Yash’s great post on same-sex relationships in school stories got me thinking about my own experiences with diverse literature, especially as a young person. I started to wonder: when did I first encounter a fictional same-sex couple?
I’m one of the older members of The Book Wars team, and suffice it to say, children’s literature in the mid-1990s wasn’t exactly awash in diversity. Homosexuality was typically limited to “problem” novels, in which teenagers learned valuable lessons about the right way to live (spoiler alert: there was only one right way to live, and it didn’t always involve being true to yourself). It wasn’t until I was about 13 years old and entering high school that I first encountered a fictional same-sex couple, and even then our introduction had a bit of a rocky start.
Like most anime addicts, Sailor Moon was my gateway drug. I was immediately enthralled and quickly became obsessed with this strange series that was so unlike anything I had ever seen before. OBSESSED. But, even way back then, in my innocent youth, I was a burgeoning anime snob. I quickly decided that English dubbing was the devil’s work (boo hiss), and set about navigating the murky waters of the dial-up internet in search of subtitled Sailor Moon episodes with the original Japanese dialogue (today’s kids have no idea how easy they have it – back in my day we had to watch fan subs uphill both ways, in the snow)…
Imagine my absolute shock when I discovered that two of my favourite characters, the tomboyish Haruka and the beautiful Michiru (or Amara and Michelle in some English adaptations), weren’t in fact weirdly close cousins with strange boundary issues, but were actually a loving, long-term lesbian couple!
That’s right, folks, in an attempt to shield poor, impressionable little children from the negative influences of the big bad homosexuals, American distributors decided to turn a healthy lesbian couple into a pair of kissing cousins.
Yeah. That made sense.
In the original manga, and in the Japanese version of the anime, Haruka and Michiru’s sexuality is no secret – in fact, Haruka enjoys flirting with other characters, including Usagi (Sailor Moon), and several of the other characters develop crushes on her. Later on in the series, the pair even become quasi same-sex parents with their unofficial adoption of the reborn Sailor Saturn (long story, just watch the show).
And so, it wasn’t until I ventured beyond English-language media and started exploring foreign TV and comic books that I first encountered a same-sex couple, and not just any same-sex couple, but an open, loving, happy and pretty damn awesome couple. These two young women were portrayed as hopelessly in love with each other, and although they were a pretty stereotypical lesbian couple (with Haruka being the “manish” partner and Michiru being the “feminine” partner), they were still portrayed with warmth and even respect.
Haruka and Michiru’s relationship wasn’t the only gay element censored out of the original series in the interests of making Sailor Moon more “family friendly” – you can read about some of the other homosexual or gender variant characters here and here, among a million other places, and I could (and would) go on and on about expressions of gender and sexuality in anime (don’t even get me started on Usagi’s relationship with the gender-bending Sailor Star Fighter). But to connect back to Yash’s original post, it’s so important that young people not have to struggle to find diverse relationships in media. I attended a religious school in which homosexuality was deemed a sin, and so media, whether in print or on the screen, was my window into a world that I was being told was wrong, and my introduction to people who I was being told would end up in hell. Loving couples like Hikaru and Michiru challenged the messages I was being taught, and helped open my mind to new ideas and possibilities.
So, potential MG writers, get out there and write us some fantastic same-sex couples, because there’s still so much work left to be done.