When Julia Kaye began her gender transition in May last year, she felt incredibly isolated.
Despite being 'out' to her loved ones, Kaye soon realised she had no other transgender people to speak to about the things she was experiencing. So, already working as a professional cartoonist, Kaye decided to express herself via the outlet she knew best: illustration.
Four months into beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), she began drawing comics that poignantly detailed her emotions and experiences - including the everyday minutia; moments and thoughts that are often left unspoken in the public narrative of gender transition.
Her series, titled Up and Out Comic, is illuminating, eloquent, and powerful. By detailing her day-to-day life - including happy moments of celebration and achivement, the heartbreaking moments of anxiety, fear, or sadness, and everything in between - Kaye has given a unique voice to trans people, as well as helped cisgender people to understand the complexities of transitioning.
Kaye tells SBS that the comics were simply an outlet to help her document her transition, convey her experiences to others, and help herself work through her own experiences.
"At the time I didn't personally know any other people who were transgender to relate my struggles to, so I felt pretty isolated," Keys explains. "I found myself going through so many new experiences and was in real need of some sort of outlet. Since I was already working as a professional cartoonist, keeping a comic journal documenting what I was going through came very naturally to me. I found it therapeutic to set time aside at the end of the day to reflect on my mental space, to distill my thoughts down to a few panels."
But despite the comics simply being Kaye's therapeutic outlet on a personal blog, they began to attract attention. The illustrator tells SBS that while she felt lonely and secluded at the beginning of her transition, she has since befriended an enormous amount of trans people, all because they resonated with her illustrations.
"It's been absolutely wonderful! Countless trans people have reached out to me to let me know how deeply they've connected to my story, that they've gone through and felt so many similar things in their own life. It's powerful and validating knowing there are so many of us out there.
"I've met and befriended so many queer people and artists I otherwise wouldn't have known through posting this series. Everyone is just so supportive and accepting. There's such a large, thriving queer online comics community and I'm overjoyed to be a part of it now. It's so cool! There are so many diverse stories being told if you know where to look for it, representation that I had never could have dreamed of growing up.
Kaye says that another benefit of the comics was that they were an easy-to-understand way to explain her experiences to her cisgender friends, who could not comprehend what she was dealing with on a daily basis.
"[The comics] became a way for me to share and explain my experiences to my close cisgender friends, which I found immensely helpful," Kaye tells SBS.
She says that more recently, she's also received a lot of support from cisgender allies who read her comics online. "I regularly hear from allies who are super supportive about trans people, it's such a great reminder that despite the discourse in the news and the way trans people are generally represented in the media, so many people get it. Knowing that has helped me feel more confident in my own life."
"One day you'll glance over in the mirror and see the person you were always meant to be and there's nothing that can describe the feeling."
After asking Kaye what she would tell someone at the initial stages of beginning gender transition, she recommended being kind and patient to yourself through the often-lengthy process, as well as surrounding yourself with a supportive trans community.
"I recommend befriending other trans people, being able to relate your struggles to others who really get it is like nothing else, it's so important," Kaye explains.
"The early days of transitioning can be terrifying, confusing, heartbreaking, and incredible - sometimes all at once. Physically and mentally, it's an incredibly slow process, and finding the patience to be easy on yourself can be so difficult. But give it time, you'll get there, and it's so worth it when you do.
"One day you'll glance over in the mirror and see the person you were always meant to be and there's nothing that can describe the feeling. It'll shake you to your core."