With Friends Like These

“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.” ― Roxa

I’ve been one of the guys since as long as I could remember. High school was full of mostly platonic guy friends and the occasional male suitor; not to say I didn’t have female friends, I had many three that were close but the rest were simply rivals to non-existent potential relationships. College was some female friends which is especially funny considering that my alma mater was overwhelmingly female. But like many things patriarchal, it was never encouraged for me to make friends with females. Female friends would only steal your man and waste your time with duplicitous lies and incessant neediness. This is what society taught me. That to be friends with females was to be in a Mean Girls-style girl gang full of cackling she-devils.

It took me well into my 20s to learn that I couldn’t be more wrong.

The shift did technically start in college. I was surrounded by my anime club members (who were mostly female) and other close friends that helped support me from my high points to my low. It was my girl friends who kept me sane and my senpais (who are all female) that gave me someone to look up to and aspire to be like.

It was post-grad that I separated from many of my female friends. We tried to stay in touch and the ones that still matter to me, did. But post-grad I fell more into the folds of the LGBT community and to put it bluntly, there’s a fair amount of misogyny in the gay community and the most important show to me during that time was RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is essentially (at least for most seasons) 10 or so gay men ranting about how awful biological females are while trying to be better women than biological females with just a hint of casual racism and transphobia sprinkled in for good measure.

Pop culture is also full of vapid female groupings that emphasize a very specific type of female friendship. The Ashleys from Recess (yes, I’m old) come to mind of just a gaggle of gossipy gals. Additionally, because of the patriarchy, it was always an asset for me to be “one of the guys”. The fact that I “wasn’t like most girls” made it easier for guys to relate to me since all the things synonymous with being part of a girl gang were negative like being chatty, manipulative or excessively emotional.

When I first moved back to San Antonio, my friend group stayed small. It was mostly the ones I had kept from college and if anything I went through a similar friend purge that most mid to late 20-somethings go through. I lost people that I thought I’d have in my life until I decide to return to the swamp that birthed me.

But I have some people in my life now that are ride-or-die. And I’ve never really experienced this from friends of any kind. I have people in my life willing to fight for me when I am not willing to fight for myself (which, let’s be honest, is most of the time). I have folks that empower me, inspire me, challenge me and think that I am worth something (which is, let’s be honest, not something I feel all the time). I didn’t think this was possible from friendships, I didn’t think this was even conceivable from female friends. I’m not one to fight for myself and I hate conflict (thanks, trauma) so I’m willing to stay close to people who hurt me. I don’t feel like I have to sacrifice anything with these ladies and I feel supported (genuinely), lifted up (expertly) and empowered (sometimes too much).

So I wanted to take some time out to thank some of the members of my Girl Gang.

Amanda: Literally, this is a girl I met at LUSH (she thought I was a secret shopper because I caught one of the most obscure references in a commercial retailer ever) and we said we were both going to the same con. During that con at one of my panels I mentioned that I had one right after the other and that I needed food. LIKE A CHAMPION, this girl brought me chicken nuggets right in the middle of my set and it’s been a friendship made in anime series history ever since then.

Victoria: She’s the best mom-friend I never thought I needed. Fellow Slytherin, fellow feminist, fellow person filled with ennui but just so much endless love and support. I’m emotional even thinking about it. I’m so lucky to have her in my life and every part of her life is just magical.

Amber: The current longest running member of the Girl Gang. I have known her since college. She was my treasurer in the anime club I ran in college and helped keep me sane with my Vice President resigned suddenly. Amber is a frequent figure mentioned on my blog: she is my travel companion and close friend and I’m so fortunate to still have her in my life 10 years nearly on (I’m so old…).

Lisa: Lisa is honestly one of the most spectacular women I have ever met. There’s a reason I continue to work with her over and over again. I have never had someone so in my corner. She’s brilliant and the world sorely needs more people as empathetic, enthusiastic and kind as Lisa.

