Note: Refer to this table of pronouns while reading the article. The author uses "e and eir" hence, I will be using those pronouns to refer to "em."
Gender Queer: A memoir is a three-part comic series by Maia Kobabe. The comic chronicles eir journey from being confused about eir gender and sexuality as a child to presenting eirself in an androgenous way as an adult.
In the first part of the series, e describes eir experience as an AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth). E talks about how e struggled with gender norms growing up in a somewhat conservative part of rural California. E never went to kindergarten and by the time e joined the regular school, e felt so out of touch with what girls and boys were supposed to do, say, wear etc that e grew to resent anything that had to do with gender and especially with eir own body. This only became worse when e hit puberty. Getting eir period was one of the most traumatic experiences of eir life. However, the shame e felt from being oblivious to what a female is supposed to do, e hid it from everybody. Eir resentment with gender only grew from there because puberty brought physical changes and developments in a body that was, as much as e hated it, that of a female. E decided to do eir own research and the confusion that the journals e read caused lasted for a huge chunk of eir life. E identified with a bunch of different sexualities and identities through the years. The rest of Part one is about how e hides who is e is because e feel like e would not be accepted for who e is and how e finds solace in a Queer- Straight Alliance group in High School (who also gave eir the courage to come out to friends and family) and ends with em going to college.
Cover art for Gender Queer: A memoir
The next part takes place in college and is where e finally, after a long internal conflict, realizes that e has more problems with eirself than e previously thought, only this time, e had a lot more support. E found a lot of other people who were also queer but somehow there was e was still scared of openly talking about eir preferences. It is also eir time in college that e realizes that e has an aversion to sexual intercourse. E found that e doesn’t have to conform to she/her, he/him boundaries and that there were a lot of options out there. E recalls how throughout eir journey eir sister played a very important role in eir journey. Possibly the most pivotal part in eir story comes here; e finds somebody to help em find eir pronouns. The e/em/eir pronouns were unheard of and e feared that asking people to change the way they address em was too much to ask but ultimately decided to embrace eir pronouns.
The third and last part of this series shows how much e has grown as a person. From somebody who was full of self-doubt and hatred from eir own body to someone who grew to feel comfortable in eir own skin. E remembers how difficult it is to get people to use the correct pronouns but now, after years of feeling like e was living in a world that only e knew about, e has finally mustered the courage to come out to everybody, including eir students about who e really is. E believes in eirself now and is determined to never let anybody ever live in the world e was forced to live in.
For somebody who currently identifies as a cis-gendered heterosexual, I believed that I couldn’t do the comic justice by having this one-sided outlook and so reached out to somebody who was having trouble with understanding her gender identity and sexuality (she still uses she/ her pronouns). What we felt after reading this book was very bitter-sweet. I was very happy that Maia was able to find eirself and flourish without having to hide who e is. However, as somebody who is cis-gendered and heterosexual, I felt a pang of guilt on behalf of this section of society that makes people like Maia struggle with their own identity for years. It broke my heart to see em try to deny who e was for a majority of eir life and then live another portion of eir life trying to ignore the pain that it caused em when people casually misgendered em. The fact that we have created a world that is so heteronormative that people have to try and be “normal” or feel like they are an outcast is horrible. We may believe that we have come a long way in terms of LGBTQIA+ rights, but this comic shows us even if things are changing on a National Level and we consider ourselves to be “open-minded” people who don’t live my strict gender norms, other people from the LGBTQIA+ community would still not feel “normal” around us (as was the case with Maia and eir mother).
For the person I reached out to, this comic gave her a sense of direction. Up until she read this, she felt like ‘A headless chicken’. She relates to Maia and believes that the sources Maia used to help em figure could possibly help her out as well. She does relate to eir struggle and that also makes her very sad, knowing that somebody felt the same things she did, except she had no help.
I would recommend the book to everybody, irrespective of the alignment. It is a real eye-opener to those outside the LGBTQIA+ community and a reminder for those who are a part of it that they are not alone, they never were.
-Member of Banter&Books