Story & Art by Okura
Translated by Leo McDonagh
Lettered by Lor Prescott
Cover Design by Andrea Miller
Edited by Tania Biswas
Coming out to your family is one of the hardest, scariest, most anxiety-inducing decisions a queer kid has to make. Some people never really do it, and keep that part of their life and themselves separate from what their family sees. There can be many reasons why someone can’t or won’t come out to others, especially when it comes to one’s parents. A lot of folks don’t have supportive and accepting families, and coming out can sometimes mean risking being rejected or disowned. However, trying to hide who you are can be difficult, painful, and stressful, particularly if your family is intolerant. I think what most queer kids hope for, and are afraid they won’t receive, is their parents’ unconditional love and support. We want them to embrace us for who we are, and be considerate of our happiness as we start living truer to ourselves. That’s what makes I Think Our Son is Gay such a cathartic, comforting book. It’s a story about a mother who understands, accepts, and embraces her gay son with her whole heart, watching him come into his own at a respectful distance while wishing for his happiness. She creates a home environment where her son feels safe and supported, even if he’s not ready to come out to her yet.
I Think Our Son is Gay’s first volume is so brilliantly paced and constructed that it works as an incredibly satisfying standalone story on its own. Despite what the shorter chapters and page count may suggest, the series isn’t episodic, and there’s more to it than the initial formula of Hiroki accidentally letting his queerness slip while his mother Tomoko muses “I think our son is gay” might suggest. The dynamic of the Aoyama family is gradually developed over the course of the volume, giving enough time to explore how each character’s relationship with Hiroki affects him.
It’s interesting and remarkable that the story is told through a supportive parent’s eyes. It’s rare in general to read a manga in which a queer kid’s parent is not only aware of their child’s queerness from the start but is unquestionably a major influence and source of positive reinforcement for them. There’s a lot of nuance to Hiroki’s situation and how out he is with his friends and family. For instance, there’s an implication that his best friend and crush, Daigo, knows that he’s gay based on a text message conversation about good-looking boys in their class. It’s possible that Hiroki and Daigo are already in a relationship, or that Hiroki might be more open at school than he is at home. That said, because the story is shown through Tomoko’s perspective, there’s a lot about Hiroki’s life outside their home that she’s not privy to and unsure of. Even when she tries to suss out Daigo’s feelings for Hiroki, she can’t be sure he reciprocates and has to be content that Hiroki at the very least has a stalwart friend. It’s clear that Hiroki’s out to himself, at the very least. It’s clear that he’s thinking a lot about his future and wanting a boyfriend or husband one day. We can recognize that the heteronormative expectations of getting married and having a family weighs on his mind, and is something he’s afraid he can’t live up to or achieve. There’s a lot going on with Hiroki that he’s not ready to talk about with his mom, and there always has been. Through several flashback chapters, we’re led to understand there’s always been a lot going on in Hiroki’s life outside their home, and Tomoko might never know or find out about everything that’s happened or will happen in his life. The best thing she can do for her son is to give him a loving, comforting hug and make their family home a safe space in which he feels welcome and loved.
While Hiroki tries to keep his queerness guarded, we frequently see him slip up about mentioning he’s gay around Tomoko because he’s comfortable talking to her about himself in a way he’s not with his dad or brother. We understand why that is thanks to the periodic flashback chapters that complement the storylines in the present and provide a timeline and throughline for Hiroki realizing he liked boys and Tomoko realizing her son is gay. We see through these flashback chapters that even before she understood Hiroki was gay, she was a supportive parent that helped Hiroki through difficult formative moments. A particular crossroad was when the boy he liked in elementary school rejected his birthday gift. Even though she didn’t fully realize what was going on at the time, she validated Hiroki’s efforts by making use of his gift and reassuring him that there was nothing wrong with him or his judgment. Tomoko helps encourage Hiroki’s confidence and self-esteem by not pressuring him to tell her everything. Even though he periodically lets slip his desires for a boyfriend, Tomoko doesn’t press him when he backtracks and denies it. Instead, she creates an environment in which Hiroki feels comfortable letting his walls down and being more open with her, because he knows that he can trust her to respect and be supportive of him.
Tomoko’s parental allyship is interestingly contrasted with her husband’s inconsiderate microaggressions. While not spitefully homophobic, Hiroki’s dad Akiyoshi sees the world through a heteronormative lens and projects those assumptions onto his sons. We see that this clearly affects Hiroki’s understanding of sexuality and relationships from a young age, starting as early as kindergarten. Akiyoshi was always a doting father and gave Hiroki smooches as a kid. In turn, Hiroki thought it was normal to give other boys smooches and did so with a classmate he liked. However, Akiyoshi scolded him when he found out, saying he couldn’t kiss just anyone. Later, when Hiroki admits to loving a boy in his class, Akiyoshi dismisses his affections as improper, which implies to Hiroki that love between two boys was somehow abnormal and not something he can openly discuss with his dad. Consequently, Hiroki finds himself constantly pressured or backed into a corner by his dad’s heteronormative expectations of him and homophobic microaggressions. That said, Akiyoshi is a loving and well-meaning father. He plays games with his kids, teaches them important household skills like cleaning and doing laundry, and cooks for his family. However, it’s that very geniality that makes his casual homophobia all the more painful to watch Hiroki have to endure, and demonstrates the stress put upon queer kids living in a home where queerness is othered or diminished.
