Diary keeping has always been an effective vehicle for self-reflection, growth, and healing. Artist and illustrator Julia Kaye uses the diary genre in a unique and beautiful way with her book Super Late Bloomer, a collection of autobiographical comics originally from her webcomic Up and Out. She drew these comics between May and October 2016, recording the journey of her transition and the many challenges she faced, and still faces as a transgender woman. Portrayed with directness and honesty, Kaye’s collection is both poignant and inspirational, addressing many important topics including coming out, experiencing transphobia and sexism, and overcoming internalized self-prejudice.
“Maybe I don’t need to raise the pitch of my voice. I’m not less of a woman for it.”Julie Kaye, Super Late Bloomer
Kaye takes several moments throughout her book to reflect on her experience of coming out, and the different sets of challenges that came with telling her family, her friends, and her coworkers. “Wearing femme clothes around my parents is still weird,” she writes in her June 5th comic (pg. 18). Her family was largely supportive of her transition, although she also expresses the anguish of being rejected and ignored by a family member. Obscuring the name of the family member, Kaye reflects that “it’s okay to feel hurt by _____’s actions. It’s okay to feel anger” (pg. 76). The distressing emotions that come about when confronted with such rejection, whether by a loved one or by a complete stranger, take considerable time to work through. Kaye portrays her gradual process of healing throughout her book as one which requires patience, ceaseless endurance, and much internal reflection.
Part of Kaye’s internal healing process involved identifying her own subconscious prejudices that society had forced upon her. She points out an example of this in her August 17th comic, addressing her dysphoria around her deeper sounding voice. “Maybe my dysphoria stems from internalized transphobia,” Kaye writes. “Maybe I don’t need to raise the pitch of my voice. I’m not less of a woman for it” (pg. 89). Later in the book Kaye touches upon this subject again, realizing “it’s not my voice that makes me uncomfortable. It’s how it changes society’s perception of me” (pg. 109). The process of dissecting some of the causes of her dysphoria and unlearning the prejudices imposed upon her by society was a crucial part of Kaye’s journey to self-acceptance.
Besides dismantling internalized transphobia and making peace with her identity, Kaye points out the importance of external validation in helping her to accept herself and to feel accepted. Hearing others use her correct pronouns is hugely validating, as she expresses in her September 9th comic when she overhears her parents using female pronouns when referring to her. “I get warm fuzzies every time,” she writes (pg. 111).
Kaye emphasizes the importance of surrounding herself with people who love her and always have her back, including family, friends, and members of her support group. Meeting other transgender and gender-nonconforming people has had a lasting positive effect on Kaye, who says in her June 11th comic, “It’s so important to be around others who walk the same path” (pg. 24). Being part of a community of people who understand what she feels has further helped her embrace her identity. On May 17th she writes, “Am I doing better? Am I happier?…I’ve surrounded myself with supportive friends. I don’t feel alone anymore” (pg. 10).
Kaye takes several moments like this throughout the book to reflect on her progress since the beginning of her transition. “I can wear what I want and use makeup, and it’s okay,” Kaye observes on June 13th. “I’ve worked past so much self-shame. I still can’t believe how far I’ve come” (pg. 26). Later, on September 12th, she remarks, “My exterior actually reflects who I am…That’s incredible” (pg. 114). Kaye highlights the power in taking note of how much she has accomplished in just the span of a year.
Despite the adversity that she had to overcome, living as her truly authentic self has been tremendously worthwhile.Super Late Bloomer is an important work for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, especially youth, who may be struggling with their identity. Kaye provides helpful guidance and the simple yet comforting fact that they are not alone. This book is also important for cisgender people to gain a better understanding of what transgender people experience in daily life, and how to become a better ally. Kaye’s artwork is poignant and candid when portraying the struggles that she has gone through, but she nevertheless moves fearlessly forward to become the person she has always known herself to be inside. -JP
Jocelyn Pontes is a student at Emerson College, where she is earning a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing. Her life revolves around literature, and she enjoys writing both fiction and magazine articles. She plans to have a career in the editorial branch of publishing, and hopes to write novels, as well. In her free time, Jocelyn loves exploring museums and travelling. You can find her on Instagram.