Among the finalists in the 2013 Lambda Literary Awards was the Northwest Press graphic novel TRANSPOSES. For those unfamiliar, TRANSPOSES is a comic anthology that tells the stories of seven trans men. Already, this is awesome, since there’s hardly any media representation for trans men whatsoever. However, what makes TRANSPOSES special is that it gives a spotlight to the specific issues that queer trans men face — thus spitting in the face of the hetero world’s idea of what it means to be a”real man.”

Since most of the interviews were conducted in 2008, TRANSPOSES might be a bit dated in 2017. For instance, we now prefer the term “trans men” over “ftm.” Yet this comic is still super relevant in a time when the trans community is facing outspoken pushback from both right and left. 

ComicsVerse was fortunate enough to interview Dylan “NDR” Edwards, the author and artist behind TRANSPOSES. Edwards is also the creator of the webcomic VALLEY OF THE SILK SKY, as well as the graphic novel POLITICALLY INQUEERECT: OLD GHOSTS AND OTHER STORIES. 

Starting The Journey

CV: So, first things first, how did you get Alison Bechdel in on this project? And why was she the person you chose to write the forward?

DE: When I first started making comics in 2000, I sent her some of my stuff to get feedback and advice (this was pre-FUN HOME, so she was still doing DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR as her main gig). She was kind enough to respond and was very encouraging, and I’ve kept in touch off and on since then to send along new stuff I’ve done.

LISTEN: ComicsVerse discusses the importance of Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME! 

DE: One piece of career advice she gave me as an indie creator was to get a blurb from the most famous person you know. I responded, “Well, that would be you. Cough. Ahem.” And she was generous enough to give not just a blurb but a full introduction.

CV: How did you go about finding gay/bi/pan trans men to interview for this project?

DE: I did the first round of interviews in 2008, and pulled mostly from LiveJournal and guys in or adjacent to my community.

Why TRANSPOSES?

Transposes
Image courtesy of Northwest Press.

CV: Why was it important to look for queer trans men specifically, without the straight trans dudes?

DE: I started seriously delving into trans issues in 2000. The literature at the time focused almost exclusively on straight, very masculine trans men. I found I didn’t really identify much with their life experiences, even to the point of questioning whether or not I was “really” trans because I didn’t fit the profile in a lot of ways. So a big part of the impetus for creating TRANSPOSES was to offer a different range of stories from what had been available to me.

Museums Of Personal History

CV: How did you decide upon the frameworks you’d use for certain stories (for instance, museum exhibits as a narrative framework)?

DE: It depended a lot on what kind of material I got back from the interview. Some of the folks I interviewed told me straightforward stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end (Cal, Adam, Blake). Often there was a particular epiphany involved in those stories that could serve as a narrative anchor.

DE: Other people didn’t necessarily have a single “A-HA!” moment, but rather a collection of smaller experiences. So those had to be structured differently in order to tell a coherent story. In those cases, I would think about the interviewee’s overall personality to work out a narrative anchor. So Henry is this very nerdy dude who has legit studied museum science, and his answers to the interview questions tended to be short, pithy statements rather than stories. That put me in the frame of mind of a museum exhibit with little information cards.

READ: GUMBALLS is another comic anthology by a trans guy artist! 

DE: Avery’s chapter also had an invented framework (They did not literally have this day-in-the-life sequence. That was something I built to give structure to the various tidbits they’d told me).

DE: The chapter for Aaron and James was extremely difficult to structure, and it was the last one I finished for the book. I actually interviewed them separately and had originally intended two different chapters, but given that they’re a couple, there’s a point at which their stories become inherently linked. So it ultimately made more sense to do this split-screen thing where their lives eventually converge.

Leaving A Community You Don’t Quite Fit

CV: A lot of the stories in TRANSPOSES portray a deeply complex and often bittersweet relationship between closeted trans men and the lesbian community. We often hear about this from the cis lesbian side of things. (For instance, there’s this deep fear that trans men are stealing butch lesbians from the community. They call it “butch flight”). What are your experiences with the lesbian community, if any? Were these experiences empowering or alienating?

