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At the risk of appearing attracted to trans topics like a moth to flame, I'd like to add my own two cents to TheAnglican's excellent writeup. The usual disclaimer: these opinions are my own and when I refer to 'the trans community' I am only speaking of my understanding of the general sentiment towards the comic in the various reviews and comment threads I have read. YMMV.

Assigned Male is a webcomic featuring 'The Incredible Adventures of Stephie (who happens to be trans)'. The subtitle is a gross misrepresentation of the main character who is anything but 'just happening to be trans': her whole life, it seems, centers around her being trans. A much more accurate subtitle would be "Chick Tracts for the Transfeminist" or "Is this supposed to be funny?". And though TheAnglican may harbor no special hatred for it, I do, for the simple reason that it deeply misrepresents my own feelings and yet is framed as speaking on my behalf.

Politics aside, the comic itself is bad. So bad that when I first saw it, I wasn't sure if it was a parody and bad by design or if it was the result of genuine incompetence. From my reading of other reviews, it seems this is a near-universal reaction. The writing is terrible, featuring completely flat characters with no depth. The same three 'plots' are recycled over and over, each of them setting up an ignorant cis straw man to be knocked down by the perpetually righteous Mary Sue. The art is ugly which, in fairness, is typical of webcomics in their first few years. The artist fails to draw the characters consistently from frame to frame, uses bare, single color backgrounds, and relies on the reviled 'slack jaw' method of illustrating dialogue. Which, I suppose, makes it fortunate that it usually breaks one of the cardinal rules of comics by covering the page with text rather than letting the pictures tell the story. It's a fucking visual medium and when 50-60% of the frame is taken up by text, you're doing it wrong.

In many of the comics, Stephie loudly (always loudly) insists that, though biologically male, she has a girl's body because it's her body and she's a girl. Ipso facto. Which willfully ignores the common understanding that 'boy's body' refers to a male body. Related to this are the phrases 'born a boy' and 'boy parts'. And while I don't dispute the logic behind her opposition to those terms, insisting upon something which frankly doesn't matter that much, is a distraction and only alienates people who were barely listening in the first place. It's simply not a battle worth expending energy on when there are many, many more important ones.

Hypocrisy is rife in the comic. Several strips concern the labeling toys as 'boy' or 'girl' toys. And yet later, a character complains that they wanted a girl toy in their happy meal. And then proceeds to shoot the hapless clerk with 'girlboy' lasers from his eyes. You can't make this shit up.

Fully half of the 100 strips made so far have mysteriously disappeared. And though I'm no stranger to culling my own work for not meeting my standards, many have been removed due to the controversy they created such as one where a gay speaker is taken down (like a wounded gazelle) for being 'secretly homophobic'. Deletion, of course, is a common damage control method for those confronted with their own hypocrisy. But some have escaped destruction in the memory hole including this gem where she characterizes her critics as 'white cis dudes', a tactic she's repeated multiple times (Note: Since publishing this writeup, those comics have disappeared too. Hmmmmm...). It's worth noting that never once does the issue of race come into the comic at all--but her invocation of it neatly mirrors its use as a standard silencing tactic in the SJW circles from which the author is derived (remember kiddies, pejoratives are always better than genuine debate!). The deeper irony is that the comic has very little influence outside trans friendly communities, making it likely that most her critics are members of those same groups.

For their part, the trans community's response seems to have largely been one ranging from indifference to embarrassment, and it's easy to see why. It harps constantly on the same three topics, roughly divided between a loose 'plot', which serves as a vehicle for preaching the author's beliefs, and standalone comics which are meant to be motivational at best and public self-talk at worst. Contrary to the 'happens to be trans' subtitle, it portrays trans characters as preachy, prickly, and unforgiving of cis people who most often hurt us through honest ignorance rather than malice. And cis people should be equally insulted as they're invariably portrayed as straw men who are clueless to trans issues and are incapable of understanding them without education by a sanctimonious child. None of this is constructive.

It wouldn't be so offensive if the author weren't trying to sell these things as a children's book to be used in classrooms. The fact that she's positioning herself to speak as an authority when the trans community itself seems uncomfortable with her characterizations is the most abhorrent kind of narcissism. Which is why it's completely unsurprising that she is a gender studies student--it's difficult to find a group that has more alienated its own constituency than academic feminists. Does it have good points? Yes. Does it bring up topics that should be discussed? Yes. But does it do so in a respectful, engaging way? Hell no.

It's important for all activists to remember that contempt breeds contempt and compassion breeds empathy. The suffusion of identity politics into the mainstream has pushed us all back into the tribal world of us vs. them, where all outsiders are regarded as fundamental threats to our existence. It is safe to stay within our own echo chambers, to avoid being challenged by the competing ideas of others, but debate is an important means by which we grow and learn, not just about others but about ourselves. The endless vilification, the manufactured outrage, the hurling of insults and refusal to engage in debate is the indulgence of a childish and primal urge. And we all deserve better than that.


On a positive note, if you're looking for a comic featuring trans characters, I have fond memories of reading Venus Envy when I was a queerling, and it was a great help to me in the years when I was questioning my identity. A quick view shows that it's only updated three times in the last 5 years, leaving the main character in the morbidly hilarious state of bleeding out after being stabbed for being trans--now that's comedy!--but it previously updated much more frequently, leaving a rich backlog. While not flawless (and what is?) it treats the trans character as a person, not a mouthpiece for the author's screeds. And most importantly, it has a sense of humor about itself and the absurdity of trans experience.