Social discourse is becoming more complex all the time, and segments of the population that have been ignored are starting to have their voices heard. Because frank discussions about race and gender have rarely happened in this country, the language of how to discuss those things is underdeveloped, leading people say insensitive things, either intentionally or unintentionally.
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is what it says -- a brief, breezy and fun comics tutorial on gender-neutral pronouns, and why they're important. As stated in its solicitation text, the 64-page book also includes "what to do if you make a mistake, and some tips-and-tricks for those who identify outside of the binary to keep themselves safe in this binary-centric world." Non-binary cartoonist Archie Bongiovanni and longtime cisgender friend Tristan Jimerson came up with the idea and crafted the book in a way to welcome any and all readers. After a brief existence as a small-print zine, their book reaches out to the comics world at large this week from Oni Press’ Limerence Press imprint.
Archie and Tristan took time out to talk with CBR about the book, why this entire conversation is just a matter of respect, and developing the language needed to have these important social discussions.
CBR: How did this idea start to develop into a book?
Archie Bongiovanni: I came out as non-binary and was getting really frustrated explaining what that meant. I felt like I was having that conversation daily and I was venting to Tristan about it.
Tristan Jimerson: And I was like, “let’s make a zine!” We’d made zines before, so this wasn’t new ground. We wanted something short and cheap.
Bongiovanni: Yeah, we wanted it to be really accessible, too. It was important to us that it wasn’t at all academic. We wanted it to be conversational.
Jimerson: We printed the zine for years and it was really popular.
Did you ever struggle to find a balance between giving people the chance to accept you (example, Archie’s parents) and acknowledging that sometimes you just have to move on without certain individuals?
Bongiovanni: Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s such a case-by-case scenario. I personally tend to lean towards being patient and letting people have more time. It’s a really hard thing to establish boundaries and distance with someone you care about that doesn’t respect your pronouns. Usually, I’ll draw the line when someone knows it’s important to me and they’re rude about it. Or someone that makes fun of they/them pronouns at any point. It never gets any easier.
You live this, Archie. Beyond that initial introduction phase, what makes this such a contentious topic? Do you feel that it’s basic manners to respect such a simple request from others?
Bongiovanni: Of course I think it’s basic manners. I think it’s a human right to be respected for whatever your sexuality or gender is. While I understand that it’s hard for some folks to change their language, everyone already does it all the time.
Jimerson: When people get upset they claim a multitude of reasons, but what it all boils down to is having respect without needing understanding. Which seems like basic human decency to me. It doesn’t seem any different from calling your friend Robert "Bob" if he asks you to.
Bongiovanni: That respect is the first part of understanding as well. In a perfect world we’d have both respect and understanding, but at this point I’ll settle for a little respect.
Jimerson: I think it’s contentious because people just don’t like being told they need to do something.
Bongiovanni: People also don’t like to be wrong. Or to change.
Jimerson: I don’t know what to say to those people other than “tough shit.”
Bongiovanni: Language changes, whether you choose to change with it or not. It’s not going to stop because you don’t like it.
How was it collaborating on this project for the both of you?
Bongiovanni: Fun! Easy! Lots of coffee!
Jimerson: We’ve been collaborating on things for years, so it felt natural.
Bongiovanni: It was really important to me to work with Tristan on this project because I found his take really valuable. I don’t have the perspective of being cisgender and explaining non-binary pronouns to others, either in personal life or in a business setting.
Jimerson: To me it’s important to work with Archie and let them take the reins on this project because they understand being non-binary in a way I don’t.
Tristan, had you worked in a comics format before this? How was the experience?
Jimerson: I’ve worked with Archie on some zines and written scripts for a few comics that never saw the light of day. I like writing for comics because it forces you to be clear and concise without getting bogged down with physical descriptions. It is much easier to work in this medium simultaneously with Archie, as we can plot out jokes and the way the characters look in tandem with writing the script. It feels more collaborative than just writing something in a vacuum and sending it off. I think that’s important when writing something that’s meant to be conversational.
How did you end up hooking up with Oni and Limerence?
Jimerson: Somehow a copy landed on the Limerence Press editor’s desk and they asked if we would be interested in making it into a full book.
Bongiovanni: And we said, “Hell yes!”
What’s next for you both?
Bongiovanni: I’m working on pitches for other fiction comics and I’m always working on a new zine.
Jimerson: The restaurant I run takes up a majority of my time, but I would love to do a more detailed guide for making a business a more non-binary friendly/safe place. I haven’t found a lot of first hand resources on doing that. I’d love to work with Archie on that project as well.
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is available in bookstores now, and in comic book stores on Wednesday, June 13 from Oni Press' Limerence Press.