Gender Identity Creditting

By | Monday, September 13, 2021 Leave a Comment
A few years back back, I bought some comics from trans creator. I know she was trans because many (though not all) of her comics were autobiographical in nature. I don't know exactly where she was on her journey when I met her, but she had transitioned enough at that point where she had x-ed out her dead name on older books, and hand-written her current name in its place. I'm sure the cost of reprinting those books factored into that decision, but the way her dead name was crossed out -- so that you could still pretty easily read it, and you clearly weren't looking at a typo she was trying to hide -- gave me the impression that, while she wasn't ashamed of her past, she was very proud of where she stood and where she was going.

Maybe I was reading too much into that. I talked to her about her comics, not her gender identity.

But I'm thinking about that a bit today. When she made some of those older comics, her identity, at least from an outward social perspective, was that of a man. Regardless of how she felt, she presented herself as a man and, I suspect, was largely treated as one. The comics she made during that time would have been reflective of that, directly or indirectly. Her later experiences as a woman may have led her to approach the comic differently. Not that she'd be a fundamentally different person, of course, but A) she (theoretically) wouldn't be wrestling with her gender identity on a daily basis which is bound to free up some head space for thinking about comics, and B) the people around her would likely be treating her differently, which would likely impact her day-to-day mood. So does changing the credit on her comic make sense?

Yes and no.

Wilton of the West by Fred Sande
When Jacob Kurtzberg first started doing comics professionally, he used a number of pseudonyms: Jack Curtiss, Curt Davis, Ted Grey, Charles Nicholas, Fred Sande... He used different ones for different reasons. In some cases, he used them simultaneously in order to hide the true size of the company he was working for. In other cases, he was ghosting comics and was trying to match a particular style. But the name he used most often, Jack Kirby, was chosen in part to obscure his Jewish heritage. That was the name he ultimately became successful under and, although he fully owned up to the comics he worked on under other names, he never went back to change them. This was partially from little of his work being reprinted during his lifetime; much of the Kirby ouvre we enjoy today are only seeing their first re-publication (in some cases, first publication at all!) after his death. From the perspective, why bother re-tagging the material? He was still saying he made it, he just didn't bother updating the credits page.

On the other hand, today's Kirby-related materials all use "Jack Kirby" regardless of what name he originally worked on the piece under. That's a marketing decision since "Jack Kirby" is a much more famous name than "Fred Sande." Likewise, if you're still selling/promoting work that you originally developed under another name, you're in the process of trying to build that type of reputation. As long as you're still proud of the work, you'd want that associated with your current name, the one you're putting on material today. So if someone buys and likes your older work, there's less of an issue trying to track down your current work.

Furthermore, the person you are today isn't the same person you were five, ten, or more years ago. Even if you have the same name you've always had, you've got several more years of experiences and personal contacts that have influenced you. You're currently the culmination of your lifetime, and your decisions and choices today are based on a history that you didn't necessarily have before. So if none of us are who we used to be, but still use the same name to identify ourselves, why should a person who has consciously and deliberately changed their name/identity be expected to be called, retroactively, by a name that they no longer use?

The decision is, of course, a personal one. If a creator feels that their previous work was done under an identity so different from their own as to be a different person, there's no reason to expect them to update the credit. But if instead, they still feel the work is valid and representative, there's no reason to expect them to continue using an identity that is no longer in existence.

I don't know that I ever expressly seen people who claim to have problems with this kind of thing (though, at least in comics, it's pretty rare, certainly when you're talking about books with sales that number more than, say, 1000) but, if anyone does raise a concern about it, it seems to me that that is more of an issue with person voicing the opinion than anything else. It's your comic; credit it however you want. If anyone balks, you can rest assured that they're complaining not because you're being disingenuous with the credits (e.g. see my Kirby example above) but that they're uncomfortable with the idea that they're not able to define your gender identity for you.
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