Transgenderism poses a lot of novel and complicated problems for society. It’s not something humanity has ever dealt with before, so people are naturally confused and torn between their desire to love and tolerate and their desire to protect their family and their beliefs.
What the LGBTQ movement does not need during the formative years of transgender acceptance is an obnoxious artist propping up division and mistrust between normal people and trans people. While there are now many artists touching on the issue of transgenderism, Sophie Labelle’s Assigned Male systematically alienates anyone who might potentially (or who already does) sympathize with the trans plight.
This called othering, and it’s a powerful tool in encouraging violence and hate. When you other the police, or blacks, or even straight people, you increase tension and encourage problems. Sophie is a master at othering her “LGBTQ allies”, and to prove this I will compare her work to other LGBTQ comics that accomplish much more.
The girl on the left is the 11 year old male-to-female transsexual that is the self-insert Mary Sue representing Sophie. I have to explain this because the characterization of each person depicted is so frumpy you’re not actually sure who’s trans and what genders they’re supposed to be.
Weak artistry skills aside, there’s a visual language to the drawing which segregates the transgender kid from the other kid, and from the adult. It others normal people by forcing a dichotomy: you’re either 100% in support of us, or you’re a bigot who mindlessly hates trans people.
In this, using simple color theory and very few words, it shows that a man in a straight relationship wants to become a woman. He’s very unhappy as a male, but has a supportive girlfriend who’s teaching him the ropes of acting and looking feminine. It shows his progress and transformation, and his happiness as he feels comfortable in drag. There’s a sweet embrace, and then, using no words at all, depicts the girlfriend is unhappy with the change despite being supportive the entire comic.
It uses the same colors to show her unhappiness as it does her boyfriends person’s unhappiness. There is no difference in importance between their emotional states, and illustrates her supportive nature while acknowledging her sadness. She treats him like a new girlfriend, but what she loves is her boyfriend. The artist is implicitly challenging you to answer this: “If your significant other wanted to transition, how would you handle it and how would you feel?”. These are difficult questions and they test your own morals without being preachy. You are forced to imagine someone you love wanting to change their gender.
Labelle’s comics never acknowledge that non-trans people can feel real emotions besides hate. Not one Assigned Male strip comes close to this sort of lasting impact, and they never test anything other than your patience.
I really don’t know how to start on this. It’s mystifying to me that Sophie has any readers at all. Who is the intended audience of this comic? What kind of a person is meant to gleam knowledge or feelings from reading this? Sophie is trying to make that point that society assumes a lot about a child’s identity based on if they are born male or female, but the way she depicts this is baffling. You’ll realize immediately that nothing else is going on in this comic strip other than that two people are talking. There is no reason what so ever to draw this as a comic; the medium does not elevate the message at all. A tweet saying “society should think about how it applies gender to children at birth” would do a better job at making this point, and it would be a lot less pretentious than depicting every straight man as some sort of horrible prick.
Speaking of, where is Sophie in this comic? What is she doing? In the world of this 11 year old male to female transsexual, where and how is she having these conversations with horribly bigoted adult men at? Does she go walking down the street and bump into opinionated anti-gay Klansmen every week?
This is about as big a contrast to Sophie’s work as you can have: a dick joke. Not touching on the physiological side of the issue in any serious way is the largest indicator that her fatal flaw is insecurity.
Life as a human being is awkward. Shit just happens, and sometimes you share moments with other people that you’d have rather not had. I’m fond of the saying, “life is 10% what you’re given and 90% what you do with it”. How you deal with awkward situations says a lot about you, and acknowledging the whole “girl with a dick” issue with humor humanizes transgender people in a way Sophie’s comics can’t manage.
Okay, I was wrong. Sophie has made a dick joke.
This strip is literally perfect and I would change nothing about it.
This is a cute comic. It doesn’t have a serious theme. It’s just a trans person that’s happy they pass. A lot of people who are pre-transition and unhappy with how they look aspire to have this feeling one day. It’s another humanizing element, which is the exact opposite of othering. Sophie’s characters never have joy or mirth. There’s never a strip that leaves you feeling good, or feeling happy. Sophie comes across as a miserable, spiteful person who blames everyone else for their gender dysphoria. No one wants to be around someone who’s miserable all the time, and you can’t really empathize with Sophie’s characters because they’re so one dimensional and inhuman. Assigned Male bleeds to have a moment where you just care about that stupid mouthy kid, but instead she’s always screaming and chastising people. No one wants to deal with that shit in real life so they don’t empathize with the comics.
This comic is one of the few Assigned Male strips that manages to get a real reaction when I read it: I physically cringe. I mentioned before with the dick joke that awkwardness is a part of life, and this is a very awkward comic, but the difference is intent. The first is an accident and this is on purpose. Sophie’s character is intentionally making this scene of playing basketball as awkward as humanly possibly because the artist wants to challenge both a feminist issue and a transgender issue at the same time, and again does this in as preachy a way as possible.
The sad thing is, this could have worked. I think if Sophie just took her shirt off out of habit and then realized what they had done and got embarrassed, it’d be a lot more human. The emphasis would have been on getting used to new societal expectations and evolving as a person. It’d show that transitioning isn’t an instant thing and you have to adjust to being female. Instead, Sophie seems torn on what her point is actually supposed to be.
It also emphasizes just how poor a choice making Sophie’s self-insert character a child is. First, children don’t ever talk like Sophie does. Second, having your child character act like an exhibitionist is creepy.
Ending on a comic by the same artist who drew the first one. This strip merges both humor and a real point. You think while reading this that they’re getting an erection, but it’s a reverse-setup turned on its head. Aside from just being a dick joke, it subtly and tastefully equates the worries a normal woman has with the worries a transgendered woman has in appearing feminine and avoiding awkward situations. It acknowledges that there are physical differences between the two while emphasizing the similarities as well. This is a humanizing effort that successfully plays with your mind and uses the visual medium to its fullest to force you to empathize with how a trans person lives.
Sophie Labelle has never done anything like this and probably never will. Her three panel sermons on how awful straight people are might be entertainment for the most spiteful of the LGBTQ community, but it does nothing to further them. I don’t think Labelle cares about how hateful she comes across, and should be very thankful for these other artists willing to pick up her slack and undo her damage. The only lasting feeling Assigned Male leaves an objective reader with is pity for how shit Sophie’s childhood must have been.