Transgender Memoirs | Graphic Novels

These three graphic novels offer meditations on and chronicles of transgender experiences.

Durand, Élodie. Transitions: A Mother's Journey. Top Shelf Productions. Nov. 2023. 176p. tr. from French by Evan McGorray. ISBN 9781603095181. pap. $19.99. BIOG

 When 19-year-old Lucie announces he’s a boy named Alex (real people given fictional names), most of his family simply rolls with it. But Alex’s mother Anne, a university biologist, feels devastated. Ignorant about trans and nonbinary identities, Anne struggles painfully, yet finally successfully, through her own transition to acceptance by learning all the data she can gather as a scientist. Indeed, eye-opening details from biology and anthropology surprise her. French creator Durand (Parenthesis) intercuts Anne’s journey with glimpses of Alex’s life and with lyrical, colorful images based on voguing-style dance to celebrate a spectrum of lives. This contrasts with inky tendrils overwhelming the initially traumatized mother who fears losing her child forever. Durand’s simple, realistic art holds mostly to blacks and solids, but Anne’s hair stands out in fiery fuchsia. Diagrams, notes, and references appear throughout, with an English-language resource list included at the end of the book. VERDICT Anne’s family and acquaintances model a range of responses to a trans relative’s coming out, illustrating common difficulties while showing that acceptance and joy become possible with care and diligence. An excellent graphic novel and resource for families and others who experience the unexpected transition of a loved one.

Nichols, L. I Am Only a Foreigner Because You Don't Understand. Secret Acres. Nov. 2023. 144p. ISBN 9798985586350. pap. $15.95. MEMOIR

In Flocks, Nichols wrote of their childhood misery growing up as a queer girl in an anti-gay Southern town, their eventual academic success, and finally receiving the social support that propelled the young woman to marry another woman, have children, and then transition to male body and identity in a triumphant self-integration. But then it all fell apart when a divorce, body dysphoria, and intense depression overwhelmed Nichols. How to soothe inner voices from the past that screamed of fragile parenting, plus disquieting sexual abuse that the child had suffered from men? Deciding that a masculine self-identity conveyed only an illusion of strength, Nichols ultimately turns to a “middle path” between genders as more honest and trustworthy for moving forward. As in Flocks, Nichols depicts their self as a rag doll with button eyes, injuries to the body translated into stuffing leaking out. But this volume’s black-and-gray drawings, in sometimes disquieting detail—depicting, e.g., their spinal disorder and their body-disintegration fantasies—telegraph a sharp and sobering shift from the full color of Flocks. VERDICT This poignant meditation on a body that seems difficult to understand or love, but all too easily exploited, challenges readers to contemplate the complexity of human selves, including their own.

Soler, Sarah. Us. Dark Horse. Aug. 2023. 144p. tr. from Spanish by Silvia Perea Labayen. ISBN 9781506734187. pap. $19.99. MEMOIR

Upon seeing a transgender actress depicted as a regular person rather than a joke, Soler’s boyfriend of seven years confesses to feeling like a woman instead of a man. But what now? A twentysomething Spanish cartoonist, Soler (Plants vs. Zombies) and her partner retreat from the shock for several years until the aspiring creator gets her first real job. Now both are ready, turning Diana’s transition into a mutual growth project that Soler journals through social media posts and a short fanzine. Family and friends’ reactions, considerations about hormones and surgery, Soler recognizing her own bisexuality, Diana’s choosing pronouns and getting her name changed—all these facts lend the graphic novel the air of a friendly guidebook for other trans or trans-curious people and those who love them. Especially striking is Diana’s experiencing such new challenges as donning pantyhose, dealing with pushy come-ons from men, and being mansplained in videogames and tabletop gaming. The book’s cute chibi-esque art in blues and pinks makes the story friendly as well as approachable. A glossary appears at the end. VERDICT This charming, even humorous chronicle of a journey fraught with immense complications will be welcomed by romance lovers as well as those looking for information about trans matters. An empathic adventure for teens and adults.

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