Monday, August 26, 2019

Missed It Monday - I Hear The Sunspot - a really beautiful romance and a look at my implicit bias (Manga Review)

Missed It Monday is the ongoing series where I review anime and manga that I missed when they first came out in search of great series to keep reading.

Yuki Fumino
I Hear the Sunspot - 8.5/10

I went out on a limb and picked up "I Hear the Sunspot" (One Peace Books) due to its critical praise. I don't normally read yaoi manga but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn't disappointed. "I Hear the Sunspot" is a simple, beautifully told and drawn, romance between two young men. I was really struck by how much I enjoyed it.

So I want to talk briefly about implicit bias. Implicit bias is the collection of experiences one has had to date and the way those experiences then unconsciously impact how a person views new experiences. Implicit bias can have positive or negative effects. For example on the positive side, if you've had lots of great experiences with eating cake, you're likely to look at each new cake (as of yet uneaten) and assume it's delicious. On the negative side, we see implicit bias rear its ugly head when we talk about racism in the US.
White people might say they "don't have a racist bone in their bodies" but at the same time don't recognize their own privilege or they might say "don't drive down there, that neighborhood has a lot of crime" (and in the back of their mind, that fear came to mind when they noticed it was a mostly black neighborhood). Implicit bias (as opposed to explicit or overt bias) is about unconscious associations we make, ones that may run counter to our values or to our outwardly stated desires. Implicit bias has been shown to impact our views on race, religion, gender, disability, and so much more. That's a quick explanation. For more, go to Harvard's project on implicit bias to learn more and explore your own biases.

Why did I mention implicit bias? Well, reading yaoi was a great way to explore some of my own implicit bias related to gay men. It's not easy to admit that I may have some negative bias there. But all the more reason why I need to confront it.

I love romance stories, so why haven't I been reading the great yaoi ones? As background, I'm a trans girl who is attracted to other women. I love yuri manga (at least the sensitive ones, not the awful exploitative or hentai crap). I also love shoujo manga (with strong self-actualized leads, not the passive ones who go for the abusive bad men and accept that behavior). But I realized a while ago that when reading shoujo, I really could care less about the male protagonists. All I wanted to do was learn about and get to really know the female lead. In general, I just don't give a crap about men.

So I'm faced with trying to unpack why I don't read yaoi. Is it because, in general, I don't care about men (whether in heterosexual relationships, as friends [I only have one male friend], or pretty much in any other capacity)? Or is there something more? Do I have an implicit bias against homosexual men?

I consider myself a huge ally of the LGBTQ community in all its diversity. So I know that my values are aligned and I know that I will tirelessly support all marginalized peoples and groups. So that's the explicit side of the bias spectrum. But at the same time, I recognize that seeing men in intimate contact is uncomfortable for me. And THAT (the first emotional response) is the implicit bias bubbling up. I'm not acting on it, it's just the brief first glimmer before I consciously spring into value-based action in support. So I need to really think about why seeing two women kissing, or a man and a woman kissing not bother me, but seeing two men kiss feel uncomfortable? Without going into the history of homophobia, let's just say that as a 39-year-old, the negative messages society sent most of my life about gay men certainly must play a big part in creating that first blush feeling.

So I know all that about myself before reading "I Hear the Sunspot". I know that when male/male intimacy is displayed on screen or in print, I have an initial unconscious uncomfortableness with it that I don't experience with female/female or female/male intimacy. At least part of that is coming from bias, and at least part of that bias is coming from a lifetime of societal messages that were homophobic.

But with any displayed intimacy in media, there is also the subject of arousal. The intimacy is put there by the media creator to elicit arousal in the audience, otherwise they'd imply it and move on. What role does my sexual orientation play in this that might have nothing to do with implicit homophobia? Let's explore that.

When I see two women kissing, I can picture myself as either one. I'm a girl, I'm kissing a girl. Awesome! Easy!

But when I see a man and woman kissing, it's more complex for me. I see myself as the girl getting kissed (but I'm not interested in being kissed by a man, so yuck). But I can also imagine kissing the girl. (Let's pause here to remind the audience that trans women are women NOT men) So being able to picture myself kissing the girl when looking at a heterosexual kiss is a bit of a mind-f@ck for me, to be honest. But having lived pretending to be a man for 39 years, I can at least recognize past me in a heterosexual appearing relationship.

However, I can't picture myself when I see who men kissing. So for that, there just isn't any arousal state for me. It just doesn't do anything for me, it isn't familiar, and I can't picture myself in it. So whatever the content creator wanted to illicit in me isn't happening. That's sexual orientation at work.

