Liz Prince’s Tomboy looks at growing up outside of gender norms

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Liz Prince’s graphic memoir Tomboy opens with the cartoonish 4-year-old Liz screaming and crying as her parents huddle around her. “I’m just trying to get her to wear this dress,” her exasperated mother reports about the garment sent by her grandmother. Two pages later, after unsuccessful coaxing, her mother turns to her father and instructs him, “Tell your mom, ‘No more dresses,’ OK?”

Liz-PrinceOn its own, this early memory stands as something of an amusing anecdote. But soon after, we witness the ways that Liz’s peers are much less understanding than her parents when it comes to gender norms and expectations. The book takes us through incident after incident in which Liz is shamed, taunted, questioned, and even abused because of her non gender-conforming preferences in terms of everything from clothes and toys to friends and hobbies.

At its core, Tomboy is a book about the often painful consequences of finding and expressing one’s individuality despite the pressure to conform. What makes this memoir stand out is Liz’s brave and humorous outlook—her refusal to capitulate in even the most distressing of situations. BookTrib recently contacted the author to find out more about the making of the book.

BookTrib: What motivated you to write Tomboy, and why now?

Liz Prince: Tomboy has always existed as a story that I would, most likely, eventually tell. There is actually a very short, four-page outline of the story arc in a sketchbook from 2004, but the motivation to tell it now and in this format is really due in equal parts to Zest Books requesting a book from me that could be marketed to teens, and the proliferation of news articles about transgender teens and young gender non-conforming kids. I’m very interested in trans issues, especially from the standpoint of an adolescent, because I wonder if I would have decided to change my gender if I was given the option to in junior high or high school. I have no regrets about not, but it is something I find myself coming back to.

BT: You’ve written and published shorter pieces in the past, but Tomboy is your first full-length book. What was that process like, and how did it differ from your previous work?

LP: It was different in that I had to keep the theme of the story in mind, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t repeating myself for 200 pages. But at the core of it, writing a longer book is a lot like writing a lot of shorter stories and then connecting them.

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BT: You include excerpts from diary entries throughout the book. Were these straight out of a diary you once kept? Do you still keep a diary, and does it include visuals as well as words?

LP: The diary entries were all made up. I did keep a diary at that time, and if I remember correctly, the entries that I wrote were similar in writing fashion to what I used in the book, but I actually can’t find any of my journals from that time, which is a little disconcerting. I guess my sketchbook could be considered an unofficial diary, in that I draw a lot about how I’m feeling, but it’s a lot less of a laundry list of events these days.

BT: Your book deals with issues of body image, bullying, and adolescence. Did you have a particular audience, or age group, in mind when you wrote it?  

LP: The book is “for teens,” but I don’t really know what that means. I just wrote the book how I wanted to write it, with the understanding that some stuff would probably get cut for being “age inappropriate,” but that actually didn’t end up happening. I’ve seen a lot of reviews of the book on Goodreads.com that lament the fact that there’s a marginal amount of swearing in the book, but I don’t know if I think taking out the more “adult language” would make the story accessible to younger readers. There are some themes that undercurrent the very obvious gender narrative that I don’t know if younger readers would pick up on, or be engaged by.

41Et-2VD4oL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_BT: In the book you mention Ariel Schrag’s High School Comics as an early influence. What else inspires you?

LP: Autobiographical comics are still my favorite types of comics. I’m inspired by the ‘zine movement as a whole, and the people who catalogue their life experiences, either in comic form or as written word.

BT: Do you have plans for any future projects in mind?

LP: Yes, I have a book that I would like to work on once the promotion for Tomboy has died down a bit, and I want to draw a short comic scene from Tomboy that didn’t make it into the book.  You haven’t seen the last of me!

Tahneer Oksman is Assistant Professor and Director of the Academic Writing Program at Marymount Manhattan College. Her book on Jewish identity in contemporary women’s graphic memoirs is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.

1 Comment

  1. I know exactly who I will buy this book for after reading this information.. what a great service you have done . Thank you.

    Cynthia

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