It’s pretty obvious if you anything about know me: I really like idols and cute girls. But I also like of darkness, with series like Black Butler or Elfen Lied being some of my personal favorites. So naturally, I was drawn to Zombie Land Saga and its undead idols.
Besides its hilarity, I was very impressed with the shows on multiple levels- poignant satire, solid animation, and decent songs. But I was really blown away by Episode 8, when it was revealed that Lily is a trans girl (male to female). This episode and Lily’s reveal caused quite a stir in the anime community. But personally, I couldn’t be happier about the episode.
I am very openly queer, but there’s one thing I don’t always mention – my fiance is transgender. They’re actually female to male, which is the opposite of Lily, but either way, this episode really hit home for me. In this post, I am going to talk about the importance of Lily being trans and explore what it’s like being trans in Japan.
The Importance of Lily
Over time, we’ve seen more LGBT representation in anime, but the topic of actual trans characters has been more or less nonexistent. There are some trans-like characters I can think of, such as Nuriko from Fushigi Yuugi. However, there was a reason he dressed as a woman – it wasn’t due to the fact he was trans, wanted to be a woman, or had gender dysphoria.
There are also many characters that fall somewhere on the border of gender, like (a personal favorite of mine) Hideyoshi from Baka and Test. Or there’s Ranma from Ranma 1/2. But these characters and their gender-fluidity are used more for comedy than anything else, and these shows never really address the actual topic of being transgender.
In fact, because there are so many anime characters that cross the line of gender, the concept of “traps” have emerged. It’s basically someone who looks like a certain sex, but really isn’t (A guy that looks like a girl or vice versa).Most of the time, I don’t think people mean any harm when they use the term “trap,” but at the same time, it can be taken as an insult in my opinion. Transgender people – or anyone who is doesn’t follow normal gender roles – aren’t trying trick or trap people. They have a psychological need to dress/act like the opposite gender.
This is why Lily from Zombie Land Saga is so important. In my experience, she is one of the very first anime characters that really is transgender. Jon Spencer mentioned an anime to me called Back Street Girls, where three men transition to women; however, after looking it, I saw the characters are forced to transition, so I personally don’t think they really count as being transgender. However, Lily actually exhibits real symptoms of gender dysphoria. I can tell just from being in a relationship with a trans person, but even without that, all of the signs are there.
Lily’s Symptoms of Gender Dysphoria
According to Psychology Today (2018), “Gender dysphoria (formerly gender identity disorder) is defined by strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one’s own assigned sex that results in significant distress or impairment. People with gender dysphoria desire to live as members of the opposite sex and often dress and use mannerisms associated with the other gender.”
At birth, Lily was born as male and her birth name was Masao, which is very masculine. But she hates being called “Masao” by her father. Even as a zombie, she still seems to really dislike that name. During her first life and her afterlife, Lily dressed as a girl and acted very feminine. We also see her disdain for her biological male gender.
In Episode 8, during a flash back, Lily gets extremely upset when she sees leg hair growing. At that point, she was still a child and was starting the first stages of puberty. But Lily vehemently declared she didn’t want to grow up, since it would mean becoming less feminine. But the final blow was when Lily saw facial hair. She was already physically and mentally exhausted because she was being overworked as a child actress. When she saw that facial hair, it threatened to completely dissolve her identity as a girl. She became so distraught that she died of shock.
Now, most trans people won’t instantly die when they see something that conflicts with their gender identity… but they will become distressed or depressed over it. In just the few moments we see in the episode, Lily exhibited multiple symptoms of gender dysphoria. And her reactions reminded me so much of my fiance that there is really no doubt in my mind that she is trans. You can see even more evidence explained in this video. (I also agree with her view on traps).
So, you might be wondering if Lily is a child, how does she know that she is transgender? It’s later revealed that Lily is 12-years-old, which isn’t that young. In fact, the number of transgender children as young as 4-years-old, especially in the United States and the UK, has increased greatly over the past few years, as acceptance has become more widespread (NBC News, 2017). So, Lily knowing she was transgender at 12 is perfectly believable.
Opinions of Transgender People in Japan
While many English-speaking fans (not all unfortunately but many) have been accepting of Lily’s gender identity, I had to ask myself: would Japanese society accept her?
I have come across a confusing mixed bag of answers, both good and bad. Through my research on Japanese culture, I’ve learned that Japanese society stresses conformity and that believes group harmony is more important than one’s individual needs (Schmid, 2012). In Lynzee Loveridge’s LGBT piece on ANN (2018), Loveridge explains that many LGBTQ citizens still face discrimination because of these views. They are seen as strange or outcasts – other times, people may not take LGBT relationships seriously. In the article, Fuyumi Yamamoto, a Japanese LGBTQ activist, explained that “In Japan, ‘difference’ is often hard to see. There are many who believe it is shameful to show ‘difference.’ There’s a famous proverb, ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down,’ and that climate, that culture persists to this day.”
