Magical Boy Troubles by Red_Fran tackles gender performativity and toxic masculinity through an endearing story about two young men who learn to not give themselves away to others’ expectations.
Juan feels lucky to have someone like Kikyou, a caring and generous guy who turns into the magical boy Fragrant Rose to fight evil entities. However, Juan worries about Kikyou. Fighting the forces of evil can be dangerous after all. But Juan, an average boy without any powers (yet), feels helpless. Kikyou’s been there for him since elementary school, so how could Juan give back?
There’s a flashback scene in Magical Boy Troubles where Kikyou and Juan get bullied for liking magical girls. “Only girls like that dumb stuff!” one of the bullies shouts. But Kikyou talks back, pointing out what his mother has told him — that you don’t have to be a boy or a girl to like magical girls. As a transmasc person, I appreciate that moment being in the webcomic. Even with more boys and men opening up about enjoying “girly” books, movies, etc, the stigma persists. And I’m not just talking about wearing pink or doing “feminine work” like cooking and babysitting. Toxic masculinity remains rampant in cultures and communities. Harmful sentiments such as men shouldn’t express emotions or seek help for mental illnesses or eating disorders continue to affect men and masculine people. So works like Magical Boy Troubles contribute to dismantling gender performativity and assumptions.
The webcomic’s unapologetic take on masculinity shows the healthy ways to reclaim gender identity and expression. Juan spends the first half of the story thinking himself not as brave as Kikyou, unable to admit his true feelings. An evil entity tries to convince Juan to give up his frustration and release them into the world. Of course, Kikyou rescues him before those emotions cause further destruction. The beautiful and uplifting message behind this part is one of growing as a better person by not shutting down. Regardless of your gender, how you express yourself and learn through the good and bad moments does not make you less valid. Juan and Kikyou’s relationship develops and thrives because of their faith in each other. Their openness and compassion strengthen them, and what they enjoy and believe in doesn’t make them less masculine.
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) from Mason Jar Press.
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