Gender identity remains an unfamiliar topic to many, even in this day and age. Speaking from my own experiences, two of my closest friends came out as transgender, which left with me lots of questions. I knew they were the same people on the inside, but I didn’t understand how they came to find their true selves, or what difficulties they’d face (or would continue to fact). One of these friends described it as “never feeling comfortable in their own skin,” which naturally piqued my curiosity.
To their credit, these same two amazing friends were more than willing to answer my inquiries and became great sources of information, essentially giving me a crash course on a topic I’d never given much thought to prior. Maybe this is why the journey of realizing one’s true gender that cartoonist Julia Kaye shares in Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition felt so refreshingly timely and important.
Originally published online as the webcomic Up and Out, Kaye’s debut graphic novel shares her ongoing experiences about transitioning using images and deeply personal inner thoughts. The introduction explains how she came to realize she was transgender, seeing people around her going about their lives and wondering if they felt like she did, uncomfortable in their own skins.
She begins questioning her own gender identify, wondering if she may be transgender. This ultimately leads to her taking the necessary steps to becoming the person she’s happy with on the inside and the outside. Her journey to becoming a woman is filled with triumphs, frustrations, and an undercurrent of anxiety at every step of the process she takes over the course of a year to be recognized as a woman by society, her friends and family, and, of course, herself.
Part of this transition is, of course, is making sure the paperwork gets done. There’s plenty of legal steps necessary to make this happen, which only add to Julia’s anxiety, such as publicly standing before a judge or emailing her workplace to let them know that she’s not only transitioning, but that she’s a woman now. Despite having doubts about the decisions she’s made along the way, Julia is adamant that she’ll never stop taking hormones, that she’s come this far and there’s no turning back now. She’s found who she really is and she’s not giving it up.
Julia’s experiences had me smiling and at other times laughing at the obstacles and situations she had to overcome during her transition. She finds a support group of people going through the same steps she is and finds it comforting to be around others sharing similar experiences, both good and bad. Soon after coming out to her parents, she overhears them talking and one corrects the other when referring to Julia as a “she” and not a “he”, putting emphasis on the correct pronoun. Julia has a moment of silent glee at her parents acceptance, supporting her decisions.
There’s a lot of emphasis on using the correct pronouns and how much recognition means to her. Not every interaction Julia has within her social circle and day-to-day life recognizes her gender. Sometimes this manifests as unintentional misgendering, such as a store clerk calling her “sir” or when introducing herself to a new person they call her “Julian” instead of Julia. Even after being corrected the person still continues to call her “Julian”, despite being told otherwise.
In my own interactions with my two close friends, using the correct pronouns has become easy, but I’ve seen it happen where people would refer to them as “miss” either on social media or in real life. And just like Julia, another friend of mine has talked about how when she’s out in public sometimes people openly stare and it makes her feel uncomfortable.
Julia also documents struggling with physical appearance; on some days she looks in the mirror and sees a woman, while others she feels like people only see a man cross-dressing. It’s a constant back and forth that puts into perspective the decisions and obstacles she’s had to overcome to be recognized as a woman.
Super Late Bloomer is an honest look at the process of gender transition by a cartoonist willing to document and share her innermost thoughts with the world, which couldn’t have been easy. Julia Kaye’s charming honesty about her experiences transitioning puts into words – and pictures – a subject that not everyone has had the opportunity to fully explore yet, or may not feel entirely comfortable approaching on their own. I’ve been lucky to have good friends at the ready to help me understand better, and that’s what reading Julia’s comic feels like: a good friend to empathize and cheer along with.