Gender Queer: A Memoir

Kobabe, Maia. Gender Queer: A Memoir. Lion Forge, 2019.

A genderqueer person standing in water looking down at a more masculine reflection.

In this captivating graphic memoir, Maia Kobabe shares the story of eir* journey discovering eir nonbinary and asexual identities and coming out to eir friends, family, and community.

Maia Kobabe grew up in a family that didn’t much care about gender roles; eir father has long hair and a nurturing soul and eir mother doesn’t shave her legs and is mechanically inclined. Maia is given leeway to dress how e likes and participate in activities e wants to. However, gender policing is common and burdensome in school and the wider society. Maia learns how e is out of line by being laughed at—for example, when a younger Maia takes off eir shirt to go swimming, teachers come running to demand e put eir shirt back on.

Maia develops dysphoria with eir body during puberty. Menarche is a cruel joke and breast development is panic-inducing. E wishes that e had been born male and would then feel happy to experiment with feminine things. But, as a female-assigned-at-birth person, e feels too uncomfortable to wear dresses or long hair. In a lovely panel with a large scale, e explains that it’s all about balance: e doesn’t want to be a boy or a girl, but rather have a mixture of masculine and feminine qualities.

As Maia grows and experiments with dating, masturbation, and sex, e gradually realizes that e is asexual. Eir enjoyment of gay shipping is naïve without having experience, so e decides to find someone to kiss in order to write scenes better. Kissing and sex, e realizes, are just not for em. While sometimes e feels broken, in the end, e is secure about both their genderqueerness and asexuality.

This book is just absolutely gorgeous. I devoured it in one sitting. The art is vibrant with lush colors and nice big readable letters. The story is relatable and poignant and I genuinely liked the protagonist. I felt like e and I were sitting together at the kitchen table while e shared eir story with vulnerability and candor. It felt like a blessing to learn such private things about such a wonderful person.

Maia Kobabe was nominated as a Promising New Talent in the Ignatz Awards in 2016, and Gender Queer received a starred review from School Library Journal and doubtless will receive many more accolades. I highly recommend it to all people questioning gender and sexuality high school age and up.

Content note: Pap smear scenes may be painful for readers with genital dysphoria to see.

* Maia uses Spivak pronouns: e/em/eir

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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