If there is one word that can describe Dowman Sayman, I have yet to find it. “Weird” doesn’t quite encapsulate it. “Bizarre” feels too pedestrian on its own. The manga author is avant-garde and strange, sometimes offensively so, but at other times pleasingly so. His most interesting work, however, comes from a short story anthology called “Nickelodeon.” The work in question is a short story entitled “Lunch at Columbine.”
Lunch at Columbine is a short story about a trans girl named Fumi. The story starts with Fumi placing a stepladder on the second floor of a building, climbing onto it, and claiming to have found “the answer to the universe.”
Fumi repeatedly jumps from the ladder, her memories coming back to her every time she hits the ground. At first she revisits her very first memory. In it, she sees her mother watching the news report about Columbine and saying “You might be one of those students reborn.” Fumi gets up, remarks that it didn’t work because she still has memories, and jumps again.
The second time, she sees a memory of her father. He tells her that she looks cute, and that “no matter what anyone says, I’m proud to have you as my daughter.” She mentions that he collapsed due to a stroke shortly after this, and that this was the last good memory she had.
This part is interesting just because the scene plays differently depending on whether or not you know that Fumi is Trans. At this point in the story, they have yet to reveal that fact. Without that knowledge, it comes off as a normal father being supportive of his daughter. With that knowledge, it paints the father as being a supportive figure who encourages Fumi to embrace being transgender.
Fumi jumps again, this time reliving a memory from the other day. She offers Valentine’s Day chocolate to a classmate, who is initially surprised and hesitant. After gathering his thoughts, he explains why:
Those who have read my Dirty Pair article know that I absolutely hate the “she’s a he” trope with a passion. It’s transphobic, overplayed, and lazy. But like with The Dirty Pair, it’s put to good use here.
The story wraps up with Fumi laying on the ground, thinking that she must have been a murderer in a past life and wishing to be reborn as a “normal girl.” As she does this, a classmate comes by to check in on her and mentions that lunch break is almost over. After confirming that Fumi usually eats alone, the classmate invites Fumi to eat lunch with her and a bunch of other girls. The story ends with Fumi musing that even though she still has all her memories, she thinks the ladder was the right height anyways.
I went into Lunch at Columbine not expecting much, aside from yet another Dowman Sayman story. What I got was a surprisingly sweet story that really brought attention to how important a sense of support and belonging is to trans people. When you’re constantly told that you’re “wrong” and harassed for exploring your gender, having friends and family who support you and your chosen gender can be a lifesaver. The scene with Fumi’s father, in particular, really makes it clear how much parental support can help people come out and accept that they’re trans.
We also see how rejection and discrimination, combined with a lack of support, can have a negative effect on the mental health of younger trans people. Fumi’s entire scheme is brought on through a combination of being rejected, being called a boy, and the lack of support in the wake of her father’s death. And it’s probably not far off to say that being invited to hang out with the girls likely saved her life.
What I also like about Lunch at Columbine is how it always treats Fumi as a girl. The reveal that she’s trans isn’t handled as “SHE’S ACTUALLY A BOY” but that she wishes she was born a girl. And in fact, we later see her hanging out with her friends in a later story.
The entire time they treat Fumi as a normal girl, and never do anything to suggest she might be anything but. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t recognize her the first time I read the story. For the purposes of the story, Fumi is just a girl. Not a boy, not someone dressing up as a girl. A perfectly normal girl.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that Dowman Sayman hasn’t always had the most progressive depictions of trans characters. Most notably, one of the later chapters in Voynich Hotel features an exaggerated drag queen character who is mocked and made the butt of several gender-based jokes.
I’m not sure if Lunch at Columbine was made later, or if it was a one-off thing, but it makes me hesitant to actually call Dowman Sayman progressive. In addition, Dowman Sayman has made many questionable stories over the years, several of which are collected in Nickelodeon. I quite enjoy Dowman Sayman’s works, but I feel the need to recommend them with some amount of warning.
Still, regardless of whether Dowman Sayman is progressive or not, Lunch at Columbine is a rather neat little trans story that I’m quite fond of.
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