Monday, June 17, 2013

New Scales: Transposes

Artist Dylan Edwards has broken new and important ground in his Northwest Press-published book, Transposes.In documenting the lives of seven queer female to male transgender individuals (QFTM), Edwards explodes the myth of binary sexuality and opens up the need to see sexuality, sexual identity, sexual preference, etc as something that is fluid and unique to each individual. Sexual preference and sexual identity are frequently not the same thing, as its repeatedly discussed in this book. The book is full of people born as women who identify as men, but just because they identify as men doesn't mean that they're attracted to women. The book also touches on other sexuality scales, like monogamy vs polyamory as well as kinky vs non-fetishistic sex, but the real focus is on identity and desire.

The book gets off to a rough start thanks to an awkward, borderline embarrassing comedy strip that sees Edwards as an announcer, talking about the book. I get that he wanted to start with a laugh for anyone uncomfortable with the content of the book, but it fell totally flat. It sounded a discordant note because the strip was so painfully dire, and I was worried about how he was going to go about crafting the true stories of the seven people he interviewed for the book. Fortunately, Edwards quickly recovers once we get into each story, and he cleverly arranges each narrative in a manner that reflects the subject. For example, for "Henry", a genderfluid individual who is attracted to both men and women, Edwards crafts a museum of exhibits devoted solely to Henry as a framing device. It fits Henry's OCD nature like a glove, and the result is a hilarious story that demonstrates that labels are arbitrary and sometimes dangerous.

"Cal's' story leads off the book, and it's the most straightforward: a QFTM recalls an encounter with a gay man who wanted to be topped by a pre-op trans man. So a few jokes about buying new equipment later, Cal felt good about being able to satisfy his partner and fulfill such a masculine role. "Adam's" story is all too familiar in trans circles: a woman who initially identified as straight because she was attracted to men comes out as a lesbian later on. Her girlfriend starts to understand that Adam has unresolved gender issues, and when he comes to terms with his real identity as a QFTM, it's time to break up. "Blake's" story is also all too familiar, as a new QFTM fools around with a hot guy and contracts an STD for his trouble. "Avery's" story is more complex, as he's poly in part because his "primary partner" is his dissertation, and he drew inspiration from a gay uncle and scorn from a highly homophobic father. The best-constructed piece in the book belongs to Aaron and James. We follow the timeline of the former at the top of the page and the latter at the bottom until they eventually converge when they become a monogamous couple enjoying marital and domestic bliss. Both took very long routes to their current lives (Aaron had a son when he was a woman), pointing out once again that attempts to put sexuality in a box are fraught with danger. Edwards' line is serviceable; the key to making the book work is that he's quite good at being able to draw many different kinds of faces. The figures are a bit stiff at times and there's an occasional lack of fluidity going from panel to panel and page to page, but he makes up for it with his clever page design. More importantly, he did a fine job of turning interviews into stories that read well as stories, as opposed to polemics or simple dry biography.

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