Gender Through Comic Books Week 1 Report – What Is Gender?

Everything I Learned About Gender (And Sexuality) Came From Webcomics

Last Tuesday the online Gender Through Comic Books class started and since I’ve devoted easily 15 hours in the first week to reading and studying and working, I would be highly remiss if I didn’t report on it in some factor. The first week dealt with the topic of gender – what is it ultimately, what defines it, who defines it along with how it is different from sex and where sexuality comics in. It is a pretty intense question but it is one I came in knowing the answer to, though it was a weird journey where webcomics were my biggest guide to not just understanding gender but also dealing with homophobia.

I used to be a fearful kid. I’d refuse to watch R-rated films even if I could get away with it. I have distinct memories of asking my parents if I could watch TV-14 shows with my brother in the basement despite the fact that they would have never found out otherwise. I will admit that my parents did a pretty good job raising me 95% of the time.

But I have this vividly felt memory of being 10 or so at some east coast vacation town. My family was heading home for the night after whale watching (or something to do with boats) and my parents were panicked. That made me panicked. And the highly flamboyant gay community having a pride parade was the cause. My parents weren’t opposed to gay rights to any degree but bringing three kids for a family outing and suddenly being confronted by burly men in sun dresses is something they found hard to explain. This correlation of gay people and fear stayed with me for ages. I haven another vivid memory of a gay pride parade at ComFest in Columbus where I’d moved and I just felt uncomfortable from there being gay people at all. This one time incident had rubbed off and made this illogical homophobia.

I was lucky though because the Internet broke that down and thank god that it did. I’ve seen the people that children who had those first experiences without exposure to reality. They become sad people, they become hateful people, they become people who I’d just rather avoid. People who grew up in the same white suburb that I did are still convinced there is some homosexual agenda beyond “get up, get to work, spend time with loved one, go to bed, repeat.”

Honestly I have to thank webcomics for that. I mentioned before that webcomics got me into comics more than Dilbert, Far Side and Zits collections ever did. Webcomics lacked editorial fears so they dealt with gender issues head on. They were free to make mistakes, they could be horrible comics artistically, they could get gender identity completely wrong – but they tackled the ideas and made me tackle them too.

I’ll admit I used to read some comics that I feel bad about reading now (and some I feel bad about denying that I read them). Stuff like Misfile, The Wotch, El Goonish Shive and a few others. They came to me via friends or links to what other comics read and these comics dealt with sex and gender. These comics made me reconsider my views. These comics made me see gay people as people.

Some of these comics based on my memory weren’t good. They were hated on blogs and forums, partially for dealing with gender and sexuality, for challenging views (and sometimes for not being very good). But damn, they made me consider gender and what is was (how one person identifies themselves, male, female, both, neither, other) and sex (what we are essentially born as (and yes there are more levels and definitions and divisions but that distracts from the point)).

I could have stayed that fearful kid but comics and webcomics made me look deeper. They made me look at problems in other ways and I am gracious for that. Now there are better comics for dealing with gender and sexuality, some of those old webcomics have improved, some haven’t but despite quality, despite content, despite whatever strange legacy they have, they made me a better person.

And for those wondering my parents did loosen up and are pro-gay rights. They know they acted irrationally and while I can somewhat appreciate the fear, I am glad that we all learned better.(And this isn’t meant to be a pat on the back give-me-a-cookie for being less horrible deal.)┬áThis isn’t as much of a review of the class as much as it was a personal story but it was on my mind, it was important and it was true and if you wanted to know what goes on in the class you could have joined it.

Next week: Gender and Culture!

Luke Herr

Luke is a writer and an aspiring professional comic writer who is also the editor in chief of Nerdcenaries. He currently is working on a graphic novel called Prison Spaceship.