Bad Romance: A Defense of Reprehensible Love Interests in Otome and Beyond

My prince charming is your worst nightmare.

From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.

Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.

However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.

One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.

The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.

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Code: Realize

A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.

However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.

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Saint Germain still image from Code:Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

*Warning:  spoilers ahead!*

My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.

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Scene from Code Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.

Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…

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Diabolik Lovers, by Rejet

Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.

Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series-  aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.

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Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.

Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?

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This scene from Watamote is literally me T-T

This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers,  I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.

I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.


 

Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.

The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).

We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!

 

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Why We Don’t Need “Straight Pride” Flags

Chipman, a small village in my home province of New Brunswick, is in the headlines today because officials approved the raising of a “straight pride” flag next to a main road.

“Chipman resident Glenn Bishop and 11 others met over the past few months to find ways to show support for straight people.” –Global News

Interesting, I didn’t know that people in New Brunswick were in need of support for …being straight?

The flag was swiftly taken down amidst backlash, and although the town claims that the flag was intended to show support for “all groups in the community” I fail to understand how that is possible, unless it was a decision made from ignorance.

Pride for what?

“Straight pride” flags are at best completely unnecessary and at worst incredibly offensive symbols of hatred towards LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ+ communities have pride parades and raise pride flags because they are coming together, not only as a positive celebration of who they are, but also to take a stand against the discrimination, prejudice, unequal rights, and violence that they are subjected to just for being themselves.

If your response to seeing a pride flag is to feel excluded and think “where’s my straight pride flag?” you are totally missing the point of the pride flag. Pride flags are used worldwide as a bold visual symbol that says “we’re not ashamed of who we are” in a world that still positions straight, cisgender people as the apparent default way to exist.

If, like the man behind the aforementioned flag,  you don’t get why “straight pride” flags are unnecessary and offensive, here are some reasons:

Straight, cisgendered people are not shamed for being straight.

Neither their sexuality nor their gender are perceived by the public as remarkable traits of their identity.

They aren’t screamed at in the street for holding their girlfriend’s hand.

They aren’t denied the opportunity to take their boyfriend to prom.

They aren’t approached at the bar and told “you’re a waste of a perfectly fine girl”.

Nor are they targeted, profiled, denied rights and privileges, attacked or murdered because of their sexuality or gender.

When “straight pride” flags are flown, they carry a toxic message: “I don’t care/believe that these things happen to you, I’m important too, look at MY flag!”.

“Straight pride”  flags are arrogant, as they were created in direct response to pride flags as a way to claim “it’s just equality!” while simultaneously overlooking the reason why we need pride flags in the first place- people (not straight people!) are being attacked solely because of who they love and who they are.

While the mayor of Chipman recently said that no formal apology was forthcoming,  I think that further shows that the people behind this flag, and those who claim not to understand why it is controversial, are in need of education on this matter.

Note: Making threats, hurling insults, and jumping on an internet hate train are NOT effective or ethical ways to educate people. Please don’t do that. Rather, consider sharing information and statistics about LGBTQ+ realities , contacting officials in Chipman, and showing support to your local LGBTQ+ group(s).

I hope that the village of Chipman will learn from this experience and grow together as a community. I agree with recommendations that were shared by the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP), a sibling to Moncton’s River of Pride:

“NSRAP strongly encourages the town council and mayor of Chipman to seek training on diversity and inclusion and sensitivity training to attempt to understand the lives of their marginalized constituents. Additionally, a formal apology, beyond the previously released statement, should be made.”

 

 

 

 

 

Response to Illinois Family Institute: Don’t Drag us into a Cesspool of Ignorance

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute recently posted an indignant tirade because of this statement from the American Library Association:

Interested in bringing Drag Queen Storytime to your library? ALSC Committee Members received tips for optimizing success from library pioneers who have already done it.  We also had the chance to meet a Drag Queen who talked about the value of offering this program, including fostering empathy, tolerance, creativity, imagination and fun.

Their article goes on in an increasingly hysteric harangue, all the while accusing librarians and “so-called-progressives” of being the REAL hysterical ones as if they are letting us in on a secret conspiracy.

Here I will try my best to respond to some of the pearl clutching (quoted below).

This feckless ALA statement raises questions: Should we foster in children empathy for those who choose to engage in transvestism?

Yes. Foster empathy in children, period.

 Should we tolerate adults who expose children to transvestism?

Yes. Why wouldn’t you want to teach your child tolerance of people who are different? Drag Queen Storytime programs usually feature funny books, colourful expression, maybe some glitter and a song or two- nothing dangerous or indecent.

