Transgender Webcomics

Curator's Note

In the West, the transgender narrative has a standard arc. Jay Prosser describes it as beginning in childhood with the discovery of gendered self not represented through the body, which then leads to gender dysphoria until the final medical intervention, which signals a homecoming into one's body after surgery is complete. The trans memoirs of the 1970s popularized this trajectory, which we still see today in popular media. As Prosser notes, however, these stories are demanded and facilitated by the medical institution, which makes the doctor the actual author of the story. Because of this, trans writers have been pushing back against these tropes in most of their work--and transgender authored webcomics are no different.

Sophie Labelle and Caro Frechette are both trans writers who have developed popular webcomics. Labelle (in the video at her Flamecon 2015 appearance) is known for her Assigned Male Comics which tackles issues of gender and privilege head-on, while Frechette's Some Assembly Required is a love story examining the daily lives of its protagonists, most of whom are LGBTQ. Though the panel-to-panel plotlines may differ, they are both trans stories that take advantage--and indeed, benefit greatly--from the structure of webcomics and not from previous medically influenced narrative arcs.

Like the YouTube vlog (another popular medium for trans creators), a webcomic allows for the serialization of a narrative. There does not need to be a definitive ending before moving on with the story. This ambiguity around the conclusion allows for the typical trajectory of trans surgery itself to be questioned, which is especially relevant for nonbinary trans people (like Frechette and their characters) who may not desire any medical intervention whatsoever. There is no definitive ending to these gender stories because gender itself, like the artistic process in these comics, is more malleable than we think.

Moreover, since comics utilize the space between the gaps of panels to help tell stories, it allows for the audience to fill in the blanks of the narrative--and with Labelle and Frechette's help--eventually question what they see. When you read Some Assembly Required or Assigned Male Comics, you're not getting a typical trans narrative. But you're getting a good story, one told genuinely, and one that keeps me coming back each week.


I enjoyed this post. I think one of the remarkable aspects of comic book storytelling is the potential for the audience to fill in the blanks between panels. It sounds like Labelle and Frachette have used this ability to poignantly transcend the meaning of gender identity.

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