“It’s a Safer Space” – Interview with Jamie McGonnigal

Jamie McGonnigal is the first to admit that he’s not exactly a household name in anime dubbing, but he still sees himself as having an important mission: creating spaces at conventions where LGBTQ youth and adults can meet and be themselves. At his conventions, he hosts panels about queer culture and its intersection with anime and its fan community, seeking to educate and inform fans. Outside of conventions, he works as an activist and organizer for a variety of causes, especially ones that affect the LGBTQ community.

CM: What do you think the anime community in particular has to offer LGBT youth?

JM: So very much. The fact that they have positive, good portrayals of LGBTQ characters in anime is a huge step in the right direction. I think we could do better – I think we could have the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters as the lead characters. That would certainly be nice, have the stories revolve around them and make LGBTQ youth feel a little bit more included, like they can be the star.
I think that cons in particular are such accepting, great places for folks. I’m not very famous, I get it, but I can use the little bit of notoriety I have to come to cons and put on panels focused on It Gets Better and and they end up being kind of support groups. These folks who are often in the same area get to meet and realize, “Hey, there’s other people like me who are not only into anime but also LGBTQ.” They form communities. I still hear from people who I spoke to at cons ten years ago who have lifelong friends because of it because there’s something special they share outside of anime. So yeah, just the acceptingness of the community is wonderful.

CM: Sakura Con has a meetup every year, but it’s usually marked as 18+, which is…

JM: That’s really problematic.

CM: Yeah, it absolutely is. Sakura Con is usually really good about that stuff. It’s got a very progressive bent to it, but that always is…

JM: My husband and I are in the process of adopting in the foster system of DC…

CM: Congratulations!

JM: Thank you very much! We don’t have a call yet, we’re still licensed and waiting, but there was something that I’ve been upset about from very early on that kids in the system can’t identify as LGBTQ until they’re 14. That was strange to me. I said, “What if a ten year old comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, I’m gay.’” They said, “We put it as questioning.”

CM: We have a four year old at the program where I work that has decided she’s trans, and a lot of kids figure it out really early.

JM: I figured it out watching He-Man at five years old. I was like, “I like that, I don’t like that.” I think we don’t give enough credit or power to kids to know themselves, so I think certainly showing up at a place where you can’t say “gay” unless it’s 18+… My main panel that I do is called “Pokemon, Musicals, and Gay,” and I’ve been to several cons where they put it after 8:00pm.  They don’t necessarily say it’s 18+, but they don’t put it at an hour where parents are going to bring their kids to it. I find that really problematic.

CM: I do see that. I have a lot of friends who are trans, and cons for a lot of them are the first place they really feel comfortable openly expressing their gender and a trans woman who normally isn’t out will come to a con, wearing a dress.

JM: It’s a place where you can try it out, too. It’s a safe space, or a safer space. I hadn’t even really thought about that. I know I go to a lot of LGBT conferences, and I know there’s folks who kind of test the waters there, if they’ve never worn clothes of the opposite gender, because it’s a place you can.

CM: Yeah, it’s a place where it’s okay to stand out.

JM: Yeah!

CM: So, switching tacks a little bit, how do you feel about “boys love” manga and the fact that a lot of media featuring gay men made in Japan is actually aimed at women? It can be controversial in the fandom…

JM: Boy’s love? You mean like yaoi in general? To be honest, it’s not something I’ve put a lot of thought to. You’re saying it’s controversial because it’s targeted at women?

CM: It’s got a lot of heteronormative tropes like the girly guy and the masculine guy, and consent issues…

JM: Consent issues are an issue across most anime.

CM: That’s true. I read a lot of shoujo manga, and I have a panel that I do about abusive relationships in it.

JM: It can be rough. I think, obviously, people need to make the art commercially in a lot of ways, so they will market it to the people who they think are going to buy it. But, I think that’s extremely shortsighted, because clearly there’s a whole community of people who’d go nuts for it.
As far as heteronormativity goes, I don’t think that’s something we can escape right now. I think that’s something we need to work at changing. I can’t tell you the number of people who said to me when I got married to my husband, “So when are you going to have kids?” I was like, “Oh, okay, well, this is not a question we get. It’s not when we’re going to get married.” And that’s because people expect, “Which one of you is the wife?” We don’t get it all that often, but once in awhile from someone who’s a little more ignorant, will say things like that. It’s something we have to fight, but we fight it by making the art a little bit better and a little bit more like us.

CM: Have you paid any attention to the gay and lesbian themed anime and manga coming out? There’s been some really good ones lately.

JM: I know Yuri on Ice is one of them. I want to watch it, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve heard amazing things.
Overall, I think the solution to this and your previous question is to make sure there’s more LGBT people who are the creating.

CM: That is something that is starting to draw a little more attention. Have you heard of My Brother’s Husband?

JM: I have that book! I loved it! I thought it was very sweetly told. I haven’t read many manga in my lifetime, but that one jumped out at me. I’m an advocate and an activist. Overall, I think the more LGBT people we’re putting in the position of directors and writers and creators… I mean, look at Hollywood right now. I don’t want to see white people making a series about the Confederacy and about slavery. It’s inappropriate. It’s wrong. Sure, white people can make any kind of story they want, they can tell any story they want, but that’s not who I want to hear it from. I want to hear it from people who are marginalized. I want to hear stories about marginalized people, from marginalized people.

 

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