Content Warning: Self-harm, description of attempted suicide
The past month has been one of intense stress and fear for America’s transgender community. Like an inverse of Ebenezer Scrooge’s fateful evening in A Christmas Carol, we’ve been visited by spectres and horrors of a very real sort with each passing night.
- On October 21, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services was attempting to define “transgender” out of legal existence by establishing a legal definition of “sex” under Title IX that corresponds to birth assignment.
- On October 24, Bloomberg reported the Department of Justice told the Supreme Court that businesses can legally discriminate against workers and customers based on gender identity.
- On October 25, we received word from The Guardian that Mr. Trump’s delegation to the United Nations was making attempts to remove the term “gender” from UN human rights documents.
And, so on.
Though the news media’s shifted to the elections, as well as the scandals du jour to rock the White House, many of us in the transgender community have continued to endure assaults on our rights, and very real attempts to remove the civil protections we’ve fought heard to obtain.
That said, I don’t think there was anything that could have prepared me for what would happen this week.
For many years, the transgender community has had to defend itself against a powerful foe in Dr. Ray Blanchard: an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto. During his career, Blanchard has caused immense harm to the transgender community, with his most damning being the coining of the terms “autogynephilia” and “homosexual transsexuality,” and their subsequent introduction into the DSM-IV (The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a classification document used by medical professionals to classify mental illnesses).
Blanchard’s taxonomy tied a stigma of fetishism to trans women, specifically, which states that we all fit into a binary of being predominantly attracted to men, or predominantly sexually aroused by transitioning.
By pairing gender identity and sexual desire, he helped to create a stereotype that still endures, and is still used as a barrier to entry for many transgender individuals from receiving help that they desperately need.
I’m not even going to begin talking about how his tenure as the head of Toronto’s Clinical Sexology Services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which lasted from 1995 through 2010.
The department came under heavy fire for practicing conversion therapy on transgender youths in 2015, ultimately causing the facility’s gender identity services for youth and children to be shut down by the end of the year.
Dr. Blanchard has continued to push these harmful ideas. This took a turn toward the absurd last week.
On November 9, he tweeted an endorsement for a 2017 Medium article by a user who goes by “SocialJusticeWizard”.
If the name wasn’t enough of a tip-off, the author opens with “We don’t have statistic or anything to confirm it (would be a strange thing to research),” and cites 4chan as their reference.
So, yeah. straight-up bunk, written to provide fire for people peddling harmful and outdated ideas.
But anyway, In the piece, the author argues that transwomen are actually “repressed” cisgender men who, after watching anime, feel that they “always wanted to be soft and gentle like [an anime girl], carefree and cheerful like her, enjoy life in its fullest without the heavy chains of masculinity, like her.”
Enter Dr. Blanchard, who tweeted an approving link to the piece, along with the statement “Essay on the possible relations among anime, gender dysphoria, and autogynephilia.”
And, well, as The Daily Dot reports, many have taken to treating this tweet like the joke that it is, rather than the intended eye-opener that the doctor may have hoped.
“Plaintiff was discriminated against because of her change from her birth-assigned sex, but it was not discrimination on the basis of sex but rather an emphasis on Western roleplaying games over so-called ‘Final Fantasy.’”¹
¹ The Court observes more than 20 “Final” Fantasy games
— Emily Prince (@emily_esque) November 12, 2018
On the one hand, I’m glad to see that this is being treated as a joke.
On the other, though, I got to thinking. There is no shortage of people who will see Dr. Blanchard’s tweet, and read that essay, and take it as gospel. And through those actions, the world will grow a little more dangerous for many of us in the community.
Over the past year, I’ve been slowly opening up about my identity as trans, as I’ve felt more comfortable in my own skin, and felt less awkward about talking about these things. So, I guess, well… now is the time to tell my own story, about how anime, the fandom, and this crazy, vibrant, totally queer community literally saved my life.
As many of you know, I came out publicly as transgender in March, via an editorial at Anime Feminist. At the time, things were vague, searching for a way to explain things, while keeping the tone somewhat light.
At that point, I had known that I was trans for many years. We’re talking at least two decades. And, to finally say it, to finally begin my transition was a true blessing.
