Manga review: The Bride Was a Boy

Follow up on my manga review, here I talk about The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii, who tells us how she managed to find a boyfriend and marry him after she was raised as a boy. All the while explaining what a gender transition is.

As mentioned in my previous article, I will be dedicating a full page on The Bride Was a Boy, a Japanese comic book about a transgender woman, Chii (the author) who is finally getting married, despite all the obstacles that she had to overcome to make it possible. Obviously, being a transgender woman, I deeply relate to the author, even though I live in a country where such barriers don’t exist. We’ll get to that in a moment.

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At first, I was surprised by the title. “The Bride was a Boy” seemed like a weird way to make people understand that transgender women are women and where not actually boys, and I was genuinely scared that it would just make fun of us. But the author clears that up in the very first page: “The Bride was a Boy” is an oversimplification or, as she says “I was a boy, or at least, I looked like one”, and goes on to describe how her life unfolded from growing up as a boy in the eyes of society.

It is a personal account, and like any other personal account (see my review of First Year Out, by Sabrina Symington), the experience differs greatly from person to person. Chii makes a good case of pointing that out. Which is where her manga isn’t just a nice and funny account of a person’s life,

IT IS A PUBLIC SERVICE!

And I don’t mean it lightly. It’s very rare to read an author who wants to be as inclusive and comprehensive as it can, going beyond their own experience. To go into this, we need to look at the structure of the book. The story is divided in 9 chapters, each talking about a significant period in her life. Some overlap (hormone therapy and legal gender change, for example), but overall, it’s mostly chronological. And where this work isn’t just a life story and becomes actually educational, it’s in the fact that between every chapter, Chii explains a transition step or a an issue that can’t put into images because they are quite complex and she wants to make sure it is well understood by anyone who read it.

And it’s very accurate. Where the comic strips tell her life, the educational texts go into a lot of educational details (1), that are still explained in such a simple way anyone will understand, including, and especially, children. She also acknowledge where she lacks the knowledge to explain further, especially when something differs between countries. The most obvious example is the legal name change. She explains how it’s done in Japan, but she can’t possibly tell how other countries deal with it, since there is no two countries that share the same laws and regulations on the matter. But she explains all the important notions necessary to understand the situation for trans people, and she even cites scientific sources at the end of the book.

Finally, I should talk a bit about the art and the tone in itself, because not only it is a great romance in a super cute style,

IT’S ALSO SUPER FUNNY!

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The back cover cracked me up. That’s totally the kind of cute humour the story is full of.

It’s super refreshing. It is a love story that ends well about a transgender woman who gets married with her quirky and funny boyfriend who never at any point doubted she was a woman. Let me say that again.

IT’S A STORY ABOUT A TRANSGENDER WOMAN WHO LIVES A HAPPY LIFE.

And we need that. We need stories where it’s not just about being harassed, assaulted or killed, but where it is possible to actually be happy when and after transitioning. That we can have the same things than any other people, that it’s normal, and that no one comes to take it from us because they don’t like the idea of us.

So, I think you understand now that I totally recommend this book. Read it, give it to your friends and family, because it’s really a comic book for everyone. No question about it. Why are you even still here?

 

(1) She even go as far as talking about the DSM and the difference between Gender Identity Disorder and Gender Dysphoria, and why now GD is preferred by the scientific society but Japan still uses GID. She also points out that any information regarding medical regulation and laws on gender change are true in 2016 when the book is released but may change later.

Quick review of queer mangas

Review of two book: Claudine, a 1978 manga about a transgender man facing bullying; and My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, the true account of a young homosexual woman who had to face depression and social expectations.

After I saw a post on twitter about Claudine, a Japanese comic book about a transgender man that was supposedly very good (for its time), I set out to buy it, and added in my shopping cart a couple of other mangas dealing with LGBT issues: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, and The Bride Was a Boy.

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So here are the reviews in the reading order.

Claudine, by Ryoko Ikeda:

Claudine is by far the weakest of the three. I was expecting a very powerful art work about trans issues, but instead, I got shallow characters, empty plot and a poor understanding of the subject. Now, it was made in 1978, and it is probably the reflection of the stereotypes of that time, but there are points in this book that make it really not interesting as a story.

And the biggest problem is the main character. He has no other definition than being transgender. We don’t know anything about him. The story is told from the accounts of his psychiatrist who, you’d think would talk about more things than just his struggle with gender identity. But we never know a single thing about Claudine but that she is from a rich family. I think it kills the story entirely, because it is impossible to relate to a character who’s just an empty shell. And the psychiatrist, who is ultimately the voice of the author, kills the whole open-mindedness by saying a very transphobic “Even a true man couldn’t love a woman so utterly” (1).

