Review – The Bride was a Boy

art by Chii, design by KC Fabellon

The Bride was a Boy
Story & Art: Chii
Translation: Beni Axia Conrad
Adaptation: Shanti Whitesides
Lettering & Retouch: Karis Page
Cover Design: KC Fabellon
Editor: Jenn Grunigen
Sensitivity Reader: Casey Lucas
Published by Seven Seas
Copy purchased via ComiXology UK

I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
-“Stand by Me”, specifically as covered by Florence + the Machine (we’ll get to why that version at the end), 2016

What is it?: Originally presented as comic essays online, The Bride was a Boy is the collected, edited, and expanded autobiographical account of Chii’s life with her boyfriend (now husband), leading up to their engagement and marriage. This is all framed around Chii’s transition, both as a matter of fact account of how she started transitioning, early dysphoria, her sex reassignment surgery, and the process of having her legal status in Japan changed to female, and as a way of educating the reader as to correct terminology and information about transitioning and the trans experience, as it is to her.

A note: I am a cis male, but I do my best to listen and learn from the trans people in my life whenever possible. As such I strive to discuss the sensitive matters in this book in as proper a way as I can, but may still be prone to error. I welcome any corrections or criticisms in the review that follows.

Chii makes it clear early on that she’s here to help people understand her and her experiences

What I think about it: To give away the game as early as possible, this may be my comic of the year, even this early on. Autobio comics often end up being quite challenging, depressing affairs, even when the ultimate message is affirmative, such as in last year’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, or just about any navel-gazing woe is me story that dot the landscape of western comics. To have this instead be, for the most part, the most positive and wonderful recollection of a healthy relationship, of positive steps in a person’s transition, of a supportive family unit behind it all… it’s pretty special. Much like with Andrew W.K.’s latest album, You’re Not Alone, it can pay dividends to have a work be almost relentlessly positive. That wasn’t a comparison I thought I’d be making today.

A lot of this is down to Chii’s relationships with both her husband and her mother, who are the most enthusiastic human being ever and a loving and supportive parent respectively. The husband is a real goof, a love at first sight sap who is shown as immediately accepting when Chii opens up about being trans to him, and ready to provide support to his partner at the drop of a hat. The mother is sweet, shown to be pretty unsurprised by her daughter’s coming out, happy just to see her happy and thriving. It takes something as huge as the news of her daughter’s engagement to really get a big expression out of her, to the amusement of Chii, as well as myself, who let out an actual giggle seeing her reaction. Not everyone is going to have such strong support from those around them while transitioning, but I hope that being able to see this family be there for each other is a comfort for anyone who may need it.

This isn’t to say that the series is this entirely saccharine thing; Chii recounts romantic challenges faced when she lived as a boy that are often cringeworthy and awkward, and a long section about the process of having her legal status changed to female spends a not-insignificant amount of time expressing frustration about the limitations of the current legal provision available for those who want to change their legal status in Japan, and how roadblocks like needing to have had sex reassignment surgery, or for the person to not be married, as changing gender legally would make their marriage a same-sex marriage, which are still not legal in Japan as of the publication of this comic. It’s a section still presented in the same matter of fact way that much of the educational information in the comic is, but the frustration Chii feels about these limitations comes across, making for a somewhat more serious section of the comic.

I’d like to talk more about the educational information throughout the comic. A lot bleeds in naturally throughout Chii’s tale, but there’s also these interesting stand-alone pages where we get a four-panel comic and a text section explaining more about the term, from LGBT to sexual minorities (an awkward blanket term in Japan), or even to something as basic as the rainbow flag. A clear part of Chii’s intentions with this comic is to give absolutely anyone reading a clear, basic lens to understand core information relating to her life and experiences, and by extension trans people. It can sometimes feel too basic, but that feeling may be rooted in my being LGBT myself, and having a decent amount of that information known to me already, but even with that said so much of the information was completely new to me, and incredibly informative no matter what.

There are several pages like this where Chii answers a specific question. The candid honesty, and affirmation that these are just her views and feelings, make for really interesting breaks from the story

The team handling this English version were incredibly careful about how to present this information as well, and having a sensitivity reader work on the book is the sort of simple yet often overlooked move that should be the norm within the comics industry, ensuring that the book avoids offence or awkward missteps in adaptation to another language.

That being said, we have to talk about the title. If you follow Seven Seas’ social media, you may have seen an ongoing dialogue between them and readers over the decision to name the book The Bride was a Boy. It’s a name in line with the original, but in plain English it carries what can charitably be called negative connotations. At a glance it could be said to say that Chii was actually a boy, as opposed to someone who hadn’t yet realised their true gender identity, the sort of assumption that can lead to bad faith arguments from anti-trans people, or be an incorrect takeaway for a reader coming to this book to learn, which considering that informing people is a significant aim of the book is likely to be a sizeable amount of the book’s readership.

In the book, statements similar to the title are usually presented with quotation marks whenever they refer to Chii having been “a boy”, which I feel balances it somewhat, but the title still feels a bit… off. There isn’t a doubt in my mind there was no ill intent with it (Seven Seas have a positive reputation for their LGBT books, and the sensitivity reader seems to have had no truck with it, for what that’s worth), but to not acknowledge there has been some amount of issue over the book’s title would be dishonest.

It’d be weird to end this review without discussing the wedding itself, and it really is the emotional highlight of the book, a fantastic pay-off to Chii’s journey, full of the humour and sweetness found throughout the rest of the book. Chii going down the aisle with her father (and getting the hooking of their arms incorrect), to her crying during the vows, was a beautiful read. Considering the limitations a cute, chibi art style can have, this whole section delivers strong, and destroyed me. The wedding stuck in my mind so strongly that when it came to the usual struggle to open the review with a song quote, I went with the exact song my fiancé and I will be having our first dance to at our wedding later this year. Which, yes, is incredibly self-indulgent and corny but I am also both of these things.

So yes, I loved this comic. There really isn’t much of anything like this in western manga publishing, and I feel like I’ve gained a lot from the experience of reading this. If this isn’t on several best of year lists come December I will be VERY surprised. I don’t score these reviews so please please please understand how much I love this and want you all to read it!

The Bride was a Boy is for fans of: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, Super Late Bloomer

If you enjoyed this review consider dropping me a few pennies over at Ko-Fi. Comics ain’t cheap, but I am.

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