It’s Never Too Late to Bloom: Gender Dysphoria, Growth, and Self Empowerment in “Super Late Bloomer” by Julia Kaye

This particular post is important to me for many reasons. As of September of 2017, I became aware of the fact that I struggle with gender dysphoria. For those of you who may not have encountered this term before, gender dysphoria “involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” It can certainly go much deeper than this, as many complex ideas will, but for me it was the realization that for as long as I can remember, I wished I was born a girl instead of a boy.

Naturally, there’s a lot to unpack there. When did this begin? What sparked such a feeling? These are all questions I am currently addressing. Some of my difficulty in addressing such an epiphany is that I have no idea what any of it means. There were not many trans folk in our severely Christian area of Souderton, Pennsylvania. Our high school’s Gay, Straight Alliance was small and rarely allowed to be vocal. So once I started at community college, away from my religious leaning school, and learned a punk icon of mine came out as transexual, I wanted to know more. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! was one of the first public trans figures I had come into contact with. She tackled her battles with dysphoria in the lyrics of their 2014 album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I felt connected with the songs on a cerebral level, but how? I wasn’t someone who struggled with gender dysphoria…was I?

Fast forward three years and I am a lost, confused, but ultimately hopeful man/person/etc. Naming my dysphoria helped me to understand a depression and self-hatred I harbored for most of my life. There was a freedom that came with such an understanding, but also a deep fear. What truly scared me the most was a simple thought: What do I do now?

I remain eternally thankful for a wonderful support system of friends that consistently check in with me and work to understand what it is I am going through. A few months ago, one such friend reached out to me to recommend Super Late Bloomer. He is aware of my love and scholastic desire to discuss comic books and graphic novels whenever possible, so this particular suggestion meant the world to me.

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Image courtesy of Andrews McNeel Publishing

Super Late Bloomer is described as “a highly personal collection documenting the early months of artist Julia Kaye’s gender transition.” This collection is an autobiographical extension of Kaye’s Up and Out webcomic, where she has been sharing experiences and anxieties concerning her transition. She is currently a storyboard artist for Disney Channel’s Big City Greens and has provided work in Maxim, Cosmopolitan, and BuzzFeed. It is through this book and her work within the webcomic that have brought her much acclaim.

The book opens with a heartfelt “Before” piece, where Kaye chronicles life leading up to her realization of dysphoria. I was sitting on a bus home from New York, reading this opening piece and crying because her feelings were so visceral and relatable. Her fear and uncertainty reflects those of anyone struggling with their identity: “I may not have understood myself, but I do remember from a very young age I felt I had to hide myself away. I began trying to change my behavior in an attempt to fit in. The social cues coming from every direction told me that who I was was not okay.”

She further explains the uncomfortability with physical body and appearance changes which took place during puberty and then later into her 20’s. Those are moments where dysphoria feels as though it dissipates, or is vanquished, only to return with a vengeance. These ideas are familiar, even to folks in other facets of the queer community. The shame that comes from being told that what you desire is “not okay” provides a debilitating sense of your existence. It can be hard to unlearn such shame and eradicate negative reactions when you finally try and embrace who you are. This is just as pertinent for Kaye, but she knows that to be truly happy is to commit to her truest self. While the decision to transition was earth-shattering, it was integral to her well being.

The “Before” section offers a comfort to the reader. For those who have transitioned, seek to transition, or are looking to learn about dysphoria, it’s a perfect introduction to the emotions that come with such an epiphany. Alienation, disconnection, and fear often manifest when you realize that you don’t feel comfortable in the gender you were assigned. As readers make their way through the comics collected within, Kaye navigates the good and bad days of transitioning. She captures the liberation and sometimes crippling anxiety that comes with changing your entire life and gender. The best part is she does all of this with a hopeful spirit, never allowing the uncertainty to overpower her journey to peace and happiness.

