Pride Month Reads: My Brother’s Husband Manga Is an Important Family Story That Addresses When Loved Ones Are Unintentionally Homophobic
5/5 loveable, bearded Canadians
I found My Brother’s Husband in a Kinokuniya book store a couple of years back and it’s a queer manga series that’s stuck with me for a while. When I decided to read as much queer content as I could for Pride Month this year, this was one of the books I immediately grabbed out of my collection to sit and reread. It’s one of those series with timeless messages of acceptance, reconnecting with your family, and examining your own biases to become a better person toward those who are different than you.
My Brother’s Husband is written by Gengoroh Tagame, a gay manga artist/writer who is well known for his erotica. My Brother’s Husband would be his first (but not his last) work that wasn’t erotic, with Tagame using it to examine homophobia and conservative viewpoints in Japan. The manga would go on to win several awards, including an Eisner in 2018 for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia.
Synopsis of My Brother’s Husband volumes 1 and 2
Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki, and father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it.
What this Pride Month Read has in store for you
If you’re looking for a manga series that discusses queer issues from a parent’s perspective while examining unintentional homophobia and providing warm, big bear-of-a-man hugs throughout, this series is a must.
The story is very much about Yaichi facing his preconceived notions about Mike, furthermore, it’s about him looking back at the way he treated his twin brother (Ryoji) when he found out he was gay. What I like about Yaichi is that he isn’t overly malicious. This isn’t a queer story where the protagonist is cartoonishly homophobic. I know that kind of animosity exists, but I think there should be more stories that focus on the unconscious things folks do that are homophobic, the things that, to them, don’t sound all that bad because they haven’t been challenged about them.
Yaichi’s assumptions are ones that I, a queer person, know are harmful, but many people outside the community think it’s perfectly fine because they aren’t being extremely hateful. This isn’t the “defacing your property with slurs” kind of hate, this is full-on “I don’t mind gay people BUT—” homophobia. This ranges from Yaichi wondering if he should walk around without a shirt now that Mike is staying at his house and wondering if he should leave Mike alone with his daughter, Kana. And since Yaichi is being kind enough to let Mike stay at his house (begrudgingly) he can easily see that as a sign of him not being all that homophobic, cuz if he was, he wouldn’t give him space in his home, right?
Yaichi is forced to analyze his attitude during the weeks Mike spends with them, especially since Kana doesn’t think there’s a problem with Mike—she ADORES him. Yaichi’s ex-wife, Natsuki, is also pretty fond of Mike. This pushes Yaichi to see that maybe he’s overreacting and it turns out that he, well, is.
The manga doesn’t stop there, though. It actually has Yaichi hold himself accountable for his actions and really look at the way he’s handled things—not just with Mike, but with his twin brother. It’s not like Yaichi and Ryoji had a giant argument about Ryoji being gay, but Yaichi wasn’t exactly all that welcoming. It reminded me of the way my wife’s mother originally reacted to us being together, who wasn’t malicious, but she wasn’t very welcome to the family about it, going so far as to say that we didn’t have to talk about it to anyone else in the family.
This sort of “lukewarm” acceptance can be pretty discouraging, which Yaichi realizes. After all, Ryoji not only moved overseas, he got married without his brother being there. Yaichi also barely talks about Ryoji to Kana, unintentionally excluding him from his life. Yaichi realizes that he missed an entire life with his brother, one that he won’t get the chance to share because he’s dead. Even if Yaichi didn’t do something drastic like disown him, his somewhat dismissive reaction led Ryoji to believe that this was something Yaichi didn’t want to be a part of.
By warming up to Mike, and by showing him the parts of Ryoji he didn’t get to know (childhood places he used to play at, etc.), it’s a way for Yaichi to accept his brother and, more importantly, grow into a more tolerant person.
Along with all of this, there is a quiet romance story between Mike and Ryoji as Mike grieves for the love of his life. And, honestly? That’s the ONLY hint of romance in this story. Mike gets to fall in love with his late husband all over again, in a way, as he learns about his home country and the family he has there.
Since Yaichi is the one dealing with his homophobia, Mike never really has to face it head-on. While there are certain characters who look at Mike in a certain way because he’s gay, it’s Yaichi who pieces together that what they’re thinking is wrong and how, not too long ago, he felt the same way. Any big moments that touch on homophobia are for Yaichi to settle since he’s the one who subscribed to that notion. Mike has enough to deal with because of his grief, the last thing he needs to deal with is one of Kana’s teachers making disparaging comments about him.
That’s for Yaichi to work through, not Mike.
Honestly, this is one of those queer manga that I wish they would offer in schools. There are so many necessary themes it touches on, and it’s such a good way to prompt conversations about acceptance toward the queer community and tackling the unconscious assumptions you have about it.
I cannot recommend this series enough.
You can check out My Brother’s Husband over at Penguin Random House via their Pantheon Graphic Library.
(Image: Gengoroh Tagame)
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