My Brother’s Husband – An Instructional Guide to Being an Ally

Back when Ryan Lewis and Macklemore were writing the songs for their album The Heist, Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) was having a hard time coming up with the lyrics for “Same Love.”  He finally decided on an idea of telling the story from a gay individual’s perspective. However, when he showed this to Ryan Lewis, Ryan shot it down immediately.  He stated to Ben that there was no authenticity behind these words, and that if he really wanted to make an impact, he should tell it from his perspective. Ben rewrote the song with this in mind, taking his own perspective and feelings of support for the gay community and translating them musically.  The song went on to be an anthem for the gay community and a banner for allies to rally under as they pushed harder to finally enact legal gay marriage in the United States.

As someone who likes to write in his free time, I always suffer trying to find how to write characters that aren’t the same background as me, whether it’s a different ethnicity or a different sexuality.  To be honest, it genuinely is an impossible thing to try and do this by myself. I can’t understand the struggle or the abuse people have gone through for being gay because I’m just not. That is why I always talk to those around me from these backgrounds in order to help me understand on some scale, and then constantly keep the conversation going as I write.  Any writer who is gay would far better be able to detail how that feels than me, and we should encourage them to write those feelings.  However, for those of us that are allies, I feel that if we want to express these types of characters in the stories we tell, we have to make damn sure we do it right.

That is why I love My Brother’s Husband as a series.  This short but endearingly sweet manga very much acts as an instructional guide for the ways allies can help and make the best of being the support class in the Equality Squad.  Gengoroh Tagame in this manga shows people, such as myself, how to be that ally that the gay community needs, how to accept them and work with them to make a better place.

So how is this done?  I had talked about this before in my Pick of the Month article but the linchpin is that the story is told from the perspective of a straight twin brother, Yaichi, whose twin, Ryuji, had left the family ten years ago.  Sadly, Ryuji has passed away and through an extended visit with his husband Mike, our protagonist experiences a shift in his ideas and views on homosexuality. While Yaichi isn’t outright homophobic, he has preexisting notions and feelings on gay and LGBT individuals formed from society that have given him an ingrained prejudice that he’s not aware of, as many people in society deal with.  Having the story force him to directly address this prejudice and come to the realization of his own issues that caused him to estrange his own brother is a powerful wake up call to many of us who might not be aware of our own biases, especially given how powerfully emotional the story can be in regards to the passing of Ryuji.

While this would be good enough on its own, Mike, a man with infinite patience and compassion, actively helps to not only be the nicest of guests while staying with Yaichi and his daughter Kana, but assists them in understanding his own struggles as well as what they can do to help.  It very much seems like Mike is a stand-in in many ways for the author’s own perspective, and his support of those around him is not only beautiful but infectious to the rest of the characters.

I need a hug from that bear of a man right now.

We see a very distinct progression for Yaichi throughout the story from initially almost shoving Mike away for hugging him to being able to share a hot spring with him while they’re on vacation.  In fact, when a second thought about their nudity comes into his head after being there a while, he smiles and appreciates that he’s beginning to open up so much to Mike. Mike’s progression is one of hope that empathy and understanding can be achieved, even by those who initially may not have understood the significance of their actions.

Bit by bit, through an open dialogue between both men, Yaichi is able to see Mike’s perspective and learn more about his brother through it.  It’s an endearing way for him to learn more about his brother he hasn’t heard from in so long, particularly because of the genuinely love and admiration Mike had for his husband.  And thanks to this connection, Yaichi sympathizes with this man whom his brother loved.

The end result of all of this is best shown when a teacher forces Mike away from Kana’s school after he gives her the recorder she accidentally left at home.  After Kana talks about Mike in school, simply for being different, this teacher assumes he is the equivalent of a pervert and attempts to not only notify Kana’s parents but then have a discussion with them about how Mike is unacceptable for the other children to see and know about as – for the roundabout reason – that Kana may be bullied for it.  Yaichi, whose initial thought is to yell and shout angrily at the teacher, instead decides to speak out calmly but firmly that there’s nothing wrong with Mike and, in fact, he’s family. He then goes on to explain why someone being gay is acceptable for Kana to talk about and that he hopes that the bullies be reprimanded, rather than Kana be reprimanded for being bullied.

In this way, Yaichi shows how far he’s come, recognizing the prejudice he used to have in the teacher, he firmly stands up for his family, and specifically Mike being a part of it, using the moment to teach the teacher instead of yelling at him for his prejudice.  This is also the first time outside of the family that Taichi openly talks about Mike and his sexuality. His defiance of traditional Japanese norms of not speaking out denotes his full acceptance of the beautiful family he has and will stand proud with.

My Brother’s Husband, in this way helps us to not only understand some of the struggles gay individuals go through in society through Mike’s own feelings and actions but also how those that may not be gay and may need to change their biases and prejudices can slowly move towards the love and acceptance of LGBT individuals not just as friends, but as family and wonderful people we can open hearts and minds to in order to fight against those that can’t or won’t.

My Brother’s Husband is a very powerful manga, for all that it says and teaches, as well as for the amazingly positive and emotional story it’s able to convey in such a simple way.  There are reasons why it’s won many awards and why it deserves the love it’s received. I hope that the same can be said for many more of those out there in the LGBT community as well as their allies who will come forward to make beautiful works like it.

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