Wednesday, March 18, 2020

CCS Bonus Week: Sage Persing's Searching For Brandon Teena

I somehow managed to overlook the excellent Searching For Brandon Teena when I was reviewing Sage Persing's comics last winter. This mini is perhaps the most heartfelt and focused of Persing's many comics about the trans experience. This is a raw, ugly, honest comic about a young trans person desperately looking for representation in media. Persing comes across Boys Don't Cry, which won Hilary Swank a Best Actress Oscar for portraying trans man Brandon Teena. There were no trans people on the cast or crew of the film, which is typical, but there was something about the simple concept of seeing the representation of a trans person onscreen, living their life. 
Indeed, one thing that Persing alludes to with regard to trans representation, and queer cinema and media in general, is the proliferation of art that represents queer and trans people as vessels of suffering. They are victims who aren't allowed to simply live their lives. They are punished by a narrow-minded, vindictive, brutal, and stupid culture. This is all true, to an extent, of course. But for a young person who is looking for examples of people living their truths instead of simply dying for them, it's enormously discouraging. That these stories are often created and acted out by straight/cis people only makes it more problematic.

At the same time, Persing notes that there were crumbs of details of Teena's life that they found that sustained them. Small details from his childhood, glowing stories from ex-girlfriends, and narratives about what Teena wanted to do with his life drove Persing to seek out more of this information. There is also audio of Teena giving an account of his sexual assault to a brutal, misgendering police officer. Persing notes that it's massively upsetting, even if being able to hear Teena's voice was important. Persing wonders if this grieving is a kind of love as they desperately try to draw some kind of conclusions and establish some kind of through-line. When they admit that they're not sure there is one, it's a devastating but honest evaluation of their own emotions and experiences.
This mini is about Persing trying to place themselves in a narrative continuum. It's also about Persing's slow understanding that there may be no overarching narrative, no feel-good moments that sum everything up. There is pain and frustration, and all Persing can do is record their own feelings as honestly and accurately as they can. That's what they do in this mini, with page after page of densely-rendered, slightly grotesque figures. There is no idealization here, no attempts at providing easy answers. There aren't any. There is the search for representation, and in that search, Persing is helping to establish that representation for others.   

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