One of my sister’s observations about Dirty Pair is that it will introduce a cool concept that you could write a whole show around, then move onto the next cool new thing thirty seconds later. True to form, my description of this episode didn’t even mention the mind control tech, deepfakes, weird plants that eat everything, daring blimp escape, wedding bondage, space tourism, burger skullduggery, non-wedding bondage, or the fact that Clicky’s like a foot shorter than Joanca and it’s friggin’ adorable.
If you don’t know Joanca from Dirty Pair, well, that’s maybe not too surprising. She isn’t a major character. In fact, she only appears in a single episode. So what is it that makes her so remarkable?
Joanca appears in episode 7: Love is Everything! Risk Your Life to Elope! and makes a strong impression from the beginning, shooting up a fancy wedding staffed by men dressed as Playboy bunnies in order to rescue her boyfriend – a man called Clicky – from an arranged marriage to seven different women. That sentence had a lot going on, but I hope you’re still with me. Kei and Yuri, the show’s protagonists, are hired by Clicky’s billionaire father, who frames the whole thing as a kidnapping and insists Joanca is deceiving his son, but it soon becomes apparent that he simply doesn’t approve of his son’s relationship and is willing to do anything to get rid of Joanca. And the reason for that… is that Joanca is trans. Yes, transphobes are still around in the 22nd century (and rich people are still terrible), but the scene in which this is revealed is interesting. Kei and Yuri are surprised to learn that Joanca is trans, but are also incredulous that Clicky’s father would have a problem with this – since, as they point out, ten percent of the population is transgender.
Let’s back up for a moment and appreciate that this episode first aired in 1985. The language used is a little clunky, but this treatment of the topic was astoundingly progressive for its day. Hell, even the transphobic villain genders Joanca correctly, his complaint being that she was once a man, not that she currently is one.
That ten percent figure really stuck with me the first time I watched this episode. Ten percent of everyone we see in the show, from characters in crowd shots to one-off villains to the disposable love interest of the week… statistically, one in ten people we see is trans. Trans people are a huge part of this future world. We’re so numerous, and transitioning is so commonplace, that it’s barely even worth mentioning. In the future, being trans is as common as being left-handed, and about as notable too.
For me, what elevates Joanca as a character is her design, and how her appearance is treated within the show. In media of this era (and, well, to some extent today) trans women would be depicted one of two ways: either as stunning, perfectly cis-passing beauties, or as comically inept, jarringly mannish failures. Joanca’s design falls into neither category. She’s tall, she’s broad-shouldered and has sharper facial features than the other women in the show, but these traits aren’t exaggerated. In short, she looks like a lot of trans women I know, while repeatedly being referred to as beautiful. I can’t think of many shows that successfully thread this needle, presenting a character who looks like she could be trans without slipping into mean-spirited parody.
It’s nothing short of incredible that a show from 1985 gets its one openly trans character so right. Joanca is allowed to be strong and beautiful, and gets her happy ending with Clicky (mostly… sort of… there’s relativistic time dilation involved, but it’s fine, they’ll be fine). And in doing so, she reveals the promise of a brighter future for us, too.