This is part two of Austen's ongoing Transgender Comic review. Be sure to check out Closetspace as well!
The picture says it all.
If I were to pick any one comic, novel, or show to give to a young trans-person, or to someone looking to understand what's going on between our ears, it would be Venus Envy. Its touching storyline is matched by its innate understanding of the young trans-person's plight: families, schooling, friends, stealth, doubt, everything. Better yet, it actually presents these concepts in a positive, non-victimized way, allowing the reader to see a clear and optimistic picture of what living as a young trans-person can be like.
Yes, its storylines fall squarely in the world of teen drama. That's part of the charm: here is Zöe, teenage trans-woman, moved halfway across the state to escape transphobia, and in this new world nobody knows that she was born a boy. You can't have a better setup for schmaltz than that! It makes its own gravy, so to speak, as Zöe does her level-headed best to survive as a teenage girl despite having absolutely no practice at being one.
The comic feels familiar to a person in transition. Too many times I've felt this strange disconnect from the experience of "normal" women or men. As a young trans-person, I am precluded from many of the experiences that are dramatized in television and film: I didn't have a marriage, career, or children at stake when I decided to be a female. As a transgender person, I have experiences that other people cannot understand: learning to pass, changing my voice, unlearning male habits, etc. (More frustratingly, there are experiences that skirt the edge of known language, but that's a different story altogether.) But Venus Envy makes me feel like my experiences are valid and shared. Everything, from the eponymous "tuck" to the challenges of dating, is covered in a lighthearted manner. Take, for example, the nonchalant way she describes the potential dangers of hormones:
Ever have a person tell you that they "can't being to understand what you're experiencing"? Yeah. Those experiences are in here, and they're as nonchalant as you wish they would be.
Venus Envy is especially touching insofar as it's about living, not being a victim. I feel that we often focus on what its like to be a strange, alienated minority, and in doing so we miss out on all the fun, exciting things that happen to trans-people on their journey. Take a look at the must-see list pertaining to transgender folks and you'll see what I mean: "TransAmerica," "Boys Don't Cry," and "Soldier's Girl" are all about transgender people as strange entities struggling to fit into an uncaring world. They can be turn-offs for a young trans-person; after all, what self-respecting sod would _sign up_ to be disowned by a child, raped, murdered, or become the motivation behind someone's murder? I know that my battle for self-acceptance dredged up a number of "trans-people are nasty freaks" thoughts as represented in these movies, and looking back it certainly kept me from an earlier transition.
Venus Envy succeeds at making transgender life fun. This is not to be confused with hard, as the comic certainly doesn't pull any punches about Zöe's internal struggle to be who she wants to be, or her mother's attempt to make Zöe who she wants her son to be. However, it's not so focused on these negative, worrisome moments as it is with presenting Zöe as a regular, run-of-the-mill teenage girl, save for the fact she was born a boy. Seeing a transgender woman as a person with friends, family, and a life is as refreshing as it is a truthful representation of real-world transition. Sure, we may suffer from discrimination, bureaucratic red tape, and a hiring bias to beat the band, but at the end of the day we're still the friends, family, and companionship of day-to-day people. In the end, we're happy, well-adjusted folks that just want to have a life.
My personal favorite storylines:
Zöe goes off hormones for two weeks as part of a deal with her parents
Going to group therapy session
Venus Envy is currently on hiatus. The artist is taking time off from the comic, but does plan on returning in time. In the meantime, be sure to support her by dropping a couple coins in the donations bucket. I'm sure she'd appreciate your business.
All images copyright Erin Lindsey.