 Should we encourage children to view men who masquerade as women as “fun”?

Nobody is forcing anything on you. If you don’t like the Drag Queen storytime, it’s easy. Don’t go! Everybody wins. Those who do think it’s fun get to enjoy an empathy building, creative, imaginative, fun program. Those who don’t want to don’t have to. There.😊 It’s a lot like how rather than requesting a book be removed or moved so your child doesn’t see it, you can steer your child away from it and leave it accessible for others. It really IS that easy!

Every year, the ALA sponsors the laughably named “Banned Books Week” (this year, Sept. 23-29, 2018) during which self-righteous, dissembling librarians foment “book-banning” paranoia.

I fail to see how Banned Books Week is in any way paranoid (I like my books accessible, thanks very much)- I’d like to suggest that you brush up on what the word “paranoia” means. Your entire article about drag queen storytime REEKS of paranoia, so maybe start your research there?

The ALA pursues its hysteria-fomenting goal chiefly by ridiculing parents who, for example, don’t want their five-year-olds seeing books about children or anthropomorphized animals being raised by parents in homoerotic relationships.

When the ALA steps in to defend a book or program that has been challenged, they aren’t directing shame or ridicule at anyone- they are reacting to an action of censorship.

You, the parent, are in charge of what your kid reads. Removing or moving a title because of its contents may take that privilege away from other parents.

Libraries use Collection Development Policies (CDP’s) to determine which books they will purchase with their limited budgets. CDP’s maintain that librarians should purchase only books that have been positively reviewed by two “professionally recognized” review journals. Guess what folks, the “professionally recognized” review journals are dominated by ideological “progressives.” Publishing companies too are dominated by ideological “progressives,” so getting books published that espouse conservative ideas (particularly on the topics of homosexuality and gender dysphoria) is nigh unto impossible.

The vast majority of books published continue to focus on cisgendered, heterosexual characters and heteronormative points of view. Take a look in your public library-I bet there is no shortage of Christian fiction, conservative non-fiction, religious self-help, heteronormative relationship advice books, “traditional” family picture books, etc.

…when it comes to resources that espouse conservative views on homosexuality and gender dysphoria. Are the anti-book-banning soldiers fighting to fill the gaping lacuna in their picture books and Young Adult (YA) literature collections on these topics?

We don’t have to. Like I mentioned, the shelves are already full of conservative content. 

Books featuring inclusive and diverse content aren’t attempting an assault on conservative views; furthermore, freedom of gender identity and sexual expression are recognized by the United Nations as an important part of being free and equal in dignity and rights. 

Here are some children’s book ideas that librarians could request to fill gaps in their collections…

This entire hypothetical list provided is built on ridiculously biased ideas of what non-hetero non-cisgendered people are like- there is an ill-informed assumption that queer people are more promiscuous, prone to instability, confused, neglectful, and otherwise problematic than heterosexual, cisgendered people.

To publish something like that would be to nourish harmful notions that have no basis in reality. While conservative publications can be found in any bookstore or library, I doubt that the majority of people who consider themselves conservative would support publishing something so ignorant- it would be a hard sell.

However, if you are so passionate about these theoretical books, why don’t YOU write them and see how it goes?

The article ends with this inspiring little nugget:

The ALA is plunging deep into the “drag” cesspool, pulling children down with them.

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck
and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
(Luke 17:2)

Cesspool. Hung around the neck. Really beautiful hatred-inspiring message you ended with there. :/

Bad Taste in (Fictional) Men

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by freaky and evil characters.

I’ve blogged previously about how Elijah Wood was my first crush, and he’s pretty cuddly generally speaking, but bear in mind that I developed that crush only when I saw him with unnaturally pale stabbed-by-the-nazgul-help-me-i’m-dying eyes. I remember that moment, when my adolescent mind was like “oh”.

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^so healthy, so wholesome

It was only downhill from there, my friends.

In most stories the main protagonist is presented as the desirable one, clean-cut and clean of conscience. Yet I’m always drawn to the dark and devilish characters, who are sometimes but not always the cunning asshole characters, the ones who are equipped with a snarling mouth, deeply condescending voice, and heavy lidded eyes full of spite.

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Or, sometimes they are good, well meaning characters who are facing something tragic and/or are severely misunderstood.

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^Brandon Lee as The Crow

Occasionally they are cocky and controlling, complete with lust for power and soulless eyes.