I’ve spent a lot of time valuing others more than myself but it’s amazing and frankly, relieving to have these wonderful women in my life that support me so much. Society tells us that when girls get together it’s nothing but incessant chatter and back-handed compliments. When we get together it’s talks about philosophy and art. It’s support that is genuine and real. It’s a love that is unselfish and kind. It’s listening and caring and telling you when your skirt doesn’t match your top. It’s telling you that your boyfriend’s behavior is scary and making a family when your own is a hot trash pile.

It’s a type of friendship I didn’t think that was possible or that I deserved but I’m so happy to have it.

Worth Having and Working For

I picked up Persona 5 not too long ago. For those who know me, this is a small surprise. I love the light novel aspects of the game but the dungeon crawling parts make me nauseous. But there’s lots of things about the game that I do enjoy. The mood and tone are straight up things I love and the jazz reminds me of Lupin III and Cowboy Bebop which is keeping me going right now. But Persona 5 is a very traditional JRPG and that means managing relationships. MC-kun has a lot of work to do keeping everyone happy and keeping his friends happy means that he can achieve his main goal. It’s a key feature of most RPGs and similar games to keep relationships solid to achieve certain tasks.

We’ve talked about how shonen anime kept me motivated about working towards friendship but today we’re going to talk about how video games remind me to continue to maintain those bonds.

2017 was rocky for me when it comes to personal relationships. I lost some connections that I thought would last a lifetime. The early part of 2018 continued that theme of me losing people that I assumed would be with me for the long run. But it means that I went on into the year with a core of people that I now feel like I can trust with my life. But it isn’t enough to add friends to the party or just keep old ones on the back burner, you have to maintain each friendship. I’m lucky enough that I get to talk to my friends regularly. There are very few I’ve lost touch with over time and if I have, there’s always been more than one factor. But there are people I’ve lost contact with and I miss them dearly. But I’m huge on the “phones work both ways” model, if I lost contact with someone while it’s easy to wait for them, I can also easily reach out: if it fails, that’s on them and it can be reassessed at a later date.

It’s easy to take long-time friends for granted. There’s this low-key assumption that they will always be there but your friends aren’t meant to replace a therapist but often times they do. I rely so much on my friends during the good and the bad times and I agonize over whether I do enough for them in return.

That brings us back to Persona 5 and another game I’m playing right now Harry Potter: A Hogwarts Mystery in both games there’s a huge importance on not just making new friends but also keeping the ones that matter to you content and satisfied with your friendship. These are the people that are going to bat for you and in both examples are often risking their lives for you (your character) and they deserve to be treated well considering. A Hogwarts Mystery focuses a lot on you comforting your friends after hardship: hell, I’m just about done with Year 2 and I’ve spent more time consoling friends than I have flying on brooms and being yelled at by Snape. Persona 5 is similar, you spend a great deal of time providing answers that you think people want to hear. They’re all somewhat aligned with what the main character would say or think but you can choose to be a jerk or be accommodating and being accommodating has its benefits: it raises the stats of the people and personas they use to better suit your will.

Now, that’s still a very cynical way to look at friendship. That you’re boosting stats and being friendly just because friends are tools but I don’t think of it that way despite being the proudest Slytherin around. I think of it more as a good reminder to check in on my friends. I rely on them so much that it only makes sense to support them as well. I find myself almost incessantly checking in on my friends and how they are doing and also because many of my friends have much more interesting days than I do. I’m known as being a great gift-giver and I often leave houses cleaner than when I arrived. Little things are great ways to maintain and keep friendships going. And they don’t have to be expensive, I love just a good phone call or playing a game together (as long as I’m good at the game).

Truth be told, the managing of relationships was always one of my least favorite parts of most RPGs and Dating Games. I had one route I wanted to pursue and like an Ayn Rand fever dream, I forged ahead. Just look at the games I play, they focus on one character that you can sort of self-insert to and relationships with NPCs be damned (except for N in Pokemon Black/White and the date you get to go on with him [regardless of the player’s gender choice] on the Ferris Wheel, that was magical and it will not be taken from me). And I rarely play cooperatively as an adult. As a teen I did play some co-op arcade games but it was mostly me being very bad at The House of the Dead II. I’m an only child. I play single player games or I play against others so fostering relationships with characters always seemed a little silly to me in some games.