Looking back, though, there was a very real possibility that this might not have happened. There’s a real possibility that, had I not found anime, I wouldn’t be here at all.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a workaholic. My average workdays run for at least 18 hours, and I tend to burn out in regular intervals. My best friends yell at me to take time off, and I’ve even turned it into somewhat of a self-deprecating gag, myself. I lean into it, and play up when I’ve hit hour-20. It’s part of the kayfabe nowadays, for better or worse.
OK… I am going to be super busy tonight. =-= I haven't exactly slept in the past 24 hours, so apologies in advance for typos.
— Samantha Ferreira (@sam_animeherald) July 19, 2018
Ten years ago, though, it was a coping mechanism. It was my way to run away from a lot of pain, and a lot of internal strife. So long as I manned the news desk, so long as I was watching the new shows, writing the new updates? I didn’t have time to think. I didn’t have the time to stop and really process the fact that I was screaming to be free, and just be myself.
For a while, it worked. My mind was always on work, I was immersed in fandom, writing until I dropped from exhaustion. When those mechanisms break down, though, when something finally snaps you out of that cycle of stress and feedback, things hit you in the face with the impact of an oncoming truck.
In the summer of 2013, that happened to me. At my current place of employment, I was undervalued, being paid barely enough to keep the lights on at home. And, while the pay wasn’t great, I really liked my coworkers, and I could keep working on Anime Herald in-between tasks (remember the KickColle boards? Those were done by hand every morning!).
That all changed in June. Our organization’s DBA, a man named Ernie, passed away. He was a close friend and mentor of mine, and I learned what I could from him. Because of that, though, the organization I worked for had decided to add his responsibilities on top of my current application development duties.
Suddenly, the days grew longer, and I found myself at the office from the moment the doors opened until well after sundown. The hours were mainly taken up by meetings and mundane DBA tasks and maintenance.
Anyone who’s waited for validation scripts to run, though, knows that it gives a person time to think… you can’t look away from it, lest something go awry, and execution times can take hours, in the very worst cases.
And just like that, my escape, my chance to sneak away and work in the anime sphere, was gone. The despair of my own conflicted gender identity began to grow and fester deep down inside.
By August, I couldn’t take it anymore. At about eleven in the morning, I texted my goodbye to my brother, and took a box cutter with me into the restroom and locked the door. Holding it to my wrist, I intended to end it all, to make the pain and sadness stop.
As I looked into that dimly lit mirror, though, I knew that I couldn’t do it. My mind raced to my friends and my family… then on to the countless people whom I had been touched by in the anime world. Through my career, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people in the community, who came from all walks of life.
Of them, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know people like Matt Brown, Lydia Rivers, L.B. Bryant, Seth Burn, and so many others. And I’ve come to love and appreciate them all as dear friends.
Thinking of everybody… I couldn’t bring myself to end my own existence. I went home early, saying nothing more, and I began looking for a new place to be. After that, I started to really unpack what was causing this bitter, painful pit of despair.
It took some time, but I began my transition in March, right after announcing on AniFem. And now, five years after that incident, I’m finally feeling genuine happiness and a sense that I actually belong in this ugly yet beautiful world.
I wouldn’t be here without the anime community, or anime in general… and for that, I’m thankful.
For me, anime has always been this magnificent, kinetic, sometimes super queer medium, where anything is possible. It’s a medium where lesbians sword fight for their right to love, and badass policewomen date their robot girl partners. Mechanically-powered scrappers trade blows in the boxing ring, while muscle-bound aliens settle the fate of the planet with blasts of pure fighting spirit. The sheer expanse of fate becomes a battlefield, just as easily as it does a set-piece for human drama.
And, on the same side of the coin, the community is one of countless minds and hearts, united in their love of anime. I knew from a young age that this community was something special… No matter your age, your orientation, the color of your skin, or the beliefs in your heart, there will always be somebody here to welcome you with open arms. No matter how massive we’ve gotten, how numerous our numbers have become, we’ve always been, deep down, a family of geeky folks who will always be there, when the going gets tough.
Anime didn’t make me, or anybody else transgender. We always were, or we always weren’t. However, anime saved my life, when I was at my lowest point. And for that, I will always be thankful.