As a Japanese citizen who is queer herself and married to a trans male, I am sure Yamamoto has experienced this and knows what she is talking about. However, I came across other sources that were more positive. In an interview called “Being Transgender in Japan,” the Asian Boss YouTube channel interviewed two FTM Japanese citizens. Both Eito and Kanata shared their experiences about being transgender in Japan.
When asked how Japanese people feel about transgenders, Eito explained that many people in Japan are not educated about the topic and have never met a transgender person before. He said that they usually treat you like a celebrity and say things like “I thought that only happened on TV.” So, in his experience, their reactions aren’t necessarily bad – they are just ignorant when it comes to the topic.
So, in terms of opinions and reactions, it’s probably subjective, just like with many other controversial topics. Some people will understand, some won’t, and some will be in between. But from other sources and online discussions I’ve read, it seems that many Japanese people have the reaction that Eito described (2018).
In Zombie Land Saga, Lily’s friends had good reactions overall. They were surprised and had some questions, but in the end, they respected Lily and didn’t treat her like an alien or something. Saki did laugh at Lily’s original name, but Saki was just being Saki. She didn’t mean any harm. And when it came down to it, Saki defended Lily.
And perhaps their reactions represent the current attitudes of young people in Japan. In the Asian Boss interview (2018), Kanata explained that younger people in Japan are usually more open and understanding when it comes to being transgender. Many of them have been exposed to the idea through their friends or other means. Both Kanata and Eito were confident about this new generation and think that Japan will be a more accepting place in the future.
Despite this, they both agreed that the Japanese education system should do more to education students not just on LGBT issues but other important issues as well. They explained that, culturally, Japanese people don’t like sharing their thoughts and opinions. Because of this, Eito and Kanata felt that safe spaces should be created (whether at school or elsewhere), so people can talk about and learn about these types of issues.
Actually, both Eito and Kanata said they figured out they were transgender thanks to a show they saw. They never say the name, but I believe that show was Kinpachi-sensei. This long-running show dealt with many important issues over the years, including being transgender. Justin Ellis from Japan Visitor claims that the episode about transgender people helped spread awareness about the issue all over Japan.
In Ellis’ piece, he quotes Tokyo assemblywoman Aya Kamikawa who explained “Before the series appeared, people believed that being [transgender] was just an arbitrary choice the person made.. But they learnt from the program that it wasn’t a voluntary thing to want to change sex. Transgender people in Japan changed from being freaks to a topic of human rights.” And there are some other signs that Japan is slowly becoming more accepting. For example, some school are being more flexible with school uniforms so LGBT students can wear the uniform they prefer.
But I think more TV and anime programs with trans awareness need to exist in Japan. I believe that Lily can help spread that awareness to even more people in Japan and other countries. Lily is treated with respect and is never shown as a freak or just an extra piece of comedy. The fact her friends accepted her is extremely important. It shows how people should react. Yes, it’s natural to be surprised or even shocked at first, but in the end, it’s the person on the inside that counts. I hope everyone in Japan (and the world) can get to this point one day.
Transitioning in Japan
The next thing I wanted to explore was this – would Lily have been able to get hormone treatments or transition while living in Japan? The answer is yes, but it’s very complicated. In July 2004, the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Law came into effect in Japan (Ellis). This allows anyone who is diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder to transition as long they have parental consent or are 20 years-old, though the age will change to 18 in 2022 (BBC, 2018). So, Lily would have been able to transition if she got consent from her father; if not, she would have needed to wait until she was an adult.
Here is a basic run-down of the process in Japan. You need to see a psychiatrist, so you can get diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, which is known as seidoitsu-seishogai in Japanese. Once you are diagnosed, you get hormone therapy for at least one year. From there, you earn a certificate, go to court, and get permission for surgery. Apparently reassignment surgery does exist in Japan, but few hospitals offer it, and it’s very expensive. Apparently, many transgender Japanese citizens get their surgery in Thailand, where the procedure is more readily available and cheaper (Asian Boss, 2018).
Other than the Thailand part, it doesn’t sound too different from the process in the USA. But there is a huge catch, -and that catch is Gender Identity Disorder. This term (at least in Japan) was was created by Dr. Jun Koh, a doctor who specializes in supporting transgender patients. He knew how the Japanese legal system worked and knew that transgender people couldn’t get what they wanted unless they had a medical reason that could be recognized by the government. So, Koh helped pass the GID law, but it has brought many positive results and consequences.
