The month of June is upon us and with it comes LGBT Pride Month! Therefore, in celebration, TDF will be covering Gengoroh Tagame’s series – My Brother’s Husband. While Japan features an array of series featuring LGBT characters, My Brother’s Husband is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. What distinguishes it from other LGBT series is its coverage of not only the LGBT community but also its deconstruction of the causes of homophobia. Through its brilliant storytelling, My Brother’s Husband teaches readers that homophobia is something surmountable through education and a willingness to change.
The Plot Of My Brother’s Husband
My Brother’s Husband follows a single Japanese father, Yaichi, who juggles taking care of the home, working, and raising his young daughter, Kana. He focuses all his attention on her as she is his only living relative (both his parents died when he was young and his twin brother died years later). Before his twin (Ryoji) passed away, he moved from Japan to Canada. During this time, the brothers’ relationship became strained.
One day, after sending his daughter to school, Yaichi
receives an unexpected visit from a Canadian man named Mike Flanagan. Mike
happens to be Ryoji’s newly-widowed husband. Being a conservative man, Yaichi
was never completely comfortable with the fact that Ryoji married another man.
While he acknowledged his brother was gay, Yaichi never fully accepted it.
Mike decided to visit Japan in honor of his late husband, as he promised to see all the important sites of Ryoji’s childhood. Due to Japanese hospitality, Yaichi opens his home to Mike while he stays in Japan. However, he worries over how to explain the relationship between Mike and Ryoji to his daughter. As the days of cohabitation pass, will Yaichi learn to overcome his discomfort or will he remain steadfast in his ways?
The Art Of My Brother’s Husband
The art in My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame is some of the most beautifully-descriptive work manga has to offer. Tagame takes painstaking efforts to have his character designs be as realistic as possible. Unlike most manga, where characters have the generic, big-eye, anime ascetic, his cast displays anatomically-correct proportions.
Tagame’s designs help distinguish the different nationalities of his main characters as well. For example, Yaichi, as a Japanese man, is clean cut, has black hair and black eyes like most Japanese men. However, Mike, as a Canadian, has thick facial and body hair, as well as a bulkier build. Tagame’s work is symbolic in this way as it appears as if he is trying to make Mike seem like the “other” (not only because he is a foreigner but also because of his sexuality). Mike sticks out in Japan which helps symbolize how “other” the LGBT lifestyle appears to people like Yaichi.
The conversation revolving around the LGBT community gets
expressed through Tagame’s art as well. He makes sure the characters’ facial
expressions and body language give away their opinions on the subject.
There are also interesting, symbolic illustrations throughout the series. One, in particular, is when Yaichi appears to hear his brother’s voice coming from his shadow. This is symbolic since, as twins, they share the same appearance. However, while shadows share the same shape, they do not reflect the same image. Therefore, this symbolism helps Yaichi distance himself from Ryoji as he appears as an “other” despite the connection.
Reactions To The LGBT Community
In My Brother’s Husband, Tagame displays an array of ways people react to LGBT people. Being a gay man himself, these reactions are most likely examples of what he had to face on a daily basis. This aspect is perhaps the most beautiful of his series. For, not only does he provide readers with different points of view regarding the LGBT community, but he also does not villainize any particular group. As a matter of fact, the people who are openly against it simply appear misinformed.
How Yaichi Represents Homophobia
When first meeting Mike, Yaichi displays how uncomfortable he is with the fact that his brother married another man. While he does not say anything outwardly homophobic, his thoughts showcase what he thinks of Mike. He believes it is unnatural for two men to be together like a heterosexual couple. Yaichi also displays irrational fears many homophobic people have: that the LGBT community is harmful to children.
Throughout the beginning of My Brother’s Husband, Yaichi worries about how to explain Mike’s
sexuality to his daughter, Kana. He does not want to confuse her and fears
Mike’s presence may harm her. However, Kana surprises him by not only quickly
understanding Mike’s sexuality but accepting it as normal. Her actions help
transition us to the next point this manga lays out perfectly.
Homophobia Is A Taught Behavior
What Tagame’s work portrays emphatically is that no one is born homophobic. Similarly to all other forms of bigotry, any form of hatred for a particular group of people is a learned behavior. No child automatically dislikes someone for their race, gender, or sexuality. The first trait a child grows to dislike is a person’s character. If a person is mean, the child will dislike them for that attitude, not for anything else.
Kana displays this reality when her father introduces Mike to her. He explains Mike’s relationship with her uncle and at first, this confuses her. However, she is not confused over two men being together, but why it happens in only certain parts of the world. (In Japan, LGBT marriages are illegal.) She grew to love Mike because of his good nature. His character is her only determining factor of whether or not she likes him.
Nevertheless, My Brother’s Husband also visits the other side of the spectrum by showcasing what could happen if a parent badly influences their child. Tagame features a moment in the series when Kana’s friend learns about LGBT people through Kana’s conversations about Mike. At first, this intrigues her friend and she wants to meet Mike for herself. However, after talking to her mother about him, her mother tells her to stay away from Mike, claiming he is a bad influence. This act not only confuses Kana but also puts a strain on their friendship.
Overcoming Discomfort By Overcoming Ignorance
As part of the LGBT community, Gengoroh Tagame created My Brother’s Husband to help end the
stigma over gay people. Since it is a conservative nation, LGBT people in Japan
often feel they have to hide their sexuality. Because of this, Tagame holds no
punches in displaying how harmful homophobia can be. For example, he features a
scene where a young boy named Kazuya visits Yaichi’s home to speak to Mike. He comes
out to Mike and just by saying he is gay out loud, he breaks down in relief.
What My Brother’s Husband urges readers to understand is that homophobia is harmful. Tagame places immense effort into revealing homophobia for what it is: ignorance. However, he does not try to demonize people for having homophobic ideas. If anything, he displays an understanding that what creates homophobia is a lack of education and exposure to LGBT people. His story teaches people that if they spent more time getting to know LGBT people as people rather than as the “other” then there would be less pain and more love in the world.
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