DE: Like several trans guys I’ve known (even the gay ones), I did try on a lesbian identity prior to coming out as trans. I didn’t know trans men even existed until I was about 24. So all I knew was something was amiss, and queerness had an appeal.

DE: But I have never really been attracted to women in a romantic sense. I think I managed a handful of dates with women before realizing it wasn’t working. I never really got deeply invested in the lesbian community.

DE: The problem with the idea of “butch flight” is it assumes the people who “flew” were happily cis before the magic trans fairy showed up and hit them with the trans wand. How many stone butches didn’t like to be touched because it triggered their gender dysphoria something fierce? The idea that trans men could “steal” butches away is just straight up transphobic.

 Trans Men In The Gay Male Community

Transposes
Image courtesy of Northwest Press.

CV: On the other hand, many of the stories in TRANSPOSES also touch upon the relationships between queer trans men and queer cis men in the gay male community. Are there ways that this community could be more empowering for trans people as well?

DE: In general I’d love to see the cis gay community work on its internalized misogyny and transphobia. There’s a tendency for a lot of cis gay men to assume that because they face oppression over their sexual orientation, they, therefore, understand all forms of oppression. But it’s still very rare to meet cis men of any orientation who really fully understand just how thoroughly cis maleness is privileged in our culture.

DE: There is a certain strain of cis gay culture that is very touchy-feely and doesn’t involve much awareness of consent. When you have body dysphoria issues, non-consensual touch adds a whole extra layer of grossness. In general, I’d like to see cis gay men talk more and think more about consent issues.

READ: Check out this trans analysis of V FOR VENDETTA!

The Trans Community

CV: And in the trans community, are there experiences unique to trans men? 

DE: I feel like there’s this myth that trans men transition and poof! A gift basket of all of the male privilege appears. This erases trans guys who don’t opt for medical transition (or who might plan to do it but haven’t yet) or who don’t get read as cis. And cis-passing trans men still experience discrimination that cis men don’t.

DE: For example, even the most staunchly male-identified, cis-passing-est, stealthiest trans man alive still has to come out to his doctor. Thereby he takes on the risk of being mistreated by the medical community for being trans. I personally have been fired by two medical professionals who didn’t want to treat me specifically because I’m trans. Plus, if any part of your resume flags you as trans, you’re 40% less likely to get called for an interview. And short men are less likely to receive promotions at work, which disproportionately affects trans men.

DE: All that said, there are definitely issues where trans men, particularly masc trans guys who have opted for hormones and surgery, need to step back and check themselves. I’ve had to relearn a lot of behaviors I developed growing up female, where I was fighting just to be heard and believed, and to have my accomplishments acknowledged. So, for example, talking loudly or interrupting people was often necessary when moving through the world as a girl, but now has a toxic effect when it’s coming from a guy. So we need to keep an eye open for that context shift and adjust accordingly.

Trans Allies Against Transmisogyny

Transposes
Image courtesy of Northwest Press.

CV: In the trans community, trans women and trans men often have complex relationships. What are some ways that trans men can hold space to empower women’s voices in our community, while also making sure that we as trans guys (especially pre-T dudes) don’t get silenced either?

DE: One aspect of male privilege that does flow to masc trans men (especially those of us who have opted for medical transition) is to be treated as authoritative in situations where women/femmes aren’t listened to or believed. So we can use that privilege to advocate on behalf of trans women.

DE: The level of daily violence and harassment trans women face is just staggering. I got harassed a lot as a cis-presenting girl, for sure. But transmisogyny is a whole other issue. Trans men need to make sure we’re educated on the specific forms of harassment that transmisogyny takes. After all, we’re in a unique position to educate people about it.

READ: Here’s what the AIRBOY controversy teaches us about transmisogyny!

