Sophie Labelle has been drawing comics since she was very young. As a young trans activist and student at the University of Quebec in Montreal, she wanted to create something that would relate to her trans friends at school that dealt with the situations she and they encountered every day. In 2014, she penned the first rendition of “Assigned Male”, a comic that captured worldwide attention – for better or for worse.

Labelle, who currently lives in Finland and grew up in an area near Montreal, left school to devote himself full-time to drawing comics. Since then, she has traveled the world, promoting her work, speaking to schools and meeting fans.

“Assigned Male,” which Labelle describes as “the adventures of a group of sarcastic trans and queer teenagers,” began as a webcomic. Labelle has since published more than a dozen books which have been translated into several languages. As part of his trek through the Midwest, called The Trans Agenda Tour, Labelle will stop sweet book at Ann Arbor at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 and at Bettie’s Pages in Lowell at 6 p.m. Feb. 6.

When Labelle speaks to Pride Source by phone, she takes a brief break during her tour.

“Broadway musicals have been my guide all my life,” she says. “I’m very happy because I have a few days off and I’m in New York right now, so I’m just seeing all the musicals.” She names “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Hadestown”, “Six”, and “Moulin Rouge!”

“Musical comedies [are] to theater what comics are to literature,” she says. “Literature on a sugar rush with something for all the senses.”

“Sugar rush” is an apt description of Labelle’s comic book appearance. Colorful and engaging with lovable characters, at first glance you might not expect to find statements of trans empowerment and individuality.

A recent comic depicts an adult and two children in a park, with an older child babysitting a younger child. The adult asks if the youngest is a boy or a girl. The model responds: “We don’t know yet, they haven’t told us. The adult, distressed, replies that this will surely confuse the child.

The babysitter replies, “The most confusing part is actually how many strangers feel entitled to ask what’s in this kid’s pants.” This silences the adult.

Other comics are tougher. In single panel tape we see a child tied to a tree, pitchforks sticking up all around. The child says to the crowd, “If your binary view of gender is so natural, biological and unchanging, then why is the mere existence of trans children such a threat to it?”

Unfortunately, this is an accurate portrayal of the harassment and threats Labelle receives online simply for creating art that speaks to transgender readers and allies without apology or preamble.

“I have been targeted by different hate groups many times over the past decades,” she says. “They even forced me to move at one point because they published my address online.”

Labelle says she receives death threats daily, which she says is something most trans people who are highly visible online have to deal with.

“It’s not getting better. We can say that we are currently experiencing a sort of backlash. It wasn’t like that in 2016 when my work first went viral. The anti-trans backlash, Labelle says, is “a very slippery slope.”

“I’m very aware of how quickly this could turn into large-scale violence against trans people,” she says. “And this is not new in our society. Every century there is a moral panic against trans people, against gender non-conforming people. It leads me to believe that progress isn’t linear, it happens in cycles and nothing should be taken for granted, and it really helps me gain perspective. [and] helps me keep hope alive for the betterment of trans people everywhere.

Labelle brought people to his events to disrupt and protest. Although it didn’t always go as one might expect.

“It’s happened a few times that some of my stalkers come to my events with the intention of crashing and disrupting and end up staying and buying my books at the end because they were surprised that I didn’t was not so [online] forms of hatred have painted over me,” she says. “It’s always interesting to hear their perspective on how they get sucked into a mob mentality against trans people.”

She adds, “I’m happy to create a change in that regard.”

Booksweet co-owners and married couple Truly Render and Shaun Manning are thrilled to welcome Labelle to the store.

“I’ve been a fan of Sophie’s work for a while,” Manning says. “[Labelle’s comics are] really nice and lovely, and they talk about important issues for trans people in a way that everyone can relate to.

His work “welcomes people who might be hearing about it for the first time,” he continues. “I feel like I learned a lot from his work.

The parents of a transgender child themselves, Render and Manning, want to make sure Labelle’s visit is a positive experience for everyone involved.

Render says they are aware of the possibility for protesters but are prepared. “When we thought of that [event] we were like, ‘Oh my God, how can we offer not only security measures but also a continuation of what we want to offer every day in the store – a welcoming and affirming presence?’ “, she says.

A matter of concern? The bookstore’s huge windows overlook the outside.

“We have been in contact with Free Mom Hugs, the Michigan chapter, and we will have volunteers who will be inside our windows with messages of love blocking out any signs of protest that may be outside the store . Best case scenario, there are no protesters and it’s just a further affirmation of friendship and love.

They also chose to make the event a paid event for more accountability. All proceeds from discounted tickets will go to Stand with Trans.

Labelle says people who attend the event can expect “something that aims to empower and have a positive experience for trans and queer people.”

“Especially lately, it’s been quite stressful for a lot of queer people, especially in the United States with the different political challenges to our existence in our society and also the violence that’s on the rise,” she says. “So they should expect something that is a more positive experience.”

FTo learn more about Labelle, go to serioustransvibes.com.



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