It’s incredibly rare to find transgender characters in media. Even rarer to find positive portrayals of trans characters. Rarer than both of those, however, are sci-fi settings which depicts a hopeful future for transgender people. Which is why I was rather surprised to find that The Dirty Pair, a somewhat fanservicey comedy anime from the 80s, had one of the most progressive depictions of a transgender character I’ve ever seen.
In episode 7 of the show, entitled “Love is Everything! Risk Your Life to Elope!” a rich businessman hires the protagonists to track down his son, who he claims has been kidnapped by a woman named Lilis Joanca. Partway through the episode, it’s discovered that this was all a set-up to frame Joanca and keep the son away from her. Upon being asked why he did all this, the businessman reveals his true reasons for hating Joanca:
Now, this is hardly an uncommon plot twist in anime, or in media in general. The “she’s a he” trope is unfortunately incredibly common and is often used to mock, belittle, and humiliate trans characters. The common response is for characters to gasp, feel betrayed, and talk about how sick and/or perverted the character in question is. The Dirty Pair, however, surprised me with how the characters responded:
Not only do the characters stand by Joanca and reaffirm that she is a woman, but they also suggest that the father’s mindset is bigoted and outdated by the standards of when the show takes place. Also worth noting the statistic they present. According to the show, one in ten people, or 10% of the galactic population, have had sexual reassignment surgery.
Now just for comparison, it’s estimated that currently, anywhere from 2% to 10% of the population identify as transgender (although actual statistics are hard to come by and vary from study to study) and the percentage of the population who have had sexual reassignment surgery (or can even afford it) are even lower. So according to The Dirty Pair, by the 2100s a significant chunk of the population will be transgender. This also means that there’s every chance any of the characters on the show could be transgender, up to and including the main characters.
Their reactions, however, are not the only progressive thing about this episode. Another surprising thing is the specific wording the father uses. Things like “used to be a man” and “they may be a woman now.” Modern dialogue about transgender people often shows a shocking lack of respect for people’s gender identity, often resulting in people saying transgender women are “men” or that they “will never be women.” The father, despite his hatred of Joanca, begrudgingly acknowledges that she is a woman. In fact, he even respects her pronouns:
Now, this man hates Joanca. He absolutely despises her. He hates her so much that he sends her on a time-lapse flight which will last 50 years, ensuring that she and his son will never be together (this is slightly foiled by his son taking the same flight so they are still together 50 years later). But for as comedically evil as he is, he still respects her enough to refer to her as a woman and use her preferred pronouns. Something modern dialogue surrounding transgender people lacks.
The Dirty Pair didn’t exactly light the world on fire when it came out. But its handling of Joanca has earned it my utmost respect. It’s a shocking thing when an anime from the 80s handles transgender issues better than modern shows specifically about transgender people, but I appreciate it. I want the world to know that Joanca existed, and that she was treated with the respect she deserves.
The first two episodes of the Dirty Pair can be viewed on Nozomi Entertainment’s Youtube Channel. Nozomi has also put the Dirty Pair OVA series, both hour-long OVAs, and the movie Project Eden on their channel. You can buy the series on Amazon, through Amazon Instant Video, or directly from Rightstuf.
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