Practically every facet of transitioning is explored during Kaye’s journey: from battling internalized transphobia, hormone usage, misgendering, and struggles with self image to the brighter moments of self empowerment and support from loved ones. Most of the strips only contain a few panels and offer snippets of her experiences, but each snippet brings moments of encouragement and reflection.

Some of my favorite sequences are when Kaye challenges the constraints or rules of traditional gender. She remains aware of the fact that her past shame haunts her in the ways she picks apart her masculine features. She yearns to see her true self, but will also reaffirm that the journey is not easy and will take time. There is also the battle of defining femininity for herself. In a strip marked “August 22nd, 2016,” Kaye crashes out of a small box that is pictured in the first panel: “I’m tired of self-imposed constraints. I’m transitioning to be happier with myself.” As she kicks the ruined box away, she declares, “Gonna be my own special brand of girl.” Expression is a constant question present in Kaye’s story. She struggles to find her own middleground between expressing herself and not seeming like a “crossdressing man” to the public. Her anxieties are justified and it’s fulfilling when readers can witness her bounce back and embrace all facets of her identity.

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Image courtesy of http://www.upandoutcomic.com

Other therapeutic moments for me are when she confronts ideas and artifacts from her past, like in “October 9th, 2016,” where she is looking through old sketchbooks. “It’s strange seeing my depression so plainly in sketchbooks from college,” she starts, “I found drawings of myself as a woman. I’d felt so euphoric drawing ‘em without understanding why.” There’s a look of peace on her face as she shuts the sketchbook in the final panel. This particularly struck me because I had recently found threads of dysphoric thought in my own lyrical writing.

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Image courtesy of Julia Kaye and Smash Pages

This is common in trans narratives. Laura Jane Grace wrote many lyrics that not-so-subtly addressed her dysphoria before coming out to the music world. In “The Ocean,” which comes from the 2007 album New Wave, Grace sings, “And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” These moments of reflection are so important to anyone struggling with dysphoria.

Kaye references Against Me! in a sequence that grapples with voice pitch and the desire to sound more feminine. She says that she feels “less broken” when singing along with Grace, depicting herself in the car, screaming along to the lyrics of “True Trans Soul Rebel” from Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

It’s so hard to pin down all of my favorite moments from this collection because there were so many that hit me on intimate levels. She tackles the frustrations that come with constantly shaving and not being able to remove all of the beard shadow—something I never imagined would upset me. There’s the previously mentioned fear of looking in mirrors and never seeing your “true self,” but embracing the days when you do recognize the beauty in your appearance. Part of my emotional response to this collection was in part due to the time frame in which I read it. The friend that recommended it to me was reaching out in response to some of my recent writing, specifically a piece I wrote for HerCampus entitled, “A Progress Report.” In the piece, I was addressing some of my anxieties and feelings of gender-related imposter syndrome, so Super Late Bloomer was a refreshing reminder that such emotions are natural. I had also suffered an emotional breakdown just hours before I would board the bus and tear through the collection. My dysphoria was particularly strong that day and I couldn’t stop crying as my girlfriend quietly comforted me. Because of all of that, Kaye’s story and expressiveness felt like a warm hand on my shoulder, or a hug, just to say that everything was going to be ok. I felt valid and I could never be able to express how much that meant to me.

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Image courtesy of http://www.upandoutcomic.com

The publication and success of this collection is a triumph, as well as an inspiration. Julia Kaye is one of many writers and illustrators sharing their stories through online and print platforms. Queer artists are becoming more and more vocal, sharing their experiences and struggles with anyone who will listen. Since many major comic book publications feel that stories depicting diverse experiences don’t sell enough to survive, creators have found it more lucrative to circulate their work on social media. Kaye posts Up And Out on Tumblr and communicates avidly with fans and supporters on Twitter. She even brought light to a particularly gloomy day of mine, pointing me in the direction of the asktransgender subreddit page and offering words of encouragement.

