People often ask what I'm reading and how I incorporate it into my writing/research. I like for queer voices to shine in the stories that I write, thus I tend to be drawn to stories that feature these voices we haven't commonly heard. Both of these books have brilliantly illustrated struggles that numerous people face as members of the LGBTQ community and in life.
This is my impression of them thus far.
My Husband's Brother—
I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. This was better. Without spoiling too much... Mike, the Canada-jin, ends up at his brother-in-law's home for reasons you'll read about. He was obviously married to the other brother, and I thought he would bond with the in law. HOWEVER, it's not right away. B-in-law is like many Japanese men irl— he's subtly homophobic. Not in a monstrous way like people imagine that word to mean. No, he's a very stereotypical Japanese dude.
You need to understand two things about the lgbt relationship with Japan—
First, there's a very big "don't ask, don't tell" culture in Japan in regards to EVERYONE'S private lives, but especially for anyone who is queer...or deviant (there's our favorite Victorian era concept again).
Second, the other half of hesitation when it comes to sharing comes from media portrayal of various lgbt people. Gay men, transgender men, drag queens, and crossdressers all get lumped into one category in the media, and it's usually for entertainment purposes. It's meant to be comical. :/
We do gay differently in US media than in Japanese media. In the US, things use to be all hush-hush in the media, it was controversial. In Japan, it had been (and still) often used as a comedic point. It was laughable...which then also translated to actual gay people being not taken seriously. So much, that study abroad programs/families hesitate to host trans/openly gay students, because they might not be serious students/cause trouble/can't be taken seriously. (A real nail in the coffin, when being a "gaijin" is already a mar on your record.)
Back to the b-in-law and his reaction— this is a portrayal that is valuable for us to see. It's not outright hate, it's not dramatic, it's very realistic ignorance. This is how it often is. There's also glimpses of neighbors or other Japanese people in Volume 1 who see a gay man as a "negative influence". Another true to life portrayal of that ignorance.
While we have covered the less happy experiences, there are shining beautiful moments, showing the readers how to navigate life through those rough waters. The children. The kids of this book are gifts. Some just do what their parents tell them to, some ask questions, we watch them learn and have different responses together. There is even one kid who comes looking for the gay gaijin because he himself is gay and he just wants to meet someone LIKE HIM. It's messages like this that give others hope— You are not alone.
Tagame, who is famous for his gei comi (Gay Comics, or as some will refer to as "bara"), creates work that is very popular with gay men in Japan. His works are steering the industry in a more representative direction with BL (Boys Love) and its primarily female audience closely following. (But that's a different post for a different day.) I'm excited to see him do work on something that will probably be very meaningful for his readership.
Go read this book. There's more on the way as this is only the first volume, but this is a great perspective of how we learn from others/the community, international marriage, Japanese society, and LGBTQ lives.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness—
A treat hidden inside of a treat. Our protag is a woman of Japan's LGBTQ community, which is a perspective we don't get very often. Let's be honest, it's usually about the men first with discussions around gay men and the media from the Boys Love genre.
This woman also deals with something that is not talked about often in Japan— Depression and Anxiety. Her story is about navigating mental health in a society that doesn't talk about it, along with being a closeted lesbian, along with the struggles of adult hood. She deals with rejection constantly around her career and who she is in society. It's relatable.
Working for years with study abroad and students going to/from Japan, I saw that there were brand new initiatives to offer support and counseling for those with mental health needs. Japan has barely started to scratch the surface. For such a high context culture that places emphasis on subtle communications and maintaining the social mask (honne/tatemae), it's nothing short of a miracle to see more media appearing that talks about mental health. On top of it all, it's from a queer woman. (Yells happily from a mountain top!)
There's no perfect happy ending, but yet again, there's hope.
"You are not alone."
This is why it's such a big deal to explore numerous walks of life through media and do it right. The fictional, dramatized, creative interpretations are fun! We should have those! But some readers are looking to these materials for life lessons or relatable content, like Kabi said she was confused by BL when trying to figure herself out— "Where's the Yaoi hole??" That says a lot.
It's really good to have some legit representation in media.