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The Unbound Book Festival comes to downtown Columbia each spring. They aim "to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors of world-class renown to Columbia, Missouri, to talk about their books, their work, and their lives."

Maia Kobabe on Gender Queer: A Memoir: ‘A lot of why I wanted to write the book was actually to help me come out.’

Tristan Crane

Maia Kobabe is probably best known for eir graphic memoir “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” in which e explores eir gender identity – a sort of coming of gender story. E spoke with KBIA’s Abigail Ruhman.

The Unbound Book Festival is coming up on Saturday, and KBIA has been talking to some of this year's authors in a series we're calling "Unbound Authors."

Maia Kobabe: Gender Queer is my first full length graphic novel, and it is, of course, a story of my own life – of being a very shy, dyslexic child who was questioning gender and sexuality, and a lot of facets of my own identity into growing up into an adult who came out as non-binary to my family and friends and community.

And a lot of why I wanted to write the book was actually to help me come out.

Writing it was a process of examining my own identity and figuring out how to articulate – in like the clearest, most concise form – what I was trying to say, when I was talking about gender.

And a way to get across – specifically to my own parents, and aunts and uncles – what I meant when I was talking about gender, and why nonbinary pronouns are so important to me.

Abigail Ruhman: While reading this book, I definitely found myself marking the spots that it really resonated with me, and I kept thinking about how different my life would have been if I had access to this type of text, like in middle or high school.

So, what's it been like to become representation for queer youth? And do you wish that you had a book like this when you were figuring out your gender identity or sexuality? Or did you have a book that played the same role for you?

Kobabe: I definitely did not have any book like Gender Queer when I was a young person, and I could really have used one – especially when I was in high school.

]That's when I was really questioning these things the most and really searching for this type of information and really not finding it.

I think having a book like Gender Queer would have probably maybe cut 10 years out of my process of questioning and confusion and wrestling with gender and being just really deeply uncertain about who or what I was.

And I did not have a book like that for myself, and it has been very, very powerful to hear from readers saying that the book meant a lot to them.

That the book helped them understand themselves or helped them have language to explain experiences.

And specifically, the people who told me that they shared the book with their parents, and that their parents and that their parents then better understood than, or that their parents started being better at using their pronouns.

That is like the most amazing to me.

Ruhman: I think that a lot of people touch on the fact that this is a text that dives really deeply into the concept of gender and how you explore gender.

But I feel like a lot of people, or at least in the interviews that I've seen, there hasn't been as much talk about like the way that you also have that exploration in determining that you are asexual.

And so, I was just wondering if there was anything that you wanted to talk about in terms of that,

Kobabe: I still find asexuality one of the more mysterious parts of my identity. I think it's one of the almost latest ones that I've come into sort of an understanding of and one that I am also still thinking about and talking about and trying to find information on as well, myself.

At one point I sat down to try to write a short comic about asexuality, and I interviewed a couple of other asexual people, and I realized that it meant something completely different to all of us.

And I was like, “I have to think about this more.” I had some assumptions that are not true.

But yeah, asexuality is a big part of my book, and is I'm sure it's something I will continue to explore in my work and will probably be a big part of whatever the next memoir I write is, as well.

Abigail Ruhman is a reporter and afternoon newscast anchor for KBIA. They are working on a special series, and have produced for KBIA's Missouri on Mic and Missouri Health Talks in the past.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.