Welcome to Queerness In Comics, a bi-weekly column by Avery Kaplan, which will explore queer representation in comics. This week, Avery is exploring Trans Girls Hit the Town, which was awarded the 2019 Ignatz Award for Oustanding Minicomic.
By: Emma Jayne
Publisher: Diskette Press
Here’s the thing about being visibly trans and going out in public: you already feel self-conscious, and there’s a not-insignificant percentage of the population that carries no qualms with outright staring you down. The unflinching portrayal of the various permutations of this extremely rude and unfortunate phenomenon is one of the many details that makes Trans Girls Hit the Town such an accurate depiction of the experience of some trans women, and this verisimilitude is what makes this minicomic such an important read.
One example comes on the opening page. Cleo is sitting alone on the train when she catches the attention of the male half of a cishet couple a few seats over. He cranes his neck and makes no effort to mask the fact that he’s “confused” by Cleo’s existence (a reaction that is conveyed via the time-honored comic book convention of the appearance of a question mark above his head). Fortunately, on the next page, Cleo’s friend Winnie gets on the train and the random staring man is immediately forgotten, a testament to the stark difference in being visibly trans while alone as compared to with other trans people.
Later in the evening, after Cleo and Winnie have had dinner at “Bratty Bottom’s Diner” (heh), they are openly misgendered by the clerk, who makes a point of calling them “gentlemen” when they go to pay their bill. In this instance, the situation is again extremely familiar – to be a trans girl in public is to be subjected to this sort of casual and unthinking scorn.
Fortunately, in this instance, the comic offers immediate catharsis, as Winnie makes a point of stiffing the transphobe on the tip and signing the credit card receipt “Fuck You.” While most of the scorn that is directed toward the two trans girls on their evening out goes unavenged, an unfortunate reality when it comes to most real-life interactions characterized by casual transphobia from strangers, this instance of immediate comeuppance is a welcome variation.
While the uncomfortable situations created by unaccepting cis men are accurately depicted by the comic, it is essential to note that Trans Girls Hit the Town doesn’t just portray the negative experiences in an honest way. Interspersed with the lows are plenty of the highs that can take place when trans girls get together to have a good time with each other.
Part of this is simply the silly conversation, as when Winnie posits the creation of a mascot to educate the public about muffing, or when she and Cleo have a conversation about her “wife,” Dazzler. Furthermore, there is triumph simply in the fact that Cleo has mustered the courage to get “dolled up” and go out to spend an evening on the town as herself. With certain privilege, the idea that someone would have to be brave simply to get dressed and go out for dinner and drinks may be alien, but Trans Girls Hit the Town provides a demonstration of how much of a victory this apparently simple act can be.
Finally, the comic also captures those bittersweet moments that fall between the good and the bad, as when Cleo is elated by the presence of a single-stall bathroom or when Winnie and Cleo bond over the idea of a vice that could squish your shoulders to the right width. While there are elements to these moments that can be considered negative, there is positivity, as well, and with Winnie’s climactic speech, the comic drives home the powerful the bonds that can be forged when trans girls who have individually faced these challenges come together to share their experience with one another.
Whether you’re a trans girl or not, Trans Girls Hit the Town is a worthwhile read. For those trans girls who have experienced situations similar to those in the comic, reading about characters who are subjected to the same treatment can be an affirming and cathartic experience. Realizing that you aren’t alone in your experiences can be an incredibly powerful tool, and for some trans girls, this minicomic will prove to be extremely meaningful in this regard.
For those who might want to better understand the realities of being trans in a world where many consider it socially acceptable to stare, misgender, or otherwise make trans people feel uncomfortable simply because they exist, the story offers an incredibly accurate and heartfelt depiction of a trans girl who’s simply trying to live her life.