Birthright: Of Comics and Closets

Birthright: Of Comics and Closets

When I was asked to write this article, I was flattered, but a little unsure of myself. It certainly massaged my ego a bit to think that I might have something substantial to contribute, as a trans woman, to the ongoing discussion of LGBT people in comics. And then there was of course the uniquely-affirming

When I was asked to write this article, I was flattered, but a little unsure of myself. It certainly massaged my ego a bit to think that I might have something substantial to contribute, as a trans woman, to the ongoing discussion of LGBT people in comics. And then there was of course the uniquely-affirming thought of writing for a publication called Women Write About Comics. It’s right there in the name: women. I like the idea of being included in that group.

There’s a tension between those two sentiments that should give you pause: why am I so hungry to be affirmed as a woman? Because I’m still in the closet. And that very fact severely limits my ability to have much to say at all about LGBT people working in comics today, precisely because I have insulated myself from that experience. I do not now, nor have I ever, had to endure misogyny or transphobia, two of the crueler tendencies in fandom. That’s a very big part of why I’m still in the closet.

Can I talk for a second about how shitty it is to be in the closet? I don’t think a lot of cisgendered heterosexual people really get it viscerally. It’s a life of constant deceit, where you willfully and deliberate conceal and construct identities, and live in fear every waking hour of the day that you’re giving yourself away. Why are we afraid? Because our history is one of brutally suppressing those deviations, and doubly so in smaller communities like comics; there’s a reason we’re having the conversation about women in comics, about the “fake geek girl;” and these are things I am blissfully able to avoid as long as I stay in the closet.

The fact of the matter, and this is a brute fact, is that sometimes, every ounce of pain I feel at the wrenching internal contradiction of my soul feels worth it if it means I am spared the wrath we pour upon people who fail to meet the norm. And every single time I contemplate coming out of the closet to all you nice folk, I think to myself: if I do this, am I fucking over my career? Am I torpedoing it before it ever gets going? Will everything I write from here on out be seen as a trans-spectrum curiosity? Will I be shunted off into queer alt-comix? I don’t know. But I’m scared shitless of the possibilities.

The amount of support I’ve been shown by those people I have come out to has been staggering; it’s a small number, but they’ve proven to be beautiful, wonderful friends who are more than willing to let me cry on their shoulder and vent, who say very kind things to me about how everything will go ok with my transition, and that really, comics people are super LGBT positive and whatnot. And I want so badly to believe them. But I can only think of a few openly trans LGBT creators, and considering the fucking fanfare there was when Gail Simone included an openly-trans supporting character in Batgirl, I wonder; people were falling over themselves to praise her, and while yes, I am glad she did that, the fact that it was remarkable is itself a problem. More open trans creators are something we need, but goddamn, who has the courage to start?

I know a few of us are out and open. Rachel Pollack, Christian Beranek, and Lindsay Walker come to mind immediately, but I also know of the abuse Beranek was subject to in particular, including being the subject of lewd sexual jokes and generally being given the ‘freak’ treatment. But I guess we have to start somewhere, don’t we?

A good friend of mine recently came out to me as bisexual; I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was something he had fought and denied his entire life. We talked about the ethics of closeting ourselves, and the point was raised: the extent to which we stay in the closet is the extent to which we participate in the delegitimization of our own identities. More simply, by closeting ourselves we make the closet necessary.

Of course, I am a hypocrite; every day I stay in the closet in fear, I know I’m making it harder to come out. And I do want to, because I know that I’m only lying to all of you and crippling myself. The closet has massive benefits: I get to enjoy cishet privileges, I get to keep my marriage and my personal relationships unaltered. And what’s the cost? A horrifying depression every few years, and a dull ache the rest of the time. I wonder, sometimes, if maybe I can keep that up forever; it seems a small price.

But still, I can’t help but wonder if I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage.

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