The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
The Bride Was A Boy
What's It About?A newlywed reminisces about the events leading up to her wedding and her happily-ever-after life since. Chii, also known as “Bride-chan,” could only legally get married to her cisgender “Husband-kun” after the Japanese government—which still outlaws same-sex marriage—legally recognized her gender, a process that requires gender affirmation surgery and a series of meetings with doctors and therapists over the course of a year.
At the same time, Chii has to deal with coming out to her family and deflecting nosy acquaintances' questions, choosing to reveal only as much as she's comfortable exposing about herself to only a certain selection of people along the way. Fortunately, she's surrounded by a network of loving friends and family, though she's also eager to educate her readers about the challenges other transgender people face in her country.
The Bride Was a Boy (05/01/2018) is an autobiographical manga penned by Chii that is available in paperback for $13.99 and digital format for $9.99 from Seven Seas Entertainment and on comiXology.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
The Bride Was a Boy is a much-needed and adorable autobiographical story about a transgender woman in Japan, an insight into LGBT+ challenges in another culture. At the same time, it's a celebration of LGBT+ life, too, an endearingly sweet meet-cute with a happy ending. Some of Chii's struggles are universal, such as a struggle for acceptance and a desire to live her truth, despite what obstacles society places in her path. Some of her experiences will likely resonate with transgender people around the world, while others are more specific to laws and procedures in Japan, such as the complication that same-sex marriages are still not legal in the country—a reality that's not so far removed from US history. As a heterosexual transgender woman, Chii is eventually allowed to marry her cisgender husband, but only after completing gender affirmation surgery and a year-long certification process that allows her to change her legal gender. She empathizes with same-sex couples unable to marry or even forced to divorce if one wishes to legally change their gender.
Chii is fortunate in many ways and does acknowledge that. Her coming out to the man who asks her on a few dates and then to her family goes extremely smoothly, with everyone in her life being supportive of her transition. She does acknowledge that not everyone is as fortunate, and her explanations of the legal and societal battles LGBT+ people in Japan deal with help make the negative side of things clear without diminishing from the cozy, happy feeling of the rest of the proceedings. Not that Chii has completely avoided prejudice; she kept her truth mostly to herself growing up and tried to fit into the mold she was assigned at birth until she couldn't stand being so unhappy anymore. She also had a long-term boyfriend as a young adult she was afraid to come out to because he was only interested in men. Considering so much of the comic is happy, these moments where things don't work out help balance the book somewhat.
Chii's art is extremely moe, with every character cute and chibi. Since most of the comic is in four panels, backgrounds are virtually nonexistent, but that never detracts from the heart of the story. The art style perfectly suits the upbeat tone of the narrative and helps add to its heartwarming atmosphere.
The Bride Was a Boy is a sweet, informative read. There isn't much conflict in its pages, but not every manga—particularly autobiographical ones—need conflict to be engaging. It's especially nice to see an LGBT story that doesn't focus on rejection and struggle, but rather love and acceptance—without totally erasing the fact that it's not all sunshine and rainbows.
Rare is it that I've read an autobiographical manga that is so heartwarming, frank, and informative all at once. The Bride Was a Boy serves as both a frank story of navigating school life with gender dysphoria, coming out as trans* to your parents, dating, physically transitioning, and legally transitioning within the restrictions of Japanese law. Author Chii doesn't shy away from discussing even more nuanced topics like how Japanese law prevents married individuals from legally transitioning, thus requiring them to weigh divorcing their spouse in favor of acknowledgment. The technicalities can get tricky and show systemic problem that pits gay individuals rights against trans* rights, yet Chii takes these topics on with aplomb.
Readers will find themselves more informed on transsexual issues while also confronting many stereotypes assumed about Japan regarding LGBT folks and their partners. I caught myself falling into them repeatedly myself. I assumed Chii's boyfriend and future husband would react a certain way when she revealed herself as trans, but he didn't. I assumed a harsh reaction from her mother, but she also was supportive. In fact, at least in the story that Chii presents, everyone was incredibly supportive of her transition down to the nurses overseeing her operations in Thailand. It's incredibly uplifting to have a coming out story that isn't fraught with rejection and disownment and doesn't treat gender minorities as a death sentence.
Perhaps Chii was lucky but I think it's more important that these variety of perspectives and situations are seeing the light of day for minority populations. The Bride Was a Boy says quite outright that gender reassignment surgery isn't the be-all-end-all, and her boyfriend didn't reject her for it. In fact, I'd go out on a limb to say that Chii's boyfriend and husband is genuinely an amazing human being. Her parents are amazing, too. I came away from this book with only the impression that what it was saying was important enough that everyone should take the time to read it, learn from it, and recommend it to friends. Readers who don't identify as LGBT can still learn plenty from what it means to be trans* and the kinds of considerations one must take when planning a wedding with family and what hoops trans* people have to jump through just to be acknowledged.
Chii relays all of this information honestly, even the frank questions that would be inappropriate to ask in person and dispels them in easy to understand, non-judgmental ways, like “Didn't you become a woman because you were attracted to men?” and “Aren't you luck that you have insight into the feelings of both men and women?”
In the end, The Bride Was a Boy is a very uplifting, positive portrayal of living in Japan while trans* and would do well to be added to any manga reader's library.
Thanks to publishers like Seven Seas, Pantheon, and Fantagraphix, we're slowly amassing a collection of LBGTQ+ manga in English that veers away from the tropes associated with BL and yuri titles. Chii's The Bride was a Boy is one of the latest, and if nothing else, it's a charming story of love triumphing over all. Chii meets Husband-kun shortly after she begins transitioning to living as a woman, and by the time she comes out as transgender to him, he just sort of accepts it – he loves Chii herself, and it doesn't matter to him that she used to be male. Likewise Chii's family is supportive; her mother mentions not being that surprised and feeling like a weight has been lifted when Chii comes out to her, and her dad at one point forgets that she ever was a his son rather than his daughter. While Chii doesn't say it explicitly, it's implied that she knows that not everyone has it so easy, and that's at least in part behind why she's decided to convert her blog into a book.
The story is a mix of Chii's personal experiences and an attempt to clarify Japanese laws circa 2016 surrounding gender, sexuality, and marriage. Although she tries to take a neutral tone, it's hard not to read her as angry in some places, especially when she talks about the laws about legally transitioning (or “transitioning on paper”) and how that can affect marriages – a couple who wants to stay together even though one of the partners wishes to transition legally isn't allowed to; only unmarried people can, as well as those without minor children. As Chii explains it, this is to circumvent illegal gay marriages, which is troubling on its own. Another issue she explores is misconceptions of what it means to be transgender, as well as how to properly use the word. Some of the language is not in line with what is used in other countries, which does take some getting used to.
Essentially the book is divided up into three types of segment: narrative chapters, four panel comics explaining a term or shorter episode, and questions Chii gets asked. Of the three, the third is probably the most difficult, simply because it's easy to imagine how hurtful some of those questions can be, and Chii also uses them as an opportunity to discuss pressures that many people, not just those who identify as LGBTQ+, may find uncomfortable or troubling, such as the societal pressure to marry and have children. This makes the book relatable on several levels, and whether you're in it for the happy ending (spelled out right there in the title), the lesson(s), or the really cute chibi art, this is a good book about a subject that doesn't always get thoughtful treatment.
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