Luckily, Hiroki has a stalwart advocate in his younger brother Yuri. Yuri’s character is reminiscent of Sunakwa in My Love Story; his deadpan stoicness belies an acute emotional awareness and a protectiveness of his more emotionally expressive charge. Unlike Tomoko, Yuri more aggressively intervenes on the behalf of his brother when their father backs Hiroki into a corner. He deflects conversations in a way that takes the pressure off of Hiroki to respond to their dad while poking holes in their dad’s beliefs that make them feel less worrisome. Like Tomoko, he knows Hiroki is gay, and tries to create an environment where his brother feels safe, so that he doesn’t feel pressured to come out. Tomoko and Yuri complement each other excellently as allies in this way. Yuri can more aggressively deflect uncomfortable conversations away from Hiroki and give him comforting advice, while Tomoko creates an environment that’s inviting and inclusive of Hiroki’s queerness. Even if Akiyoshi is an insensitive father, it’s nice to see a queer kid have such great supportive allies in his family that will unfailingly come to his aid and make him feel welcome and safe at home.
As if the story wasn’t comforting enough, Okura’s art is like the artistic equivalent of a warm blanket. His style employs bubbly, round shapes with soft linework and simple facial features like bold eyelids and wavy blush-marks, making for adorable character designs. Hiroki’s expressions are especially cute, and his wild takes are really fun, particularly when his face goes bright red from blushing. Okura’s art is super clean and crisp in general. Most of the story takes place inside the Aoyama home so there’s usually not a ton to the backgrounds, but the squares and rectangles Okura employs for common furniture and architecture are always on point and in-perspective, so the environments always feel well-realized spaces for the characters to live in. Of course, Okura’s focus is squarely on his characters, and his designs and expressions are definitely where the art really shines.
Square Enix’s localization clearly had a lot of loving care put into it and deserves a lot of props too. Leo McDonagh’s translation reads effortlessly and the comedy and dialogue flows so naturally; the personalities and voice of the characters always come through. Lor Prescott’s lettering also adds a lot to the humor, often elongating syllables in words for emphasis, which also helps reflect the personality of the characters. The lettering is also commendable for matching and recreating a ton of different styles and fonts, with the various hand-written styles employed in Hiroki’s middle school yearbook being particularly impressive. If there’s one quibble I have, it’s that I’m not sure why some Japanese sound effects are retained and subtitled while others are completely re-lettered. There may be some rationale in the style guide, but I didn’t pick up on a pattern while I was reading so these remnants stood out to me. Regardless, these are minor and unobtrusive details, and the localization as a whole is incredibly well-done and a high level of quality this story absolutely deserves.
I Think Our Son is Gay is meant to be a funny, sweet, lighthearted book, but it’s so earnestly kind and comforting that it made me cry more than a few times while reading it. I may not know anyone who’s as easy to read or as bad as keeping their secret as Hiroki, but his experiences realizing and trying to hide his sexuality felt incredibly real and relatable to me. From the way he expresses and recognizes his love for other boys as a kid to trying to candidly seek out gay porn as a teen, Hiroki feels like an authentically fleshed out gay teen even though we aren’t privy to the thoughts in his head or experience the story from his perspective. Yet, as relatable and compelling as Hiroki and his circumstances are, Tomoko’s the heart of the book. Her unwavering and unconditional support for her son is something that almost every queer kid hopes and wishes for from their parent, and knowing how rare that can be to have in reality, seeing the ways she supports her son is just so cathartic. The biggest emotional gut-punch is in the book’s last chapter, the culmination of the flashbacks chronicling the events that led Tomoko to realize Hiroki was gay. When Tomoko finally realizes it, she panics and calls her husband. Before she can tell him, she thinks and talks about how he’s doing, and realizes that everything is well. She realizes her son is growing up and thriving and figuring out who he is; “nothing’s the matter with him.” She can only speculate what’s going on in his life and what he’s going through but that’s ok. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what she thinks. No matter what happens, he’s still her son, “a precious member of our family.” If only we could all be so blessed to have such wonderful, unconditional love in our lives. At the very least, this manga is like a warm hug to all those who’ve ever yearned to hear those precious words, one that I embrace with my whole heart.