Please be advised I received an advanced reviewer copy of Until I Love Myself vol 1 from Viz in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains mention of sexual assault, as the manga details the mangaka’s experience. While the mangaka uses the term “workplace sexual harassment” to describe what took place, workplace sexual harassment is a form of sexual assault. Sexual assault or violence is defined as any type of unwanted sexual contact. This includes words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will and without their consent.
When I requested a copy of Until I Love Myself, I had no idea what I was in for. I liked the title and the cover looked good so I had a feeling it would be something I would enjoy. I had never read an autographical manga so I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I did not imagine was that once I dived in, I would be so shaken that I would anxiously read the entire thing while holding my breath.
Until I Love Myself: The Journey of a Nonbinary Manga Artist is a memoir that details the experiences of mangaka Poppy Pesuyama dealing with workplace sexual harassment alongside gender dysphoria.
Pesuyama begins by telling the readers about their gender identity, as they’ve always felt they were neither female nor male. This is important because when they start working for a mangaka, to whom Pesuyama gives the pseudonym “X,” X’s first sign of disrespect towards Pesuyama is calling them “Poppy-chan.” Chan is the honorific usually reserved for young children, and most commonly young girls.
As the story continues, Pesuyama details their continued sexual harassment from X which starts off as inappropriate sexual jokes and escalates to inappropriate touching. The interesting thing about this being a manga is that not only are the words jarring but the images tell their own harrowing tale.
We see Pesuyama start off as an excited artist excited to start off their career. As the abuse goes on, Pesuyama draws themselves very haggard and worn down. In the moments where the abuse is happening, Pesuyama’s lines are distorted, like a sound wave from an electrical guitar.
As a victim of sexual assault myself, it was difficult hard read Pesuyama’s assault on the pages. I often had to pause and catch my breath because I was crying so much. Simultaneously, I felt chills, nausea, dread, and anger. I was reminded of my own and the many others who have experienced assault.
Pesuyama goes on to then describe what happens after they quit working for X. We see when they reveal this trauma to an editor, almost pursue legal action, and then how this trauma ties into their feelings of gender dysphoria.
One of the most interesting things to me is Pesuyama discussing how the trauma affected them in their relationships. How they blamed themselves and their gender assigned at birth, how they took it out on friends, how they retreated, and then suffered through depression.
Often times media will gladly depict someone’s sexual assault on screen but then never show what happens after. How much it hurts people and how they are left to rebuild themselves and pick up the pieces. We often see a time skip and they are “happy” again or “healed.” The reality of living with trauma from sexual assault is that the “healing” is not linear.
Sexual Assault and Gender Dysphoria
Another important note from Until I Love Myself is the relation between Pesuyama’s gender identity and their sexual assault. While dealing with the trauma of being assaulted, Pesuyama blames the assault on their sex assigned at birth. At one point Pesuyama even points out that logically this was not true.
“(Question) Why was I sexually harrassed?Until I Love Myself, vol 1
(Answer) Because X sexually harrassed me.
I understood this logically…But internally I concluded… “Even if X is an abuser, if I hadn’t been born a girl this wouldn’t have happened.”
As someone who is a cis-woman, I could relate to the sexual assault. However, I never had to deal with my gender identity in tandem. This painted a completely different picture of what I knew. This is such an important part of Pesuyama’s story and it cannot be told without it.
Overall, Until I Love Myself is a gut-wrenching read. I don’t think I’ve ever read something that shook me as much as this did. As much as it hurts though, I also felt strong feelings for Pesuyama. I wanted to hug them and tell them it was okay. I also wanted to let them know how proud of them I was. This is only the first volume in their story, so I am looking forward to reading what comes next.
There’s a quote from Ernest Hemmingway I love that says, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” This is what I feel Pesuyama did. They bled all over these pages with a painful story of sexual assault, their gender identity, and the trauma that comes with it. It is gory, it is painful, but it is real.
Until I Love Myself: The Journey of a Nonbinary Manga Artist vol 1 by Poppy Pesuyama and published by Viz is available now for preorder.