When Julia Kaye, a cartoonist living in in Los Angeles and creator of the Up and Out webcomic, first turned to illustration to process her emotions during gender transitioning, she didn't intend for the results to see the light of day. The comics she created about her experience as a transgender woman were a way to express herself — something for personal benefit rather than public consumption. "It didn't begin as something I planned on releasing publicly. ... As the project went on though, I began to realize that I had a unique opportunity to help others by one day releasing them," she tells Bustle over email.
Several months later, with a ready-made audience — Up and Out itself has been around for several years, with the first installment of the popular absurdist webcomic having been published in May of 2013 — she decided to start posting her autobiographical snippets online. Although Up and Out doesn't typically deal with serious topics like gender transition, she chose not to create a separate account for these new illustrations. Kaye's hope was that, by including her autobiographical comics as part of the larger Up and Out project, more people would come across this particular aspect of the series and potentially learn something new. "I wanted this series to be able to reach as many people as possible, including those who wouldn't have otherwise sought out this type of media," she explains.
Each comic depicts an aspect of Kaye's life earlier in her transition, accompanied by some context and commentary from her current perspective.
If the comics read like excerpts from a journal, it's because that's exactly what they are. Kaye says that at the end of the day, she set aside time to "reflect on the events of the day and check in on [her] headspace"; then she would illustrate what came to mind. "Was something bothering me? Why? I tried to be as honest as possible and dig deep," she writes.
There are ups and downs, of course. Some comics are hopeful and confident; her accepting parents, for example, make several appearances guaranteed to elicit warm fuzzies. Others, however, are far more self-conscious.
"Since I've started posting the series, my audience has definitely very sizably grown," Kaye tells Bustle. She attributes part of the appeal to the simple format, but many readers have reached out to thank her for posting such deeply personal content. Some say the series has given them a new perspective, and others find themselves reflected in the comics.
"Cis people have written in saying it's a subject they've never really considered before, while trans people see themselves in much of my story. Trans teens write in saying that my story has given them hope for their futures, or given them the courage to come out in their own life," Kaye writes. "It's been a wonderful experience to hear from all over the world."