Cartoonist: Maia Kobabe
Colorist: Phoebe Kobabe
Publisher: Oni-Lion Forge
WHAT IS IT?
A raw and honest coming-of-age graphic memoir starting with Kobabe's unconventional childhood living in a California farmhouse with no electricity to exploring eir sexuality and gender as e go from adolescence to adulthood.
Think of The Glass Castle meets Tomboy.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
If a teacher asked you to write a list of your personal demons, what would be on your list? When Maia Kobabe wrote eir list for the class project, e realized that eir answers all stemmed around gender identiy— “girly clothes”, “periods”, and “boobs”. Kobabe created a short comic based on the answers but was too embarrassed to turn it in, so e tucked it away in a notebook where, years later, it would become Gender Queer: a memoir.
Kobabe’s exploration of gender began during eir childhood spent in a Californian farmhouse with no electricity and no running toilets but with parents that supported their children’s aspirations and encouraged exploration. From a young age Kobabe knew that eir body didn’t match what e felt on the inside, but these feelings were really reaffirmed after entering elementary school, when a teacher wouldn’t allow em to swim at the beach without a shirt on despite letting the boy children do so. When Kobabe enters eir teenage years, e is confronted with one of their biggest demons: menstruation. Despite eir gender demons, Kobabe grows into adulthood with a love of literature and friends who bond over erotic fanfiction, and Gender Queer is a touching personal journey of asexuality and overcoming gender dysmorphia.
Kobabe’s Gender Queer is a raw and unyielding memoir that vocalizes what many Queer people feel internally but might be too afraid to say out loud. While this is a personal journey, Kobabe’s experiences with sexuality and gender will ring a familiar truth for many outside the gender binary.
Kobabe’s simple panel layout and clean art style make this book beginner friendly to anyone new to the graphic novel genre but who still want to experience a relatable Queer story.
Phoebe Kobabe’s block coloring and simplistic cell shading style add to the homemade feel of this memoir that began as a school project. The earth tone color palette reflects the children’s outdoorsy life in a Californian farmhouse and give the overall book a vintage 90s feel.
Kobabe draws each panel outline and has handwritten the lettering which also subtly adds to the class project roots of the original comic.
Despite living in a liberal and non-gender conforming household in California, Kobabe shows that it was still difficult to come out to eir family and for the family to use eir pronouns. Kobabe’s family had supported em growing up as a “tomboy,” but it was more difficult for them to begin to accept the non-binary aspects and Spivak pronouns.
Kobabe explores sexuality while both trying to understand attraction from an asexual / aromantic point of view and while also grappling with intense body dysmorphia that makes sex uncomfortable and embarrassing for em.
Kobabe’s parents had no interest in enforcing gender roles. Things changed when e went to elementary school and the teacher told em that e had to wear a shirt at the beach when the boy children didn’t. The girls also made fun of eir unshaven legs which spiraled Kobabe’s thoughts on gender roles that e didn’t grow up with but was now expected to follow.
The metaphorical use of snakes. As a child, Kobabe loved learning about snakes and went through a phase where e only wanted snake stuffed animals, clothes, etc. Later e describes shedding off a tight chest binder like a snake shedding skin while dreaming of top surgery.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warnings: Dysmorphia, Transphobia, sexual content, Harry Potter references, medical trauma (including graphic images of menstruation and gynecological procedures)
Kobabe asks a lot of great questions about gender roles and questioning identity (such as why are girls expected to shave their legs, but boys aren’t?) but doesn’t offer much commentary on the topics other than mentioning that e had these thoughts growing up.
Towards the end of the book, Kobabe paraphrases the work of neurophilosopher Patricia Copeland, which is fine and presented in an informative way of who Copeland is for context. However, the section should still be taken with a grain of salt as Copeland’s work is considered more hypothetical and philosophical than scientific.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If a book makes it onto the banned book list, that’s probably reason enough to pick it up and try it out for yourself. Gender Queer has been one of the most challenged and banned books in libraries and schools across the United States over the past few years. Banned books frequently deal with realistic topics, and in this case, many people (especially queer teens and young adults) will find that Kobabe’s journey with gender and sexuality will resonate with their own feelings. Teenagers deserve to see themselves reflected in literature that’s readily available to them and queer books deserve to be on library shelves. Fear and so-called moral outrages spread through parents who then want to ban books with Queer themes. “[Parents] want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, they won’t know about it,” author Judy Blume once said. “And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen.”
Banned book list aside, Gender Queer shines on its own as a memoir. While the main focus is the exploration of Kobabe’s own gender and sexuality, eir upbringing in a Californian farmhouse with no electricity or running toilets also paints an incredibly interesting picture of an atypical childhood in the 1990s.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Be Gay, Do Comics by Matt Bors (editor), et al.
Fine: A Comic About Gender by Rhea Ewing
Play Like a Girl: a graphic memoir by Misty Wilson
If you like the art:
Resistance: The LGBT Fight Against Fascism in WWII by Avery Cassell with art by Maia Kobabe, Phoebe Kobabe, et all.
Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
Spellbound: a graphic memoir by Bishakh Som
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Maia Kobabe (@redgoldsparks) - Cartoonist
Kobabe uses the Spivak neo-pronouns e, em, eir
Kobabe’s illustrations have been featured in prose novels as well as comics.
Despite the book receiving numerous awards and award nominations, Gender Queer has been one of the biggest targets regarding the widespread discussions of book banning in schools and libraries. Kobabe talks about the banning of Queer books in an opinion article for the Washington Post.
Phoebe Kobabe - Colorist
Kobabe uses they/them pronouns
Phoebe Kobabe is Maia Kobabe’s sibling
Kobabe is a freelance illustrator and has also worked with Disney ABC TV and Lion Forge Comics.
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Gender Queer characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Maia Kobabe or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.