Taneka Stotts is another queer creator doing incredible work for POC and LGBTQ+ communities. Her recent anthology, ELEMENTS: Fire, won an Eisner award for best anthology and features an entire roster of creators of color. Stotts is continuously vocal concerning diversity in comics. In a 2016 interview with Women Write About Comics, she stressed that she was often the only woman or person of color contacted to be a part of comic anthologies. She states that while many comics like to “say they’re diverse,” it isn’t usually the case. ELEMENTS was crowdfunded by Kickstarter, which was fully funded within a week, and then broke the 40K mark shortly thereafter. What does this say about about the audiences reading comic books and graphic novels?

Representation is incredibly important. People seek to read stories that reflect their own experiences and not the same tired white, cis, hetero-patriarchal BS that has endured for decades. What many of the big name publishers don’t realize is that things are shifting. While enduring narratives of western pop culture have focused on the triumphs and successes of white characters, modern audiences are more and more desiring of new and diverse perspectives. We want stories about Shuri, America Chavez, Petrichor from Saga, or any character that is not strictly white, a binary gender, cis sex, or employs impossible body ideals upon children across the world. Comics are changing and so are their creators. To be able to read stories like Julia Kaye’s is a gift and I hope our society will see more trans and non-binary stories told within the coming years. For young people who may face dysphoria in the future, it is paramount that we as a literary society provide stories that will connect and encourage their narratives. Trans lives are human lives and their expression is just as vital to our overall culture as anyone else’s.

Julia can be found on Twitter and Instagram at, @upandoutcomic

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The Witch is Back: Witchcraft, Feminism, and Sexual Reclamation in Kristen J. Solee’s New Book

Have you ever read a book that almost feels as though it appeared to you for a reason? I can only imagine you have and I hope it’s brought you immense joy. When I saw a copy of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive by Kirsten J. Sollée, I was drawn to its cover. Black and yellow, with the title in large letters surrounding a pair of black, glossy, and glittery lips slightly pursed, I was compelled to pick it up. Upon reading its description, I knew I needed a book like this in my personal library. Folks, I’m sure am glad I bought it.

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Image courtesy of BitchMedia

Reminiscent of theory books like bell hooks’s Feminism is for Everybody, Solée’s book serves as a primer concerning witchcraft and the ways it interacts with feminism and sexuality. The main aim of this conversation is to connect the history of witches as we have seen them, with the more modern signifier of “slut.” While it may seem strange to try and relate “slut” and “witch,” it’s a far easier task than you’d expect. Our history and present are steeped in damaging patriarchal values and assumptions about women and their autonomy and reproductive rights.

Solée is a writer and teacher at The New School in New York City, where she focuses on gender studies courses surrounding this very topic. She is a founding “editrix” at Slutist.com, a site that focuses on sex positivity, feminism, and healthy witchcraft practices. The website is discussed further in the book, highlighting its work toward reclaiming the body politic of “slut” and utilizing this word to foster positive narratives about safe sex and exploration. One of the key points in Witches, Sluts, Feminists is that sexuality and occultism go hand in hand. Much of the fear men had of witches was due to the “mysteriousness” of women’s sexuality and the deeper connections with their own bodies that came through worshipping Nature. Fun fact: there was a genderless term for practicing witches, “wicche,” that came from Middle English. This would eventually morph into the universal “witch.”

Feminism also plays a huge part in this book. Right off the bat, Solée cites hooks’s incredible and concise definition: “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” What I truly gushed about was then the author went on to discuss hooks’ decision to not gender the concept of oppression. Oppression exists for both genders, though in differing ways. Despite the supposed gains that men should receive from patriarchy, “gender stereotypes and sexist narratives” can be just as damaging for them as their sisters. It was so incredible to see that Solée and I shared the same views on hooks’ landmark theories. To understand the sexual and emotional violence that is acted upon women in this society, we need to look at the misinformation and emotional violence enacted upon boys and men.

