Alright so I have been on the top of the library waitlist for this one for months because whoever checked it out right before me never brought it back! So, I had to wait for it to be considered a full-on loss and for a new copy to be ordered and shipped and processed, etc. But now…I have to say I kind of get it, because I don’t really want to give it back either.
“As I pondered a pronoun change, I began to think of gender less as a scale and more as a landscape. Some people are born in the mountains, while others are born by the sea. Some people are happy to live in the place they were born, while others must make a journey to reach the climate in which they can flourish and grow. Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home.”
This graphic memoir (see me again, loving these graphic memoirs!) chronicles the journey of the author, Maia Kobabe (e/em/eir), through the complex and meandering journey of figuring out who e is, somewhat in general but also, more specifically, in regards to em gender and sexuality. And then, as that starts to fall into place for emself, e also details the difficult and lifelong task of attempting to communicate something that layered to…literally everyone e interacts with.
This was spectacular, both in medium as a graphic novel and in content as a memoir of gender and sexuality. I feel like I’m starting to have read enough graphic memoirs (and a smattering of fiction/novels) to be able to reasonably comment on pacing and “technical” stuff like that, and this one nailed it. The panels were so clear, the perfect mix of text and visual communication, each building off and complementing the other in ways that they couldn’t have done alone, and the style and color scheming of the illustrations themselves fit perfectly with the “story” being told. I was never confused about who/what was who/what (like I was, a bit, with The Times I Knew I Was Gay). And overall I just flew through reading this.
Looking with a bit more detail at the content… Basically this book is (wonderfully) a low-key indictment of the incorrectness and limitations of the binary system of gender that we’ve [mainstream] culturally backed ourselves into, from both a personal identity and (a little bit towards the end) biological perspective. Kobabe’s confusion, in trying to find who e is in a society that will not talk, teach or consider other (read: not the binary) options of sex/gender/sexuality – which leads to zero exposure – is open and honest and deeply personal and tender. Em way of communicating that “what is happening in my head” was particularly incredible and insightful, really showing the reader how disconcerting it is to not have the vocabulary to describe who you are, not just with other people, but also not even for yourself. Just…it’s almost beyond imagining how hard that must be. Even harder when, after managing to figure some things out, society continues to cause struggle by telling you what you’re feeling internally isn’t possible. All that being said, it definitely made for a number of heart-filling moments, reading Kobabe’s own times of clarity and realization about emself (along these lines, the quote at the top, about the gender landscape, was just such an impactful reading moment).
Every “blurb” of this book I’ve seen has used the word “cathartic” to describe the vibe and content. Based on some of Kobabe’s own words, I can see why, and that it may truly have been so, at least on some levels, for em. But I also think there’s more to it than that. It’s inspiring and wonderful, but also frustrating and unnecessarily confusing (for Kobabe, and any other gender non-conforming persons). Em experience did not have to be this complicated. It shouldn’t be for anyone. So I applaud, with deep emotion and awe, Kobabe’s strength and vulnerability in sharing this journey, in general and in the hopes it could help someone else’s journey be a bit easier. But wouldn’t it be better if it didn’t take such incredible displays and constant (never-ending) educating/coming out on the part of anyone to make it possible?