Seven Seas has been making headway recently with more diverse publications. From problematic yuri series, to sweet gay romances, to more serious LGBTQ+ titles, there is a concerted effort to bring queer manga to the west. One of their most recent is Chii’s The Bride Was a Boy. After the English publication was announced, it quickly became my most-anticipated release, and it did not disappoint.
The Bride Was a Boy is an autobiographical account of Chii’s life, from childhood to marriage. Having been assigned male at birth, she comes out as transgender with the love and support of her friends, family, and her new husband (referred to as Husband-kun). Her memoir covers her own experiences, and also explores the LGBTQ+ experience on a wider scale.
Chii’s personal experience is overwhelmingly positive. Despite some negative memories from her youth, such as being called homophobic slurs, coming out to Husband-kun (her then-boyfriend) is surprisingly simple; he accepts her immediately. Her mother, father and siblings are similarly unfazed. Chii’s comical shock – she was expecting there to be at least a little pushback – is very sweet, and very funny.
In between chapters, Chii explores LGBTQ+ vocabulary and iconography, from the significance of the rainbow flag, to the meaning of the term ‘gender dysphoria’, and so on. While her story is undoubtedly the selling point, these sections bolster the memoir, grounding it firmly in reality. Chii’s passion to teach and inform is infectious, and I found myself enjoying these revelatory interludes almost as much as the main story.
Of course, Chii’s experience is not entirely positive. She expresses her anger and frustration that LGBTQ+ people are still not accepted in Japan, and she explores some of the struggles that trans people and same-sex couples face. These sections are enlightening, upsetting, and wholly necessary. Despite the serious subject matter, Chii’s tone and register are accessible; the volume is aimed at a teenage audience, but I feel it would serve as a great introduction for even younger readers just learning about trans people.
While the volume is deeply personal, Chii injects humour into the proceedings. Her personality shines in these moments, be it her aforementioned shock that her loved ones are so relaxed regarding her identity, or her quick decision to book surgery in Thailand. Chii’s honesty and good-natured self-deprecation are refreshing, and I loved getting to know her better through these moments.
Perhaps most interesting about Chii’s memoir is her exploration of nuance. She reminds us that not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is the same, and thus not everyone will choose to use the same terminology. For example, she consistently employs the somewhat outdated term Gender Identity Disorder (GID), but notes that gender dysphoria is the more contemporary term. Interestingly, many western fans took umbrage with the manga’s English title, but Chii herself admits that while she is perfectly happy to see her life in two separate stages – her childhood as a boy, and her adulthood as a woman – many trans people do not feel this way. These details are incredibly important.
As I have said, in addition to Chii’s personal experiences, she explains certain aspects of LGBTQ+ culture. While I loved these informative interludes, I felt they were somewhat repetitive. Each one imparts its information in two different ways: through prose, and through a comic. On the surface, this is great; some readers will respond better to a written explanation, while others will prefer another comic strip. For me, though, it was jarring to read the same information in two different formats. This is, of course, a minor flaw, and certainly not enough of a complaint to hinder anyone’s enjoyment.
Each section of Chii’s story is told in the form of four vertical panels, like a typical comedy (or ‘gag’) manga. Certain chapters, though, are recounted in more detail. The first chapter is even in full colour. Chii’s artwork is sweet and simple, but shines most brightly in scenes of intense emotion: her phone call to Husband-kun from Thailand; the tearful taking of her vows on her wedding day. Chii’s comedic timing is great, but her dramatic flair is even better.
The Bride Was a Boy is a triumph of autobiographical writing. Its sweet and funny moments are juxtaposed with serious discussions of LGBTQ+ issues, and Chii handles these tonal shifts expertly. It is a powerful, informative, human story, and Seven Seas’ release deserves to be a part of any collector’s library.