Be Gay, Do Comics is the queer anthology for our times; for one, it just won the Ignatz for Outstanding Anthology. Across 260 pages, queer creatives from across the world contribute their unique, yet relatable, experiences in the LGBTQIA+ community. Some stories will make you smile, others will fill you with fear for the author. All of them will tug at your heartstrings and make you feel like you belong.
Be Gay, Do Comics: Queer History, Memoir, and Satire from The Nib
Matt Bors, Matt Lubchansky, Sarah Mirk and Eleri Harris (editors)
The Nib, IDW Publishing
September 1, 2020
The moment I read about Be Gay, Do Comics, I wanted to read it—and was thrilled when I got to review it for WWAC. I’ve been actively devouring queer literature and media whenever I can—I didn’t realise how starved I’d felt of content for most of my life until now!
I wholeheartedly loved this anthology. So many diverse voices, all speaking their truths? How could it not be wonderful? I felt so seen—in a good way—by these real stories from and about real people. And I felt happy that I could read this book sitting in Canada, knowing that I am in a place where I can proudly proclaim my queerness.
Because that hasn’t always been the case—I still occupy spaces where queerness is frowned upon and actively discouraged. I found this to be a recurring theme in Be Gay, Do Comics.
Non-Western parts of the world have often been looked down upon due to presumed backward views on homosexuality. Turns out, colonization is to blame for that—if one doesn’t know the history of countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Be Gay, Do Comics portrays just how different these regions were before colonization.
Colonial beliefs about heterosexuality—and the resulting homophobia—were brought to non-white countries and communities. Before then, African and Asian countries had thriving queer communities, and trans identities were accepted as part of the gender dynamic.
Unfortunately, there are countries haven’t broken out of their colonial shackles to rise above these prejudices—with queer people still afraid of coming out. The visual essay ‘Queerness Has Always Been Part of Life in the Middle East’ in Be Gay, Do Comics was contributed anonymously—that tells you something.
However, queer authors from other parts of the world felt safe enough to put their names to their work—which is a relief. Shoutout to Rosa Colón Guerra who contributed “Puerto Rico’s LGBT Community is Ready to Kick the Door Down,” Trinidad Escobar who wrote “Decolonizing Queerness in the Philippines,” and Kazimir Lee who wrote “What’s It Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT?” Their amazing personal stories were fascinating and it’s great to get insight into the contemporary lives of queer people in their countries.
Another recurring theme I found—that saddened me—was how many queer people in straight-passing relationships don’t feel queer enough. Bisexual authors felt they didn’t fit in within straight or queer communities—as outlined in Jason Michaels and Mady G’s “Am I Queer Enough?”
Bisexual people felt they were too queer for the first group, but too straight for the latter. And even when others aren’t excluding them, queer folk in heterosexual relationships feel like they’re taking up space from ‘real’ queer folk.
I’ve read about these experiences, but I would have liked an understanding of why this happens at all. Why would anyone in the queer community exclude someone just because they were in a straight-presenting relationship? I hope that we can all come to an understanding soon, so everyone feels like they belong in a safe space like the queer community.
One set of accounts that really hit home were from the authors who had realised they were queer only when they reached adulthood, like Alison Wilgus’ piece “I Came Out Late in Life and That’s Okay.” While Wilgus wrote about how freeing it felt to have found themselves, they did rue everything they’d missed out on. There are so many universal queer experiences that younger people are assumed and expected to have—which you can never have once you get to your 30s, 40s, and above.
I definitely felt these stories—though I realised I was queer in my teens, I couldn’t do anything with my identity. Nearly two decades later and I have nothing to show for my queerness but my one and only visit to Pride in 2019. Great, now I’ve made myself sad.
On to better things. I liked that many of the personal accounts in Be Gay, Do Comics showcased how there is no one way to be queer. We are all part of this rainbow community in our own distinctive ways. And that’s a wonderful thing!