But in my personal life, I just didn’t have the luxury of neglecting my friends. In college, I ended up moving away and I lost many of the people that meant the world to me as a youth. Growing up, that happens. There’s an entire social phenomena of people losing their friends in their 20s and 30s. However, the friends that do survive this battle royale are ones that are likely to be with you for the rest of your life. Not all the time, but very likely.

When my mother died, it was my friends that surrounded me with support. When I was struggling running my anime club, it was my friends that kept me motivated. When I was stressed out about work, it was my friends that had fried food and drinks to keep me sane.

And in return, I had to put in work. I gave money, gave time, gave energy and resources. I shared sofas and answered long phone calls and comforted people during loss. I’ve sent pies and flowers and been the a surrogate child and another sibling.

I gave my heart because I was already in the hearts and minds of those that matter most to me.

 

You Are My Friend, You Are My Dream

Today, and even tomorrow and the day after, we'll keep laughing togetherWe're all tied to the same fateToday, and even tomorrow and the day after, we'll walk togetherWhatever happens now, is meant to be.Thank you, Th.png

Why wouldn’t I be into shonen anime? What about a good standard shonen series wouldn’t apply to someone like me? I didn’t click with shojo girls and their mostly small problems. And from an early age I fit much more easily into the narratives of young men against the world. We discussed in an earlier post how some series can grow with you while others get lost in the dust: I wanted to talk about an anime that itself may have been outgrown by me and my current life but has one theme that still holds true to my day to day existence and has been a nearly ever-present constant in my heart: friendship.

Naruto the anime and I have an interesting relationship. I started out as a high school student loving the story of a 12 year old Naruto Uzumaki trying to make his way through Ninja School to become Hokage. But the series did ebb and flow with some high points in the narrative and others that were…well, The Curry of Life arc comes to mind. But one radical notion did always stick with Naruto and my life with that series: how much Naruto went through for his friends. Now, we aren’t going to talk about…”dedicated” Naruto is to Sasuke but we are going to talk about friendship, sacrifice and effort.

Naruto is constantly fighting for Sasuke’s friendship. He is always trying to prove to Sasuke and to the others around him that they are important and that theme is so important to the series that most of the music in Naruto centers around it even before it centers around the romantic love the series tried to push later on in its run. This theme of friendship is so important to most shonen series that it is often more compelling of a story than the one between the main male and the main female.

Sasuke and Naruto have such great chemistry( And I use chemistry platonically. I have great chemistry with people I am not trying to date but that because we’re both compelling and engaging humans.) because they are constantly trying to prove something to the other while Sakura and Hinata are just sort of existing in the world.  Naruto speaks highly of friendship and is willing to do anything anything to prove his worth to Sasuke and then later to Gaara and to an extent to Shikamaru.

Friendship means collaboration, friendship means showing those you care about just how much you care but it also means regardless of where you are or what you are that hardship doesn’t simply  mean that anyone will being your friend.

One of my favorite scenes from Naruto is probably towards the end of the main anime that features Sasuke and Naruto as kids. Sasuke is underwater, he’s drowning in a sea of anger and darkness and a hand sinks below the water. Naruto literally pulls his friend up and is trying to save him. That’s what Naruto is willing to do, that’s how far he’s willing to go and to me that’s beautiful. Even though their backgrounds are similar, their experience shaped how they view the world and that’s what has the potential to make them close or to break them apart.

The same can be said for most shonen main males and their antagonists like Ichigo and Uryu of Bleach or even Goku and Vegeta of Dragon Ball Z. Their narratives together are much stronger because each one of those groups of men are proving themselves to those they care about all the time. Losing a friend is probably at times a more difficult and tragic part of a shonen anime than the main character dying for the 5th time or when the villain gets the magical McGuffin device. Think back to any episode of One Piece. The issue seldom is “Hey, let’s actually find the treasure.” and is usually Luffy trying to keep his crew together. He’s far more invested in keeping Sanji, Zolo, Robin, Nami and Usopp together than his is actually doing anything? And to go back to Naruto, the series only doubles down on the pain Naruto feels having lost Sasuke’s friendship. Shippuden is a giant road trip to find a lost friend and then the sequel Boruto (a show following everyone’s kids for some reason) continues to echo that sentiment. Everyone is still looking for Sasuke. Everyone still wants their lost friend back. 20 some odd years later and we’re all still held hostage while we look for one angsty raven-haired man in the woods.

