When it comes to the representation of the trans community in fiction, especially cartoons, things tend to get very vague and elusive. There is a lot of speculating. There is a lot of fan theorising and post-production baiting from creators, hints and entendres, but usually there is little solid proof as to the status of a multitude of characters who could be trans. Nearly never do you get a character coming out with an undisputed statement like, “Hi nice to meet you, my name is Stephanie and I’m a trans woman”. I mean, not that trans people go around introducing themselves like this, but you get the drift.
There is a huge, dissatisfying void between canon and fandom that can leave trans people feeling let down, desperate, and pretty fucking pissed. For instance, I have convinced myself that a lot of my favourite male cartoon characters have a secret trans identity and are all in the closet, so that I can identify with them and feel their struggles and triumphs on a more personal level. Will I ever get affirmation of these hopes and dreams? No, probably not. But hold the phone, all is not lost. Three of my favourite cartoon characters of all time are canon trans women who successfully subvert feminine stereotypes and prove that you don’t have to be an unrealistically dainty flower in order to be a woman. Here I will talk about them in all their ass-kicking, face-punching, soul-reaping glory.
Alice from Superjail!
Superjail! is an American TV series produced by Augenblick Studios and Titmouse, Inc. Characterised by its psychedelic shifts in setting and plot and extreme graphic violence, which give the series a TV-MA-V (for graphic violence, including scenes of bloodshed, dismemberment, torture, and extreme cruelty) rating, this is not one for the faint of heart. So it makes sense to feature a trans woman character who could rip you limb from limb if she so desired, right? Alice is the head prison guard of Superjail. She is large, muscular, and brooding. She is the first one on the scene of a fight and does not shy away from sadomasochism. She is also very maternal (coming close to being both a Godmother to a little girl and Foster Mother to a newborn alien) and enjoys makeup, lingerie, and being pampered. Alice is fantastically complex character with very human flaws and desires; the way that her femininity is portrayed is particularly liberating for anyone who believes that women are just as fearless, strong, and hot-headed as men. Despite some aspects of her character coming across as a gag (her male genitalia is always prominent beneath her tight skirt) she never falters in her personal identity as a woman, quite literally stomping the ugly face of transphobia to the ground.
Hunter Gathers from The Venture Bros
Hunter Gathers, from the iconic Adult Swim series The Venture Bros, is a member of the OSI and mentor to lethal agent and bodyguard Brock Samson. Throughout season one, Hunter is portrayed as a cis man with a penchant for dressing up in female disguises whilst pursuing targets. In season two, they undergo sex-reassignment surgery to become a woman, seemingly for the purposes of an infiltration mission. However, it is blatant that Hunter’s desire to be biologically female runs a lot deeper than this. She…yes, I’m going to go ahead and call her ‘she’ because that’s what she bloody well is… is a badass woman who is sadly trapped by the old-fashioned values and expectations of army life. In season six, after undergoing more surgery to remove her breasts to become the leader of underground organisation Sphinx, she exclaims to her soldiers how much she misses her female body and that there is a woman inside her ‘just screaming to be heard’. Like Alice, Hunter is an advocate for aspects of female life that are not approached in mainstream media because they are considered too ‘unfeminine’. Body hair, dominance, practicality, anger: these are all things that everyday women have and experience, that shouldn’t detract from their status as female. I just hope that in season seven of Venture Bros, Hunter gets the final transition and closure that she deserves.
Grell Sutcliffe from Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji)
One of these is not like the others, you might think, but this flamboyant shinigami from the manga and anime adaptation of Black Butler actually has a lot in common with the other gals here. Initially introduced as a meek male butler with suicidal tendencies, Grell’s true nature is revealed after she is discovered as the culprit behind the Jack the Ripper murders with co-conspirator Madam Red. Grell has a ruthless fascination with aesthetic beauty, perfection, and the colour red, and believes that substances which reflect that colour, such as blood, can be used to achieve beauty. She is initially portrayed as an antagonist, but her alliance with the series protagonists in somewhat consistent and she never makes the leap to full blown villainy. She does enjoy getting her hands dirty, however, and relishes in fights with protagonist Sebastian Michaelis. Despite being misgendered almost constantly, Grell always refers to herself with female pronouns and metaphors, expressing her desire become Sebastian’s wife and to mother his children. Her melodramatic flamboyance can be seen as a coping mechanism for dealing with transphobia, building a defence around her identity. As she says in season one, “The more flamboyant a woman is, the more she’s as beautiful as a poisonous flower.” One thing that Grell does well is knowing herself; she does not let insults towards her gender get to her, she presents femininely whilst battling her supernatural rivals with no reservation. She might not be a shining example of a good human being in general, but as first introductions to trans people go, I’m glad that mine was such a deliciously fun and self-affirming one.
You may be angry at me for this list of characters, and that’s fine; all of them have been on the receiving end of hatred from both cis and trans communities for being controversial. I just know that these characters have helped me in my own journey as a trans person and have taught me that no matter that my body looks like, or what my traits are, no one can take my identity away from me.