I was recently talking to a friend about cabbages and kings, when she broke the fourth wall to compliment me on knowing a few obscure terms. My first reaction was to pat myself on the back, but then I realized that I didn’t deserve it. The fact that sex positivity, gender dissociative disorder, asexuality, and active consent count as specialist language is its own book-worthy issue.
I want to mention where I first encountered this jargon. It wasn’t a tome for class or some such dry reading.
Modeled behavior and language is a powerful influence. Some people prefer music, and others have films, but it’s when I read that I’m most open to new ideas.
In that spirit, I have a few QUILTBAG-friendly webcomics to mention. There aren’t enough sympathetic or nuanced LGBT characters in mainstream entertainment (broadcast, published, or film). This is important because fiction is a low-stakes way to build empathy. Sexuality is rarely the main theme of these webcomics, but it is canon and significant. These are fiction, and should not be mistaken for textbooks, but they might give your copy of Orlando a breather.
(Please assume that everything is NSFW. We probably shouldn’t read comics at work in any case.)
Tab Kimton’s Khaos Komix present multiple perspectives through the use of interlocking and overlapping novellas. Each novella presents a different first-person account. Many of the characters’ stories feature fears about coming out, gender dissociation, or the lingering (and sometimes bewildering) effects of childhood trauma, but the combined effect emphasizes open-mindedness. Their current project, Discord Comics, addresses asexuality and kink while satirizing 50 Shades.
Aaron Alexovich consistently produces empathetic portrayals of female characters (such as Kimmie66 and Confessions of a Blabbermouth). Not all of his female characters are ladies who love ladies, but enough are to establish a sympathetic portrayal of how terrifying it can be to realize you don’t fit heteronomative stereotypes. The Serenity Rose series features an introvert whose abilities force her into the spotlight. He takes his time developing the eponymous S. Rose, and that slow approach to storytelling is a favorite of mine. (I also happen to geek out over his drawing style.)
Kagerou by Luka Delaney (aka Atomic Fireball) is a comic whose characters almost lack time to worry about serious topics like gender dissociation because their lives have been hijacked by a surreal and disturbing alternate reality and multiple personalities. Several hundred pages in, the author/artist still strings out the precise relationship of this heavily symbolic and flashback-riddled worldscape to the real thing.
Gunnerkrigg Court is the G-rated comic on this list. Tom Siddell’s story concerns the relationship of technology, mythology, and childhood more than sexuality, but the latter is a relevant and canonical element in this series.
Danielle Corsetto’s Girls with Slingshots features characters with a range of orientations and a lot of sex positivity.
The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal is another comic worth checking out. It is a well-drawn roadtrip/coming out narrative.
Punch an’ Pie continues where Queen of Wands left off. Angela, a minor character in QoW and a main character in Punch, was the first sympathetically portrayed polyamorous character about which I ever read. (Is it weird that I feel guilty for outing a fictional character?)
Knights Errant by Jennifer Doyle might be on hiatus, but one thing the existing archives already do well is to develop multiple characters who present themselves as differently gendered in a thoughtful and nuanced manner. I’m trying to say that this comic avoids the trap of suggesting that everyone who breaks heteronormative dressing conventions has the same motivations for doing so.
Gisele Laglace and T. Campbell’s Penny & Aggie gradually and organically morphed into a very QUILTBAG-conscious comic. (Skip directly to Sara’s storyline if you don’t mind missing a lot of character building and backstory.) Several of these characters appeared in a short-lived sequel titled QUILTBAG. (This was the first place I ran across this particular acronym.) It was a collaboration between T. Campbell and Jason Waltrip.
Reggie Weaver describes his Living Out comic as one that “represents the marriage of my heart and my art: my passion for advocating for the LGBTQIA community and my God given knack for ‘drawing pretty pictures.”
Erika Moen’s Oh Joy Sex Toy deserves a mention. Unlike the previous works of fiction or autobiography-disguised-as-fiction, Moen directly uses sequential art, bravery, and uncensored enthusiasm to present a variety of sex-related topics. As the title promises, she often reviews sex toys. She also discusses kink, birth control, porn, pole dancing, and pregnancy. Even when she admits to disliking something, Moen is consistently careful to frame that as a personal preference rather than a value judgment. I was already a fan of her journal comic DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Diary, but you will have to imagine my extreme delight when she appeared on the reality game show Strip Search (strip = comics) and showed that this isn’t just a persona she assumes for her comics.
There are many prematurely-ended but worthwhile comics that would fit this sort of list (from Venus Envy‘s portrayal of trans* characters to teenage homelessness in Metanoia), but an unfortunate fact of reading webcomics is that many promising works die early deaths. Gather ye rosebuds…?