I’m a transgender woman who loves with anime. I’ve been an anime fan since a young age with my first experience being 90s shows such as Digimon, Dragon Ball Z and so on. As I grew, so did the genres I experienced, and so today I enjoy a broad range of anime and own a healthy manga library.
However, the western anime community has a problem that affects transgender people, and this is the use of the term “trap” to describe male characters that are portrayed with a feminine appearance and personality. In both online and the real world, it is used to describe transgender people and cross dressers, and used as a warning of potential “danger”. In anime such characters include Saika Totsuka from the light novel and anime My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected, a boy who has to correct people that he’s not a girl, and whose feminine appearance is used for humour at the main character’s expense.
Derived from the Japanese term “otokonoko” 男の子 which translates to “male child”, “child” (子) is replaced with “daughter/girl” (娘) to create the term “male daughter” 男の娘 which is also pronounced as “otokonoko”. This term doesn’t have an English equivalent and so translators have taken to adopting “trap” as a means to translate this, ultimately disregarding the transphobic stigma and subsequently perpetuating the problems caused by it. As a result, the anime community can feel unwelcoming to not just transgender people, but those who are non-binary and gender non-conforming.
The connotations of describing a transgender person as a “trap” is significant, especially nowadays because there is more overlap with the real world and the internet than in the past; people discover things on the internet and it forms a part of their daily lives or real-world persona such as adopting slang or speaking in memes, incorporating them into how they express themselves.
This is how the derogatory term gained popularity, by originating as a meme in the early in the 2000s. The now popular meme of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar declaring “It’s a Trap” surfaced as a way to declare suspicions on a subject, but evolved to be used as a means to describe transgender people. The implications are damaging within the transgender community, because such a description gives the impression that we are merely presenting ourselves as a different gender as a means to “trap” people, most often for sexual purposes. It is offensive for many reasons. Apart from being degrading and disrespectful, it invalidates who we are as people, the gender we live as and it undermines the trials we have gone through to live true to ourselves. Transgender people in the UK are already struggling to use single-sex spaces designated for their true gender, and the concept of the “trap” only reinforces transphobia.
It is for this reason that GLAAD (previously known as “Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation”), which exists to monitor and raise awareness of LGBT representation in the media, has made it clear that the consensus is that “trap” is in fact a derogatory term, stating:
“Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” “trap,” or “masquerading”
Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. Do not characterize transgender people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” or “trapping” others, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are inaccurate, defamatory and insulting.”
The lines of what is socially acceptable is starting to blur, and this is dangerous as many people are still unaware of LGBT issues in today’s society. Even if people want to believe that there’s no problem because anime characters aren’t real, “trap” has transphobic roots, and hiding that behind a pop-culture quote doesn’t hide the meaning to those it was intended to hurt. No-one should be told that their existence can be summed as a way to deceive people.