I want to point out that, while there is very obviously more text under the “Male Pronouns” heading, this is because I wanted to be very thorough in citing my sources because it was not as simple as pulling examples from the character interview. Both sets have five bulleted points each. Please also note that my pronoun use for Grell changes in accordance to what point is being made.
In Support of the Use of Female Pronouns:
Grell refers to herself with female pronouns and titles, such as actress, maiden, and lady, in all canons and the oft-cited interview in the Kuroshitsuji Character Guide (both Japanese and English versions of relevant pages can be found in this post).
Grell and Madame Red’s bond began out of empathy for her inability to bear children (source; this is also mentioned in both the anime and manga).
In the above-mentioned interview, Grell expresses feeling depressed when she was not able to present herself as female.
She also states that her biggest complaint is that she was not born a woman and the thing she wants most is a sex change.
Ignoring the above points is a disrespect to the character and the transgender community.
In Support of the Use of Male Pronouns:
The author of Kuroshitsuji and the Kuroshitsuji Character Guide, Yana Toboso, refers to Grell with neutral or male pronouns (彼) and as オカマhere and here respectively, to give only two examples. This word, okama, is generally used to refer to a (usually quite flamboyant) gay man or male cross-dresser.
Other Kuroshitsuji characters, written by Yana Toboso, also refer to Grell with male pronouns.
Grell himself uses the word okama in reference to himself in artwork (the image is about 2/3 of the way down the page) posted to Yana’s blog. A translation can be found here, but this specific word is used in this context: それにねえ オカマにだって人（?）権 , saying “even okama have human (?) rights, too”. (Note: okama is translated to transsexual in the link. I am unsure of the reasoning for this. The question mark following “human” is most likely there because Grell is technically not human, but a Reaper.)
Grell’s use of female pronouns and titles could be attributed to おネエ言葉. Onee-kotoba, literally “older sister speech” is the exaggerated, effeminate speech used by Japanese drag performers. Two books that discuss onee-kotoba can be read online here and here, and a simple search of this word in either English or Japanese will also bring up many informative results.
Gender and sexual minorities are misrepresented in media world-wide, Japan being no exception. In this video, which discusses Japanese attitudes toward and portrayals of homosexuality and trans* identities, the comments and views expressed are those of followers of the channel who live in Japan. According to these accounts, Japanese media often blurs the distinctions between transgender women and homosexual men, placing them all in the category of おネエ, creating and reinforcing stereotypes which have wide-spread cultural influence and likely affect Yana Toboso’s characterization of Grell.
In Support of the Use of Mixed or Neutral Pronouns and Individual Interpretation:
In the character interview in the Kuroshitsuji Character Guide, Grell expresses an enjoyment of abuse. While this may not seem directly linked to their gender, it does bring into question the tone of the interview itself. Grell states that what they like about Sebastian is that he is sadistic and violent toward them. Similarly, William is Grell’s favorite because he is so cold. Grell muses that Sebastian and they might be in love because of Sebastian’s behavior. While it is entirely possible that Grell is masochistic to an extreme, Grell is also a character canonically treated as comic relief, especially in the anime. It is highly probable none of this is meant to be taken seriously, let alone literally. The interview as a whole should therefore be approached with some level of skepticism as to it’s seriousness and intention.
Yana Toboso’s personal use of male or neutral pronouns, Grell’s use of female pronouns, and their both using the word okama, in combination with the treatment of the LGBT+ community in Japanese media could indicate that Grell’s gender either cannot be defined strictly by male and female terms or is left intentionally ambiguous.
Grell is referred to inconsistently by both their creator and themself, the tone of their character their Character Guide interview is questionable, and there are cultural attitudes and language barriers to take into consideration. For these reasons, Grell’s gender is up for discussion and interpretation.
Grell could be an effeminate cisgender homosexual man, a bisexual transwoman, a pansexual androgene. None of these characterizations is wrong and there are many other equally legitimate combinations of sexual orientation and gender identity that do not inarguably contradict canon an any way, shape, or form.
This does not mean that there are not issues in regard to this matter, however.
Genuinely homophobic and trans*phobic behaviors and slurs do exist within the Kuroshitsuji fandom. Queer erasure by both cisGrell and trans*Grell proponents is also problematic and needs to be addressed from all sides. Finally, fetishization and trans*mysogyny are especially common among Grell fans. None of these things are acceptable and they should not be tolerated at any level.
But neither should bullying and intolerance. Regardless of how you or your fellow fans view Grell, Grell does not have a canonical gender. Hatred has no place in fandom.
(Image from 赤他劇場 by みもり, Kuroshitsuji Anthology Comic, Volume 1, Chapter 6. Scan by Kuromai, my crop and clean.)
This is a great post! I like how a lot of wank has now turned into intelligent, interesting conversation about this topic. XD