Bokura no Hentai and Queer Communities

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Bokura no Hentai is one of relatively few well-regarded manga that focuses on trans issues. We all know that trans people haven’t always fared that well in the realm of anime and manga, a subject I’d like to revisit in the future, but this manga, alongside a few other such as Hourou Musuko and Hanayome wa Motodanshi, has gathered quite a bit of acclaim, both within the trans community and in the manga sphere in general.

Bokura no Hentai focuses on a lot of characters who go through many different things. Unlike Hourou Musuko, this is not specifically a trans manga. More accurately, it’s a manga about AMAB people wearing femme clothing. That said, it’s not hard to see Marika, the trans girl of the cast, as the main character and she’s the area of which I’m most interested in focusing. The things this manga does with crossdressing is interesting, totally forgoing most of the tropes common to the otokonoko genre but I’m not a crossdresser and don’t feel like I know enough about cross-dressing to really address how it presents the subject. What I’d rather focus on is how it addresses Marika as a trans girl and how it deals with the subject of community.

Marika is a very relatable trans character in a lot of ways. While she does fit the classical ‘trans narrative’ of a straight trans girl whose known about her gender for her entire life, those who don’t fit that mold should still be able to connect to her relatively easily. Even if many of us haven’t known since we were children, that feeling of alienation from others is something felt by almost every trans person I’ve talked to at one point or another.

In many ways, Bokura no Hentai is a story about damaged people who often damage one another. This is especially true for Osamu, who molests her and clearly attempts to emotionally damage her. At the same time, Marika’s initial meeting with him and Ryou does a huge amount of good for her. While neither of them is trans, the ability to talk to those who at least vaguely understand what you’re going through is helpful. That said, both of them have their own huge issues to deal with that prevent them from saving Marika, only allowing them to comfort her to a small extent.

Fortunately, Tomochi is able to arrive and help her. While he’s initially a bit too pushy, he truly values Marika, more than anyone else in the cast. Unlike many others he sees Marika as a girl from the moment she comes out to him and to some degree is actually able to connect with her over this. Whether or not Tomochi is trans or non-binary in some way is left up in the air, but it’s without a doubt true that he values Marika. He’s the first one to regularly refer to her as such, to the point that he accidentally calls her that in public, outing her. That’s obviously not a good thing, but it was clearly a mistake and demonstrates how he truly sees her as a girl, something that takes time for the rest of the cast. It’s this knowledge which allows Tomochi to harbor Marika when she needs it, as well as to eventually help her to see a doctor about transitioning.

After Marika begins to publicly transition, her friends become even more important. It’s not impossible to transition without public backlash, but it’s pretty damn unlikely, especially in middle school. Marika is used to being bullied, but here she has a close group of friends that help her. The cooking club serves as a place of refuge, and with Ryou’s development, he too becomes a person Marika can confide in. Marika’s mental state still isn’t perfect, but community and friendship are able to help her get through bad situations.

This is best demonstrated in the final volume. As Osamu says, the entire group is ‘weirdos’, but they’re able to gain at least some amount of happiness by being with each other. Something that manga with a focus on queer issues often ignores is how important it is to find communities of people going through similar things. Races and ethnicities of people have inherent communities, as people tend to live with others in their culture. On the other hand, queer people are born everywhere in roughly similar numbers. This makes for a very disparate community which is hard to get together in any meaningful way.

In lieu of that, communities have to be actively searched out, be it in real life or online. These communities are vital places of support for queer people. They provide advice, validation, shared experiences, and just a baseline from which friendships can be built. Queer manga just doesn’t focus on this all that often. I’m a huge fan of yuri manga, even the Class S-iest of Class S manga, but I wish these communities showed up more often. Sure, some queer people never look for these, but plenty if not most do.

Bokura no Hentai really gets how important these places are. It’s this little community which allows Tomochi to start dressing in femme clothing again, something he clearly really enjoys. It’s this community which doesn’t judge any of them for being trans, or cross-dressing, or liking the same gender. It’s this community which allows Marika to flourish, escaping her depression and eventually finding validation and happiness living as a girl.

Bokura no Hentai is far from a perfect manga. Chapter 40, which has Marika enter a cross-dressing competition, is awful and should have been cut. It’s easy to imagine that Marika would doubt herself — we all do — but the manga doesn’t do nearly enough to reassure her, leading to a chapter that basically misgenders her for no gain. At the very least, the next chapter shows no sign that she lingered on these feelings, but it still wasn’t necessary.

This isn’t a manga that’s happy or has everything work out. Much as in real life, the happiness found in these communities is so vital because said happiness often can’t be found in the broader world. Homophobia and transphobia are very real in this manga and rear their heads constantly. Osamu might find some peace, but as the doujin sequel shows, he’s never going to be able to escape his past. This is also a manga which is clearly written by a cis person who, while admirable, doesn’t have the deepest understanding of trans issues and we need more stuff like this written by trans people(please read Shimanami Tasogare).

But this is still a manga which is worth reading. I can’t think of any other manga that deals with community so well, and if you took volume 6 on its own, I think it would be the best trans manga in existence. We need more trans manga by trans authors, but in the present situation, this is a real gem.

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2 thoughts on “Bokura no Hentai and Queer Communities

  1. Like you said, Bokura no Hentai wasn’t a perfect manga but I appreciate what it attempted to convey. Queer communities do seem oddly missing in many works featuring LGBTQ individuals, and the fact that Marika, Ryou, and Tomochi had a place to belong (Osamu sort of cut himself out and he’s probably the least happy compared to the others at the end for it). It’s a strong message.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also enjoyed Bokura no Hentai but I felt weird about it equates femininity with “purity” through Marika. Though she doesn’t let it stop her in the end, she still holds purity as an ideal and blames herself for getting molested. Still, the theme of coming to terms with your flaws isn’t a bad one and, with that main exception, I think it was handled fairly well.
    Also Shimanami Tasogare is amazing. I’m so glad to find someone else who likes it.

    Like

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