My friend Liz’s new graphic memoir, Tomboy, was released on Tuesday. Reading all of the interviews and press she’s been getting this week has been a true joy for me. It’s also made me want to write publicly about why I find her book so meaningful (beyond it being an awesome work of art by a very close friend).
In America, the public conversation (not to mention the actual law) around sexual orientation has evolved a lot over the last few decades. Seeing and participating in this evolution has been heartening in some ways and discouraging in others. Specifically, while we seem capable of letting go of our assumptions about sexuality, our assumptions about gender stubbornly remain.
For those of you questioning that statement, consider how few public figures and characters we see who are either sexually non-conformist while being gender conformist, or vice versa. If you question that generalization as well, ask yourself: Are you surprised when you learn that a traditionally masculine male friend of yours is gay? Conversely, do you second-guess effeminate men who claim to be straight, assuming they just don’t realize that they’re actually gay?
Liz’s story invites us to decouple these two aspects of identity. The diversity of human personality suggests that sexuality and gender exist on independent axes. That is, one cannot necessarily derive another’s (or one’s own!) sexuality from their expression of gender.
For many this is not news – indeed, for many the statements above are just the tip of the iceberg. Still, many of Liz’s readers report being disappointed to get to the end of her book and find out she’s not gay. Such disappointment highlights our need to move past these stereotypes.
Liz’s book is a nuanced glimpse at how hurtful the lack of acceptance can be to a burgeoning psyche and, as such, Tomboy adds to the chorus of voices pushing us beyond our confining dichotomies.