These ideas are explored through the actions and beliefs of religious figures during the Salem witch trials, Heinrich Kramer’s scandalous troll-tome The Malleus Maleficarum, and even our Commander in Chief during the last election. In a chapter discussing reproductive rights, Solée tells of the early anti-abortion efforts of “the American Medical Association to discredit midwives and establish the primacy of ‘real’ (male) doctors.” Many midwives and healers were executed during the witch trials, not so much for “the type of healing being practice by the wise woman…but the fact that she was an unlicensed healer,” as Hillary Bourdillon is cited in the chapter. They were made to blame when wounds did not heal, or diseases were not cured. Many of the doctors on call during the witch trials were explicitly male. This stigma remains in our society today. While many women hold high positions in the medical world, the majority of doctors remain male who “remain willfully ignorant of biological facts regarding sexual and reproductive health.” Amen.

Another aspect of Witches, Sluts, Feminists that I truly love is its feeling of inclusion. Solée does not only rely on theory or text-based research to further her ideas; several sections feature interviews with a wide range of individuals such as scholars, artists, and all manner of practicing witches of varying races, genders, religious practices, and sexualities to create a brilliant cornucopia of experiences. In an interview with Hazlitt, Solée asserts her want to make this book as intersectional as feminism should be: “I am a white woman—but there were so many witches, feminists, and theorists of color that were extremely important to me and my continued growth as a feminist, so how could they not be part of the story? Within the history of witches and witchcraft, you cannot separate them.” I cannot agree more.

Intersectionality is becoming more prevalent within the feminist movement thanks to Kimberlé W. Crenshaw’s introduction of the term in the early 90’s and empathetic TED Talk in 2016. Solée is aware of the extent of her experiences, but does not allow that to limit her research. She uses this book to amplify the voices of those consistently marginalized in our history. She even discusses prominent female historical figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and Victoria Woodhull who were central to the women’s movement, revealing their connections to Spiritualism and other practices. She looks at pop culture and figures such as the member of The Satanic Temple, Jex Blackmore and the artist Rebecca Goyette for their acts of rebellion against patriarchal views of the witch and the autonomy of their bodies.

This book is so important. Contextualizing rape culture through the lens of witchcraft and its history is bold but also necessary. Women deemed as witches were being accused by husbands, sons, fellow women, as the means to control their autonomy. As a culture we often use the word “slut” to do harm. It seeks to control women’s bodies and strip them of their sexual autonomy. Our culture uses “slut” in this fashion far too liberally than we should. I am shameful for the times I used it in foolish ignorance, believing sexuality was something that women should mediate on men’s behalf. I had none of the knowledge that I currently possess concerning the complexities of sexuality, and this book helped me to further understand the ways oppression, toxic masculinity, and rape culture harm and have harmed our sexual politics. It also worked as a “gateway drug”—as Solée cheekily describes her book in the introduction—sparking my interest in witchcraft, while wanting to further explore the ways it connects to feminism and oppression. While I can’t describe everything that makes this book fantastic, I implore you to give it a read. It’s the beginning of some massively important work and I look forward to reading more of her writing in the coming years.

You can follow Kristen on Twitter: @ShadowtimeNYC

A Friendly Welcome

Hello there. Welcome to DemiConsensual. This page will be home for my discussions concerning various texts that deal with theories and ideas of gender, sexuality, feminism, race, and much more. My goal is to explore works of various genre and concentration within print and electronic media, connecting their various ideas and experiences with our current culture. As a writer, I seek to amplify voices that may not typically be heard by a mainstream audience. I do this in hopes of encouraging discourse from and with a range of writers and creators.

As a fun aside, the name DemiConsensual is a play-on-words with an important meaning. I identify as demisexual and bisexual. Demisexuality is when a person seeks a deeper emotional connection with a potential partner before feeling comfortable to engage in any form of sexual intercourse. I am also someone who very much believes in the importance of consent, whether it’s in sexual situations or otherwise. These are two very crucial aspects to my personality and feminist beliefs, so I wanted to highlight them in the spirit of this blog.

I hope you enjoy your time here. I very much look forward to my conversations with you all.

-Tyler James McMaster