My friend invited me to go doujinshi shopping in Akihabara when I’m there next month. What an amazing opportunity—to buy lovingly drawn yaoi in its country of origin. Only, I was pretty sure that in the United States, that was going to get me flagged at customs. It’s only been eight years since an Iowa man was jailed for doujinshi possession.
So I decided to write an article for Forbes on my quandary: “Why Every Manga Fan Should Be Worried About Child Porn Laws” (inspired by this Otaku Journalist post of the same name). You should check it out because I worked hard. It was especially great to speak with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
But last week, when I told my husband, John, that I was working on this article, he gave me that look of disappointment. The same look he gave me when I published an article on feminism in video games, when I wrote about Donald Trump, and every other time he has been worried that my habit of writing incendiary articles is going to compromise my personal safety. From Gamergate to hentai, it’s like an itch I can’t stop scratching—I want to write the same sensational, surprising stuff that I like to read. And it’s not always the best way to live.
This isn’t even my first article for Forbes about anime and sex, which I’m sure is a fact that my family must be super proud of. When I’m with them we don’t discuss it. I don’t even share these articles on Facebook (though they’re definitely some of my most popular). And yet, I can’t kid myself—my family knows. My little sister told me she heard about it through one of her friends! My mom said she has friends who read every single one of my articles. If it’s embarrassing for me, I can’t imagine how my mom feels.
And yet, here I am, continuing to write about the stuff I write about. Part of it is that I’m optimistic that eventually I’ll be able to write about whatever I want without having to worry about my personal safety, and I do believe we’re getting there. But most of it is that what my family sees as risky, I don’t. I have accepted that to be a journalist is to write about things in public, and after an embarrassing early mistake, I am comfortable writing in public now.
However, my family didn’t sign up for this. They are private citizens! That’s why I keep my mentions of them to an absolute minimum. The problem is that, as I have become better known, more people read and react to my articles and it’s harder to shield my family from that.
These are the issues I face as a person writing in public. But even before that, I worried about the ways that choosing an unusual career related to my fandom would affect my family. I don’t have a simple answer to “what do you do all day?” and even if I do explain all my current projects, it doesn’t have the same ring as “doctor” or “lawyer.” I’m certain my grandmother has no idea what I do, or if I even work since I always seem to have time to grab lunch with her.
Why do any of us choose a particular career? Because it’s a field we’re interested in, perhaps, or because we’re good at it or, to be a bit cynical, because we have to do something. But I think there’s also a major part that we don’t think about from day to day, the approval of other people, our friends and family especially. Who wouldn’t like to be renowned for what they do?
But when you choose to march to the beat of your own drum, that on its own isn’t strong enough. It’s hard to tell if you’re doing well since you can’t compare. Instead of promotions and raises and stuff like that, I have only my own success benchmarks to measure by. Sometimes it looks like I’m being risky and reckless and getting little in return. Measure by online clicks and sometimes it looks like I hit the big time. Measure by cash per month and sometimes it looks like I’m backtracking. It’s only when I do my monthly assessment that I know how well I’m doing.
This isn’t a post about learning how to explain your weird career to your loved ones. It’s about how, sometimes, you won’t be able to and that’s OK. The metrics of success for your career are entirely unique, and they won’t always be conveyable.
But I’m hoping that when you think of your loved ones, you are thinking of people who want you to be happy. They may not understand what you do, but they will be thrilled to see how happy your pursuits make you. Before I found my purpose, I can’t say I was all that fun to be around. Sometimes, doing something for yourself is the best thing you can do for the people you love.
Photo by Joel Tonyan