The header image is by HKKosplayArt on DeviantArt.
Is this a stupid title? I have a feeling it’s a very stupid title but I’m too close to it. If you can come up with a better title, can you do me a favour and pretend that that’s what this post is actually called? Actually, you can do that with all my posts. I’m a genius!
I’m currently reading Boys Run the Riot. I really like it. I’m waiting for the last volume to come out and I’ll probably write a full series review. Oh, by the way, I’m writing this in November 2021. I have no clue when I will actually publish this post and some of the info in it may be outdated. However, this is how I’m seeing things right now.
Anyways, one of the central themes in Boys Run the Riot is that the main character is a young trans boy just coming to grips with his identity. I’m not going to give you the review here, suffice it to say that it got me thinking that I’ve been seeing a lot more positive representations of trans characters in manga and anime lately.
I’ve written before about Seiko in Lovely Complex. Kei has a similar arc in Moyashimon and I think is handled even better by the story. Of course, there’s Wandering Son which had both highs and lows but I personally really liked it. And I recently finished 20th Century Boys which has two Drag Queens which are presented more are transwomen and have heroic roles to play. 20th Centurt Boys was first published 23 years ago and I think the popular vocabulary may have not really included transwomen at the time. The impact of the characters is the same though.
But you know what, all of those are transwomen. Wandering Son does have Yoshino who seems to be a transboy but their storyline is much less developped than Shuuichi’s and the show leaves their gender ambiguous. And so for me, Boys Run the Riot was the first time I really saw an important transboy character. I looked up a bunch of lists and Yoshino was the only one to come up consistently.
I guess you could count Hotaru from, Aoharu x Machinegun but I wouldn’t. Hotaru regularly insists that she’s a girl and the fact that she’s mistaken for a boy causes a problem for her in the series. In fact, for the most part, when I have seen female characters illustrated with more Masculine traits, it’s lamost always for laughs and sometimes in a not very nice way. The story still makes it clear that they are girls and sometimes, that’s the joke. Like Haruhi from Ouran, she’s clearly a girl, but it’s funny that all those people can’t always tell at first.
Either that, or you have characters like Kino that are androgenous and ambiguous. But I rarely see a more overt character. Actually maybe Naoto from Persona 4 but that was a bit messy as far as representation goes.
I started wondering why the recent increase in transgender representation seems to be so much more focused on transgirls and women rather than transboys or even non-binary characters. I can only speculate as I am by no means an expert on the subject.
I do think that on a certain level, anime and manga audiences were just better primed for transgirls. Cross dressing male characetrs are actually a trope in aime that has existed for a very long time and is way more prevalent than the other way around. There have even been some classic crossdressing men that have been presented in a very good light. Kurako is my favourite character in Princess Jellyfish, and I may have some issues with how Ruka is presented in the original Steins;Gate game but I still fell in love with her.
Not to mention that Cross-dressing male characters have also been a convenient form of fanservice. You can draw a super cute-looking girl which will appeal to the boys but because the character is actually a boy, then the girls will like them as well. Best of both worlds! I can’t say this is completely wrong. There are a lot of feminine or cross-dressing characters in Otomes and shows aimed specifically at female audiences and those characters tend to be pretty popular. What can I say, absolutely everyone loves a cute girl.
When you take all those factors into consideration, it’s reasonable to think that audiences will react generally favourably to transgirls and women in anime. It’s not that big of a shock. Sure there are occasional problems with fetishization but at the end of the day, anime audiences aren’t likely to label a series particularly unwatchable just because of the inclusion of such characters. There’s already a proof of concept.
And it’s this history and familiarity that’s missing with transboys and men. There simply aren’t that many in anime. In fact, there aren’t all that many high-profile transmen in media in general, when compared to transwomen. I’m not sure why that is. I read through a few studies but they all referred to people who identify as transgender without any further specificity.
This might be another factor. It’s possible that the lower representation of transboys in anime is simply a reflection of society and will change if and when there starts to be a higher visible presence of transboys in the world. But that’s sort of a cycle. It’s very difficult to make claim your place in the world when you are not represented in any way. That’s part of why representation is so important for some people. Usually, people who aren’t represented.
I wonder if that’s all of it though. Are there any other factors at play? Maybe something specific to anime?
Traditionally, anime and manga were considered to be for an overwhelmingly male demographic. The accepted theory was that girls didn’t read manga or watch anime and weren’t interested in that sort of thing. That’s clearly not true. I think that like 70% of anime bloggers I know are women but it is also true that when I go out into the wild and meet a new Otaku, they are much more likely to be boys. Going by anecdotal evidence, I’m not really sure what the split is anymore.
However, I did read a post once that mentioned that anime were still largely made for male audiences and so it’s absolutely normal that they would reflect the interests and preferences of those audiences. It was one of those posts that sort of devolved, you can probably imagine. But it did touch on the concept of “traps”. I don’t like using the expression trap for either transgender or cross-dressing characters. I feel it has a lot of negative connotations. After all, transwomen get murdered more than any other subgroup in society and very often because someone feels they are trying to trick or trap them. Also, I have been told by actual transwomen that they don’t like the term so I figure why go out of my way to be a jerk. It’s not like I can’t use, trans, crossdresser, otokonoko or a bunch of other expression instead depending on the character.
But that post used “trap” and expressed that although it was very frustrating when a cute character turned out to be male, there was some dudes that were into that and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because they are anime characters. There is a lot to unpack in that sentiment and I’m sure it doesn’t really represent the general anime viewer. But I also think it represents a fraction of the audience. One that is often vocal. And that fraction would rather see a transwoman onscreen than a transman. The idea didn’t even come up in the post but based on everything else, I’m pretty confident that they would not like it.
So that may be yet another factor. Past representation, real-world presence and vocal fan preferences may all play a role in the uneven representation we are getting. I hope that changes. ‘Cause I’m really digging Boys Run the Riot and I would like to get more stories like it.
Have you noticed this as well? Do you think there’s something I missed? Are you interested in more transboys in anime?