DE: The invisibility of pre-T/non-T trans guys is a serious problem as well. I did one comic where I included statistics about violence against trans women. The editor asked me to look for similar stats about violence against trans men, and there weren’t any I could find. If anyone is tracking or studying that information, it’s not easily accessible. I did see one study that suggested trans men face higher rates of sexual assault. But it wasn’t clear if that was lifetime experience, where they were mostly experiencing assault pre-transition while being read as female. Or if there was a difference pre- and post-transition. Or if non-transitioning trans guys face continuous threat of assault.

 Hidden Knowledge

CV: What knowledge and lived experience do you feel queer trans men might have that other groups are missing out on?

DE: Many of us are pretty well-equipped to talk about cultural misogyny. We’ve experienced both the crap society puts girls and women through, and how that experience changes as we get read as a queer male. It’s particularly noticeable for trans dudes who adopt any amount of femme presentation to encounter the heavy policing cis dudes throw at each other to force a certain type of masc presentation.

DE: I’m fairly masculine-presenting, and for the most part that renders me invisible. But I’ve found if I wear nail polish or a scarf, or am in some way identifiably queer, random men on the street are more likely to threaten me with violence. Anyone of any gender who presents as queer and/or femme knows random dudes on the street take that as an invitation to offer their opinions, to demand sexual favors, or to bully. The context of those interactions shifts depending on what they think your gender is.

TRANSPOSES and Trans Media Representation

transposes
Image courtesy of Northwest Press.

CV: How do the narratives in TRANSPOSES challenge mainstream narratives about what trans men’s stories look like? And why is this challenging important?

DE: For a long time, the medical community would gatekeep queer trans guys, on the assumption that if you were “really” trans, you’d pop out the other side as a normal straight dude. Acknowledging that gender identity and sexual attraction are not inherently linked is important.

DE: Also, decoupling gender dysphoria and body dysphoria is important. Many trans people have both, but many just have one or the other. Avery’s story gives an example of someone who has body dysphoria but doesn’t identify as either a man or a woman. Henry’s story gives an example of someone who doesn’t have any particular need to undergo medical transition, but who experiences strong gender dysphoria.

DE: Showing a wide variety of experiences demonstrates that there’s not one right way to be trans, and helps move the medical community away from the previous insistence on adhering to a single narrative.

Tips For Queer Guys

transposes
Image courtesy of Northwest Press.

CV: Any advice you have for newly out queer trans men interested in getting involved with the gay male community?

DE: I’ve heard a lot of trans guys express fear about interacting with cis gay men. For sure, there’s still a fair amount of transphobia in the cis gay world. But there are also a lot of cis gay guys who are cool with dating trans men. And I feel like in recent years a lot more cis gays are on board. If you’re able to be safely out as trans up front, that’ll help weed out many of the jerks.

DE: One of my other target audiences with TRANSPOSES was queer cis men who might find themselves dating a trans guy and needing a primer. So, uh, tell any cis dudes you might date to go check TRANSPOSES out from the library. 🙂

Lessons To Learn In TRANSPOSES

CV: What do you hope that people take away from reading TRANSPOSES? 

DE: For trans guys or for those questioning their gender, I hope they find something that says “HOLY CRAP! THIS IS ME.”

DE: I hope it helps queer cis men get more comfortable with dating trans men if they weren’t already.

DE: For everyone else, I hope they developed a little more empathy for someone with different of life experiences. And I hope they can carry that with them in their day-to-day lives.

LISTEN: Episode 93 of the ComicsVerse podcast talks all about LGBT+ representation in comics!

Final Thoughts

DE: TRANSPOSES came out five years ago (the interviews were mostly conducted in 2008). A LOT has changed even in that short time. “Cis” caught on in the mainstream. (It was around in 2012, but was bobbing in the soup with a bunch of other terms for non-trans people). “Nonbinary” caught on as a more inclusive term than “genderqueer.” “They/them” pronouns went mainstream. In general, trans people are more comfortable being out as trans, and they are coming out younger.

DE: I hope this inspires other queer trans people to make comics about how they came to their identities. I want to see more comics by trans people of color, by nonbinary people, by disabled trans people, etc. The more narratives we can have out there, the better.

Check out Dylan Edward’s work at: http://www.studiondr.com/

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