Let’s get back to the real world before I fall off this soapbox.

I’m fortunate to have some of the best friends in the world. Why do you think I talk about them so much? They’re my family when mine has been less than ideal and I spoil them the best that I can as you’ve seen in several blog posts now. But fundamentally, friendship has always been something to work for and towards. While we all have something in common, we have differing opinions. We have different schedules: some of us live in different parts of the globe. We agree, we disagree. We have varying ideas about how cute a main character is or whether Batman’s a bad guy or a hero.

But it’s also about understanding when not to press an issue. Being of the older generation of the Internet, I’m very aware of the fact that my friends may not be on the same level as I am. They may not want to hear about me trying to figure out a Kousuke Oshiba costume and I don’t always want to hear about Street Fighter.  But them being my friend means supporting them.

Remember that A-Kon I spent mostly bored as the boys played their fighting game? Sure, I complained and I regret that now. But seeing my boys on stage made me so proud that by the second round when they both advanced to the main stage, I was on the ground taking photos. They’re my friends: I celebrate their success. And then immediately after the tournament they supported me as I courted one of my biggest panel audiences ever. I ride the wave of my friend’s success and their passion motivates me: even if it’s in something I may not typically enjoy myself.

Carlos and I have had passionate one-sided conversations while I rant over military uniforms in Japanese anime. And I lovingly will sit and listen to him talk about the game mechanics of Persona 5. And we double down on the things we do have in common like comic books and YuGiOh and misanthropy.

Friendship is struggle, sacrifice and understanding. Friendship is empathy and love and making time even when you don’t want to. Friendship is coming home early, staying up late and listening regardless of  how difficult your day was. Friendship is understanding hype levels, lovingly arguing and being there if and when you need a shoulder to cry on or a stiff drink. Working towards friendship is important and being willing to go above and beyond for those that matter to you is vital.

The lyrics that this is titled from is part of the Naruto Shippuden closing theme Distance and it’s about as shonen of an ending as shonen can be.   It’s strange little song but I think it’s a good place to wrap up with a few of the lyrics.

You are my friend

You are my dream

So I’ll go the Distance 

Friends on the Other Side

Friends are the siblings God never gave us. Mencius.jpg

Carlos works late sometimes. Sierra’s busy with friends and family. Marisa’s studying or in class. Taylor works crazy shifts sometimes and Amber’s usually tired after a long day with her students. Ricky’s schedule is insane and keeping up with it could be a full-time job in itself.

Keeping up with timezones and busy schedules can make it difficult to keep friendships afloat and many 20somethings find themselves struggling with loneliness. I moved away a few years ago. I live alone. But in moving, I left some of my best friends and now that I work a full-time office job, I don’t have the time or energy to be the bon viveur I was in college. I have the topic of friendship on my heart (I hear it’s magic) and I wanted to go over a few of the ways I keep up with my friends.

Call and Call

Skype is wonderful. Some of the best memories I’ve made in my recent history have been made on Skype calls. I’m an Internet girl. I’ve made plenty of friends online and we do our best to stay connected whenever we can and Skype helps us stay in touch. (This isn’t an advert, just a fact.). One of my old stomping grounds, Gendou, had a booming community and many of those community members are some of my closest friends. We do our best to get together at least once a month and chat. Many of us have grown up together and it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come from being angsty anime kids to being angsty anime adults. But depending on the friend, there’s also been hours long phone calls. Epic Google Hangouts sessions and livestream nights that go on until the wee hours of the morning. We talk during everything. I’ve been on calls while making costumes, planning hotel trips and even while working on panels or playing video games. It makes the distance between us sometimes feel not so vast.

I’ll Check the Post Box

I’m an adult now and the only things that arrive in my mailbox are bills, bills and advertisements. It was a request I started a few years ago. I asked for, instead of gifts for my birthday, I asked for cards in the mail. Not online ones, not Facebook messages, just cards sent in the mail. Over the years, this evolved into Christmas and holiday cards, post cards and all sorts of other gifts and photos sent: even internationally, through the post. It’s a great way to keep in contact and a wonderful way to break up the dread of checking the mail. And rest assured, I keep each and every single gift and card I receive and I genuinely love sending out letters, postcards and presents.

