The Bride Was A Boy, and Empathy Through Comics

I want to start off this post by acknowledging that this week has been a deeply ambivalent one in the comics world. The two-thirds of my Twitter feed that aren’t dedicated to anime memes and cute animals were split with coverage of recent Comicsg*te abuses and coverage of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival — namely, the worst and the best that the comics world has to offer, respectively.

I don’t want to dedicate too much time to discussion of the former issue for various reasons, but not least of all because in light of efforts to push certain people out of comics, I find my desire to uplift the voices of those people becomes stronger. And so, I’m going to have a go at my first official review here, of The Bride Was A Boy, by a woman who goes simply by the name of “Chii.”

When Seven Seas Entertainment published My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, they struck gold; I’ve discussed before in various venues the great pull of that book, among manga readers and non-manga readers alike. There was a great need for this — an autobiographical manga about queerness and depression that allowed readers to either relate, or to empathize and find common ground. It was very smart, then, for Seven Seas to pick up The Bride Was A Boy, because I feel that autobiographical trans narratives are even more necessary in many ways.

Though the manga is billed as being about preparation for Chii’s wedding, in reality it is the discussion of Chii’s journey through womanhood, from her discovery of being trans to her decision to go through with sex reassignment surgery and becoming legally “female.” Throughout this journey, she has a great deal of support from her family and her soon-to-be-husband (whom she alternately refers to as “Boyfriend-kun” and “Husband-kun”). Between chapters, Chii takes the time to break down some terms and laws that people outside of the LGBT+ community might not be familiar with. They are simple explanations, but they are a good basic primer for anyone who is just starting their journey into trans issues.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d like this manga — not because of the subject matter, but because of its presentation. It’s laid out in 4-koma style, which doesn’t typically appeal to me, and the artwork is simple, adorable chibi-style characters. It hardly seems like it has the same underground, confessional feeling of MLEWL. Though I was excited that a trans story was being published, I worried that it was Seven Seas scrambling to ride the high of MLEWL‘s success without regard for the subject matter itself. I found, however, that I truly loved it.

There has allegedly been some criticism that The Bride Was A Boy is too positive; again, Chii is very lucky to have a very supportive and loving family and partner, which may seem like a distant reality to many trans folks. But I think that a positive, autobiographical trans narrative is very important. It is not the job of trans people to constantly struggle for the benefit (and entertainment) of others. Presenting trans womanhood in this way offers it very simply as just another kind of lived reality. It is my fondest wish that cisgender people will pick up this book and maybe come to learn new things about trans people, or come to understand the feelings of trans people better. And I also hope that readers then continue to demand more trans stories, both fictional and non-fictional, that are earnest, entertaining, and which ultimately help to cultivate a culture of empathy. (For this reason, I’m particularly fond of the intermittent breakdowns of terminology and law, and want to acknowledge Beni Axia Conrad for the extra work they must have done to translate these pieces to reflect both Japanese society and relate them to what English-speaking readers might expect in their own societies.)

I’m idealistic, I know. The comics community has more excellent content from queer creators, creators of color, and women creators than ever before, yet we’re seeing an incredible amount of backlash from the unhappy few who continue to do harm, verbally or otherwise, to those already marginalized. I spent much of this week feeling helpless in light of that reality. But reading The Bride Was A Boy reminded me that it has always been my philosophy to use my relative privilege, and my position as someone who reads and recommends comics professionally, to keep people engaged with good work from deserving creators. There will always be people who stand obstinately in the path of progress and understanding, who want their position on the top of the heap to remain unchallenged. But the fact remains that, for many, comics have always been about challenging the status quo, about saying things that the privileged don’t want to hear. It is my hope that comics continue to shake things up and push that status quo even further into oblivion.

With all that said, I happily recommend The Bride Was A Boy to people of all genders as a warm, joyous, informative story about one woman’s journey to manifesting her best life. I would like to see it getting just as much lip service as My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness. May these manga pave the way for the translation of more excellent queer stories!

Bags of BL

Last week, I went to go pick up some manga that a friend was getting rid of — several bags of yaoi, all out of print at this point. There were a lot of treasures in and among them that I hadn’t read yet, plus she tossed in a few extra manga that she had found laying around (including a hardcover copy of Shirahime-Syo, by CLAMP).

I’ve only had a chance to read two of the manga so far, Same-Cell Organism, by Sumomo Yumeka, and Say Please, by Kano Miyamoto. I enjoyed the former quite a bit; it was a collection of sweet, fluffy BL stories that I would feel comfortable recommending to just about anyone. The latter…well, I’m super exhausted by the domestic abuse tropes in yaoi, and if Say Please had left those out, it might have been perfectly fine. As it was, it was hard to believe in the “five years later” happy romance when I couldn’t stop thinking about the assault that occurred earlier in the story.

I’ve been trying to keep up with yaoi as it’s coming out these days, and I have to say…there are still a lot of problems, still a lot of harmful tropes. But on the whole, it seems as though there’s a bit more vetting going on of material that could be considered offensive or harmful. It’s been nice to see titles like Yuki Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot get their English debut; stories that aren’t centered around sex, but around creating bonds and falling in love are more gratifying for me than straight-up porn. Even some of the saucier titles have been a real treat, though! I really enjoyed Scarlet Beriko’s Jackass, which could have so easily fallen prey to any number of horrible tropes. I’ll admit, as I was reading it, I was trying to predict how long it would take before I became thoroughly disappointed in my choice of reading material. Glad to say that disappointment never came!

I know that rummaging through the backlog of out of print DMP yaoi is going to be…challenging. I suspect there was a sort of “we’ll take what we can get” mentality about licensing at the time, and fans were so hungry for whatever they could get their hands on that they were willing to overlook some of the more egregious faults of the BL genre. But North American fujoshi are pickier now, I think. I know I certainly am! But I also think there’s a certain value in me going back and reading through this material I wasn’t able to get my hands on at the time of its publication (either because the places I shopped didn’t carry it, or because I was too young at the time to legally buy it).

I’ve heard Vassalord is…a wacky time.

Even though manga and anime are more popular and accessible now than ever before, there will always be certain series or whole genres that remain under the radar of public consciousness. I think BL is one of those genres; it’s so niche, and can be difficult to navigate. Something like yuri, I think, will continue to grow in popularity because not only will lesbian readers snap it up, but ostensibly straight men will, too, and they will pass it along to their friends and talk it up on social media. (As an aside, I remain pleasantly surprised every time I sell My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness to a man. I always wonder if they know what it is ahead of time, or if they think they’re getting a fun sexybook.) BL will never get that treatment because its main reader base is women, and in my experience women’s opinions on what is sexy are treated as less important. I don’t mean to imply that gay men should feel the need to read BL; Lord knows it’s not generally a great example of actual, genuine homosexual relationships. But BL gets put through the ringer a lot in ways that other media doesn’t, and I can’t help but think that it’s mostly because it’s something that chiefly women read and talk about and bond over.

It is my hope that in the coming years, we’ll see a lot more BL translated into English that appeals to a variety of readers. I get men in the store frequently who want BL but don’t like the painful stereotypes, or who aren’t really interested in porn as much as in gay romance. I’d like to be able to give them more recommendations than just I Hear the Sunspot and His Favorite. And I’d like to see the Western comics world tackle gay male stories, too! There have been a couple good ones lately — Taproot and Generations, both published by Lion Forge, come to mind. Let’s keep the trend rolling!

In the meantime, I’m going to try to wade through all these old books that I had to carry back to the store via the train. Anyone have any remedies for an achy shoulder..?

The resemblance is uncanny!