Of course, it’s great that people can now transition. However, transgender historian Junko Mitsuhashi says the GID diagnosis has negative implications. She believes that labeling GID as a disease implies that transgender people are not well or normal. She states that people may think “it is medicine’s role to bring these people to a normal, or ‘healthy’ state of alignment through treatment… Such a thought could be expected from ignorant and close-minded doctors who believe they are elites within society” (Buzzfeed, 2016).
Another issue is what the GID laws requires. If you are diagnosed with it, you are REQUIRED to get reassignment surgery. This is a major problem because what if you don’t want the surgery? Or what if you can’t afford it or are not physically able to handle a major procedure? According to Buzzfeed (2016), these people “fall through the cracks” and never really get the proper treatment they want. But wait, there’s one more thing. The GID law actually requires transitioning transgender people to be sterilized, meaning they can never have children. In my opinion, this is highly discriminatory – it’s like the government is saying they don’t want any more transgender people being born. Sterilization can also apparently affect your health negatively if you aren’t careful (Human Rights Watch, 2017).
I personally don’t like these requirements, especially if someone is very young. If Lily’s father allowed her to get treatment, would they force the surgery and sterilization at a young age? I’m not sure because I couldn’t find any information on it, but I hope not. I don’t think it would be safe for someone too young.
In Japan, there are many mixed opinions about the GID law. Apparently, Koh, the man who coined Gender Identity Disorder, hates the law himself. He believes trans people don’t even need to see doctors. But as I mentioned, he knows how the Japanese system works. He has a committee for Gender Identity Disorder and is working behind the scenes – maybe he can make some adjustments to the unnecessary parts of the law (Buzzfeed, 2016) and hopefully we can see some revisions.
In the end, Lily would have been able to get hormone treatment and transition while living in Japan, though we’ll never know if she would have happened when she was a child or adult. And it seems that she probably would have been accepted by others. But it’s also very possible that she would have also faced discrimination, especially if her fans found out (everyone loves celebrities and scandals >_>).
In weird way, maybe it all worked out for Lily. She will be able to stay feminine forever without ever having to go through hormone therapy or surgery, which can be very difficult. She also ended up with a great groups of friends and a manager that supports her being transgender. AND she gets to be as girly as she wants since the idol group wears very girly, frilly outfits.
Lily will get to enjoy her afterlife fully and in doing so, she can spread awareness about being transgender to viewers all over the world. Zombie Land Saga’s handling of the issue as well as the characters’ reactions set a very good precedent for how trans people should be viewed. As time goes on and Japan becoming more accepting, I hope we get to see more trans and LGBT characters represented in a positive way in anime. There are many interesting discussions about Lily online, like Irina and Crow’s discussion of Episode 8, so if you found this piece interesting, I recommend you go find some of the other amazing discussions out there.
But most importantly, remember to love and respect the adorable Lily!
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Asian Boss. (2018). Being Transgender in Japan. Retrieved from YouTube.
BBC News. (2018, June 13). Coming of age: Why adults in Japan are getting younger. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44465196
Doi, K. and Knight, K. (2017, Nov 29). Japan Forces Sterilization on Transgender People. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/29/japan-forces-sterilization-transgender-people
Ellis, Justin. I Want to Be Myself: Perspectives on Japan’s Transgender Community. Retrieved from https://www.japanvisitor.com/gay-japan/transgender
Feder, J. and Kininmonth, N. (2017, Aug 7). Why Transgender People In Japan Prefer To Be Told They Have A “Disorder”. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/lesterfeder/transgender-in-japan
Loveridge, L. (2018, Aug 2). Speak Out! Japan’s LGBTQ+ Community Responds to Politician Sugita’s Discriminatory Statements. Retrieved from https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2018-08-02/speak-out-japan-lgbtq-community-responds-to-politician-sugita-discriminatory-statements/.134642
Loveridge, L. (2018, Feb 11). Japanese School Opts for Flexible Uniform Code to Support LGBT Students. Retreived from https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2018-02-11/japanese-school-opts-for-flexible-uniform-code-to-support-lgbt-students/.127598
NBC News. (2017). Kids as Young as 4 Find Safe Space at Transgender Day Camp. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/kids-young-4-find-safe-space-transgender-day-camp-n790221
Psychology Today. (2018). Gender Dysphoria. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/gender-dysphoria
Schmid, C. (2012). Pedagogical essay: Teaching Japanese culture and education. Japan Studies Association Journal, 10177-183.
Transgender Trend. (2016, Feb 19). UK News: 930% Rise In Child Gender Identity Referrals. Retrieved from https://www.transgendertrend.com/uk-news-930-rise-in-child-gender-identity-referrals/