12 Days of Anime: LGBTQ Anime Panels, Then and Now

12 Days of Anime: LGBTQ Anime Panels, Then and Now

2018 was my third year of holding lecture panels for anime conventions at Kumoricon in Portland, Oregon and Sakura-con in Seattle, Washington; and my eighth year attending conventions overall.

Kumoricon 2010 was not only my first Kumoricon, but my first time at any pop culture convention. The panel I enjoyed most was the LGBTQ Convention Meet-Up Panel the night of Day Two, where the host gave an overview of LGBTQ portrayal in anime and manga from the past year through a slideshow. I arrived late, but there were plenty of seats left with how few people were there. Despite its humble size and attendance, it left a huge impact on me. It was the first time I heard LGBTQ topics in media or in general discussed outside my friends or the Internet. For years panels like those disappeared in my local convention scene, but now they’re back and stronger than ever.

I still remember examples at the panel included the gender ambiguity of Hideyoshi played for laughs in Baka to Test, the arc about lesbian Kanbaru Suruga and her unrequited love in Bakemonogatari, and same-gender ship teasing between the personified countries in Axis Powers Hetalia. I may be forgetting some, but I wouldn’t say the examples have queerness as the focus or count as “positive representation.” At the time, it was all we had. That, or an untranslated manga about transgender youth before it was localized as Wandering Son by Fantagraphics or adapted into an anime. After the brief overview of releases, the panel turned to discussion. I was extremely nervous and didn’t know anyone there, so I simply listened to what the room shared about their favorite LGBTQ characters in anime.

The next year, I was looking forward to another LGBTQ Convention Meet-Up Panel, especially since I had entered a romantic relationship and was discovering new things about my own identity. I had assumed the panel was a staple of Kumoricon, since it covered the year and would surely look at the next. Unfortunately, when I opened the schedule for Kumoricon 2011 there were no panels with LGBT in the title to be found. Not having the same panel was one thing, but none at all surprised me since I had seen the convention’s LGBTQ presence for myself. I remained hopeful and thought they just took a hiatus for whatever reason and would return next time, but they never did. In fact, there were no panels with LGBT in their name between 2011 and 2014.

That said, there were the occasional yaoi and yuri-themed panels. Although LGBTQ folks create and enjoy yaoi and yuri, they’re not the same as panels centered on LGBTQ identity. They fulfill different needs and desires for LGBTQ con attendees. For example, the yaoi and yuri panels of Kumoricon are always restricted to attendees age 18 or older, and held late at night. There is a place for both mature and all-ages LGBTQ content, but the problem arises when only one is available. Before I turned 18, most LGBTQ-related panels were the sexually explicit ones not made with me in mind and I couldn’t attend even if I wanted to.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of Kumoricon, as panels are submission-based. Maybe no attendees were submitting LGBTQ-oriented and all-ages panels. For some reason I wasn’t, even though I wanted them and had an interest in running panels. LGBT panels returned in 2015 with an LGBT+ Meet Up and Navigating Media While LGBTQIAP+ panel. The timing makes sense considering the legalization of same-gender marriage in the US in July 2015 through Obergefell v. Hodges. I’m sorry to say I didn’t check them out, or LGBTQ+ Media and The Super-Duper LGBTQ+/Saga Panel the year after. I only have so much time and energy for panels at conventions, and when I look back on it I probably prioritized others since I had my group of LGBTQ friends and library of LGBTQ media already. That was naive of me, since there’s always more to learn.

2016 was the year I held my first panels, Intro to the Works of Yuhki Kamatani and Intro to Devilman, a Demonic Manga Masterwork. When I brainstormed anime and manga topics I could talk about for an hour and wanted more people to be aware of, Yuhki Kamatani and Devilman were at the top. Although LGBTQ is not in either of these names, the panels are related to LGBTQ issues. I put the words LGBT, nonbinary, and asexual in the booklet blurb for my Kamatani panel thinking that would be enough to generate interest from LGBT, nonbinary, and/or asexual attendees, but few people outside my friends came. I have still have room to grow with effective panel names.

I also started regularly attending Sakura-con in 2014, which didn’t have any panels with LGBT in the title from when I first attended until 2017. In 2017, one of those panels was my own: Beyond Yuri on Ice: LGBTQ Anime and Manga. The room was packed, but it probably owed more of its massive audience to Yuri on Ice in the name. Still, I’m glad I wrote LGBTQ this time to make my content and aims clear. I’ve since held Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2018 and Asexuality in Manga and More (blog version in the works), and people have been nothing but positive about my panels. They thank us for hosting and share their own experiences and thoughts. After seeing the online harassment against LGBTQ+ In Anime, Presented by Crunchyroll panel at Anime Expo, I appreciated the warm responses even more.

What’s more important than my own panels is the fact they’re not the only LGBTQ-themed panels. I don’t want to be the only one behind them, because my nerdy lectures shouldn’t have to be the only entertainment for LGBTQ folks and allies to choose from. That includes how I want to go to panels that aren’t my own. I’m glad for Lesbian Representation in Japanese Media, LGBTQ+ Games and Gaymers, Lesbian-Themed Anime and Manga, Devilman no Panel, Ciarán Strange’s programming, mature yaoi and yuri panels, and more providing a variety of panels and showing that we can’t be pigeonholed. Kumoricon 2018 even included LGBTQ panels hosted by openly gay voice actors: It Gets Better with J. Michael Tatum and LGBTQIA in Anime with HIDIVE and David Wald. LGBTQIA in Anime was so insightful to the industry side of representation.

If you’re out there, panelist of the LGBTQ Convention Meet-Up Panel, I hope you’re okay and I apologize for basically stealing your concept for my Rainbow Releases. I think enough time has passed and my co-panelists and I have done enough to make it our own, but I owe it to you for inspiring me. It was surreal to be at a similar panel eight years later on the other side of the microphone, with a much bigger attendance. I’ve seen the amount of pride merchandise, couples holding hands, etc. increase over time as I’ve attended anime cons. LGBTQ people have always been part of the anime and manga subculture in the United States, but the overlap has become more visible. I for one will continue applying LGBTQ-themed panels, attending LGBT panels by other people, cosplaying LGBTQ characters, and wearing pride merchandise; and I hope that will encourage other people to be comfortable doing so as well. Here’s to next year.

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