The Bride Was A Boy
Chii (story and art)
A great example of queer representation in manga, The Bride Was A Boy is an autobiographical story about a Japanese trans woman and her experience falling in love, transitioning, and getting married in Japan. Everything about this book is cute and heartwarming—Chii’s relationship with her groom, her feelings about getting married, and especially the art! It feels good to read about how proud Chii is of her marriage. While the wedding is the titular plot point, it’s really a story about empowerment—how Chii took charge of her life and reshaped it into the life that she actually wanted. When you look at it that way, with her marriage as a point of culmination on this journey of self-actualization, it’s no wonder it felt like a huge accomplishment for her!
The art is cavity-inducingly cute. The entire book is drawn in a chibi manga style and all the characters are adorable—and very expressive! A lot of emotion gets conveyed even in the smaller panels because the expressions are so lively and descriptive. I particularly love Chii’s depiction of herself. I love the way her boy-mode and girl-mode self portraits both have the same little curl of the hair, which also acts as an effective signal that they’re the same person. There’s a lot of happiness in this book and it shines through in Chii’s post-transition drawings of herself and how happy she looks.
Beyond that, though, The Bride Was A Boy is a very important book and the reason why is particularly evident in the responses to it, some of which have been fairly negative. There was controversy over the title before the book even came out. It’s fairly common in the trans community not to like language that implies people were once the gender assigned to them at birth before they came out as trans. Many folks feel that they were always their true gender and that coming out just made their presentation match their reality. Of course, that’s a perfectly valid perspective—but not all trans people are the same! Seven Seas defended the title, explaining that it was chosen by the author as the way she felt most comfortable describing her own personal experiences, that she does feel like she used to be a boy before becoming a woman.
When it did come out, some readers on the internet were critical of the upbeat nature of the story, claiming that it “wasn’t realistic” that her family and friends were immediately supportive and accepting of who she was. There are already so many queer stories about hardship and tragedy. It appears that some people have associated the queer experience with suffering to such an extent that they’re having trouble separating them in their mind—but we need more queer stories with happy endings. Chii’s story is such a great example of that! Seeing her living as her authentic self is inspiring, and makes me feel like perhaps my future can be something better than my worst fears. Plus, the fact that anyone would describe this autobiographical story, the narrative of what this woman actually lived through, as “unrealistic” is mind-boggling to me. Trans people don’t exist so that others can voyeuristically witness our hardships and use them as “inspiration porn.”
Both of these criticisms are examples of the gatekeeping and language policing that are too prevalent in the trans community. Talking openly about your experience can be really rewarding but it’s hard when so many people want to make rules about the “right” way to do it. Everyone should have the right to be referred to in the way that they want, but one person’s preferences shouldn’t preclude anyone else from using the labels and terminology they prefer. I have experienced the feeling of being nervous about talking authentically about myself, for fear of others not approving of the ways in which I identify. It made me happy to read this book and get to see Chii tell her story in the most authentic way that she felt she could—and she made it very clear that she only spoke for herself and her own experience.
As a trans person myself, some parts of Chii’s story were extremely relatable for me—like how she had trouble finding herself because she didn’t feel like she could relate to other trans people she met. (“I don’t know how a man and a woman feels. I don’t know how anyone feels!”) Other aspects, like worrying about people who only know you post-transition finding out about your history, I couldn’t relate to—which is okay, because all trans people are different!
In fact, learning about the differences between my experience as an American and Chii’s experience as a Japanese person was one of the most interesting things about the book. Getting a feel for what things are like in other cultures is a very healthy dose of perspective. I found a little jealousy bubbling up when she described how easily and quickly she was able to get her surgeries done once she decided to do them, when I’ve been on a waiting list for my surgery for nearly a year. But when she spent seven pages describing the arduous process of fighting through government gatekeeping to change her name, which was pretty much painless for me, I was feeling a little bit more lucky to be living in America all of a sudden. The complexities of transitioning in a country where same sex marriage isn’t legal had never occurred to me either and I’m glad I have a better understanding of what it’s like for other people now—because that’s how empathy is fostered.
In fact, empathy is at the very core of The Bride Was A Boy. As a trans person, I really enjoyed watching Chii go through all the steps of how she felt at different points in her transition. I think it would be a great educational source for cis people as well, partly because the educational interludes are really thoughtful and informative, but also because the way she breaks everything down really openly captures a sense of what being trans is like. Compassion is a powerful force and the compassion that Chii offers to all her fellows in the trans community—as well as to herself—has something to teach all of us about how to make an effort to respect each other.