The rainbow flag represents diversity and pride for the LGBTQ+ community, which encompasses many identities, sexualities, and forms of expression. The community emphasizes love, acceptance of self and others, and self-expression. Many individuals finding home under this colorful flag celebrate this diversity every day of their lives. Others, however, are not as lucky, having to hide huge aspects of themselves in order to avoid rejection, violence, and discrimination. In June, our community celebrates and honors everyone under this broad rainbow-striped umbrella, and call for equality for all of its inhabitants.
In recognition of this colorful month, I’ve put together a miniseries recognizing different creative works helping to raise LGBTQ+ visibility. The more that mainstream media includes our voices, the stronger our voices grow. Visibility helps make our movement strong by normalizing what our culture often casts aside, allowing people to form more positive opinions for themselves rather than based on the negative opinions of others. It can also serve to reaffirm individuals identifying with any aspect of being LGBTQ+, especially for youth. Seeing one’s self positively represented in the media empowers and uplifts people. Please join me for part 3 of recognizing pop culture works that continue to inspire and support this incredible community.
Sekkai Ichi Hatsukoi
I read and watch so many series with gay main characters that choosing just one proved a little tricky. Ultimately, I decided to include one of my all-time favorites: Sekkai Ichi Hatsukoi (世界一初恋 The World’s Very Best First Love). As the title suggests, this beautifully illustrated anime is bursting with corny yet irresistibly adorable romance.
The main storyline follows Ritsu Onodera as he starts out at his new job as a manga editor. He’s not thrilled about the position, considering himself more a fan of literature than the frivolous world of graphic storytelling. His new position challenges him in unexpected ways, including throwing his very first love into the mixture. The narrative also features the love stories of Ritsu’s coworkers, a collection of men just trying to do the best they can to balance life and work in our fast-paced world.
Anime has several known examples of people in drag, but these examples most often emerge as gags, fetishized children, or otherwise negative portrayals. We don’t see many positive examples of men or women who go out in clothing more culturally appropriate to the opposite gender. Princess Jellyfish (海月姫 Kurage Himei) provides us just this in a young man named Kuranosuke Koibushi who enjoys dressing up as a cute fashionista and hitting the town.
When Kuranosuke first makes an appearance, he is beautifully decked out in dazzling wig, painstakingly crafted makeup, and lavishly adorable outfit complete with purple leggings and designer boots. His passion for fashion and makeup outshines any of the bookish women who live in the Amamizukan, completely flipping the most common gender roles. Fashion and makeup make Kuranosuke light up in ways that only the best-loved hobbies can. His family tries to blame his love of drag on his mother, believing that it is not a personal choice so much as a rebellion against family dynamics. They couldn’t be more mistaken.
Another thing that stands out about this character is that he isn’t portrayed as overly effeminate in his daily life, nor as homosexual. In fact, much to his dismay, he develops a huge crush on a certain cute jellyfish otaku living in the women-only Amamizukan boarding house. The crush probably wouldn’t ruffle his feathers so much if she understood even the smallest thing about beauty and fashion.
I struggle with highlighting Deadpool as the most visible example of pansexuality in pop culture. Deadpool more or less embodies chaos wrapped up in a red and black super suit. This antihero won’t hesitate to tell anybody that he isn’t a positive example of anything. Fans who have never heard of pansexuality prior to this character run the risk of believing that pansexual equates to experiencing sexual interest toward anybody a person runs across just like Deadpool.
His sexuality seems to jump around constantly. He’s the type of character who doesn’t care who he flirts with or takes to bed. Anybody is fair game. Deadpool’s pansexual identity doesn’t accurately represent the experience of what this sexuality really is. Pansexual individuals aren’t just attracted to everyone around them; gender, sex, sexuality, or gender identity simply do not serve as limits on who a pansexual person might feel attracted to. This differs from bisexuality in that it extends to attraction to androgynous people, as well as gender fluid, bi-gender, and transgender individuals. Although I do celebrate this famed chimichanga-loving antihero for introducing pansexuality to more people’s vocabulary, I just can’t in good conscience say that he shows a positive representation. He’s a mixed bag.
I like to think of Deadpool more along the same lines as any of the many heterosexual characters who shamelessly flirt with anybody they encounter of the opposite sex. Does this mean that all heterosexuals act this way? No. It’s just part of the character’s personality.
Others show feature more positive examples of pansexual characters, including Degrassi, Schitt Creek, and Scream Queens. With these, however, I will admit that I have not yet experienced them and thus don’t yet know the full extent of their portrayals.
Speaking of superheroes… The X-men universe thrives on diversity in the face of discrimination. The many iterations of this comic’s world contain a general clash between mutants and humans. Humans hate the mutants for being weird and different, and the mutants mostly just want to be left alone to live their lives (with the exception of those mutants who use the human’s hatred to fuel justification for hating humans right back). With this, comes as no surprise when the X-men story arks highlight diversity in many different ways.
The series receives praise for having multiple LGBTQ+ characters, including Karma, Anole, Northstar, Daken, Benjamin Deeds, Roxanne, Mystique (who’s history was added later in flashbacks, as the publisher did not permit its inclusion at the original time of publication), and Iceman (who has a rough time working through his new identities as both a mutant and a newly out gay man). X-men has many other LGBTQ+ characters, helping to raise visibility among comic fans.
Romance isn’t typically a part of shounen anime (produced with a young male audience in mind). Producers generally assume that boys aren’t interested in romance. Given this, the topic of a character’s sexuality doesn’t often come up in conversations. This genre does often feature scenes objectifying and sexualizing female characters, leaving many viewers with the implication of the characters’ heterosexuality. These scenes typically come in for comedic effect.
Eiichiro Oda’s pirate anime One Piece seems like no exception. The main protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy (Luffy for short), gets involved in similar gender-based humor. But there’s always more to this stretchy pirate than meets the eye. Oda has gone on record stating that Luffy only participates in these situations when egged on by his friend Usopp. Otherwise, Luffy experiences no sexual attraction to other characters. Given this information, it is not unreasonable to say that when not caught up in Usopp’s perverted influence, this big-hearted protagonist may very well be an asexual character.
Closing Out with Pride
I know that Pride Month is almost over. There is, however, one more post in this miniseries for you to look forward to! Think of it as a debt for me missing the first weekend of Pride.
Do you have a favorite game, show, comic, or movie with LGBTQ+ characters or themes that didn’t make the list? Please share them in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterature, or send a message on the “contact me” page. And remember to keep an eye out for the final post wrapping up this miniseries!
Photo credit for the flag image goes to http://www.clarku.edu/articles/psychology-professor-edits-award-winning-encyclopedia-lgbtq-studies, a great article detailing exciting progress in LGBTQ+ studies both in 2016 and going forward. Working always to increase LGBTQ+ equality, visibility, and presence in academic conversations.