Then, the plot revolves almost uniquely around a girl who is in love with Claudine and sets out to sabotage every single relationship he (Claudine) has with other girls. And the whole story is like that. Claudine is rather passive. Things happen to her, it’s all about how people react to her, but not much how she reacts. She is like the MacGuffin of her own story.

I can’t really talk about the art form, because I am not used to the manga style, but I was surprised that Claudine was drawn in a very different style than the other characters. Maybe the author wanted him to stand out from the crowd, but for me, it just reinforces the MacGuffin effect, his shallowness, that he is not human, as opposed to all the other characters.

Finally, although there are some good ideas, the book, even by the 70’s standards, this story lacks character development, which was a real turn off to me. I couldn’t see a real person in Claudine, and it was a huge drawback in my opinion.

 

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi:

This book is a breath of fresh air. It’s powerful, moving and relatable. It’s not a graphic novel. It’s more like an illustrated essay. Every strip is narrated by the author, who tells her own story. A story of feeling like an outcast, because she doesn’t see herself in the expectations of others. And still she tries to meet these expectations, which drives her to be even more miserable, and not knowing why.

It is a powerful tale of getting to know yourself and the cause of your sickness, instead of finding ways to ignore it or inflicting physical pain to oneself to know why it hurts. It touched so close to home on so many occasion, I wanted to cry during most of the book. It’s quite surely a good read to anyone who faced depression and had a hard time recognising the cause, or to people who never had such an experience but would like to understand how oppressing and terrifying this situation is.

It is well crafted; although it’s a real story, the author makes the effort of giving it a pace and a structure, and every act offers to show a real change in her mindset and relationship with her illness (2) until she understands the cause and ultimately gets better by living the life that suits her, instead of trying to get her parents approval on everything (3). Her illustrations are really doing a good work of explaining how her depression worked and how she was feeling most of the time. I think that even someone who’s never had depression and doesn’t understand the concept can have a pretty good idea at how it must feel for people who are afflicted.

And of course, it’s also a story of a lesbian woman in a country that is still very conservative on sexuality, and who ultimately tries to be herself despite social barriers. Just read it people.

 

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii:

I have a lot to say about this one, so here is a page dedicated to this review.

 

(1) Let’s hope it’s a translation mistake, which is totally possible, seeing how disastrous the translation is. Full of typos, grammar errors, inconsistencies, I had to read some lines several times to make sure I understood.

(2) I shouldn’t have to explain that, but in case anyone misinterpret what I wrote: her illness is not her homosexuality, obviously. It’s the depression that comes from the inability to recognise that she is homosexual and trying to fit into societal expectations.

(3) Yes, I’m spoiling the end, but that was that or killing herself. So since she is writing this book, we can only assume it’s not really a surprise. The whole point of the story is to see how she navigates her depression and heals.

Quick note: First Year Out, by Sabrina Symington

Today, I want to talk about this graphic novel that hits so close to home, since it’s about gender transition. It’s called First Year Out, A Transition Story, and as the title states, it narrates about a year in the life of Lily, a trans woman, right after she comes out.

Today, I want to talk about this graphic novel that hits so close to home, since it’s about gender transition. It’s called First Year Out, A Transition Story, and as the title states, it narrates about a year in the life of Lily, a trans woman, right after she comes out.

First year out

It is important to note that it is “a” transition story. She doesn’t mean it to depict the life of every trans woman, since we all go though very different things. So this story is mostly about herself, and also includes bits of stories that happened to her friends or other trans women she knows. Personally, I relate so much to a lot of things that are depicted in this book that I felt I had written it at times. But also, it made me cry a lot, since I felt close to the main character, but also because it doesn’t shy away from the hardship of being transgender, while staying positive all along.

I really encourage every one to read First Year Out. It’s definitely an interesting story, and it shouldn’t be confined in the small circle of the LGBTQ community. It would also support this rising artist to make a name for herself, and draw more amazing graphic novels in the future. I can’t wait for the next one.

On the side note, when reading First Year Out, you can see that the drawing style gets sharper and more precise toward the end, and Sabrina would tell you it’s because the making spanned over a period of a year (or more?) and obviously the style would definitely change. Personally, I was so absorbed by the story that I didn’t notice, but I like to think that the change in style unconsciously represents the change of state of Lily as she finds peace in her life. Since I pulled the “unconscious” string, she can’t deny, right?

