There is something utterly joyous and enlightening about Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel, Gender Queer: A Memoir. In part an autobiography, as well as a primer on non-binary gender issues, Kobabe unveils a personal story with such warmth and beauty it’s impossible not to love.
It’s the paradox of art that specificity creates universality (the more unique and honest the writing, the more people can appreciate and absorb it). In telling eir own tale (FYI Kobabe uses Spivak pronouns ‘e’, ’em’, ‘eir’) I found myself laughing and smiling with the emotions I knew so well, despite the differences in our lives.
Puberty can be a complex and confusing time for anyone, but Kobabe’s exploration of gender through eir own experiences illustrated the extra layers of difficulty faced by gender non-binary people. As Kobabe struggles with seemingly contradictory impulses and eir own unique upbringing, I couldn’t help but fondly laugh at those heady days in my own life.
There is a lot of jargon here, but Kobabe patiently explains and illustrates the terms with charm in a way that is clear, entertaining and non-threatening. It’s never dry or too academic. As e grows, gaining layers of understanding and language, that is then passed onto the reader. Seeing Kobabe’s struggles is one of the most empathic experiences I’ve had reading a graphic novel in years.
Maia Kobabe’s art is simple and beautiful (aided by colours by eir sister Phoebe) and e has a wonderful grasp of composition and pace. The whole novel flows with a gentle current that pulls you along, like sitting in a boat on a slow-moving stream.
I will confess to always feeling slightly awkward when discussing gender issues, both afraid of using incorrect pronouns and a general difficulty in understanding non-binary gender expressions (I even struggle with the unweildiness of that sentence). Which is why I found Gender Queer so stunning. Seeing a non-binary life through Kobabe’s eyes has helped put it in all in context and humanise the topic in an invaluable way.
By Chad Armstrong