And There I Was
By Alex Berman
An autobiographical comic about gender identity, coming out to yourself, and finding your way.
When I was seven, I dressed up as Peter Pan for halloween. My mother later told me that another mom thought I was a boy but realized I was too pretty to be one. I’m sure she meant this as a compliment, and perhaps I took it as one then. I’m not sure, though, because this moment was something I forgot. I forgot this, and I forgot how the need to cut my hair felt like a snake’s need to shed its skin, a necessary metamorphosis. I forgot the compromises I made, and I forgot all those times I forgot I was supposed to be a girl: when I read the boy parts in drama class or joined the boy’s side in a game of coke and pepsi at my fifth grade graduation party.
I was too preoccupied to focus on these situations, too focused on friends and theater and being a kid. My friends were all having their first crushes on boys… I was having mine on a girl.
When I was little, I thought that everyone received misfortune in equal amounts, like monopoly money, spread out throughout their lives. It would only be fair.
Naturally, being gay was going to be my one big indentity crisis. I had gotten it out of the way early, came out as a lesbian in ninth grade and ventured no further beyond the closet door.
At first, I got pretty into the whole dressing-like-a-lesbian thing. I wore cargo pants and untucked flannel shirts and slicked my hair back in a way that, looking back on it, was far too reminiscent of our school’s creepy math teacher (every school has one).
At first, this affinity for masculine clothing didn’t bring up any questions or confusion for me. I was a feminist and a gay kid with a history of unconventional fashion choices. I would frequently wear four skirts at once in the fifth grade.
A series of Freudian slips and unexpected thoughts finally made me realize I might not be a girl at all. Being trans was not something my conscious mind could even fathom, and even when it could, I tried my hardest not to let it.
It was something I had to realize over and over again, something I worked to forget in an effort of self-preservation.
It was something I realized when I was called “girl,” and “she,” and it felt like those dreams when you can’t stop falling. It was something I realized when I saw myself in the mirror in girl clothes and felt like a misaligned flap book. I didn’t match up.
I cut my hair myself one night. I was sick of going to hairdressers and not getting what I wanted, sick of them refusing to cut my hair short because “it will make you look like a boy, and you will cry.”
It was perfect, and this was terrifying.
At this point, I had to force myself to remember what I had carefully forgotten. I had to sit with the fact that I wasn’t okay with being perceived as a girl, that these were feelings I couldn’t keep to myself if I wanted to live freely. And I remembered things my subconscious had buried, moments that made me think, “I should have known.”
But I didn’t know back then. And there I was.
Happiness and transness were concepts that had always been portrayed to me as mutually exclusive. It took time to realize they could intersect. It took time to find joy in questioning and confusion.
But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being nonbinary means finding beauty in the liminal, freedom in existing outside of societal norms, a sick joy in watching strangers try to figure out if you’re a boy or a girl. It’s about trying things out until they feel right and casting them off when they no longer do.
When I was younger, I thought everyone had an equal share of misfortune, but I know now that is untrue. Suffering isn’t something to be quantified or depleted. And who’s to say the trans experience must be defined by suffering? It doesn’t have to be. Questioning can be exciting, defying norms empowering. It was only when I pressured myself to figure everything out fast that discovering myself became anxiety-inducing.
I may never be truly sure about who I am. My perception of myself will probably change 10 times over as I learn and grow. I will never find what is perfect and exact. But the search is what makes being nonbinary so divine.
I hadn’t written a comic in a while when I made this, and it’s the longest one I’ve ever made, so this was a pretty big commitment. One of my main inspirations was Lynda Barry, specifically her One! Hundred! Demons! comics. I had participated in an exercise based on this book before, and I really enjoyed it. This comic ended up evolving into something quite different, but illustrating one of my own “demons” was a fantastic start. I worked on the script for several weeks, drafting and redrafting and conferring with my mentor, until I had something that could be translated into a visual form. I then spent about three weeks churning out the drawings. I got plenty of hand cramps but thoroughly enjoyed the process. I had a rough idea of what each page was going to look like, which I then refined upon sketching it out. I then inked and watercolored each image accordingly, finishing with pieces I taped on afterwards, like the Monopoly dollar and the Polaroid pictures.
Alex Berman was born and raised in Manhattan and is currently a high school sophomore in the Bronx. When not out running (preferably in the rain), Alex can usually be found drawing, writing, or reading with a cup of tea and a cuddly kitten. Alex is also known (to no one) as a Corduroy Pants Enthusiast and would really like to get that title going if you don’t mind. Just, you know, the next time you’re on the topic of pants (corduroy), give Alex a mention.