REPRESENTATION: "Ninjago" and Transgender Representation
I was always part of the “other” because I didn’t align with the roles assigned to me. I always enjoyed projects where I got to dress up as a guy; I vividly remember smiling as I wore a tie at my presentation about Walt Disney in first grade. I renounced everything associated with femininity and replaced what was left with more “masculine” interests: I played with LEGOs instead of dolls and video games instead of makeup. However, I thought that I was the only person who was an “other” in my community.
Then, in second grade, a few of my peers introduced me to “Ninjago,” and I found Zane. At first glance, Zane was a typical guy. However, he was different from his teammates. He couldn’t comprehend jokes or understand humor as well, and he was incredibly intelligent—almost impossibly smart. Also, he didn’t remember anything about his family. His personality traits and quirks caused his peers to tease him frequently.
Then Zane found out he was a robot. At that moment, he stared at his own blueprint and yelled, “No, it can’t be true. No! No!” Then, he proceeded to collapse to the ground dramatically. Zane then “came out” to his teammates as a robot; he revealed the cogs and gears that ticked inside of him. The other ninjas went outside, and “treehorns,” large, four-legged creatures that resemble birch trees, attacked them as Zane found his memory switch and flicked it on to remember his family. In a moment of self-discovery, Zane ran outside to find his friends almost defeated. Then, he discovered his true potential and saved his teammates by blasting the queen of the treehorns with ice.
Fast forward a couple of years, to when someone used he/him pronouns when referring to me, as a joke. I felt incredibly strange because the use of he/him felt right—easily better than she/her. This was my “No!” moment, similar to when Zane discovered that he was a robot. Over the course of the next ten months, I researched, questioned, denied and eventually accepted my identity. I had found my memory switch: a whole slew of issues in my childhood caused simply because my family raised me to be a girl.
I asked a friend for assistance; I came out just like Zane admitted he was a robot. Together, my friend and I went to the mall and picked out an outfit. I tried on clothing from the men’s section: a red, long-sleeved shirt and tan pants. At that moment, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I never felt more…myself. That was my moment. Like Zane managed to discover his true potential, I found my own. Like Zane had said in his special moment, “I know who I am.” However, unlike Zane, I dealt with a lot of internalized transphobia, stemming from feeling out of place going to an all-girls school.
The media did not help my internalized transphobia. Transgender people do have some representation, including several iconic YouTubers and actors, but there is a noticeable lack of positive representation. Most of the representation I come across is negative. The news frequently discusses hate crimes towards transgender people, J.K. Rowling liked a tweet that referred to transgender women as “men in dresses” and President Trump even quietly planned to lessen the rights of transgender people in terms of getting medical assistance, according to the New York Times.
Sometimes, representation is virtually nonexistent: within Holton’s Overdrive library, I searched for books about being transgender, but I found only a single novel out of the hundreds of books. The representation of transgender people is lackluster, but the representation of people who don’t fit in helps transgender individuals with self-acceptance.
Zane has always resonated with me. He was different within his own community: a robot in a team full of people. He was my comfort. Whenever I felt unaccepted or alone, I would always remember Zane’s successes. I wanted to be Zane because I admired him. He was an “other” who became essential to the well-being of his crew. “Ninjago” was my favorite childhood TV show because of Zane; he was the “other” that I needed to see so badly. Although Zane isn’t transgender like I am, he is an outsider who managed to help others in his own community. Zane taught me that if he can succeed as an actual robot in human society, then I can succeed as myself in an all-girls school.