Gender Queer Review

By | Monday, August 22, 2022 Leave a Comment
Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer: A Memoir got re-released as a Deluxe Edition in June. I apparently missed the original 2019 printing, but I recall coming across the book description earlier this year as I was putting in my pre-orders and thinking it was exactly the type of thing I needed to read. I noted just a couple weeks ago in my review of The Third Person that I don't have a good grasp of what gender dysphoria is like, and it's something I should make more of an effort to understand.

Not surprisingly, Gender Queer tells the story of how Kobabe grew up and, over the course of about three decades, struggled to find how ey fit on the queer "spectrum." Like, I expect, many people sorting things out during adolesence and young adulthood, ey bounced around with different labels -- lesbian, bisexual, etc. -- none of which seemed to quite fit. I found it particularly interesting that Kobabe's parents simultaneously made things both easy and difficult; easy in that they gave em the openness and love and comfort to be able to explore different ideas without fear of rejection, but difficult in not being able to provide some of the practical but informal education to navigate the social heierarchies of the day. There was no pressure to conform to "typical" notions of feminity at home, but no toolkit for dealing with how those outside the home might apply those pressures.

But that brings me to another interesting point I found in the book: the specific tools needed here are few and far between. I've never personally struggled in this way and have always been comfortable within the socially imposed binary of male/female (I'm reminded again of just how many priviledge boxes I can check) but I was under the belief that a number of resources -- both online and off -- had opened up throughout the '90s and '00s that made understanding other existances easier and less isolating to navigate. I suspect Kobabe's parents, who are probably about the same age as me, felt similar. But Kobabe's journey doesn't really start until 2003, so ey did indeed have more resources available than someone my age would've had in the '80s; however, those were still pretty limited. Finding something that spoke to how ey actually identified proved to still be a challenging task, and it seems like ey didn't really find something that truly clicked until 2016. (Possibly a little earlier or later; there's no specific timeframe given there. Regardless, it's clearly fairly recent and well into Kobabe's late 20s.) While the book doesn't then end with a saccharine "Oh, I've got everything figured out now" conclusion, it does show Kobabe finally content with who ey are, and a path forward for navigating how/when to explain that to others.

This was certainly helpful to me in understanding some of the social and emotional issues in navigating gender identity in the 21st century. My frames of reference in particular are rooted in the late 20th century; any/all of my queer (however you might define that) friends and acquaintences had to deal with that in a very different environment with very different resources. Seeing the story of someone dealing with it more contemporaneously obviously sheds some light on what, for example, one of my cousin's kids seems to be starting to go through. (You can bet a copy of this book will be headed their way in the near future!)

If I had one complaint about the book, it would only be how Kobabe handled the broader sense of time. The story isn't told strictly linearly, but follows more closely with eir own journey. It's mostly chronological, but there are a few spots that backtrack or jump around a little to make fit better with the overall narrative. Which totally makes sense and, honestly, that all flows really well. But I think by continuing to drop the dates in place, even if they're only a few months apart, actually disrupts the narrative a smidge as the reader adjusts to, "Oh, okay, this goes back a few months." They scenes seem close enough chronologically that expressly defining the time shift every time doesn't seem necessary; occassional spots to show a general progression of time, but I think ey relied on it a little more heavily than necessary. It's a minor point, frankly, but the rest of the book was so well handled narratively that it stood out a bit.

Gender Queer was an excellent book and it's more than worthy of the awards it's received. (Why it doesn't even seem to have been nominated for an Eisner, I don't know! Maybe this Deluxe Edition will correct that.) I found it really enjoyable and enlightening, and I hope Kobabe receives more love for having created it than she even hears about closed-minded asswipes who try to get it banned from libraries. The book is well-worth picking up whether you're struggling with your own identity or just want to better understand what other people might be going through. It's published by Oni Press and the Deluxe Edition retails for $24.99 US -- you should be able to find it at all major bookstore outlets.
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