Love Me for Who I Am Vol. 1
August 12, 2020 11:14 AM - by Konayama, Kata - Subscribe

Iwaoka Tetsu invites fellow student Mogumo to work at his family’s café for “cross-dressing boys,” but he makes an incorrect assumption: Mogumo is non-binary and doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl. However, Mogumo soon finds out that the café is run by LGBT+ folks of all stripes, all with their own reasons for congregating there.
posted by one for the books (1 comment total)
I think both the positive and negative reviews make fair points. Mogumo's perspective probably could be given more detail at some times... a later volume's touching depiction of Kotone's struggles and internalized repression is given infinitely more depth than Mogumo's explanations of their identity. But it's also important to acknowledge that a lot of the series focuses on Mogumo learning things, both about themself and about other people, including terminology from a community they'd never previously interacted with. Them calling Suzu by a slur at the start reads less as malicious and more as an example of how Mogumo has been entirely alone their whole life and has not been given the language or tools to figure things out properly. They know strongly that they are neither a boy nor a girl (the English publisher's description of "doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl" actually waters this down) but that's about as much as they can articulate, so far. Why go into more detail when even that much has been rejected or misunderstood their entire life?

Another main thing I can see as a point of contention is that everything keeps on working out for the best. Characters continually find acceptance from people who care about them. The few antagonistic characters all realize what they did wrong and tearfully apologize. (Maybe not in volume 4, but that won't be published for a good while.) Being honest with yourself and with others, and being willing to listen and understand, is a universal remedy. A lot of this is because the characters are mostly shown working in an intensely queer space as a found family, but it can also read as overly optimistic or even sugarcoating. Personally I dunno. There's room for fantasy sometimes, and the series doesn't need to be trauma porn, and it's not like there aren't a lot of conflicts and tears and harsh words sometimes on the way to those happy endings.

I'm not going to defend the cover. The "maid" setting in general, for that it may refer to a real phenomenon, does feel kinda fetishistic/exploitative, even if it's mostly dropped as a focus after the first chapter or two.

But what really works for me is the variety of identities and experiences here, especially when they were all predicated as being in the same otokonoko category before Mogumo's arrival gave them room to better articulate (and respect) their differences. Mei's experiences and perspective are so different from Suzu's, and so on. It's so easy for a book or series to have the solitary LGBTQ+ character who has to perfectly represent everyone and also can never have any flaws, and that's not at all what happens here. There's room for the reader's experience to be different from the characters', because the characters are different from each other too On the other side, there are older characters who drop in sometimes to act as mentors to the main cast, guiding them through what are more shared experiences. And as part of everything always working out, again and again these good, hardworking, somewhat fearful children are rewarded with these beautiful moments of intense happiness as things that had been denied to them (sometimes even by themselves) are finally made available.

And it's also fascinating seeing things that are hardly ever addressed in fiction at all, let alone in manga. A gender-neutral bathroom is shown and discussed almost on page 1. Some or all of this may be in later volumes, but characters mention voice training, padding, makeup, and body shapes. Characters go to a pride festival and sign a petition to legalize same-sex marriage. It's great just seeing these things right there on the page, not as subtext at all, in a published volume.
posted by one for the books at 11:14 AM on August 12, 2020

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