Welcome to April's Queer Fiction Blog! For this month, we are bringing you a special blog post because March 31st is the International Transgender Day of Visibility and we thought we would deviate from our usual works of fiction to review three very different graphic novel memoirs written by transgender folks. If you're in need of more books after these three, we have linked to a list at the bottom.
Happy reading and happy International Transgender Day of Visibility!
Title/Author/Artist: Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Summary: Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.
Book Format: Ebook graphic novel from Netgalley*
Length: 240 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Nonbinary** & Asexual
Well written/Editor Needed: Well written
Art/Illustrations: Well done
Would I Recommend?: YES
Personal thoughts: I LOVED this! So many of Maia’s thoughts and feelings about eir body were things I’ve gone through myself, as someone who is also nonbinary and asexual, so this book is especially meaningful for me. This is great for anyone, teen or adult, who is questioning or has questioned their body, to know that you are not alone and that these feelings of being not quite female and not quite male are real. Maia was lucky in that eir parents didn’t care much for traditional social gender guidelines when e was growing up. Though I would have liked to know why Maia’s parents, who were teachers, didn’t prepare em better for “the outside world”. For example, why did e start school at first grade and why hadn’t e yet learned to read and write by then? The artwork was good. I won’t say it was my favorite graphic novel art, but it was good. The ending feels a little bit abrupt, but upon reflection, Maia is still young and still has the majority of eir life ahead of em, so an abrupt ending is to be expected. Maybe we can hope for a sequel in the future!
*Please note that I read a pre-published ebook version of this graphic novel from Netgalley so some things may change between now and its date of publication in May 2019. This book is currently listed as “on order” in the library’s catalog and a wait list is starting to build, so place a hold now before the line gets too long!
** Maia uses the gender neutral pronouns e/em/eir.
Title/Author/Artist: The Bride Was A Boy by Chii
Summary: Chii tells the story of her childhood “as a boy,” her romantic challenges as an adolescent trying to understand her gender and sexuality, her transition, and her quest to become legally married to the love of her life, Husband-kun.
Genre/sub-genre: Autobiographical Manga
Book Format: Paper
Length: 146 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Trans
Well written/Editor Needed: Well written
Art/Illustrations: Well done
Would I Recommend?: Definitely! It’s a very refreshing entry in the world of trans memoirs.
Personal thoughts: This manga is, in a word, just plain cute. I will admit that sometimes the chibi art style was occasionally too exaggerated for my tastes, but overall, it was fun and sweet without being overly saccharine. The author’s relationship with “Husband-kun” made me smile; he was awkward but very sweet and supportive of Chii throughout her transition – as is her family. This is definitely a feel-good read that steers clear of the voyeuristic angst that is unfortunately common in memoirs. Chii does detail her struggles with attempting to legally transition within Japan and the confusion and challenges she felt having a love life as an adolescent, but she still manages to keep a positive and upbeat tone throughout. About two chapters are devoted to her wedding and the aftermath, which is fitting, given that she needed to legally transition on paper in order to marry.
One of the things I enjoyed about The Bride Was a Boy was how informational it was. Each chapter begins with a “Little Explanation,” a pithy little encyclopedia entry on topics like “Gender Identity Disorder,” and “How to Legally Transition on Paper,” and a common microaggression or misconception that Chii then gracefully debunks (“Like, you just wanted to wear a skirt or something, didn’t you?”). Some of it is information that most LGBTQ+ people already know, but I learned some things I didn’t know about Japanese society and its views on trans and LGBTs people – such as the fact that LGBTs is preferred inclusive acronym compared to the more common LGBT+ in western societies. While some terms do seem outdated to me personally, it is worth keeping in mind the differences between cultures, and I found it a very eye-opening read. Ultimately, this is definitely a book that I would recommend, both to people who haven’t read many works by trans authors, as well as seasoned readers looking for a lighthearted, fun, and unique entry in the world of trans memoirs.
Title/Author/Artist: Gumballs by Erin Nations
Summary: This mostly-autobiographical collection comprises about 80 one to six-page cartoons on a miscellany of topics. They're scattered throughout the volume rather than organized thematically, and color-coded according to a key in the table of contents: green for Nations' reports of negative customer-service interactions, for instance, yellow for stories about his gender transition, blue for faux personal ads, and pink for the fictional trials and tribulations of a lonely queer high school student named Tobias.
Genre/sub-genre: Graphic memoir
Book Format: Print
Length: 160 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Nations is trans; the character Tobias, who appears in several fictional vignettes, is gay
Violence: There are a few depictions of sexual harassment, but no physical violence
Well written/Editor Needed: The mechanics of the writing are competently handled, although I think an editor could have helped with the overall direction and flow and to cut down on the massive blocks of text.
Art/Illustrations: Nations has a very distinctive art style – all the characters have square faces, rectangular torsos, and cartoonishly exaggerated bowed legs – and a consistent, mostly pastel color palette. Unfortunately, I hate it! You'll be able to tell just by looking at the cover whether the art style is one that appeals to you, so make your own judgments.
Would I Recommend?: To someone looking for a memoir about the transmasc experience? Sure! The color-coding makes it easy to skip everything else if you're not feeling it. To someone who likes graphic memoirs generally? Maybe, although there are other books I would suggest first. Definitely not to anyone on the fence about the genre; I don't think it's going to win any converts.
Personal thoughts: I'm going to be honest here: I did not enjoy this book. Didn't like the art, didn't like the way the narrative threads never came together to form a cohesive whole, didn't like the mean-spiritedness of the satirical personal ads. I also completely failed to understand any of the pop cultural references that Nations makes, which I assumed was down to my being too old for Youth Culture until I read the bio in the back of the book and realized he's six years older than me – apparently I'm just not up on '80 movies and music. But that's okay! This book isn't for me, but maybe it's for you. (I loved and wholeheartedly recommend both of the books my colleagues reviewed above, for what it's worth.) Nations' writing is strongest when he's capturing snapshots of his transition, and those cartoons when read on their own form a coherent narrative arc. If you're interested in checking out this collection, I would suggest trying out the Tales of Being Trans sections first. If you find you like the art and the writing, you can dive into the rest!
If you're looking for more titles of a similar nature, check out this list right in our catalog: Graphic Memoirs of Gender Discovery and Transition.