You can watch the episode here.
This episode deals mostly with Shūichi forming a romantic relationship with Anna (and the resulting fallout). It is told in an interesting nonlinear fashion; we see the two of them interacting, but not the beginning of the relationship. The story then cuts to someone teasing Anna (who is older than Shūichi) for dating him, which causes the other characters present to react with surprise. This is clever, because it aligns the character reactions with the audience reaction – it is as much a surprise to us as it is to them. This is a very effective use of closed narrative, and it manages to drop a surprise reveal into a fairly straightforward story.
Puberty sucks for nearly everyone, I suspect, but being trans at puberty is its own special form of torture. So, here we have a continuation of that narrative: Shūichi gets a zit, and wants it gone. Shūichi’s concern over having a zit seems to be markedly (socially unacceptably) feminine, to the point that he has to debate and work up courage to ask anyone what to do about it. And when he does manage to ask someone, it is his sister’s friend, whom he hardly knows – probably the distance between them makes it easier to broach the subject without feeling weird.
So, Shūichi and Anna’s relationship blooms from Shūichi asking her for advice about skin care. Anna, counter to Shūichi’s concerns, seems to take this in stride; she doesn’t appear to think that there is anything wrong or deviant about Shūichi having these concerns. The social conventions that Shūichi is concerned about violating here are ones I came up against repeatedly in my own childhood, to the point that before I was Shūichi’s age I had already internalized the idea that any beauty regimen beyond the bare minimum of showering was unacceptably feminine, and was careful to cultivate an attitude of wanting nothing to do with any of it. But Anna doesn’t seem to care, casually accepting his behavior and not remarking on it at all. Given Shūichi’s trepidations, this doesn’t seem to simply be a cultural difference – Anna just seems to have a worldview slightly askew of the cultural norm.
This episode is the first time we see one of our gender variant characters (other than Yuki) dating someone (or showing any interest in someone) who doesn’t know about their gender variance, as well. There are a lot of topics this brings to mind, but for now I’d like to give a sense of what it feels like to date someone while struggling with gender identity issues. To put it bluntly, being trans ended one relationship for me and dramatically altered another. So, let’s switch gears from Shūichi’s narrative to my own.
I have been in very few relationships. Depending on how you count, I’ve been in 2, 3, or 5. A comparatively small number. At any rate, I’ve only had two long-term (> 2 years) relationships, and those were both touched by my struggles with gender identity. In the first case, I dated a girl throughout high school. I struggled with depression the entire time, which I now recognize was repressed gender dysphoria. I used the fact that I was in a relationship with a heterosexual girl to help me invalidate the feelings of wrongness that were getting stronger over time. Eventually this led directly to me ending the relationship. At the time, I didn’t really understand why I felt the need to end the relationship – certainly I knew that the fact that I felt like I couldn’t tell her I liked to dress as a girl was a major factor, but looking back on it, the only justification I had for that feeling was that she was straight. I recognize now that I was already unconsciously identifying my gender variance as not “cross-dressing”, but a more fundamental difference between my assigned gender and my gender identity.
The next relationship was more complicated. She was bisexual, and somehow this made me feel more comfortable telling her about my gender variance (the reasons for this are more obvious in retrospect). As it evolved (I eventually spent a lot of time introspecting and decided that I must be genderfluid. Looking back, I can see this had nothing to do with any actual masculine feelings, but was completely about me being afraid of change, since it let me confine my femininity to my private life), she was understanding and accepting. There were certainly problems, though – the biggest is probably the fact that we were married, and had planned to have children together. Adapting to the idea of not having children with me was tough (although being polyamorous was a real boon there). But on the whole, our relationship got better as I got less depressed.
My latter experience here is not necessarily common; I have heard many trans narratives in which bitter breakups come from coming out to partners. This, then, has to hang over Shūichi’s head. Mixed in with the happiness and trepidation and hormone-fueled irrationality that comes with a first relationship are complex fears and nagging doubts: Will she understand if I tell her? Will she freak out, turn on me, out me to everyone, to my parents? Is dating even worth it, when I have this complex and taboo secret?
Can anyone possibly want me once they really know me?