- Mangaka : Kata Konayama
- Publisher : Comedy, Drama, Romance
- Genre : Seven Seas
- Published : June 2020 - Ongoing
We, as a species, have an innate need to belong. We are what they call a “Social Animal.” A human needs other humans for development and good mental health. The greatest challenges to mental health can happen when the need to be ourselves comes in conflict with the need to be part of a larger group. We are often left with a binary choice, be ourselves and be alone or hide our true selves and be part of that larger whole. The strength and courage it takes to be ourselves in the face of societal pressure is immense and takes a toll on mental health, but so does hiding our true selves. That’s why it’s so important to find a group that accepts you as a person, for who you are without hiding your true self. It’s one of the most important personal quests because when you do find that group the choice is no longer binary and you are simply yourself.
The story of Love Me for Who I Am centers around Mogumo, a very cute nonbinary student at a High School in modern Japan. The life of Mogumo changes when Tetsu, a boy who goes to their school, sees a wish they placed on a Tachabani Tree reading “Please give me friends who truly understand me.” Moved by the wish, Tetsu offers them a job at a Maid Cafe run by Tetsu’s family called “Question.” The staff of maids in cute frilly skirts were all born and identified on their birth certificates as males but for one reason or another work as wait staff at the cafe. Mogumo finally feels like there is a place where they can fit in and truly be themselves, but that only lasts for a few moments as the whole staff, some gay, some straight, and some Otokonoko have trouble wrapping their minds around the idea that Mogumo isn’t any of those. We see this play out over the course of the book in a thoughtful way as the staff share who they are and accept Mogumo. We even get a dash of romance as Tetsu and Mogumo’s friendship grows and deepens and has the potential of becoming a love without labels.
1. Honest and Thoughtful
The story is a very honest approach to an inclusive idea. When you open the book you see Mogumo just existing. They are living their life without any meaningful connections to other people because their classmates don’t know how to understand the idea of being nonbinary. We don’t see any of the stereotypical behavior that “normal” students do in other stories to students who are different. We don’t see bullying. We just see indifference in the guise of acceptance. They don’t point Mogoumo out for being different, but they don’t attempt to form meaningful connections either.
2. People Aren’t Binary
The reader, like most people, probably thinks of things in a binary way, do/don’t, he/she, is/isn’t. We tend to apply that thinking to people, too. Yet, even in the world outside the narrow view of binary genders, things are more complex. Members of the wait staff consider themselves boys who like to dress like girls. We have one who is gay, one who is straight, one who just likes to wear cute clothes and in their words “transforms” into a character when they change into their maid outfit. Tetsu’s brother who owns the cafe and dresses with a feminine flare is described as “...having the soul of a woman.” We see that in the beginning when they first meet Mogumo that they use all the male pronouns and are truly confused when Mogumo says they’re not a boy and not a girl. We see that each of these characters has defined themselves and not let society define them.
3. LOVE is LOVE
Tetsu is an average high school boy. He also has a kind heart and seeing a classmate lonely and in pain, he wanted to find a way to help. Tetsu, having grown up admiring his older brother who dressed like an elegant lady and lived his life on his own terms, made him want to help Mogumo find a piece of that happiness he knew his brother had achieved. He drags Mogumo to the cafe and offers them a job thinking it would be perfect, that Mugumo was just like his brother, and when the cracks in his plan appear he admits to himself he didn’t really know Mugumo before offering the job. He is, however, determined to help them make a place for them at the cafe. The most important thing Tetsu says to his classmate who is crushed, thinking there will never be a place for them to belong, is “... I want to understand you… I want to get to know you.” We see the relationship between the two begin to evolve into love and Tetsu coming to terms with his own feelings as he tries to understand why his heart flutters when the two are alone. He begins to take one of the maids’ words to heart: “gender has nothing to do with love.”
We loved “Love Me for Who I Am.” The story is heartfelt and true to life. The characters and story are treated with love and kindness. We do have humor in this story but it isn’t the “trap” humor of the past. Love Me for Who I Am is a modern story for modern times. (You should make sure you read the mini-comic of comments at the end of the manga from Kata Konayama-sensei that explains the development of the story.) The characters are who they are and their sexuality, choice of clothing, and identity aren’t the butt of any jokes. To quote Ru Paul, “Identity is a joke,” and “what it says on your driver’s license isn’t really who you are-you are something much greater than that.” We use the word love 17 times in this article because we need more love (18) in this world. So just two more times to remind you...
Love is Love. (20)