Title: Love Me For Who I Am 1
Author/Artist: Kata Konayama
Genre: LGBTQ / Romance
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Non-Binary Maid Reporting for Duty!
Mogumo is a cute but lonely high school student who just wants a few loving friends. Fellow student Iwaoka Tetsu invites Mogumo to work at his family’s café for “cross-dressing boys,” but he makes an incorrect assumption: Mogumo is non-binary and doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl. However, Mogumo soon finds out that the café is run by LGBT folks of all stripes, all with their own reasons for congregating there. This touching manga explores gender, gender presentation, and sexuality from many different angles, including the ways people are pushed to conform in a world that doesn’t understand them… until the world begins to learn, one person at a time.
When I first saw Love Me For Who I Am in a Seven Seas Entertainment e-mail, I knew I wanted to read it. I’m genderfluid, so to see a manga dealing specifically with non-binary characters brought a smile to my face. Now that I’ve read it, I’d say it’s certainly an interesting release.
For the most part, I thought the book dealt well with presenting a number of different queer characters. Among the teens, we have the non-binary Mogumo, Suzu who is homosexual and enjoys crossdressing, and Mei who is coming to terms with being a trans woman. There’s also Ten-chan who just enjoys cosplay, and our male lead Tetsu who is attracted to Mogumo. Finally, we have Sacchan, Tetsu’s older, trans sister.
Each of these characters has their own wrinkles, of course, but with this being the first volume, we mostly only touch on these. Though Mogumo gets the most focus, it’s actually Mei that sees the most growth in this volume. She starts out using the label of ‘otokonoko’ as a means to feel liberated, then slowly comes out as trans. Throughout that, we see her working her way around her feelings about herself, and dealing with some nerves. It’s actually quite well done.
Mogumo, meanwhile, is more open-ended in how their story is developing. They already know that they don’t identify as male or female, and really just want people to understand how they feel. That’s something I can relate to, and it’s not handled badly here. The confusion Mogumo feels as they start to get around the idea of dating Tetsu feels fairly accurate, if not overly well detailed in these chapters.
Tetsu is mostly a decent male lead here too. He does seem like he wants to understand Mogumo better, and absolutely wants to help them make friends. He isn’t phased too much by being attracted to someone who is biologically male, either, which is a nice change. His use of gender pronouns is a little mixed though. While he changes to using ‘they’ for Mogumo with ease, for example, he constantly refers to his sister as a brother. I don’t know if that’s an intentional thing that will be addressed later, or something missed by the author/translators, but as it is, it did make me a wince a bit, especially with the focus Tetsu places on being an ally.
That being said, I did think Sacchan was a good addition to the cast. While not as prominent on-page as the younger characters, that they have an older LGBTQ person there to act as a mentor is a positive thing. She wants to keep her staff safe too and encourages them to be who they are without boundaries. I enjoyed that aspect a lot.
In a way, this is a reverse Shimanami Tasogare: Our Dreams At Dusk (See my reviews for volumes 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 for more on that excellent series). While that series showed a young man coming to terms with his feelings in a setting inhabited by those older and more experienced than him, this gives a group of teens one role model and shows them working around their identities together. That isn’t a criticism, as I think it’s important to show both journeys in fiction.
It would be fair to say that there are some moments that feel ‘off’ to me though. There’s the aforementioned misgendering by Tetsu, of course. There’s also a scene with a topless Mogumo that felt unnecessarily sexualised. Mostly though it’s the pacing of the characters arcs that will be a stumbling block for readers, I think. Things are dealt with in a very quick, light manner. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but given that some effort was put into Mei’s arc, it does show that there’s the potential to explore things a little more deeply here. Unfortunately, that’s potential that hasn’t been tapped just yet.
There are two key things to remember here. The first is that this is the first volume. We aren’t going to see everything resolved here, nor should we expect it to. The second is that the author – who does note they hadn’t heard the term non-binary before working on this – clearly wants to do right by the characters. While not as ground-breaking as Our Dreams At Dusk, the story is set up to give readers a positive look at gender in the LGBTQ community. It may not be perfect, but sometimes, I think that light approach can be a good thing.
What we have here is a tale with a lot of potential to be a sweet look at gender identity. It suffers from being the first volume, sure, but there’s time for it to grow into itself. I give this 3.5 out of 5.