Cartoons, Costumes and Equality

30 Jan

Something that many of my friends in the equality movement don’t know about me is that for 11 years now, I’ve had a really fun career. I moved to New York 12 years ago to be a musical theatre actor – and though I haven’t really pursued that in a number of years, I was able to fulfill those creative needs with producing Broadway concerts and events – and doing voices for cartoons.

Barry from Pokemon

I’ve been in a whole bunch of Japanese anime titles and a couple other things here and there – most notably, I can be heard on Yu-Gi-Oh!, Viva Pinata, and as “Barry” on Pokemon for the past few years. As a voice actor, I’m often invited to attend anime conventions around the country. I’m not going to lie – the first time I walked into one of these “cons,” I was a touch…intimidated – at all the people in costumes. People dressed up as characters I’d played, people who knew far more about the shows I was on than I did – it was a lot for me.

Over the years though, I’ve grown to love it. I’ve begun to revel in the awkwardness of the random 50 year-old running around in a Sailor Moon costume, the big girl wearing perhaps a bit less than society would expect her to be wearing, and the complete abandonment of any social norms that have ever been taught. This is a rag-tag group of kids and adults who have found a world that they know everything about.

Growing up gay, I had that need to find some little thing that was mine – something I could control and could be an expert on – for me, that was Broadway – so I found my own way to relate.

This weekend, I’ve been in Columbus, Ohio at Ohayocon, a pretty large convention at 10,000+ attendees. My friend and fellow openly gay voice actor Greg Ayres, texted me last week and asked if I wanted to do an “It Gets Better” panel with him and of course I jumped at the idea. I’d met a lot of gay kids at cons in the past and there seems to be an obsession among teen girls, with something called “Yaoi,” or man-on-man anime. So around here, gay is okay.

The panel was excellent and was far better-attended than I expected it to be. Greg and I spoke about our experiences and about the It Gets Better project, encouraging people to join in and make videos and find ways of fighting bullying in their own schools – and then we took questions. It became very clear, very quickly that these kids really needed to talk.

Kit & Neko of Neko-Jin Designs, catering to LGBT anime fans

Questions ranged from “How long is it going to take for equality to happen in the US?,” to “How do I tell my Conservative Christian parents I’m a lesbian?” While we didn’t have all the answers, we were able to direct everyone to a different resource that could help them. But what was most incredible to see was kids answering other kids’ questions. The support for one another was something unexpected to me – I’ve always known that this was a safe place for everyone, but the throngs of applause when a girl introduced her wife or a young man talked about having started his own Gay Straight Alliance at his school – it was encouraging to say the least.

A bag from Neko-Jin Designs

Though it had nothing to do with anime per se, being able to talk about equality with teens and young adults in the middle of Ohio gives me a great deal of hope for the next generation of LGBT kids. It seems they’re looking out for one another far more than I felt as a kid growing up gay. I frequently worry about the state of the “LGBT Community,” with our sometimes fractured issues, different priorities and separate tactics at winning equality. Now I have a little more hope that our younger brothers and sisters might reclaim that incredible community that we so need to win this fight.

Wings made by Saratonin Studios (www.SaratoninStudios.com)

2 Responses to “Cartoons, Costumes and Equality”

  1. Becky January 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Jamie – I was at Ohayocon and just wanted to thank you for coming out to it. I attended the It Gets Better panel that you mentioned in here. I honestly didn’t make the connection to the It Gets Better movement until I walked in, but I’ve had old college friends/acquaintances that have contributed to it. And, it was wonderful to hear about all the things that are going on. While I’m straight, I was suicidal in high school, just from the coldness that emanated from my peers. In my senior year, my friend/ex-boyfriend came out to me, and I had to sit there and listen to people talk about him in my classes like he was a leper. It was heartbreaking. I’ve grown up with a gay uncle, and have watched my Pentacostal grandparents slowly go from ignorance to acceptance over the years. It has been awful to hear about all these suicides and bullies because there are several friends near and dear to me that have gone through that, or something like that.

    Anyway. Long story short, thank you SO much for joining all of us at Ohayocon. I originally attended your voice acting vs stage acting panel (holding a degree in theatre), and found it absolutely delightful! I’m actually now about to go to an interview for Tri State Pride magazine here in Cincinnati (I also have a journalism degree) and an audition for Stop Kiss. Hearing you talk on both of those fronts this weekend has just inspired me that much more to land these jobs/roles.

    Thanks again!

  2. Jessica January 31, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Jamie,

    [[I apologise for the length…I kinda went on a rant :3 ]]

    I randomly decided to wander into your “Meet Jamie McGonnigal” panel simply because I was bored and I hadn’t met you before at any of the cons frequent. It was probley one of my best decisions that whole con. I was the girl in the pirate wench outfit who asked about how to come out to her Catholic parents. Which by the way, is still put on hold. I’m madly in love with my male fiance, and I couldn’t be happier. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m very bi/pansexual. I look at personality more then I ever do gender, and I’m very pro gay rights. But…unforchently…at this time I just don’t have the nerve to tell them the truth about myself. I want my parents to understand who I am and how I see things – but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to them. I’m wrong and that’s final. But in both your panels, you made a great point. Telling them would help the community. Getting two more people to understand could chain into 4 or 5 more people understanding. Maybe one day they’ll know…but as of right now, I’ll continue to keep the fact to myself.

    BUT! back on topic…. to my original comment – I had never heard of the “It Gets Better Project” and its made me want to get back into the gay rights movement. I’d already met Greg 3 years previous at OMG Con, the con that I annually attend. This was my first time at Ohayo Con. At OMG, you don’t hear about these kinds of things in panels. Kentucky isn’t the state that would overly feel comfortable talking about homosexuality. But your panel has made me really look forward to OMG and hoping Daniel [the con chair of OMG Con] will let Greg have this panel.

    The connection between the gay rights movement and the anime community is huge – it may not completely pertain to each other, but you can find many people at these cons who have been there and done that and have the t-shirt. Continue to take this massage to conventions and spread the word. I really wish I had this kind of escape when I was younger. I too was one of the kids who was constantly bullied and teased, and I struck out in the wrong ways. Cons in general give me a home to go to once or twice year where I can be who i am – no strings attached. I go to conventions for more then just meeting the voice actors and seeing the cool cosplays – I go to escape the world I’m stuck in. You said it beautifully: “to revel in the awkwardness of the random 50 year-old running around in a Sailor Moon costume, the big girl wearing perhaps a bit less than society would expect her to be wearing, and the complete abandonment of any social norms that have ever been taught. This is a rag-tag group of kids and adults who have found a world that they know everything about.” I think I speak for many, and not just LGBT’s, when I say that conventions keep my sanity – and your panel just adds to the acceptance of it all. You have no idea how grateful I am to know that people are noticing us. Thank you so much again for the opportunity to listen and learn and know that I’m loved and looked out for, even if society says I never will be.

    I look forward to meeting you again and coming to more gay affiliated panels at conventions in my area. I’m also contemplating starting a gay-straight alliance at my college. It’d be a good starting point for me to get back into the movement and hopefully one day being able to tell my parents what I helped to create, and how I’m proudly working to get the rest of this world to accept us all. No matter who you are.

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