In Transposes, Dylan Edwards presents six short pieces based on the real lives of six transgender men. In some cases, Edwards presents a short vignette from the man’s life. In others, he delivers a more comprehensive life story. Some pieces tell their story simply, others employ interesting framing devices or formal conceits. In all cases, Edwards remains humane, generous, and sincere. The author’s introduction acknowledges and then dismisses all the intrusive technical questions one may have about the intersection of sex and gender. Edwards’s clear goal is for these men to be seen as no more or less than human and for the reader to identify with them as such. In this respect, the book is a great success.
I’m unclear whether Edwards intends this book primarily for readers familiar with the queer and transgender community or as a primer for outsiders. I can see its effectiveness in either case. The great variety of character and experience presented among Edwards’s subjects all but guarantees any reader will see something familiar in these pages. Whether that means giving a transgender reader the relatively rare chance to see his or her experience depicted on the page or encouraging a cisgender reader to see the relatable humanity of another’s life, the effect is powerful.
At the same time, Edwards’s relatively simple cartooning and grayscale palette provide an understated energy. Though gender identity can be a highly charged subject, the presentation here is quiet. It reinforces the author’s stated goal of presenting these men as true humans rather than spokespeople, propaganda pieces, or political statements. The last piece is more technically complex; it tells two stories concurrently, using panel borders to differentiate narrators. Having just breezed through 80-some pages of clean, straightforward panel grids I was a bit thrown by this change but I adjusted quickly. Once I caught on, the device proved interesting and effective.
Romance and sex play a large role in all of these stories. Queer sex is discussed frankly but not graphically. The art includes nudity and clear suggestion of sex acts. Some parents may judge this to be inappropriate for teens, but teens who are mature enough to see the sexual content as part of Edwards’ larger artistic goal are sure to get a lot out of the book.
My only complaint here is that, by design, Edwards gives only a short glimpse of each man. Just as I come to know one character, Edwards is off to the next. While the technique is smart and effective and makes for an easy read, I would have happily settled in for a longer visit with any of these men. But this is a complaint that essentially boils down to “this book was so good I wanted more,” and that’s not so bad. The foreword by Alison Bechdel is sure to grab the attention of fans of Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, but Transposes isn’t aiming for the singular focus and depth of those works. There’s a clearer parallel to Bechdel’s long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which followed the everyday lives of a large cast of characters. If Edwards wanted to extend these stories out for another 20 years or so I wouldn’t say no.
by Dylan Edwards