I recently received, and tore through, a review copy of cartoonist Dylan Edwards’ TRANSPOSES (Northwest Press, October 2012).
Having worked with LGBT teenagers at a youth center for many years, and being a writer and a fan of gender-bending characters, I found TRANSPOSES delightful and instructive.
The book comprises six illustrated stories of “queer-identified female-to-male transpeople” inspired by a series of interviews that Edwards undertook in his community. While he’s careful to point out in his Authors Note that the characters couldn’t possibly be representative of all queer-identified FTMs, I think it is extremely likely that readers, across the gender spectrum, will find something they relate to in this book.
With characters based on real life people, TRANSPOSES provides portrayals of ‘T’ individuals that are current and provocative. Issues like gender corrective hormones and surgeries play into some of the stories. But more often the characters are wrestling with, and learning about, and celebrating the experience of being themselves outside of social and medical preconceptions about gender and sexuality. As Henry, a bespectacled young FTM with an intellectual, OCD-leaning point of view, explains to readers in his chapter “The Museum of Natural Henry,”
“I do sometimes wish my body were more like a genetic man’s…but transition as a state of being rather than a temporary phase seems to be working for me.”
There’s amusing commentary on the perplexity of living in a binary gender-obsessed society. In the same chapter, Henry cleverly laments: “Frankly, I’d jettison all pronouns and gendered language if I could. But, as with pants, it tends to upset people if you leave the house not wearing any.”
Edwards establishes a wry tone from the start in his illustrated Introduction. Imagining himself addressing an auditorium, Edwards talks about the “cauldron of monkeys” awaiting trans-identity disclosures to family and friends. That cauldron gets opened pictorially, and the angry, mischievous monkeys fill the auditorium, demanding answers to such questions as:
“You used to be so pretty. Why did you have to ruin that?”
“How do you have sex?”
“You make me uncomfortable. Don’t you realize you owe me a justification for your existence?”
The stories frankly address such topics as coming out in a lesbian relationship (“Adam”), male role models and gay identities (“Avery”), as well as STIs (“Blake”) and recovery from childhood sexual abuse (“Aaron & James”). As such, I think TRANSPOSES is a trusty guidebook for young adults navigating the discovery of gender and sexual identity, and really for older adults too.
Edwards talks about aiming to create the kind of book he would have wanted when he was younger. I think in this regard, the author emphatically succeeds.