I first realized that I am both non-binary and transgender in June of 2019 during Capital City Pride week in Des Moines. That year I didn’t even attend any pride events, so I’m not sure what exactly made me start connecting the dots between my thoughts. A voice in my head had asked, “What if I’m nonbinary? What if I’m trans?” and I kind of panicked.
After Googling things like “how do you know if you’re trans” and reading a Cosmopolitan article about a trans woman’s experience getting bottom surgery, I realized that’s not something cis folks tend to think about or do and I started slowly accepting this life-altering discovery.
Within a couple weeks I had come out to all of my friends and within a couple of months, to all of my coworkers too. During that time I would alternate between elation at the self discovery that I had made and fear about what it would mean for me, my future, and what might change (I lot of people have misplaced hatred toward trans people). Around half of my friends nowadays aren’t cisgender but that was not the case at the time. There was no one close to me that was nonbinary or trans, so I sought answers and reassurances to my internal struggles from books and the internet.
On a whim I went to Barnes & Nobles’ graphic novel section, looking for something not featuring superheroes, and I stumbled upon “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe (who uses e/em/eir pronouns). It is possibly the most important purchase that I have ever made; at least the most important that didn’t incur debt.
This was exactly what I was looking for. It chronicles Kobabe’s journey of self-identification from adolescence through adulthood. From awkward crushes and struggling to discern eir own sexual & gender identites to coming out to eir parents and them trying to be supportive but not quite ‘getting it’ and so much more.
Eir words resonated, the illustrations were beautiful, and I cried more than once. Not everything that e had experienced directly lined up with myself - everyone is different - but there was so much overlap and e introduced ways of thinking that I hadn’t even considered. It was reassuring and empowering. I had wished that I had read something like it a decade earlier; I still do.
After I finished it, I bought more copies. A couple were gifted to family, I lent others out over and over again to friends plus kept one for myself. Eventually a coworker had heard how strongly I felt about the book and decided RAYGUN would start carrying it. I was glad that people were giving it a shot and someone else’s words could aid me in coming out and expressing myself.
Fast forward a couple years to “Gender Queer” becoming the most banned book in the country. In addition to people not understanding - or not trying to understand the book - and fighting to pull it from schools and libraries, some have also tried to remove it from store shelves. Seriously. Politicians are trying to keep the very place where I purchased it from being able to sell it to others.
In addition to the book bans there have been states kicking trans kids off of school sports teams, attempts to restrict or even ban gender affirming healthcare for youth, and more attacks on our existence. Missouri and Kansas even proposed making such care be considered child abuse. It’s a hell of a time to come out as trans.
Kobabe has written about the memoir serving as a resource. While I wholeheartedly agree, I would add that while queer people need queer stories, straight people also need queer stories. Collectively we need resources that cis folks can access to gain a better understanding of what others are experiencing. The world needs more empathy.
RAYGUN still stocks “Gender Queer” and the new deluxe edition just hit store shelves along with other banned lgbtqia+ books (like “Beyond Magenta,” “This Book Is Gay,” “The Hate U Give,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and others). I appreciate working someplace that accepts and enables me to be who I am and encourages others to do the same. Pride month came to a close, but we won’t stop being proud. We aren’t going anywhere.