It’s a Pokemon Go Kind of Day

My friends and I tend to be a little competitive. Okay, seriously competitive. And there’s a beautiful challenge and art to competing with friends. We’re all serious Pokemon fans but a few of us: Taylor, Ricky and Carlos are serious Pokemon players. When Pokemon Go debuted, we were all early adopters of the game. We chose our factions. Selected our buddies and now we regularly compete with each other and show off our catches and victories. And the newest update to the game makes the hunt for new Pokemon even more exciting. I did write up a post about here that goes into a little more how Pokemon Go became a huge social stepping point for us.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Sierra would like you all to know that she also plays Pokemon Go and she is a higher level than me as of now.]

Pokemon in General

While we’re on the topic of Pokemon, we are mostly all fanatics so when a new game comes out: we are on it. But what’s even more amazing is how social the game is now. It’s like we’re all on the journey together. We judge the starter choices the others have made. We compare fashion. We train and battle. We share tips. We talk about how differently we play the game. Carlos is a serious perfectionist and wants to complex his Pokedex as quickly as possible. Ricky’s in it to be better than Carlos. I want to catch all the Pokemon that I want. We egg each other on, we strive to beat the league and we do our best to be better trainers and it was a great way to reconnect: especially after I moved from my home in North Texas to San Antonio.

There’s Always Convention

Some of us don’t get together very often. Some of us see each other every holiday. But dammit, there’s always convention. We often get together for con and we’ll either room together or we’ll just decide to meet up. Gendou has plenty of Texas members and convention is a great place to meet and get together. We talk, share amazing stories and make memories. You can read all about that here, here and here.

Super Smash Bros Smack Talk

I mentioned we’re competitive, right? We play a lot of fighting games. Smash Bros. is high on the list but there’s also Street Fighter, Naruto: Clash of Ninja and plenty of others. Online player modes let us fight against each other even if we’re not in the same room. We battle lag and each other sometimes and it proves for some pretty hilarious out of context quotes. 

I’ll Be Home for Festivus

Many of my friends plan to see me during the holidays or when I’m in town for convention. Sometimes my convention schedule is crazy but it’s often true that I will prioritize time with certain friends over even some family obligations. We do our best to see each other during the holidays and that’s usually more than enough time to bond before the next convention or road trip.

Wait, You’re Watching That, too?

Despite us being friends, not all of us have very similar interests. So when we end up watching something similar, it’s cause for an uproar. Whether it’s complaining about RuPaul’s Drag Race or discussing the fact that Harry Potter fans have been wronged by the ship that is Harry and Ginny: common interest binds. However, we may like the same show, we often have different opinions on the matter.

What’s most important is that we plan. We take time out to talk to each other. Carlos and I talk every week and message each other throughout the day. Ricky usually joins us on the weekends. We chat when we have time: during lunches, in between meetings, late at night or early in the morning. We talk while we travel for work, cook dinner and in between time with other friends and significant others. We make time because we care. We make time because we built a family for ourselves around common hobbies, interests and a longing to feel like we were part of something better. I’m in my 20s, so people have come and gone. People who I thought would always mean something to me I can barely remember and the people that I thought would be a passing phase are now central figures in my life. 

My friends mean the world to me; and at the risk of sounding like a shonen anime’s leading male: I want them to know how special they are to me. So thanks for keeping me grounded. Thanks for encouraging me. Thanks for staying up with me while I work on costumes. Editing panel videos. Thanks for holding costume pieces while I go to the bathroom. Thanks for letting me have the last of the pickled daikon. Thank you for cheering me up after a rough day or letting me cry over a fictional character’s dramatic death. Thank you for challenging me over issues both great and small: each one makes me a little stronger. Thank you for encouraging me to try new things but also reassuring me that things will be okay: they always will be. Thanks for all the memes and pictures of cute animals and most of all, thanks for being there.

To many more years of friendship.