Note: We reached back to CBR12 to feature this review of Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer. This year there is a renewed push to restrict access to books that reference race, gender, and sexuality. Kobabe wrote and illustrated an op-ed in the Washington Post on the need for queer kids to have access to queer books. In addition, eir was a guest on the Washington Post podcast, Please Go On.
I have a lot that I want to say about this memoir, but I can’t figure out how to say any of it, so I’m probably going to end up not saying much of anything beyond the basics.
And the basics of are basically that this is a memoir by nonbinary artist Maia Kobabe, who uses the pronouns e, em, and eir. Eir experience with gender has been fraught since ey were a child (is that the correct usage?). Maia has never felt like a boy or girl, and spent quite a while coming to terms with that. This book also touches on eir sexuality, which ey explored especially in college, before coming to terms with being asexual.
It’s an extremely personal memoir, only enhanced by Kobabe’s art, which is expressive and poignant. The book actually opens with Kobabe confessing that the idea came from a school assignment where the teacher asked em to list things that bothered em the most, or made em uncomfortable. Everything on Maia’s list was to do with gender. Even despite that discomfort, this memoir doesn’t really hold back, and seeing that discomfort so clearly on the page is part of what makes this memoir so powerful.
I say this is personal, because there isn’t any way to honestly depict a memoir about coming to terms with your gender identity and sexuality, about living in a human body, without getting personal. Kobabe runs the gamut, from eir childhood to adolescence, through college. The memoir depicts Kobabe’s emotional journey through exploring eir attractions, eir relationship to their body (dealing with the pain and humiliation of eir first gynecological exam), eir experiences of trying to help eir family understand eir identity.
The thing that I appreciated the most about this memoir is that it portrays so painfully accurately the experience of what it’s like to have an identity outside of binary norms of any kind. There are no models for what is “normal,” and so many of Kobabe’s feelings and thoughts do not fit into any known framework.
I would highly recommend this book even if reading about gender and sexuality aren’t high on your interest lists. Kobabe is certainly an artist/author to watch in the future.
Read Harder Challege 2020: Read a graphic memoir.