It was 6PM on Thursday as I scurried up the steps at San Diego Comic-Con to a panel called Transformation Magic: Transgender Life in Comics from Street Level to the Stratosphere. Trans and non-binary indie comic veterans like Tara Madison Avery, Knave Murdok, Ajuan Mance, Dylan Edwards, Sonya Saturday, and Erin Nations were all in attendance, an impressive group brought together for an increasingly prominent event.
At the start of the 21st century, this would be a quiet, nearly empty panel. Trust me. I went to panels like this back then, too. But the room is more full today. Not filled, but it was impossible not to notice that people kept filtering in over the course of the hour. Not so long ago, people seemed a lot more likely to filter out.
The change, acknowledged by the panel members themselves, is the increase in trans and nonbinary visibility, not just in comics, but across every medium. Which can be good (like an increased audience at a panel full of trans people) or it can be bad (like a cis actor playing a trans woman while also sexually assaulting the actual trans women on their show, for instance.)
But what does this enhanced prominence mean to trans indie comics creators? Right now, they are still, largely, writing stories that are autobiographical to some degree in nature and designed to appeal to trans readers first. Is the goal to go mainstream? Are coming out stories still relevant in this time of visibility?
The answer, at least partly, can be found in the pages of We're Still Here, an anthology comic comprised of 50 different trans cartoonists. Listening to these men and women's stories, whether they be about a boy who becomes a girl with superpowers because of a hat, explorations of influential non-binary adults in young people's lives, wordless existential explorations of body horror, or adventures to non-binary worlds that are trans-accepting, I'm reminded that I've been reading these kinds of stories my whole life.
But you, dear reader, probably have not. You might be more likely to now, though. Because this panel was more packed with people than it would have been even five years ago. And it also doesn't hurt that Kickstarter campaigns now exist to help better fund books like We're Still Here.
An audience member asked a common question: how can I be a good ally? "Buy our books," was the comical answer. But it's also true. These stories have been around a long time, there's just more people at conventions, and everywhere else, who are becoming ready to finally read them.