Trans Artistry: Jessica Nightmare on Cis Discomfort, Sacrifice, and Politics


TransEthics: When did you start drawing comic strips?

Jessica Nightmare: I’ve been drawing comic strips since I can remember. When I was really young, I drew these detective stories. I was a huge fan of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Ninja Turtles so I liked drawing characters in trench coats, ha. But my stories made little sense seeing how I was 9 years old.

TE: When did you come up with the concept for Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls?

JN: Way back in 2011. Back then a lot of people were talking about the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope you find in a lot of media. I thought of myself of fitting the trope perfectly except. Except because I’m a trans woman, I feel like I am many people’s nightmare.

Trans folks make a lot of people feel uncomfortable, upset, and angry. And I experienced a lot of that. I lost a lot of friends and family. The workplace became a nightmare for me. When dating or making new friends I noticed people like me a lot at first, but got really weird and distant once they realized I was trans… especially when dating. People flirt with me often and just run the other way once they can tell or I tell them I’m trans. Although, at the same time there’s no shortage of folks who become more interested. (laughs)

I feel like trans folks are really great and often could be the partner of someone’s dreams, but I feel our existence creates some sort of existential nightmare for many.

TE: Why do you think being trans causes a lot of cis people discomfort?

JN: I feel like it really depends on the person. People in this society are taught a particular ideology about gender and sexuality. They have no clue about the rich history of gender that exists in this and other cultures. So when a cis person is confronted with our existence, they have to confront not only something that is taught to them since birth, but maybe even things in themselves that they’d rather not face. Some people really just want to believe there’s men and women – and men are supposed to be one way, women are supposed to be another – so they find excuses to scapegoat people who don’t conform to that.

TE: How do you respond to people who claim that people are transitioning because it’s some type of fun fad?

JN: Well it’s obvious to me that humans are just way more diverse when it comes to gender and people are finally able to express that it. Just because transgender people are cooler than cis people, doesn’t mean that we’re doing it just to be cool.

We live in a world that really rewards conformity, buy also people want to be cool. And conforming to the old boring and oppressive ways of doing things isn’t very cool, it never has been. Look at the alt-right or what anti-trans bigots have been doing. They’re trying to sell conformity as something cool and edgy that’s going against the grain. Many just eat it right up because they want to see themselves as cool and with it. But they’re really just boring assholes who don’t want really challenge anything.

TE: With all the anti-trans legislation being proposed of late, along with the feelings of isolation you described earlier, do you feel transition is really worth it?

JN: Yes, of course. Transitioning saved my life. The gender dysphoria was too intense. Even since transition I get it sometimes, but nothing like before. Not being able to be myself just left me filled with anger and resentment, self-loathing and envy. I was suicidal and struggled with addiction. After I finally started to deal with my gender issues, a lot of those problems just melted away. Although being an out and open trans woman brings its own problems. Problems like citizens and lawmakers trying to legislate you out of existence.

TE: Your comic is focused on dealing with being a trans woman in an uncaring and uninformed society. Would you consider it a political commentary?

JN: I feel like a lot of people do. Many call me an activist, but I really don’t feel like that’s what I am. Sure I’m angry about the way a lot of things are in our world, but who isn’t? My comics are just a reflection of my personal life and how I see things and what frustrates me. But the way society treats trans people is a huge political issue so even though I loathe politics, I can’t separate it from my cartoons.

TE: Is the increased visibility of trans people causing being trans to become a political issue, or is being political inherent to being trans? (…given that we must fight for our rights.)

JN: Definitely the latter. Trans folks have always had to fight for our right to exist. There’s been other times in recent history when trans people had increased visibility. But society gets bored and tired of us when we start pointing out the way we’re treated.

In the ’70s when Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground where a thing, cis people got to see and hear of more trans people. But it didn’t last long because of how much people hate us. I think we are seeing a lot of the same thing today. There is a lot of anti-trans backlash, even from a lot of the left.

TE: Will there be trans equality in your lifetime?

JN: I dunno. Lately I don’t have much faith in humanity. I feel like the little progress we’ve made has been mere inches. And those who are against us see our measly progress as this extreme overreach, a huge threat to society, a major danger to women and children, etc. I’m afraid that things will get worse before they get better. In some ways they are worse with these anti-trans bills and think pieces always popping up.

TE: One last question: Of all the comics you’ve drawn, which one is your personal favorite?

JN: Well my comic is really hit or miss. Sometimes I look back on a comic and go “bleh, what was I thinking!” But a comic that always makes me feel good is the one Jesska is walking though the park and get frightened by a bee that is buzzing too close. I love bees. lets-bee-friend-pannels

TE: That’s cute! Thank you for spending time with us today.

JN: No worries! Thank you.

follow Jessica on Twitter and check out her website.

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