Around six weeks ago, comic artist Julia Kaye tried something new. Until that point, she’d mostly populated her Instagram account with absurdist gag comics digitally rendered in bright colors. But for a few months, Kaye had been working on a private project, something more personal.
She’d been documenting her gender transition in hand-drawn, black-and-white drawings. At times silly, at times somber, but always full of realness, the comics illuminated the daily ups and downs of transitioning. And Kaye decided to share her work with her followers.
She uploaded a drawing she created with the caption: “Thought I’d try posting something new: I’ve been making serious autobio comics about my transition and posting them on twitter (@upandoutcomic) on Thursdays. I’m not looking for pity or anything, just trying to say ‘hey! here’s an actual thing that happened to me cuz I’m trans.’”
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and this inspired Kaye to keep drawing, and keep sharing. She dubbed her new project “Up and Out.”
“I realized I had an opportunity,” the artist explained to The Huffington Post, “that by eventually sharing them (when I was ready) I could reach other trans folks, maybe give them content they could directly relate to. I also had hopes that the strips could also give insight to allies what living with gender dysphoria can be like.”
Kaye’s drawings depict the everyday moments imbued with significance for a trans woman ― when actions like looking in the mirror, getting a haircut, or connecting with an old friend are steeped in gravity.
In one bittersweet drawing, Kaye deletes old photos from Facebook, saying goodbye to a self she no longer recognizes, along with all the memories associated with it. In another, she agonizes over which public restroom she should use, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable while also avoiding being harassed.
Through simple line drawings, Kaye communicates her victories and disappointments with an authentic voice and compelling force.
“The experience was pretty exhausting,” Kaye expressed. “Amidst the mental stress of my work and transitioning itself, adding a daily comic to the mix could be really rough some days. But it was incredibly important to me to be making the strips: it was a sort of therapy, giving me a chance to reflect on what I was going through.”
Kaye, whose favorite comic artists include Benji Nate, Joey Alison Sayers, Miranda Harmon, Hannah Blumenreich and Anna Syvertsson, was initially worried about changing the direction of her work so dramatically, both in terms of the subject matter and the authenticity of her tone. “I worried about being emotionally vulnerable to a mass audience on a near daily basis,” she said, “allowing my private thoughts and experiences to be up for interpretation and comment.”
Yet so far Kaye’s described the reaction to her new artistic direction as overwhelmingly positive. She hopes the artwork will do its part to uplift trans individuals and enlighten others interested in learning more about gender transition. “I hope to just reach people who need it,” Kaye said. “People who need support, people who need hope, people who want to learn.”