Secretive Otaku: When to reveal your true self to your colleagues

Being into anime and manga in the west isn’t easy.

In the past decade nerds have become more accepted – liking comics (such as Marvel and DC) isn’t viewed with the same strangeness was it used to be because their film counterparts have dominated the box office. But there are still negative connotations when it comes to Japanese nerdy culture.

And “coming out” as an otaku when you’re a full grown adult in the workplace can be one of the hardest things to do, because of the fowl miasma that hangs around the misconception that anime and manga is full of hentai and peadophila.

I got sucked into anime and manga when I was in my early 20s – watching Fullmetal Alchemist at the ripe old age of 21 opened a whole new set of doors to me. Four years ago I was at uni, surrounded by a bunch of other nerds who were all my age and who also partook in the odd anime indulgence.

I left uni and went to a second university to do a post-grad course. There the people were completely different, and our interests didn’t relate. I didn’t fell comfortable admitting I liked anime and manga, but they must have known from my Facebook cover photos that that was what I was into.

Goodbye second uni, and after a 6 month stint of unemployment I was in my first “proper” job. In my immediate team were two managers who were older than me by more than 20 years, and another lady who was about ten years older than me. None of them nerdy in the slightest, and all of them completely ignorant of the world I loved so much.

But I tried to let them share in my interests, and I think doing so left me with a bag taste in my mouth. When I was working in my first job, the nakama, myself and another friend were playing online RPGs together – we dabbled in Silkroad Online and then in Aura Kingdom – so when I was asked “What are you doing this weekend?” I told them that I would be gaming.

The PR manager, who had a big mouth, would say things like, “Don’t stay indoors all day gaming” and when I felt brave enough to wear my Adventure Time hoodie to work, “I don’t understand that weird shit.” She basically put me down a lot about my interests, and made me feel that I wasn’t right.

I guess I “came out” to everyone when I told everyone I was going to MCM Comic Con for my birthday. One woman was really sweet, getting all excited for me and expressing how jealous she was. She wasn’t an otkau, but a little bit of a western nerd. I wouldn’t have known she was the slightest bit interested in that stuff had I not revealed that precious piece of information. On another occasion when I wore my Adventure Time hoodie to work – with another comment from the PR manager about “that weird shit” – the same lady who had been so excited about me going to con recognised Jake and said how much her son loved the show.

Six months in that first job, I moved onto the second.

Even after the interview for that position, I felt a lot more at home. In the lift on the way down from the interview room, my interviewer – a bubbly guy who was less than 10 years older than me – and I got talking about The Hobbit films, agreeing on how awful they were. I had a feeling things were going to be easier there.

And they were.

It took me some weeks to open up, and answer to question of, “What are you doing this weekend?” with “I’m going to watch some anime.”

And even though they couldn’t relate, they asked a lot of questions – just stuff like “Where do you watch it?” They weren’t prying or judgmental questions, but curious ones, because they wanted to understand and learn more about my interests that they knew nothing about.

Some weeks later, one of the guys asked me “Is there any anime on Netflix? And if so, what would you recommend?” I told him Ajin, although I don’t think he ever watched it. I remember one afternoon looking at cosplaying pictures with the same guy, gawking over the time and effort some people had put into their attire, and the skill it would have taken to complete them.

Leaving that job broke my heart a little – not just because I had been accepted there, but for a number of other reasons as well.

I started my third job – another temp job at a law firm. I started in May, two weeks before MCM, so had to request the Friday off for it. When I was asked what I was doing, I said “Going home for my mum’s birthday”, which wasn’t a lie, because I was. But I didn’t feel comfortable laying myself bare in a role I was only going to be filling for a month. I didn’t want to leave behind any negative impressions. Because that’s how I feel sometimes about being an otaku – that I’m leaving this massive imprint in someone’s mind that I was a bit of weirdo because I like anime and manga.

I actually got a permanent job at that law firm – I’m still there now!

After being there for two months, I told everyone that I was going to MCM Comic Con. I got some ignorant reactions – “I have no idea what that is” – and some really excited reactions – “Take lots of photos to show us when you get back!” and “My sister is really into that sort of thing. She’d love to go.”

Now we mutual follow on Instagram, and I get manga delivered to work, so they often ask me about what I’ve ordered (two of the girls in my pod actually sounded really interested in the premise of Princess Jellyfish – I know they won’t read it, but it was nice to hear some positive noise).

I don’t feel judged there, but I haven’t told them about this blog, or the Kaizobi Twitter account – I feel that would be a step too far, especially because of the odd yaoi thing I post on there. I feel I need to draw the line there.

Everyone at the law firm are all really quirky. And they’re open about their oddities, so I felt comfortable being open about mine.

Comparing my experience at the first job and this third one, it’s made me realise just how important it is to find a team of people you can click with. I don’t hang out with any of them outside of work, but they support me and get excited about something if I’m excited about it. Instead of grumbling about “weird shit” like the people in my first job.

I feel it’s important to be as open with your work colleagues about your interests, as long as you feel comfortable. After you’ve spoken to them for a few weeks and you know their personalities, then you can be the judge of how open to be.

It’s hard, because hiding your interests feels like you’re hiding a big secret – and a part of who you are. People think you’re boring when you tell them you’re doing “Nothing” at the weekend, when you’re going to be watching sports anime drunk with your nakama, playing zensen, and preparing yourself for the next MCM Comic Con. But if you work with a difficult – and judgmental – group of people, perhaps leave those conversations to when you’re with your other otaku friends.

What are your experiences of opening yourself up to your colleagues about your otaku interests? I’m interested to read your stories.

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2 thoughts on “Secretive Otaku: When to reveal your true self to your colleagues

  1. I am a 28 year old woman in college who is a anime nerd. As of right now we are having to write a paper about belonging in a discourse community and my chosen topic is Anime Club and Community. I have sweaty palms about reading this paper out loud to the young adults in my class who clearly have no interest in this lifestyle. Thanks for writing this article! Shows me that I am not alone as a grown woman with a slight fear or nervousness about expressing and sharing my love for anime.

    Liked by 1 person

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