Briana Lawrence: Cosplay, Shipping and the Power of Fandom

Funimation Briana Lawrence

I feel like my life has been a series of moments where I’ve been told that something important to me was just a momentary lapse in judgment that I’d get over eventually. 

My career (writing isn’t a real job). 

My love for anime (you’ll grow out of it). 

My identity (just a phase). 

To pre-emptively spoil the ending, hi, and hello, I’m Briana Lawrence, the Black, bisexual, Fandom Editor over at The Mary Sue. My entire brand is “watch anime, read manga, cry about it, write an article.” I write about other things, too, and have lofty dreams of having my own magical girl series with characters who embody everything that makes me, me.

Everything I was told was temporary has very much become permanent.

My career, fandom and identity are all parts of myself that I started to delve into at a young age. Over time, I’ve realized that my age (writing dream at nine, anime at 10 and coming out at 18) added to the assumption of all of this being a phase.

Despite the fact that our adolescent years are the perfect opportunity to encourage exploration, we’re often told that we’re too young to know any better…while being rushed to make decisions in regards to where we wanna be when we grow up

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The truth is, where I am in my life currently is exactly what I wanted for myself as a kid, though, I will admit that I never thought I’d add those “Japanese cartoons” to my writing resume. 

I also never thought that geeky passion would help nurture who I am.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I know this because my mother has read, kept and purchased everything I’ve ever written. This ranges from the construction paper pop-up books I made back in fourth grade, the self-published book series with the magical girls I mentioned and every single article I write—even the ones she has to call me about because, “What’s an OTP?” 

I stumbled into anime when I was 10, not knowing what anime even was because it was the ’90s and back then none of the people around me knew either.

Still, I was mesmerized by the likes of Vampire Hunter D and the original Dragon Ball, which, back then, only aired censored parts of the first season—probably for the best. Had my parents seen some questionable scenes or character decisions in my favorite ’90s series, they would’ve shut that sh*t down on sight.

Coming out came later, in college, when I was 18. Like a lot of queer people, I suspect I felt this way before meeting the girl who would, no joke, become my wife much later in life. I’ve called a LOT of girls cool back in my adolescent years who I’m fairly certain I was harboring several notebook-worthy crushes (Bri, followed by a heart, followed by a girl’s name).

As I said, these are all things that were, at some point, rejected by people around me. Not everyone, but there were just enough detractors to get me to tuck away some (or ALL) parts of myself in some way or another. I should note that the rejection wasn’t entirely malicious. When we think of rejection, we think of loud hostility. While that did happen every now and then, for the most part, the rejection was…kind, gentle inquiries. 

“You should pursue a more stable career.”

“Aren’t you too old for cartoons?”

“You think you like girls because your boyfriend was a jerk; you just haven’t found the right guy.”

This made me question everything I was getting enjoyment out of, but it also convinced me that I wasn’t allowed to explore and I CERTAINLY wasn’t allowed to change my mind. While bisexual has always felt like a good fit for me, the panic I felt when I went from “straight” to “lesbian” to “bisexual” is real because, “You’re just confused.”

RELATED: Positive LGBTQ+ Messages Anime Has Taught Me

And somehow, it was fanfiction, cosplay and conventions that got me to start unapologetically embracing everything that I loved.

No matter how many times I found myself listening to the naysayers about writing, fanfiction would pull me back in. Interestingly enough, that community is how I found a positive queer space back in the late ’90s/early 2000s. It was through writing those queer stories alongside others who thought Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell were totally into each other that I felt that I could, at least, say I was questioning and exploring my own sexuality. 

That love of fanfiction and anime also led me to going to anime conventions, meeting more like-minded people, and realizing that I wasn’t the only bisexual Black girl who used to write fanfic in Mead Composition notebooks and, later, with the help of AOL CDs. 

I think all of this is why I became so vocal about inclusivity within the geek community. It’s been such a crucial part of my life that it frustrates me to see the negativity that can happen within it. Disparaging remarks toward marginalized groups is something that exists within every space, including ones that can make us feel the most welcome.

That welcoming presence is why I’m so passionate with my articles, the panels, and anything else I can do to not only combat the negativity, but welcome others who are, potentially, feeling the same way I felt all those years ago.

But I suppose if this is all, indeed, a phase, it’s been a phase I’ve enjoyed so much that I might as well keep pushing forward. I gotta see what’s at the end of my Black Queer Otaku Girl punch card. I’d like to think that the last hole to punch in that card is to be comfortable with who I am and what I enjoy, and that I, and whoever is reading this, is well on their way.

Where to read my stuff: 

Where to follow me: Bri @ Anime/Manga Nonsense for The Mary Sue (@BrichibiTweets) / Twitter  

Where to check out my first book in my illustrated novel magical girl series:

Where to check out the sequel: