Everyone knows someone – or is someone – who’s coming out to their family as LGBTQ+ was met with a round of “we knew all along”. It’s a response Tomoko Aoyama is expecting to give whenever her teenage son Hiroki musters up the courage to come out – but until he does, she’s going to wait in the wings, offering gentle support and quiet acceptance while he figures himself out.
Unfortunately for Hiroki, who just wants to ‘fit in’ at school, he’s absolutely terrible at keeping himself in the closet – he’ll talk about wanting a boyfriend before rushing out a correction to “girlfriend”, and practically gushes over his crush, classmate Daigo Shiraishi. He just might out himself early at the rate he’s going!
Created by mononymous creator Okura, manga series I Think Our Son Is Gay offers a warm blend of family drama and slice-of-life comedy that can’t help but charm readers.
I Think Our Son Is Gay is slightly unusual compared to most manga though, in that it began life as a webcomic, originally published from August 2019 on Gangan Pixiv. The series was Okura’s second, following That Blue Sky Feeling, which also dealt with coming out and realising burgeoning sexuality, although the earlier series was told from the perspective of teenage leads, with popular student Noshiro finding himself drawn to outcast Sanada, expressly because of rumours he is gay.
In I Think Our Son Is Gay, the focus on Tomoko changes the tone of Hiroki’s coming out. Despite his true feelings frequently slipping out, or the way he responds in delight to the slightest interaction with Daigo, Tomoko is in no rush to label her son or force him to come out despite his sexuality being obvious. Instead, the series focuses on her patience in letting Hiroki figure himself out, and her unwavering love for him as he does so.
The series takes the form of short vignettes, often Tomoko’s observations of Hiroki’s behaviour. Like My Brother’s Husband, some of these may occasionally read as overly simple or a “My First LGBTQ+ Lesson” for western readers, but also touch on deeper concerns parents of gay kids might face.
While most chapters follow Hiroki as a teenager, some weave in and out of his younger days, helping paint a picture of Tomoko’s growing acceptance and understanding of her son. One cute story sees Hiroki reflecting on his first kiss – with a boy at daycare when he was only three years old, a recollection that helps Tomoko reflect that Hiroki was born this way.
Others touch on some of the small, everyday heartbreaks of growing up gay. A tale of a younger Hiroki carefully and thoughtfully picking out the perfect birthday gift for a male friend, only for the gift to be rejected because it was coming from another boy, twists like a dagger in the heart.
Perhaps the most personal, and the one that may resonate most with any straight parents who read I Think Our Son Is Gay, is a flashback to two years before the series starts, where Tomoko stumbles on Hiroki’s web browser history. Such a discovery is every queer kid’s nightmare, but Okura handles the story deftly.
It’s a raw and honest moment, as Tomoko doesn’t react well at first – she’s not a fairy tale perfect mother who’s instantly accepting, and Okura explores how the revelation affects her own presumptions over her child’s life and future. Instead of brushing it off, she almost breaks down, calling her husband Akiyoshi in a panic – before realising that even if Hiroki is gay, it doesn’t ultimately change how much she loves her son.
Akiyoshi’s occasional presence is essentially the main source of conflict in the series. Frequently away from the family with work, his blundering attempts at male bonding when he is at home carry an awkwardness to them that will be all too familiar to many gay male readers. Thankfully, Hiroki’s younger brother Yuri – a precocious, highly intelligent boy who also seems to have clocked Hiroki’s gayness – is on hand to run interference, calling out their father’s old-fashioned thinking before Hiroki talks himself into even more uncomfortable territory.
Akiyoshi’s assumptions that his son will be as interested in women, or sports, or other totems of heterosexual masculinity aren’t inherently homophobic so much as uninformed – although one reference to him finding a TV drama about gay men “gross” is very uncomfortable, potentially for readers as much as Hiroki – but the occasional comment from him is definitely unthinking. He clearly loves his sons, but presumes both Hiroki and Yuri will follow in his footsteps in every sense. How the rest of the family navigate the uncertainty of Akiyoshi’s potential reaction if Hiroki came out are some of the most smartly written aspects of the series.
While the series’ messages are more relevant – perhaps even educational – for parents in its native Japan, Tomoko’s warm, quiet acceptance of her son whatever his sexuality is a delight for readers anywhere. Whether providing parents a gentle guide on how to accept their gay kids or offering younger readers coming to terms with their own sexuality an idealised snapshot of family life, I Think Our Son Is Gay is a slice of life manga that queer readers will cherish.
The English language release of I Think Our Son Is Gay is published by Square Enix Manga, with the first two collected volumes available at time of writing. The series is available both in print and digitally, with volume three scheduled for a March 2022 release.