleading at best.
I also haven’t really addressed trans identification and depiction in fandom and media, as well as reactions to it, primarily because I don’t have a huge amount of experience with it, but also because the practice of “genderbending” characters doesn’t seem to invite as much ire in fanart and in fanfiction (of course, “genderbending” and transgenderism/transexualism aren’t quite the same thing, but not everyone makes that distinction, and we are discussing perception matters). I think, too, though, that the relative dearth of trans characters, particularly of female-to-male characters, in anime makes it difficult to be able to draw much in the way of larger conclusions. While we do have a decent amount of female characters who dress in male or male-type clothing, such as our somewhat holy trinity of Sapphire, Oscar, and Utena, a lot of these characters aren’t actually trans (although I do think there is legitimacy to the idea that Sapphire may’ve been trans had she been created about forty or fifty years later than she was; Utena for her part is only interested in being a prince insofar as it codes as being strong and noble to her, not because she identifies as a boy). Thinking on it a bit, the only time I’ve really seen much debate sprout up has been as concerns Hazumu from Kashimashi~Girl Meets Girl~, but this tends to be thoughtful debate and not the angry responses that occurred when I stated that I thought Satoshi gay, something which I think has been the case since it doesn’t seem to be something that gets any discussion outside of groups of people who are fairly thoughtful about gender and sexuality matters to begin with.
To go back somewhat, too – “genderbending” vs. trans. Genderbending a character isn’t at all uncommon in fanfiction, but it also very rarely involves actual trans identification or depiction. Characters either are magically sex-swapped through some mishap or media res is that they were never their original sex/gender to begin with. Sometimes the former provides a means for a character to realize they’re more comfortable as what they weren’t originally, but this isn’t often the case.
Anyway, I’ve more or less gotten through everything I currently have to say on these matters, so I’m going to wrap here. I’m stewing over a post related to anime and gender as regards performance of gender, too, so I might try to dig more into the fandom and trans characters angle in that one. I should probably branch out a bit more from Wandering Son, too, when it comes to anime/manga about trans characters, too, to get a better feel for the T portion of LGBT in this fandom and its media.
And, yeah, I kind of had to make some allusion to cherries even if it was just in the summary line.