Right up front, I've got to get something out of the way, what is your gender identity? I ask because when I googled you I found, shall we say, two very distinct types of pictures come up – with you presenting as both male and female. And, of course, there’s the whole transgender web comic thing. (And for my own reference, just to be 100% clear, your preferred pronouns?)
I identify as female so “she” and “her” are my preferred pronouns. There are loads of pics from the past online as I was very visible in the comic book and film worlds. I am not ashamed of any of those images. I lived that life and it's a part of who I am today.
Do you present that way full time, then?
I live 24/7 female.
How long since you started to transition?
I started taking it seriously in 2010 but really, I've always felt this way.
How did family and friends react?
I am fortunate to have great friends and a supportive family. It did take my parents a little while to accept me for who I am. Thankfully they realized I was still going to be me just way happier.
Has it affected you professionally?
I am sure some people have decided to communicate with me less. I still get some work for hire assignments and consulting gigs. I could be more active in seeking out jobs, I think. For the most part the comic book and film industries have been very accepting of me and I feel extremely fortunate.
Hardest part of it all?
Being considered a curiosity... Sometimes almost subhuman. That and the fact some people feel they have a right to know about your physical status, such as your genitals, just because I’m trans. Imagine if someone asked you “So are you keeping your penis?" or "Are you getting a boob job?" as if it was a legitimate matter of fact conversational question.
So, perhaps a dumb question, but what inspired you to do Validation? Can I assume that the work is at least semi-autobiographical?
I had the title kicking around for a few years before I took a crack at the story. My inspiration does draw from real life but none of the characters represent anyone in particular. I've dated and been around trans people and knew their was a tale to tell, something way beyond my own. The key was to identify the tone and make sure it wasn't something that capitalized on sensationalism. It had to feel genuine.
What other projects have you worked on?
I co-wrote the graphic novels Dracula vs. King Arthur and Post Apocalyptic Nick and wrote some prequel and background material for the films Se7en, Max Payne and Babylon A.D. A few years back I signed a deal to produce comics for Disney with the intention of translating them into their own film universe. We were rolling along and then one day I woke up and saw the announcement they had just bought Marvel. They didn't need us anymore. I packed my bags soon after and decided to live the freelancer life in New Mexico. I must say I am much happier and productive now.
I do have a couple of long overdue Kickstarter projects I have to deliver on. Once I can get those out there I'll feel even happier.
Beyond that, I am always creating and have various projects at different stages of progress. I never stop.
Who or what are some of your artistic influences, either specifically for Validation, or in general?
I grew up on a steady diet of Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Moore, fantasy and science fiction and loads of philosophy books. I tend to be very selective with the content I consume. I have a wide variety of interests but I want to check stuff out that takes great care in terms of execution. And it doesn't have to be high-brow. I like different things from films such as The Lives of Others to shows such as Trailer Park Boys. You just have to prove to me you have something genuine to say. I know when people are faking it. Dollar grabs are very transparent.
Now… You write it, Kelci Crawford draws it (I love her art, BTW!) and [your brother] Nick handles the web-side of things. And I see from your site that you all are in different parts of the country, how did this whole team come together?
Kelci is amazing! I met her on Deviant Art after I placed a post looking for an artist for the project. She drew up an initial design of Ally and I immediately said "Yes, that's her." From there we hit the ground running. We actually didn't meet in person until Phoenix Comicon this past May.
My brother Nick has done loads of website and production work for me over the years. I always try to include him when I can.
Early on, (#6, IIRC) you make it a point for the character to say that character plans to “keep [her male components],” meaning that she is, and plans to remain, non-op. I know that the issue of having SRS, and whether that is needed to be a “real woman” (or a “reel womyn” as parodied by Evelyn Poor in Trans Girl Diaries) can be kind of a touchy subject in internal trans-politics. Were you making a personal statement about this, or was this just for benefit of the character?
I know internal trans-politics exist and am aware of various stances.
To me there is no such thing as a "true trans" person. There is no one correct course because everyone has their own true path for themselves. Ally is pretty confident in her decision to be non-op and we’ll explore the reasons behind that more in the future.
You don't need a vagina to be a woman. If you do choose to get SRS it should be for personal reasons and not because of outside pressure. Be true to yourself.
One of the things that stood out to me about Validation was the fact that it DOESN’T feature the big “Cast full of gay.” (Unlike, say, Venus Envy, The Princess or Rain that seem to suggest that in coming out, one will immediately find themselves surrounded by LBGT’s that they never knew were there!) Do you plan to add (or reveal? NO SPOILERS!) any more LGBT characters in the future?
Oh, shit! How could I have forgotten about Roxie?!
Yes, beyond Roxie.
Yes. There will be several more LGBT characters debuting in the future. There also might be some past love interests who pop up.
Was keeping Ally more alone in all this more reflective of your own experience?
Well, Ally is reaching out beyond online interactions. She wants to live in the real world. She wants experience. And I wouldn't say she is alone but she is definitely independent.
As for my own experience... I am incredibly independent myself but value a good support structure. We'll explore the idea of this support structures down the road.
I may be forgetting something, but it appears that (like many TG comics) the parents are basically out of the picture. Is there a reason for that? Will there be a flashback / coming out arc in the future?
We will be meeting Ally’s parents very soon during the Holidays storyline.
It appears that Ally is far more “out” than “stealth,” to all of her friends and potentially love interests anyway. Again, the whole “out vs. stealth” thing is another touchy point within the trans community, was there any statement being made there, or is it just easier to write the story that way, free from the complications that would otherwise come up?
Well, Ally doesn't advertise the fact she is trans...
