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Webcomic author, artist visits for Gender Identities Awareness Week

“Assigned Male” webcomic writer and artist Sophie Labelle visited the Memorial Union Building (MUB) on Tuesday, Nov. 15 to discuss her experience of growing up transgender as part of Gender Identities Awareness Week. TransUNH, Alliance, the MUB, the Diversity Support Coalition (DSC), MUSO, the Women’s Studies Program, the Queer Studies Program and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) sponsored the event.

Labelle is from East Montreal, which she said is also known as the “French part” of Canada. She said that she has been drawing comics since she was about eight years old when she wanted to “piss off [her] brother” by joining his secret comic club he had with his friends. Soon she started to get recognition within her small town, as she would spend hours in the library working on these comics. After working with her brother and his friends, Labelle started creating her own comics about gender identity.

“Us artists, we get depressed very easily,” Labelle said. She went on to talk about how, because of this, she was constantly starting new projects that included the same characters with various names and astrological signs.   

At the age of 13, Labelle came out to her family and friends as transgender. Because of her identity, Labelle aims to focus on trans-empowerment and trans-body positivity in her comics.

During the event, an audience member asked if she’s noticed any differences or similarities between growing up transgender in Canada versus growing up transgender in the United States.

“Well I didn’t grow up in Canada, I grew up in Quebec,” Labelle said through a roar of laughs from the audience. Labelle later said she had to learn English to read manga and other comics as well as translations on “trans-life,” and that she was lucky to have a supportive and accepting family growing up.

Labelle has worked with kids for many years, and through her work at after school programs and as an elementary school teacher, she has tried to challenge stereotypes with students. She would offer to draw kids a picture that they could color and the usual requests included mermaids and cowboys, among other similar subjects. Labelle would ask, “Well, can the mermaid drive a monster truck or can the cowboy wear a tutu?”

Through her comics, she has received a great deal of recognition, which she said was flattering to someone who struggled with self-esteem issues. The idea of the comics was to make jokes out of those awkward situations.

Labelle said that she had preferred drawing her comics and then painting them to using newer technology and tablets in the past. Each strip took about seven to nine hours to complete both the drawing and painting. Eventually, she adapted to newer technology as a more efficient way to produce her comics in a timely fashion.

When asked about how she copes with the negativity she undergoes online, Labelle said, “Basically, I don’t deal with it. Naps are my number one remedy for everything.” She also said that her first diehard fans of her comics were haters, most of which were “TERFs” or Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. As a coping mechanism, Labelle makes comics about her haters. On one occasion, she ran a promotion on the shopping portion of her website in which shoppers could get a discount on their purchase by using the promo code “Haters.”

UNH junior Lindsay March said she was excited about Labelle coming to UNH to speak.

“The trans-feminine community isn’t well represented on campus so I’m glad she came here to speak,” March said. “It’s also really cool to hear an artist talk rather than how trans people usually talk about their life as trans. Gender Identities Awareness Week in general is really cool and it’s just awesome that we have it every year and that they host so many events throughout it.”

“The internet is so vital for trans communities,” Labelle said, who came out over the internet. According to her, there is such a lack of representation within the trans-community that people are always scared someone is going to mess it up.

Labelle is currently working on a new children’s book that will be coming out in a couple months.

When meeting with fans, Labelle said she feels trusted when people of all ages share their stories with her.

In Labelle’s closing words, she added, “We don’t have clam chowder as good as yours’ in Canada,” and that she enjoyed being in the New England area. She said that she was thankful to have been invited here to speak and brought some of her books to be passed out and signed.

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