Before we go any further, let me state one thing absolutely clear from the start:
Talking about gender and sexuality, and sharing your experiences surrounding them in relation to art is fantastic.
I wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am with myself today if it wasn’t for these discussions and having a platform to share them. Serial Experiments Lain was one of the toughest anime I’ve ever watched because of how much it spoke to my own anxieties and issues around my own identity. Despite this, it’s also a large reason of why I consider it one of my favourite anime. I don’t think I would be as comfortable in sharing my non-binary identity if Lain didn’t bring those issues to the forefront and made me sit down and think about them.
However, there’s another side to this that I feel is a lot more problematic and rising in prominence in recent years. I feel like a lot of discussions around these subjects widely miss the mark and are more damaging to conversation and people than constructive.
I’ve especially noticed this in recent weeks in relation to the currently airing anime, Darling in the FranXX (DarliFra).
As of the time of writing, two episodes have aired of FranXX. All these impressions are extremely early on, so everything around it could change. There’s a question around whether these discussions this early on in its run are worth having, but that’s for another time.
Darling in the FranXX’s world and society is rooted within heterosexual relationships and largely traditional gender roles. The show opens up with a bird metaphor about needing two wings to fly, which is clearly meant to represent a male and female working together to pilot the show’s mechas known as a FranXX. Every FranXX is constructed in a way where to pilot them, the two pilots have to assume sexual positions.
Discussions around gender and sexuality in relation to Darling in the FranXX is therefore only going to be a natural occurrence. I’ve personally haven’t been bothered much by how the show has gone about handling these topics as of now. Whilst I can easily see why many elements of DarliFra is problematic to people, I’ve so far found it to be an intriguing look into how society values worth based on sex and how sexuality can be forced upon teenagers by those societal structures. Ironically enough, I don’t think I would be as intrigued and enjoy those elements as much if I was still identifying as a cishet male. I think I would’ve just seen it as an entertaining fan-service romp, with the characters going by the “natural order of things”. In that respects, I’d love to see the show explore and acknowledge different forms of sex and sexuality. I think it’d be interesting to see how this world and these characters would react in those situations after having their idea of what sexuality is ingrained into them.
Despite my thoughts on it, looking around online at discussions about DarliFra has thrown up some troubling elements. I’ve seen people absolutely despise it for the depictions of these elements, which is fair enough. Where I take issue is the underlying notions that DarliFra, alongside other pieces of art, are specifically only for one particular group.
“Darling in the Franxx is for hets”.
“I don’t know how anyone queer can get enjoyment out of this”.
These comments alongside others are notions I’ve seen echoed quite often in the last couple of weeks, and it’s been disheartening to see. For starters, whilst gender and sex are something prominent within the content of DarliFra, there’s other elements of the show that can be appreciated as well. Characters, designs, animation. There’s an endless list of parts of a show’s craft that can be appreciated and enjoyed by the viewer. The parts of DarliFra I’ve been enjoying the most have been being sucked into a beautiful world, reminiscent of other anime of its ilk like Star Driver, and seeing the wonderful character and mecha designs in action.
I think my main belief here is that not everything should be looked through such a strict lens of what “is” and “isn’t” for you based on identity. Yes, absolutely champion those works that feature respectful LGBT representation and anything that’s made you feel comfort in being queer. But acknowledge that everyone benefits from hearing about them. Gatekeeping and saying what is and isn’t for certain groups of people is harmful not only to the work, but those people who may not be part of a subsection that have taken comfort within it.
It’s something that I’ve experience way too many times myself to ignore it. Hibike! Euphonium is something I watched in large part because it makes me feel comfort in being queer, but many of the relationships get written off for being “queerbait”. The Monogatari Series, and specifically watching Kanbaru, is what triggered me into thinking about my own gender. But yet again, it gets written off as something “for hets” because of Araragi and many of the relationships within it.
It makes me feel like an idiot. Like I’m somehow not being queer “the right way” for not instantly liking things “made for me”. Being queer is not some large homogeneous group like it’s so often touted as. Far from it, there’s an infinite number of ways to be queer. It’s why I love being round the communities and discussions. These are people’s life stories that I’m listening to, each widely different and just as fascinating as the next.
I guess if I had to sum it all up, I’d say this:
What people respond to varies largely, and I think it’s something we need to pay more respect to.