So combined, I have an implicit bias about male homosexual relationships (which of course, I'm not proud to admit, but the only way to move beyond it is to acknowledge it - we can then use neutralizing routines and other things to overcome our bias once we are aware...) but I also have a complete lack of arousal or interest on a personal level as I am totally gay for girls!

So I think, those two factors (homophobic bias and being a lesbian - aren't brains crazy!?!) combined have led me to not read much yaoi. "I Hear The Sunspot" is only the second series I've attempted to read. I have limited funds, and putting them towards comics that don't do much for me, doesn't make much sense. But again, this series was so critically acclaimed, and I am hell-bent on overcoming what society has brainwashed me about, that I wanted to read it. Implicit bias be damned!

Well. That's a long run-up to the actual review. But I think it's important, because I really liked this book and that surprised me. "I Hear the Sunspot" is a stand alone story, however, there have been two sequels published with a third on the way. And I have to say, that I'm intrigued to maybe keep reading. So let's talk about this volume.

"I Hear the Sunspot" is about two young men. Taichi is a happy-go-lucky college student who doesn't do much in class and can't seem to hold onto a job long either. One day, he stumbles onto a secret rooftop spot where Kohei, another college student, is eating lunch. It turns out Kohei has progressive hearing loss that is only going to keep getting worse.

Kohei doesn't yet know sign language and seems to inconsistently wear hearing aides. He's supposedly pretty good at lip reading, but overall has chosen to keep to himself. He has been bullied and excluded, sometimes openly and other times only subtly so, but it's all taken its toll. He's pulled back from others.

But Taichi just keeps wedging himself in there, relentlessly (it really reminded me of so many classic shoujo heroines - actually Futaba from Ao Haru Ride comes to mind - Kohei is sort of like Kou too). Eventually they become friends and it appears that Kohei is opening up to him a little bit. Ultimately, Taichi becomes Kohei's note taker in class, in exchange for homemade lunches, and they spend most of their time together.

Naturally, there is a misunderstanding, a shift, and it drives them apart. But Taichi won't stand for that. I won't spoil this beautiful story by giving you all the details, but one of the recurrent themes is that whatever else Kohei has trouble hearing, Taichi's voice always comes through clearly. It's the perfect sentiment for their budding, but as of yet unexpressed, romance.

There is very little physical intimacy in this volume (although I would suspect more in future ones as their relationship? progresses) which gave me the chance to leave my bias at the door (the bias really being mostly about watching male/male intimacy) and judge this story on its relational aspects. And that's where "I Hear the Sunspot" excels. We care about both characters, we want them to open up to each other and get together. No, let me rewrite that last sentence. I care about both characters, and I want them to open up to each other and get together.

For me, that was a revelation and a relief. I care about them even though they are men. Not having to focus on explicit intimacy, I found myself just as invested in their relationship as I would have been with a great yuri romance. I'm sure much of this has to do with Yuki Fumino-sensei's strong writing. But, I'll be honest, I'm relieved that I can be equally moved by romance between two people regardless of their gender. At least that appears to be one type of implicit bias I don't have.

Judging by this experience, I need to keep working on why watching two men be intimate is uncomfortable for me (although, to be fair, I don't really care much for seeing anyone be intimate beyond kissing - I'd much rather manga, anime, movies, etc... just imply it rather than show it, regardless of gender).

I also want to talk briefly about the LGBTQ experience and yaoi manga. Much like yuri, yaoi isn't necessarily written by queer creators and doesn't necessarily reflect an authentic queer world-view nor the true dangers and marginalization of the queer experience. However, I could feel the strains of a homophobic society running through this volume as subtext. In most yuri manga, there is no real implication of the centuries of persecution that gay men and women have faced. There is rarely, if ever, any actual scene of someone coming out (which is one of many things that makes "Sweet Blue Flowers" so exceptional). But at least with "I Hear the Sunspot," even though it is never made explicit, it is strongly situated in our contemporary world and society where homosexuality is still not fully accepted. I appreciated that realism and I'm curious to see if it is explored in any greater depth in future volumes.

So if you are like me, and love romance manga but don't read yaoi cause boys aren't your thing (they really are just stupid, gross, and hairy), give "I Hear the Sunspot" a try. It was everything I'd want in a yuri or shoujo manga, it just happened to have to men in the leads. And if you love yaoi, then you will totally love this. "I Hear the Sunspot" gets a strong 8.5/10 and I might actually pick up its sequels to keep challenging myself to grow.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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