Transformation Magic: The push for transgender representation in media continues
Still from the cable series "Pose."

SAN DIEGO—One of the biggest conventions focusing on entertainment, art, and popular culture kicked off here on July 19. The largest convention of its kind in the world, Comic Con International: San Diego (SDCC) is where close to 300,000 attendees descend annually in order to partake in panels and experiences that highlight and discuss culture, entertainment, and art. It’s also a time to discuss the current state of entertainment, its influence on society, and vice versa.

The SDCC panel “Transformation Magic: Transgender Life in Comics from Street Level to Stratosphere” highlighted the work transgender artists are contributing to culture, the need for representation, the struggles they face, and the hope for the future when it comes to representing the lives of transgender people. Although the recent emergence of the hit cable series Pose on FX has highlighted transgender actors and stories, the panel pushed for the continued need of transgender voices in media.

Although there have been many strides toward progress in combating discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, studies have shown that transgender people still face pervasive forms of oppression and discrimination. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted a study that found rampant discrimination against transgender people concerning the basic human right of health care. The Trump administration has tried to pass a number of discriminatory legislative measures that attack the rights and livelihoods of transgender people, along with other assaults on working people’s rights which many in the transgender community are part of. In the midst of this ongoing offensive, activists and artists have emerged in order to give a voice to the transgender community and the lives they lead. The panel on Thursday highlighted such efforts.

Moderated by cartoonist, editor, and publisher Tara Madison Avery, the panel included artists and writers Dylan Edwards (Qat Person), Erin Nations (Gumballs), Knave Murdok (TransCat), Gillian Cameron (Calogrenant), Sonya Saturday (The 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates), and Ajuan Mance (1001 Black Men). Many of the panelists contributed to the 2018 “All-Trans Comics Anthology” published by Stacked Deck Press entitled We’re Still Here. Avery allowed each of the panelists to highlight the meaning behind their work and their journey as transgender artists amidst the nation’s current political climate.

Ajuan Mance, who is also a professor of English at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., spoke about their well known illustration series 1001 Black Men, and the phenomenon of Black masculinity. Relating it to their experience as a trans person, Mance explained, “I wanted to explore the diversity of Black men’s experiences. I wanted to explore Black masculinity in all of its forms. I didn’t feel like the full diversity of what that means was represented in the wider forms of media. So I spent six and half years doing portraits of self-identifying Black men that I encountered,” Mance explained. Pointing out the impact of the series, Mance said, “Depicting Black maleness in all of its diversity really had opened up the possibilities, and gave me a chance to bridge the many different ways that particular intersection of identity is among those that identify as [Black men].”

By Sonya Saturday

Panelist Sonya Saturday, a Los Angeles-based cartoonist who often explores sexuality, queer identity, gender dynamics and American society in her work, spoke about the therapeutic nature of telling her story, along with her ability to give commentary on the country’s political state and President Donald Trump. “I’ve had several different bodies in my life…. I had to wear a ‘costume’ my whole life. I didn’t know consciously I was trans until three years ago,” Saturday explained. Describing how one of her stories addresses her realization of being trans, Saturday said, “In one scene I literally rip off my skin, and pull apart my [outer] body [of a male], to reveal a naked woman underneath. It was on the nose, but it was something I needed to convey. I was made to believe that [male] costume was real, and I had to finally tear it off. It’s been a hard process in finding my happiness, but it’s been worth it.” Saturday also created a popular political coloring book The 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates. The penetrating satire features Donald Trump on the cover. Saturday observed that the book was released in December of 2015, several months before Trump became the Republican nominee. She chose to put Trump on the cover because “he was the worst.”

The panel weighed in on the question if there is a need for transgender stories to become more mainstream within the media, and if it would be a hindrance or help in giving true representation to transgender people. Mance said, “The independent market has opened up so many possibilities for stories to be told, that may never make their way to the mainstream producers. But when someone from a marginalized community does get their story produced by the mainstream, for anyone who picks up that work it may be the most intimate conversation they’ve ever had with that marginalized demographic. So that’s one reason why trans stories picked up by mainstream press would be really important.” Tara Madison Avery added that many trans stories focus on the transition phase, but what is often uncharted is what goes on beyond that.

Speaking directly to People’s World on the need for transgender representation and hope for the future, Ajuan Mance said, “[We need] more stories of transgender people of color for sure. We need trans stories that are not tragic stories. I’d also like to see trans actors of all ethnicities playing cisgender roles. Also, transgender people of color need to be front and center telling our own stories.” Speaking to the recent controversy of Hollywood cisgender actress Scarlett Johansson signing on to play a transgender character, Mance noted, “The problem with the Scarlett Johansson issue is that trans women are not invited to play ciswomen roles, or roles that don’t specify. That leaves so little left for trans actors, so give a trans woman or trans guy a chance to play a trans character.”

When asked by a convention attendee how those who are not transgender can be better allies to the transgender community, Avery noted, “Support our work, buy our work. Earning a living as a creative can be hard, and it can be even harder for transgender artists pushing to get their stories told.”

Below is a list of works, and where you can purchase them, by transgender artists and writers from the panel:

We’re Still Here: An All Trans Comics Anthology

Qat Person by Dylan Edwards

Gumballs by Erin Nations

TransCat by Knave Murdok

The 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates by Sonya Saturday

1001 Black Men by Ajuan Mance

Calogrenant by Gillian Cameron


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Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.