SelfMadeHero have produced a number of graphic novels over the years that touch on important issues, moments from history, and real stories. A lot of the time when the publisher creates stories about real people it’s famous figures like George Orwell, Harry Haft, and Diego Rivera; figures that have a place in history and have done things of note. Call Me Nathan is slightly different though, as whilst it’s based upon the life of a real person, it’s a very normal person. This isn’t the story of someone who has done something world changing, it’s not a story that is well known or in the history books. This is a simple story of one man’s fight to simply exist as himself.
Call Me Nathan follows the life of Nathan Molina, a young man living in France. The story begins with Nathan in his teens, during the time in his life where those around him still saw him as a girl. You see, Nathan was born female, and all his life he’s known that something wasn’t right with him, that he wasn’t happy being a girl, and never felt like he really fitted in. As Nathan enters his teens these feelings intensify, especially when puberty begins, and his body starts to change.
Nathan begins to become withdrawn, spiralling into a depression. He lashes out at others. He had nightmares about the changes that are happening to him. He even begins to self harm. Nathan is unsure what’s happening to him, he only knows that there’s something different about him to those around him. After doing some research Nathan learns of the term transgender, and realises that it describes him, knowing that he really is a boy, and that he can change his outsides to match who he is on the inside. Now all he has to do is convince his family that this is the right thing for him.
There is a lot of stuff in Call Me Nathan that is shockingly familiar to me. Despite having a very different experience of transition than Nathan there’s a lot of his journey here that felt like it had been taken from my own life. The desperate longing to be who you’re meant to be, the sense that you’re losing out on your real life, the pain and depression that never seems like its going to end. I think that Catherine Castro does an amazing job of capturing those feelings and experiences, especially the strange miasma that hangs over your life when you know that something is wrong but can’t quite figure it out. So many trans stories seem to have characters who have always known they were trans, and to see an experience that echoed my own, where figuring that out was a huge step of the journey, felt so wonderful to see.
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Thanks to the sheer amount of awful stereotypes and misinformation in the world about trans people right now it would have been really easy for this book to have gone wrong, to have perpetuated harmful lies, but you can tell that Castro took the time to actually look into this, that she spent time with the young trans man in her life, Lucas, and tried to create a real story. Nathan isn’t a real person, his story isn’t completely true, but it is based on a real story, on real experiences, and I think that sometimes that can matter just as much as any one true story. Nathan is a stand-in for one of thousands of trans men in the world whose life echoes this, who can see themselves in this book and feel represented well.
And that kind of representation does really matter. Especially now. The trans community is not in a good place right now. We’ve never been more under attack than we are now. States in the US have passed laws to ban trans-affirming healthcare for anyone under 19, whilst other states have begun to treat parents of trans children who support them as child abusers, even taking legal action against them. Here in the UK there are transphobic pieces in the media every single day. The same week that I read and reviewed this book it was announced that trans people would not be part of the conversion therapy ban, effectively giving the green light to torture trans people, and the Prime Minister spouted transphobic talking points on television. Trans people are in literal danger, our lives are at risk, and all because a hateful, vocal minority spread lies and misinformation about us as loudly as they can. And books like this go a long way to help challenge that.
Call Me Nathan doesn’t glamourise the trans experience, but shows it in a very real light. It shows the pain that trans people go through when their identities are denied. It shows the harm that going through the wrong puberty can do to us. It shows how hard it is to fight just to be seen as yourself. But just as importantly, it shows how wonderful and affirming it is when you get that. This book dispels so many myths and lies, it tells an honest story, and at times like this, when trans people are called sexual predators and child groomers just for existing, we need these kind of honest narratives.
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I can’t talk about the book without mentioning the art, provided by Quentin Zutton. The art for the book doesn’t look like what most people would think of when they hear the word comic. There are no panels or hard boxes for the artwork to sit inside of, and much of the book looks more like a sketchbook, where the art has simply been drawn onto the page in a way that feels less rigid and more free-flowing. This really helps the story I think, and it gives things more of a stream of consciousness feel at times, especially when we’re left in Nathan’s head space. The lack of rigid form and the simple artwork complements the story, and it looks really beautiful at times too, with some pages that really sell the horror of Nathan’s experience, as well as his massive joy.
I don’t think the term SelfMadeHero has ever felt more apt for this company than this book, because Nathan, like all trans folk, are self made heroes. Trans people have to fight every single day to be who they are, and that makes them heroes in my book. Like Nathan himself says, when looking at the scars on his chest from his top surgery – they’re his “war wounds. I won this fucking war”.
Call Me Nathan is out now from SelfMadeHero.