“We are officially the gayest people at this con.” Stated our panel host to the five of us gathered in the room. It was two minutes before ‘The Gayest Panel at the Convention’ was due to start. Yes, you heard me right. The title of the panel was ‘The Gayest Panel at the Convention’ which is its own kind of awesome. Our hosts “The Gay Machine” and “Moon Lesbian” looked almost as concerned as I felt. Now, to be fair, I have no issues being identified as one of the gayest people at the con. My worry was that this was due to be a discussion panel and we were looking at a huge room with only five people in it.
I had not taken external factors in to account. Have I mentioned that is was the first panel of the morning?… and that there was the MetroCon Massive Rave the night before? Yeah. I have to conclude that between the early hour and the rave getting moving was as hard for the attendees as it had been for me because by three minutes after the panel’s start time the room looked like this:
And five minutes later it looked like this:
By the time our hosts officially started the discussion, we had set up three new tables and fifteen new chairs. That’s right ‘The Gayest Panel’ was packed out at MetroCon. There were people standing in the doorway at several points and more wandered throughout the panel.
Light-Hearted Fan Chat:
As MetroCon is an anime convention, our hosts started the discussion by framing it around anime and anime couples. If you aren’t and anime fan then terms like yuri, yaoi, bishōjo, bishōnen, and the like will mean very little to you. I’ll skip most of those types of terms but I will give you a heads up though when we discuss ‘shipping’ in this article we are referring to the desire to see two people to enter a relationship, usually a romantic one. If you are an anime fan, then you know the question “Who are your favorite anime pairings and why” is the fastest way to start an active discussion in an anime crowd.
While the conversation involved a diverse range of pairings both same-sex and mixed gender there was a notable theme of people discussing relationships that had impacted them personally. We spent a lot of time discussing what our host referred to as “Resonating Couples”. Some notable favorites included:
Korra / Asami (The Legend Of Korra) – They start as friends who support each other and grow in to a healthy
relationship. The Gayest Panel host noting that “They way that they slowly progressed in to the relationship rather than “Damn, you’re hot! Let’s make out!” really made the relationship feel more real.
Casca / Guts (Beserk) – The attendees that brought them up referred to both the manga and the 1997 anime, in discussing how they heal each other in spite of their horrific abuse and betrayls.
Ruby / Sapphire (Stephen Universe) – Aside from the huge love of Garnet’s representation, there was a lot of love for this non-gendered pair. The Gayest Panel host Gay Machine summed up the general consensus. “I just considered a very healthy depiction of two people in love.”
Madoka / Homura (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) – One of Anime’s most iconic lesbian couples was naturally mentioned though there was some discussion about whether Madoka might be lesbian, or might just love Homura as a best friend.
Haruka / Yu (Sakura Trick) – an attendee described this as a fairly compelling romance. This anime sets itself apart from the usual suspects that the either slap a relationship together overnight or drag out a lot of implications with no explicit statement of the relationship. It’s easy to believe the characters are in love, because instead of their first kiss being right before the credits roll you get to see their relationship deepen. The series follows them through the normal challenges of a first love such as jealousy, separation, and disapproval from others.
A lot of personal discussion came with the explanations of individual favorites with several insightful comments by attendees. Overall the feel of the conversation was friendly, open, with a lot of laughs and sharing of fan favorites. As we discussed healthy relationships and good representation, the topic flowed naturally to the discussions of not-so-healthy relationships.
Dealing With Serious Issues:
Once the topic of pairing we disliked, and problematic elements in anime came up, I saw how much good having a panel like this does. Maybe it was the camaraderie built on shared fandoms or the sense that we were all here, on the same side but as the discussion deepened it became both intellectual and supportive. People challenged the problematic elements within anime, problematic attitudes within the community, and shared personal experiences relevant to the topics.
- Implied Relationships – We discussed the way that implied relationships actually alleviates the creators of any guilt for not actually following through with defining LGBT characters or relationships. This effectively reduces LGBT representation. Creators can hide behind the implication of a pairing and avoid including a diverse range of healthy relationships. Our host made a great point on this one.
“When you ship two characters together when there is no actual development in the relationship, you are basically telling the writers it doesn’t matter if you actually write LGBT characters we’re just going to enforce our views anyway. So that give’s them room to just go ‘okay. we’re just going to make everyone heterosexual.”
- Fetishizing Same Sex Relationships – There was some solid dialogue about Anime like ‘FREE!! IWATOBI SWIM CLUB’ that indulge in a lot of homoerotic baiting rather than delving in the serious development of relationships. Many of the anime we identified focused more strongly flirting between the characters, sultry shots, and implied sexual subtext while avoiding explicitly stated pairings.
- The Gayest Panel attendees delved in to the problem of straight individuals shipping gay or lesbian pairings similar to the way in which a straight men will watch lesbian porn but actively hate gay men.
- Too often these individuals don’t even care about LGBTQ+ issues and don’t care about the actual issues the LGBT community faces in real life. while we acknowledged that not all straight people rooting for a gay pairing were of this ilk this is a very common scenario.
- Forcing Hetero-normative Roles – The Gayest Panel examined the danger of promoting hetero-normative roles via stereotypical relationship roles. One character is always made out to be small, cute, feminine and the other is depicted as tough, manly, and protective in spite of the fact that rarely is that how real life gay relationships work. In fact, more often than not in today’s work that isn’t how most healthy relationships work regardless of whether they are same-sex or heterosexual. There are rarely set roles that resemble media depiction of the stereotypical male / female roles.
So Much More To Discuss:
The active conversation and discussion covered a wide range of topics and issues including but not limited to bi-erasure, infantilization, oversexualization, and the more insidious ‘bury your gays’ trope. It was noted repeatedly by attendees that we had to keep in context the culture from which the media we were discussing hailed. Japanese attitudes toward the LGBT community is not the same as Western attitudes. Acknowledging that the views on women and sex are also quite different than in the West culturally speaking allows us better context. There was a lot of discussion about context and perception being based in cultural identity.
Our hosts had plans to discuss some positive and proactive ways to address the problematic issues within both the media and the anime community. She did note that on the whole the anime community has a very large LGBT contingent and tends to be more open and accepting of LGBT members than other communities such as comics or gaming.
More Time, More Panels, More Awareness:
One the whole this was an excellent panel, my biggest complain would be that is should have been longer. Also, I wouldn’t argue on it being at a later time. This panel was about discussion, and given the depth of some of the sharing that attendee felt willing to do, I’d say it was a success. I love that MetroCon had this panel. I hope to see more panels focus on these topics. It would be great to have a few discussion panels with more narrow focus. I’d also love to some educational panels designed to help allies and those unfamiliar with LGBT issues better understand problematic attitudes and media elements. One of the ways that we as fans help our fandom communities improve and evolve is to through shared experiences, discussion, and camaraderie.