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^Ezra Miller as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin (yeah, I know, totally evil character, I’m not proud that I was attracted to Kevin! But Ezra IS really handsome, so I hope that has a lot to do with it…)

Usually the characters I am interested in are different than the characters my friends (and the general public, I’d think) are drawn to.

In my mid-teens, the tumultuous time of hormones and serious crushes, I fell head over heels for Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, and his plentiful eyeliner. Subsequently I sought out more of his films and swooned over Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, and Sweeney Todd. Johnny was my first HARDCORE crush. Perhaps the most hardcore i’ve ever had or will have T-T

While I had a fleeting crush on Ron in Harry Potter, Snape and Lucius had more staying power.

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Criss Angel had a claim to my heart at one point, too. I remember rushing home from theatre practice so I wouldn’t miss Mindfreak (as well as InuYasha, but my anime crushes could fill an other entire blog post, so I won’t go there for now).

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Here are some more that come to mind:

Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler (X2)

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Clancy Brown as The Kurgan (Highlander)

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Ville Valo (H.I.M.)

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Tim Curry as Darkness (Legend)

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Timour Bourtasenkov as The Wolf (Red Riding Hood, 1997)

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I also fell hard for Louis and Lestat, at which point I realized I totally had a thing for vampires- capable fangs, pale skin eclipsed by crimson, captivation by luminescent eyes, an uncontrollable craving that drove them to desperation… freaking gothic euphemisms for sexual expression!

I’ve sought out so many vampire movies, but Interview with the Vampire is something truly special.

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Bonus points for Armand!

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Triple bonus points for QOTD lestat!

Now that i’m into kpop (namely SHINee), the music videos and performances that excite me the most are usually the ones involving aesthetics of darkness:

 

Tricksters and eccentrics often also captivate me:

Michael Sheen as Castor/Zuse from Tron: Legacy

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Heath Ledger as The Joker

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Hiddles as Loki

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^Yet more bonus points for sexy mouthguard!

Heck, even Kenny from Kenny vs Spenny has given me feelings a few times, and Kenny’s whole point is that he’s (sorry Kenny) kind of a mean, obscene, no holds barred asshat!

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^(Deep down I think you’re probably a nice guy though, right Kenny? Reeeeallly deep down? Maybe? >.> )

I say all this with the caveat that I DON’T think it’s a good thing to want to date someone who is actually emotionally manipulative, controlling or otherwise horrible to you. Happily, I  fell in love with my husband, a man who is warm, funny, silly, and kind- the opposite of a creepy, manipulative, controlling jerk!

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^& He puts up with my fangirl ways! ❤

To bring all of this full circle back to Lord of the Rings, here is a word of advice: never tell your friends “you know, there’s just something about Grima Wormtongue”, because they will never let you live it down.

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“Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness,

alone, in the bitter watches of the night?”

 

 

Graphic Novels for Pride Month!

June is Pride Month!

Graphic novels are a huge interest of mine, so i’d like to share some awesome LGBTQ+ graphic novels to check out if you haven’t already! 🙂

 

Heathen by Natasha Alterici, Charles Martin, Rebecca Rutledge and Kristen Grace

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Love is Love by Marc Andreyko, Phil Jimenez, et al.  (anthology, tribute to victims of Orlando nightclub shooting)

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Are You My Mother? By Alison Bechdel

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

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Wet Moon by Sophie Campbell

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The Bride was a Boy by Chii

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Anything That Loves edited by Charles “Zan” Christensen

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Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

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Transposes by Dylan Edwards

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Moonstruck (Series) by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle and Kate Leth

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Husbands by Jane Espenson et al.

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Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San and Genevieve FT

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Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges

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As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

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Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley

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No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics edited by Justin Hall

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Adrian and the Tree of Secrets by Hubert and Marie Caillou

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Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

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My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi

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QU33R edited by Rob Kirby

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100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

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Beyond: The Queer Sci-fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfe R. Monster

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Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

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Dar: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, Volume One by Erika Moen

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On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin and Helge Dascher

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Princess Princess Ever After by Katie o’Neill

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Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

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Sunstone series by Stjepan Sejik

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Snapshots of a Girl by Beldan Sezen

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Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

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Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag by A.K. Summers

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Go for it, Nakamura! By Syundei

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My Brother’s Husband series by Gengoroh Tagame

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Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

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Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

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The Backstagers by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh

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Kim & Kim by Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre

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Spinning by Tillie Walden

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The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E.K. Weaver

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Taproot by Keezy Young

 

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