Like many people who came of age in the late 90s and early aughts, I spent countless hours watching the Japanese manga series Sailor Moon on TV after school. I read all the comics, watched as many episodes as I could find, collected Sailor Moon dolls, backpacks, and no fewer than eight Sailor Guardian toothbrushes.
Unfortunately, the episodes that aired on US television were dubbed and heavily edited. Queer characters were portrayed as straight, and entire story lines were often restructured or rewritten. If you wanted the good shit—uncut Japanese originals with subtitles—you had to work for it. This was back in the days of dial-up, long before Hulu or Apple TV, and for me, getting those unaltered episodes meant sending a bunch of blank VHS tapes to some guy named Glen in Canada who made illegal copies for other Western fans just for the cost of shipping. This was damn near a full-time job for him, and he did it purely out of a deep love for the series.
Once Kazaa became a thing, I often spent four to eight hours (on a good day) waiting for a two-minute clip to arrive on my hard drive. Once I had the clip on my computer, I would edit it into a music video for Aqua, Enya, or Kitaro, my favorite musicians as a tween.
This level of obsession with the series wasn't unusual. Being a hardcore Moonie meant a devotion to the show bordering on pathological. So when Moonies met up IRL, typically at anime conventions, the energy and good vibes were palpable.
These conventions were the first time a lot of early 00s teens saw queer and trans people express themselves fully without being concerned about the homo- and transphobia common in the US at the time. "Crossplay," the practice of dressing up in a costume of another gender, was enthusiastically received.
Queer teens could chat freely about the legendary lesbian pairing of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, the tragic love of gay villains Kunzite and Zoicite, and the gender bending Sailor Starlights, who magically transformed from male civilians to female. Keep in mind this was happening at the same time the Christian right boycotted the Teletubbies because one of them was purple and carried a purse.
As such, I don't think it's a coincidence that so many of my most open-minded, creative, and dedicated art weirdo friends were Moonies themselves and remember their days spent in the Moon Kingdom fondly. Last summer, a gaggle of Moonies got together to celebrate our shared childhood love at the International Sailor Moon Day in New York City. Below is a series of gifs from the day, and you can watch a short film about the festival and its LA counterpart here.
Alex Thebez is a photographer and artist living in NYC. You can follow his work here.