Art and activism
With quick-witted sarcasm and formidable passion, Sophie Labelle has spent her life creating content specifically for the transgender community. Her webcomic, “Assigned Male,” has served as a source of healing for members of the trans community as well as an educational tool for cisgendered individuals. PRISM, the College’s LGBTQIA+ student organization, hosted a talk with Labelle on November 1st. Throughout conversations about her background and the definition of activism, her warmth and humor shone through. Labelle strives to positively represent the trans community. However, she rejects the notion that individuals must serve as ‘spokespeople’ for an entire group whose experiences are unique. Instead, she is focused on empowering trans youth to stand up for themselves against hatred and ignorance.
“Assigned Male” follows a young trans girl named Stephie. She navigates a society whose transphobia and attachment to the gender binary alienate transgender and intersex youth. The comic’s goal is to create fully-formed trans characters whose stories are not defined by their trans-ness. Labelle also makes a point of having her characters provide witty non-answers to the insensitive questions that cisgendered people tend to ask. This method forces people to reexamine comments such as “I can’t even tell! You pass so well as a boy,” and recognize the deeply problematic place from which these sorts of comments stem. That being said, Labelle is clear that “Assigned Male” is not about educating cis people.
The Internet: A double Edged Sword
Creating spaces online for creativity and empathy is vital for a community so socially and economically marginalized. The trans community is very scattered, making connection difficult. The internet has provided creators like Sophie Labelle the unique opportunity to empower and bring trans youth together. As noted by Labelle, her success would not be possible without the internet. The online communities that she became a part of shaped her life as an activist. Furthermore, her online audiences donate the majority of her income. Keeping these spaces safe and bully-free is one of her top priorities. As our current political climate has emboldened transphobic harassers, a new wave of anti-trans hate speech has made this task more difficult. Despite the many pros of online platforms for marginalized groups, the lack of legislation that allows trolls to invade that space without consequence is an ever-present obstacle.
Despite the ill intent of online trolls who have a problem with Labelle’s work, it was this very vitriol that first made her comics popular. The publicity she received due to her detractors made her work more visible to everyone. She actively uses the hateful comments she receives to create new content for “Assigned Male.” This all goes to show that the most effective way to deal with discrimination is to let it fuel your fire and make your voice heard. For people with marginalized identities, this is a constant battle. As Labelle puts it, “when you’re trans, getting up in the morning is activism.” Trans people must fight for their identity and their right to exist every single day. Despite this exhausting fact of life, online communities and content creators like Sophie Labelle provide a lifeline of affirmation and hope that society has the capacity to change.