...but she is well aware of the implications if someone finds out. I don't know if that character trait could be considered a statement or not. People have reasons for living stealth and I respect that. Ally is a bit younger than the pioneers who blazed the trail in the 80's and 90's so she might not know the entire history of the trans movement. Perhaps we'll explore that more in the future. I do think many trans people today tend to forget how much those before them sacrificed to make things better today. And there is still a long way to go.
I love that Ally’s a bit of a comic and rpg geek, a girl after my own heart, so I have to ask: DC, Marvel, Image or Indy? (You, I mean.)
Whatever is good! I don’t have any loyalty towards any one company. One of my goals is to get hugely successful and buy loads of comics I can't afford right now to catch up on things.
And your favorite RPG?
Growing up it was Dungeons & Dragons.
I'd still play it if I had time and found a good group. I do play games on my iPad, my current favorites beings Clash of Clans and The Simpsons: Tapped Out. I’ve always wanted to get into Traveller and if I had even more time I’m sure I’d be massively into EVE Online. It just looks so insane.
Where do your fall politically? I’m particularly interested to know how LGBT issues fit in with and rank amongst your feelings on other issues – do you end up being a one-issue voter, a log-cabin Republican, or are you down with the whole Liberal / Progressive agenda as a whole?
I am an independent human being and I hold no allegiance to any one party. I back the people I feel are right for the job. Last election I voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. He seemed to the one who was most on the level. Ally mentions in a recent comic that she voted for him as well!
I have grown tired and bored of the two party system. I wish people would vote with their minds rather than by party line. I sadly don't see that changing anytime soon due to the control the media has on popular opinion. But I'll vote for whoever the hell I want and sleep well at night :-)
How have the repeal of DOMA and the apparent juggernaut of marriage equality cases current sweeping the country affected you?
Not personally. I do think it’s inevitable that on a Federal level gay marriage will eventually be made legal. I get why some states are fighting tooth and nail against it to appease evangelical bases but I just want to remind them of one thing: Jesus was all about love. So vote love. You’ll be less stressed and live longer.
Does Religion play much of a role in your life?
No. And I am not going to say I'm a spiritual person. I live in the moment but am aware of the past and the future. It feels good to do good things and be kind and decent to other people. There has to be something to that but you shouldn't expect a reward for doing so.
Do you ever have difficulty reconciling some of the homo-phobis and/or trans-phobic aspects of it with your own beliefs?
I think some of the various churches of the world are evolving in their views. Pope Francis, for example, is an exciting figure and I think is living life in an awesome way and inspiring good in others.
As for the hate some sects spew out: That poison comes from within and will eventually eat you from the inside. It's just not healthy.
Now, along with the “LBG” stuff, there have been a rather a few landmark cases for the “T’s” lately as well: schools in several states now officially recognizing students by the chosen gender (for facilities and activities purposes, etc…) for example. There’s a long way to go, to be sure, but what are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s fantastic. You’re also seeing more trans role models such as Laura Jane Grace and Lavern Cox get more attention. If we can couple great ideas with leadership and show patience then nothing will stop us from moving forward.
Any concerns that comics such as Validation might start to seem dated, socially and politically speaking, before too long?
Hopefully things continue to change for the better and Validation can be considered an artifact from a more volatile time in terms of the issues discussed. I do hope the story itself resonates beyond its time because it really is about treating each other with respect and love. Those themes, I feel, are eternal.
I’ve heard some very harsh criticisms of the Human Rights Campaign from other transgendered people and their friends and families… How do you feel about them? Do you think the “they throw trans people under the bus every time!” critique is fair?
It all goes back to Stonewall, doesn’t it? I firmly believe trans people, many of whom had stood side by side with LBG brothers and sisters during those tumultuous times, were thrown under the bus to make the movement seem more “mainstream” to the masses. I think it’s slowly getting better, but the hurt of being tossed aside to further the causes of others is still pretty acute.
What about Dan Savage, who seems to have a lot of LGB-positive stuff to say, but no so much on the –T side?
I don’t think Savage, RuPaul, Roseanne Barr and others take the time out to truly understand the plight of trans people and why certain things they say are harmful to the cause. And when called out they take a very defensive stance rather than trying to comprehend why trans people are angry with them. On the flip side, being over-reactionary and ultra-offended about what they say doesn’t help either. What needs to happen is a dialogue. Hopefully people will get to talking soon.
If there was one thing you’d like cisgendered people to know or understand about being trans or about transfolk, what would that be?
It isn’t about your genitalia. It would be grand if people stopped fixating on trans peoples’ boobs, penises and vaginas. You don’t need any of them to feel that you are a man or woman inside. We classify and identify people in ways we were taught socially to accept from the get go. But when you don’t fit into clearly marked boxes people immediately begin the questioning of physical status. It’s something we should all learn to move beyond.
How can I explain to a particularly thick-headed, Right-Wing reader of mine that being LBG and/or T is not a CHOICE? (PLEASE tell me the magic words! I’ve argued this one 1000 different ways and they just don’t get it!)
Sadly you can’t. It’s not worth the effort to try and change their minds. Focus on battles you can win, instead.
Yeah, but where would be the fun in THAT?
If you love drama go for it! Lol I prefer to lead a drama free life.
Thanks a ton for taking the time to speak with me! Before we wrap up, are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to plug?
I am always working on projects and looking to work on interesting projects. Check my website for updates http://www.christianberanek.com
Thanks a bunch! I really appreciate you taking your time to talk with me!
Thank you for having me! :-)
Christian Beranek is the author of Validation, which can be found at www.validationcomic.com and is drawn by Kelci Crawford. You should also check out her previous webcomic, Post Apocalptic Nick.