Queer Comic Review: Orientation Police

January 8, 2014 in inQueery

orientation police cover finalIn early 2013, the LGBTQ-focused publisher Northwest Press started fundraising to publish a new comic anthology called Anything That Loves. Originally, the collection was pitched and promoted as a collection of comics that addressed the specific issues and experiences associated with bisexuality. However, the project soon came to represent much more than that, as the editors sought not to represent not only bisexual experiences, but everything that didn’t neatly fall into the gay / straight binary.

Out of the 35+ artists gathered in the collection, Bill Roundy drew particular attention when he posted his own contribution to the collection online. His comic “Orientation Police” was a short reflection on his own dating experiences and the reactions his relationships usually drew. What was notable about Roundy’s comic was that in an anthology filled with people being told they had to choose between one orientation or the other, he was grappling with people questioning his right to stick to his own orientation.

You see, Bill Roundy is a gay man who’s only ever been in relationships with men. This fact makes up a pretty significant part of his identity, and while it seems straightforward enough, it’s one he is constantly forced to defend. What causes so much contention is the fact that he has been in multiple relationships with trans men. This fact is enough to give strangers, acquaintances, and friends alike the idea that they have the right to know about the genitalia of Roundy’s partners, and what’s more, the right to police his own self-definitions based on that.

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In his comic depicting these trials, Roundy is not looking so much to tell a story, but rather to communicate a point, and simplifies both the art and the message to make it clear as possible. He deals with invasive questions by redirecting the focus to the parts of his partner he thinks are important: the parts that can provide comfort and care. And when he does acknowledge the more private aspects of his relationships, he does so in a lighthearted and humorous way that still manages to reaffirm both his and his partners’ identity.

But while Roundy’s comic provides an excellent examination of a lot of the prejudices that are unfortunately associated with any relationship with a trans person, he’s ultimately not going to be able to tell all of it. While it’s assuredly difficult to have your own identity called into question, it’s the trans partner who gets this twice over, having to deal with these attacks on not only his orientation, but his gender. Roundy recognizes that his own experiences are limited in that regard and does not attempt to speak for his partners, but does recommend that anyone interested check out the stories of other trans men. Two good places to start are Rooster Tails and What’s Normal Anyway, which address many of the prejudices faced by Roundy and many more that he’ll never experience.

For more from Roundy himself, while he’s noted that this subject has struck a chord with so many people, he has since returned to his scheduled reviewing the many bars of Brooklyn in his regular strip, Bar Scrawl. But if you’re interested in seeing more like this comic in particular, you can always check out the main anthology at Northwest Press. While most of the comics within have their own story to tell and may not address the exact same experiences, many of them tackle the same kinds of judgement and provide their own reactions and solutions. Despite the differences inherent in each individual story, there seems to be a pretty common through line: no one has the right to define your identity but you. It’s not necessarily the most complicated lesson out there, but you’d be surprised at how many people still need to learn it.

Ellen Perry is a Guest contributor at InQueery and a volunteer at the Pacific Center