My takeaway from this book was that we need society at large—even queer society—to be more cognizant and accepting of these nuances. Queer people don’t fit into neat queer boxes—we occupy so many intersections. Can it get confusing? Not if you see the queer person as a person first, and not just an identity you can tick a box for.
I loved all the queer history in this book—I feel so uneducated for not knowing some of it, but that’s what Be Gay, Do Comics is here for. Did you know that even before the Stonewall Riots in 1969, there were numerous agitations and small victories for the queer community? You will once you read this book.
A few entries in the book highlight the events and activists who came before—Hazel Newlevant wrote about the “Queer Uprisings Before Stonewall,” Kendra Wells shared “Great Moments in Pride History,” and Max Dlabick traced the history of the Pride flag in “Freedom, Joy and Power: The History of the Rainbow Flag.” It’s great to know about how many people were consistently fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights despite not having any recourse when things went wrong—and a fair few won their battles, so yay for them, and us.
Interestingly, there was only one story set during the AIDS crisis of the 80s—”The Dream of a Gay Separatist Town” by Archie Bongiovanni—and the crisis wasn’t even the focus. Most ‘classic’ queer stories almost always focused on gay characters becoming infected with HIV, so this was a relief. I guess we have come to the point where there are a lot more younger queer people who were born during or after the crisis—their stories no longer revolve around the virus.
There was only one personal story in Be Gay, Do Comics that I wasn’t completely sold on. Not because of the memoir itself, but some of the wording. Robyn Jordan’s “How Do You Adopt an Embryo” starts off as a familiar tale of Jordan and her partner trying to have a child via embryo adoption. They meet a straight couple who are just right and are ready to adopt the couple’s excess embryos before the donating couple back out without reason. So far, so frustrating but expected.
The end gets weird. I couldn’t understand why the author needed to tie this event to abortion. The last line adopts rhetoric that is regularly used by conservative politicians spewing fallacies against abortion. They’re constantly shouting about how embryos are people and thus, anybody who wants an abortion should be charged with murder.
To then end the essay describing their excess embryos as feeling ‘like people’ was reductive. I understand that the author means this in a particular context—that they don’t want to discard their excess embryos but that donating them will require a lot of thought. But the wording could have been better thought-out—it immediately jumped out at me and took me out of the experience that Be Gay, Do Comics was trying to be for me. Aside from this one moment, the rest of Be Gay, Do Comics was an excellent experience.
With an anthology like this, not only do we get great stories, but also a plethora of artistic styles. Though I do have stylistic choices that I prefer, I found myself putting my preferences on the backburner and just enjoying the experience of living these multiple lives through the artists’ choices.
Interestingly, I didn’t feel like the changing styles took me out of the book—I think that was because the art was intrinsically tied into the stories being told, and many of them were written and drawn by the creatives themselves.
Having said that, I loved the style and colours in Taneka Stotts and Ria Martinez’s “Queerativity!” The digital style is one I like so this stood out to me—even though it was about the 2016 election and not a happy story.
Mady G, who contributed the art for their partner Jason Michael’s work, “Am I Queer Enough?”, also wrote and drew their own piece, “Dating a Trans Person Changed My Partner’s Life,” and contributed the final piece in the book, “The Wonderfully Queer World of Moomin.” I love their quirky and colourful art and will be keeping an eye out for more of their work.
Not all the stories or histories in Be Gay, Do Comics were uplifting—some were downers but needed to be told. Many stories were humorous—poking fun at society and straight people for not understanding, or forgetting, about queer experiences.
I loved that not all the queer authors had cemented their identities—some were figuring it out and those felt like powerful stories that were equally relatable.
Though I read a digital version of Be Gay, Do Comics, this is an anthology that needs to sit on your coffee table. The cover is vibrant and beautiful—like our community! It draws the eye and holds the onlooker’s interest until they have no choice but to start reading. If you’re queer, you don’t need an invitation to read this book, because no matter what identities you relate to, you will see something of yourself in this book. I certainly did.