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Gender Queer: A Memoir | Creator Interview

Gender Queer: A Memoir cover

Gender Queer: A Memoir
by Maia Kobabe
Lion Forge / Oni Press, $17.99
Ages 16 and up

Gender Queer: A Memoir began as Maia Kobabe’s attempt to explain to eir family what being nonbinary and asexual meant. (Maia uses e/em/eir pronouns.) The autobiography touches on gender identity, coming out, and a personal transformative journey. Maia answered a few questions about the book over email.

Gender Queer has the feel of someone sharing their diary. Can you share your approach to the work and what you were aiming for with it?

MK: I actually kept a diary from age 12 to age 24. I filled 14 notebooks in that time, and when I was starting to write Gender Queer, I sat down to re-read all of those diaries for the first time. As I read them, I made a bullet point list of all the memories I wanted to include. Looking over that list, it was basically a list of everything that I had thought too weird, embarrassing, or intimate to ever say out loud. That became the outline of the book.

Who are your influences in the autobiographical/memoir genre? 

MK: Some memoir comics authors I really look up to include Alison Bechdel, Lucy Knisley, Robin Ha, Julia Kaye, Nicole Georges, Thi Bui, and Erika Moen.

Why was the book published when it was? Some of the sections felt more like conversational starting points, particularly near the end, instead of providing a conclusion, which we sometimes expect from a memoir. Was that intentional?

MK: Obviously the story of my life isn’t over, because I am still alive! I did want to show readers that being out, and coming out, are a continual process. I will have to keep coming out every time I meet someone new for the rest of my life. I also wanted to show that it’s okay to live in a state of uncertainty, or to co-exist peacefully with unknowns. 

What do you most want readers to take away from reading Gender Queer

MK: I want readers to think about the things that keep them up at night — whatever worries, fears or concerns are present in their lives — and to consider speaking more openly about them in their communities, if it is safe to do so. I felt very very alone in my gender confusion for many years, but as soon as I began to make comics about gender, people began to reach out to me, saying they related to what I was talking about.

Being open about the things I considered my deepest secrets has been one of the best decisions of my entire life. It has connected me to a community I wouldn’t have otherwise met, and it has deepened my relationships with my friends and family. 

What did you learn from making the book? 

MK: I learned a lot of practical things, such as a bunch of new Photoshop tricks (this was my first ever major digital art project). I got better at drawing, and I got better at writing. In my opinion, the best comics writing tip is simply: cut as many words as you can. The fewer words, the better.

But I also learned a lot of emotional things which are harder to articulate. I learned to trust people more. I learned to communicate more clearly. I learned how valuable it is to let go of shame. 

How hard or easy was it to talk about yourself in this fashion? 

MK: It was often hard, but it felt necessary, which kept me moving forward. 

Has providing one’s pronouns become easier or more accepted? 

MK: I think it’s definitely gotten easier since 2016, when I first started using new pronouns. I love seeing pronouns on people’s social media profiles and in their email signatures — especially cisgender people! It’s so important to normalize offering and asking for pronouns. I hope it can become an immediate and expected part of introductions, along with giving one’s name.

[Editor’s note: Gender Queer received the Alex Award for adult books with YA interest in the ALA Youth Media Awards 2020.] 

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Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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