Would I live as a foreigner for the rest of my life?

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

[…]

I am gonna talk about transition again, yay! Bear with me for a moment.

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

In some other country, it’s the lack of foreign people until recently that makes it difficult to live there as a citizen. Meaning that it doesn’t matter how long you stay there, people will always see you as a curiosity. That’s the case in Korea, where I lived. Wherever you go, people will always assume you’re new and you can’t speak Korean. I have friends who have been living there for over 20 years, and Koreans are still spooked when they hear them speak Korean fluently. I was always receiving comments like “Ho you really speak Korean well”, and sometimes they even dared saying it in English, like if ordering a beer was the only thing I could say in Korean.

I am not criticizing that, I completely understand the reasons. If you where from a country that was considered insignificant by most of the world for a long time, that would be normal to not understand why people would be suddenly interested in living there (even though you became the 11th economic power in the world and provide half the world population with pocket phones). But the point I want to make is: would it be alright for you to live in a country, if it means you would be considered a foreigner probably for the rest of your life? There is no right answer; it’s totally acceptable for many people and for countless reasons. The people born from Algerian parents that I mentioned at the beginning consider themselves French (and they are), and see no reason why they would live somewhere else (and many say that when they visit their families in Algeria, people say they’re too French. They’re loosing on both sides). There are a lots of perks living in Korea, that can overshadow the small inconvenient of being seen as a foreigner. Or you can be married in said country and it’s simpler to live there than moving your family away.

Personally, I live in Canada, more precisely in Vancouver (BC), and since I arrived, I never felt that I couldn’t belong. People just don’t give a crap if you’re a foreigner. I get asked occasionally where I’m from, because I have a strong accent, but there are so many people from various origins that it just doesn’t make sense to ask it to every one all the time. And I like that way better than the other solution. And that’s how I could answer another question that’s so weirdly similar.

One of my biggest fear when I started transition was: will I pass? (See, I told you it was about transition) Most trans know it. It’s one of the biggest concern when deciding to transition, since it’s strongly related to discrimination. In the latest poll, it ranks second, before “what’s my actual sexual orientation?” and after “Am I gonna get killed for being trans?” (1). And I say the questions are similar because, to me, when people look at me weirdly, it feels like I am a foreigner. Some trans person don’t care. They know people look at them, but they don’t give a crap, and for other people, especially when you don’t like the attention, this self-consciousness is very crippling. I never wear obviously feminine clothes or heavy make-up for that reason (also because I don’t want to spend half an hour more to prepare in the morning).

So, when I realized I could correlate both questions, it became easy to answer. Since I didn’t want to live as a foreigner in Korea, which is one of the reasons I didn’t try to stay longer, I realized that yes, I need to pass as a woman. I can probably bear to be seen as transgender for some time, but at some point, I want people to see me as who I am and not at “who I’m trying to be”, if that makes any sense (it does to me and that’s what matters), and I’m ready to go to very long lengths (depending on my resources) because there is no way that I am going back.

 

(1) Poll realized with a non-representative sample of 1 pseudo-randomly self-selected transgender woman trying to be funny.

How to change how things are done (GRS)

How to change how things are done, which can be also resumed as fighting inertia, is quite a general topic, but we’re going to focus on gender transition treatment, and more particularly surgery for transgender women (i.e. gender reassignment surgery a.k.a. vaginoplasty). So here I am, talking about transition after saying in my first post that I wouldn’t do it so often.

[…]

How to change how things are done, which can be also resumed as fighting inertia, is quite a general topic, but we’re going to focus on gender transition treatment, and more particularly surgery for transgender women (i.e. gender reassignment surgery a.k.a. vaginoplasty). So here I am, talking about transition after saying in my first post that I wouldn’t do it so often. But this one will be rather long, and I don’t want to be banned from twitter for spamming. So here we go.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this article in Wired that talks about a “new” vaginoplasty technique that is better than the current one. It says a bit what it does, who does it and… that’s it. The problem, I find, is that it cruelly lacks sources, because, let’s see:

  1. They say it’s Dr Ting who performs it, and he is director of surgery at Mount Sinai (NYC). Ok, this one is easy, here is Dr Jess Ting, although they only say he does hand surgery and plastic and reconstruction surgery. Well, reconstruction surgery matches with vaginoplasty, so I guess we nailed that one. But is he the only one in the USA?
  2. a paper describing the work of some doctors in India who were building vaginas a bit differently.” So apparently, there is somewhere a paper that describes a technique used in India (only?) that’s better than what is generally used now. Nice, can you tell us more about the paper? Not the paper itself, I’m sure it’s under strict copyright, but the authors, the publication? A DOI maybe? Well, no, apparently, it’s not interesting enough to have more information for people who might be interested in such topic, like, other transgender women.
  3. They were performing surgeries on women with a rare disorder that causes the organ to develop abnormally or not at all.” This one is just lazy. Seriously, not even the name of the disease?

