Sailor Moon has gay villains and lesbian heroes, but what about trans characters?
There aren’t any truly trans characters in Sailor Moon. However, in the final season of the anime, we meet the Sailor Starlights who are female, but take on male bodies once they arrive on Earth. We even see their male bodies change to female when they transform into the Sailor Starlights. Again, the Sailor Starlights aren’t trans, but I think there are some interesting parallels to be drawn. For example, in episode 189 of the anime, the sailor guardians are shocked to learn that the members of their favorite boy band are the Sailor Starlights. This means that the cute boys they drool over are also women. This leads to fascinating scene where the sailor guardians have to confront their heterosexuality and what it means when a person’s body doesn’t meet your gender expectations. I think this scene does a somewhat decent job of showing that trans people should be treated with dignity.
Minako straight up declares that her love for the Three Lights has completely disappeared. (Although do we really believe this? HAHA. No!) And while Minako seems silly, it is definitely a better way to deal with this new information rather than, say, acting violent. In fact, some people murder trans people when they discover their past and try to excuse it because they “panicked.” (Well, that’s what they claim at least.) Known as the “trans panic defense” these defenses have actually been used during the murder trials of Gwen Araujo and Angie Zapatas. Recently, the American Bar Association has passed a resolution to urge national and local governments to enact laws prohibiting the use of this defense. Cuz, you know, as Minako demonstrates, there are far more reasonable ways of dealing with feelings that conflict with your heterosexuality.
Makoto chimes in that “Taiki is Taiki” and they should hang out with them like they did before. It’s interesting Makoto says this because she is probably the one who can most sympathize with the situation. People think because she’s strong and can kick serious butt that she’s not feminine—yet, she is. She can recognize that they are still the same people no matter what kind of genitals or hormones they have.
Luna mentions that the Starlights must have had a good reason to hide their identities. Although, “hide” isn’t the best way to describe the trans community’s needs, having control over their medical and personal information is incredibly important. As I described above, trans people can experience violence when another person becomes aware of their past. Because of that, being able to live their lives as their self-identified gender is a matter of life or death. For example, if the gender on your your passport doesn’t match your gender expression, you are vulnerable to transphobic violence at the hands of border police. Luckily, more and more countries like the United States, are allowing a trans person’s gender to match their passport even without surgery. (Some trans people are perfectly happy with receiving the appropriate hormones and would prefer to have surgery at a later date, if at all.) But back to Luna, I really like how she gives the Starlights the benefit of the doubt–there was a reason why Starlights didn’t reveal this information and it’s a good reason. Often, people who are transphobic feel that trans people are “deceiving” them by withholding this information. Quite frankly, trans people don’t owe anyone an explanation! And they have a perfectly good reason not to!
But even better yet, Ami helpfully adds that the sailor guardians didn’t tell the Starlights their identities either. This is a great point—even non trans or cisgendered people like the guardians don’t tell others everything either! In other words, this episode shows that trans people are like everyone else and should be treated with the same humanity and dignity. Trans people are not evil deceivers out to trick people.
Finally, we see Usagi’s reaction. (Sorry, I don’t have a fancy screen cap for her!) Usagi seems really upset and shocked by what has happened. It’s unclear whether she’s referring to the realization that the Three Lights are the Starlights or that they are both men and women. Either way, Usagi is considerably upset that Seiya did not inform her beforehand. She assumes that Seiya should have told her. This is ironic because Usagi obviously didn’t tell Seiya about being Sailor Moon, and heck, she was even forced to transform in front of Mamoru in season one! While Usagi has matured throughout the series, I think this scene shows that she still has some growing up to do.
Despite Usagi’s reaction in this scene, Ami, Minako, Luna and Makoto show how to give trans people the benefit of the doubt and deal with situations like this in a way that respects trans people.
It is nice that you are thinking about transgender issues, but, why did you say they weren’t really transgender? They were born physically female, but they do prefer to live their lives as men and be physically male. However they cannot access their powers that way, and must de-transition to access their powers, as per the series. It might seem odd why would all three want to be physically male, if you don’t know who they are, but, those three people are the Hindu Holy Trinity, who are the masculine aspect of God from religion of Hinduism, so…. yeah, it seems they really were indeed intended to be transgender (FTM). Sadly, the author of the seriess did not support them getting to transition, even though she had released notes in an art book agreeing that their personality was masculine. For the sake of context, she is a radical feminist who is quite sexist against male persons and has made a lot of comments in interviews about how boys are weak and should be dominated and things like that. So personally, I don’t think this was intended to be a particularly respectful portrayal of them, and I do think they are genuinely transgender and should be taken seriously when presenting as men.
Thank you for your input! I think that since they’re using the male bodies temporarily–just so that they can find their princess–is why I say they aren’t exactly transgender. Moreover, when they leave Earth, they leave in their female bodies. I can see why people might feel that they don’t represent trans people at all, so I wanted to be clear about that.
Yeah, Naoko has had some weird interviews, hasn’t she? ^_^;;
I’d have to disagree with you on Sailor Moon’s treatment of transgender people, and this is really one of the areas where I really feel that it stumbles.
Naoko’s notes on the amazon trio in the materials collection refer to them as “The Ok*ma Trio” which is actually a fairly offensive slur for gay men/crossdressing males/trans women. At one point in Sailor V, Minako uses this slur towards artemis, asking if he’s trans because he’s a boy cat named after a female deity.
But then there’s Fisheye. Fisheye in the anime is very much under the stereotype of the “predatory trans woman” trope a’la Ace Ventura: Pet Detective/The Crying Game. He dresses as a presumably cis woman in order to deceive men into sharing their dreams, as which point the disguise comes off and fisheye straps them to a table to look into their dreams without their consent.
Yeah that’s right up there in the classical “deceptive trans woman” trope and definitely why I can’t in all honestly say that Sailor Moon is a good series to recommend to a transgender person without caveats.
All I can say is that being aired in the 90’s it was very advanced for that time, even if it cannot be totally accurate or polliticaly correct. Thanks for the article. Neat memories, great analisys.