So in the end, we literally can’t find actual useful information about this without putting extra effort. This article smells purely like a hidden advertisement for the Mount Sinai so they don’t get competition. They don’t even talk about it on their website, like it’s a Research and Development project and they don’t want anyone else to do what they do. This is obviously not in the interest of transgender women who want to access what’s best for them without having to travel thousands of kilometers away or pay more than they should (which is zero or close to that figure in many countries). It’s always better to find a solution in your local area, or at least in your country, especially when your country has a relevant health care system that will cover it.

Enough said about this badly sourced article, now how do we get to have this kind of procedure?

First, we need to know what we’re talking about. This is why yours truly went above and beyond to find that information. So I started by contacting the Mount Sinai hospital about this matter and never got an answer. So either they’re too busy to answer a transgender woman they claim they want to help, or they just didn’t want to answer. Either way, they weren’t helpful at all, so I moved on to my second step: finding about the procedure.

The good thing, despite the lack of information in the article, is that they felt compelled to give out a minimum of technical information so they actually look like they know what they’re talking about. “They found a way to do that with tissue from the peritoneum, which is basically a bag of loose tissue that encircles the inside of your abdomen and holds your guts in place.” The fact that they actually name the organ they use (the peritoneum) helped a lot, because, after research, I managed to find more information about the procedure (which is called “Davydov’s colpopoeisis”). I won’t explain it in much detail, but if you’re curious, The Beverly Hills Center for Laparoscopic Urogynecology explains it very well, with pictures. And you learn about the condition of the women born without a functional vagina (Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser, MRKH), since that’s what the surgery was designed for in the first place. That also means that the Mount Sinai isn’t the only place to get that surgery.

If you want more detailed information about the procedure, there is an article (Ward et al., 1998(1)) for that. And you read right. It has been written in 1998, so obviously, this technique has been around for some time, and not only in India (I didn’t find the Indian article, though, which makes me wonder how this woman found it in the first place and not the article from Ward et al.).

Then, they are talking about the outcomes of the surgery: “while the new procedure is showing superior results so far, it will be important to monitor to see how it holds up long term“. They’re right, we need to know how the surgery holds up in the long run. Or do we? It turns out, there is already an article detailing that (Zhou et al., 2010(2)). And it’s neither in the USA or in India. Now it’s in China. Looks like this procedure is done all over the place after all. And don’t get me wrong. We definitely need more study, especially regarding transgender women. But the article is seriously misleading, and honestly the procedure is exactly the same for trans and cis women since it only involves body organs that are shared in both male and female bodies. And they can start from there.

Now the big question: how do we get to have more surgeons performing this surgery for transgender women. As I said in introduction, changing things is about fighting inertia, and the strongest inertia is, the more energy we need. In this case we need an insane amount of energy, first to be heard, then to be listened to, and that’s where we need to do something together. I can go only as far as people are listening to me, and I don’t have a big notoriety or charisma that helps the subject to be brought forward. I tried to talk to my doctor, but she said it wasn’t her place to tell surgeons what they have to do, which is sound. I told the PHSA (health care system in Canada) in my local branch, in Vancouver; the person I have in contact said it was very interesting, and basically told me that they are currently training surgeons to provide surgery services in British Colombia, so we don’t have to go to Québec, but I don’t know what they are trained on.

Now I’m on a stand still. I really don’t know what to do since I have almost no useful contact in that regard. My only is that the information I salvaged gets to be shared the most widely possible.

So, please share, and talk about it to your practitioner, your health care representative, your pharmacist, your Shoppers clerk (who’s also your pharmacist), your mom, your dog, anyone who listen to you. Maybe together, we can do something about it.

 

(1) Current Obstetrics & Gynaecology (1998) 8, 224~226© 1998 Harcourt Brace & Co. Ltd

(2) Fertility and Sterility Vol. 94, No. 6, November 2010  Copyright© 2010 American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Published by Elsevier Inc.