Christian Beranek – Changing Gender, Changing Comics

I’d approached comic creator Christian Beranek for an article for Bleeding Cool earlier this summer, specifically after I was made aware of reaction to her gender identity, but it was a little on the back burner. Then Larry of Larry’s Comics decided to post some seriously dodgy tweets before publicly apologising and it all came into the foreground rather. I wanted to talk about her upcoming work as well as her experiences since coming out about her gender – it’s still a rare thing in comics and always attracts attention, good and bad.

Christian writes;

I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade now in a multitude of capacities: Publisher, editor, consultant, marketing director, even film producer. But ever since I was very young I knew that I wanted to be a comic book writer. I’ve had the chance to write some stories here and there but I typically I always ended up spending more time on other area of the business.

When I left Los Angeles in 2010 I knew that had to change. I still wanted to take the select consultant gig if I really believed in it, but my focus had to get back to the original goal of writing comics.

Now there was something else I knew when I was very young, although back then I really couldn’t define it, and that is the fact I’m transgendered.

So also in 2010, after two failed relationships, one personal and one business, I made a choice to stop trying to gain the approval of others and instead actualize what was really inside me.

Being transgendered is not something you choose. That said, many choose not to transition because the cost is deemed too high: Loss of friends, family, work etc… I myself worried about these things for many years. So instead of honoring my feelings I decided to go full force and try to do my best at anything I could.

I think it caused a lot of people to be turned off by me. I was very aggressive and when things didn’t go as planned I would be come resentful and bitter. A lot it was projection and also self-hatred. That being said I felt I did good work. I wish more people had had a chance to have seen it. That lack of attention, accolades and attention caused further frustration.

Thankfully I was able to keep working in comics and eventually landed the deal with Disney. I’ve already said loads about how that shook out. What I will add is when the biggest entertainment company hires you to develop a superhero universe because they want to compete in the marketplace and they eventually decide to purchase the biggest comic book company in the world with the most well known characters… well, you’re the one holding the short stick haha.

Rather than sink into further frustration and depression I decided to make the two changes I mentioned: Focus on my own writing and myself in general.

I had always been fascinated by the Southwest and in particular Santa Fe, New Mexico. I also enjoyed spending a great part of my youth in Europe. So I decided to leave Los Angeles and split time between both places where I felt most at home.

 

I’m interested to get back out there on the convention circuit and meet with my readers and interact with my industry peers again. I’ll be at MegaCon and Phoenix Comicon and will hopefully be able to do C2E2, Dragon*Con and NYCC. It is certainly going to take some adjustment, but I am confident in the inherent goodness of people. So far I am very encouraged at responses online.

Last week I had a twitter exchange with Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics. I am very vocal about digital comics and at times have been very opinionated about the flood of event comics and gimmicks from Marvel and DC. I was following Larry’s twitter feed because he always has something to say.

He wrote an apology and I have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he meant it. That being said there has been a groundswell of support. Many comic book professionals spoke up on my behalf and sent me personal notes. It was very encouraging.

We currently raising money and support for Post Apocalyptic Nick on a Kickstarter. It’s a 60 page comic I co-wrote with Tony DiGerolamo that features art by the amazing Tom Kurzanski.

As for my other two Kickstarter projects, Unhappy White Girls and Blood and Bones, I’d say we’re about 3/4ths of the way done on both of them. They’re taken longer than expected but backers can rest assured rewards will be met and in some cases exceeded.

We attempted a Kickstarter for a new edition of Dracula vs King Arthur earlier in the year but I feel we may have asked too much, had a complicated approach and launched it at an inopportune time. We’re going to adjust and come back again somewhere down the road.

But some good news about the project is we have a major director on board and a really dedicated producing team. Hopefully we can say more soon. These things take time but I’m really happy with everyone involved.

I’m also working with director/graphic novelist Doug Lefler on a new digital venture called Scrollon. The plan is to have it out in time for Christmas.

I have some other ideas in various stages of development and am working with some really talented people from all over the world.

It’s pretty amazing. Life can be good from time to time.

I had questions. So I asked Christian.

  Transgender individuals are rather rare, openly at least, in comics. I can think of very few Catherine Jones, Rachel Pollack, Lana Wachowski… are you aware of any others who stay closeted about their identity? How much of this is still an issue?

There is also artist Lindsay C. Walker from Australia who is starting out in the business. She has openly spoken about her status. As for others who remain closeted: Yes. There are several I am aware of who have confided in me. And I am sure there are others who for various reasons have not come out and may never come out.It is still a very big issue but it is becoming less of one as time goes on. The first transsexual the public really heard about of was Christine Jorgensen back in December 1952. Since then many great women have been open and raised awareness. Others live life in what is called “stealth mode” in which they don’t tell people of their status. These day to day pioneers just do their best to live normal, productive lives. The challenges they face are handled mainly in terms of survival. Every small victory even at that daily grind level chips away at the very walls of hate that still persist in this country today.

I am well aware there is a long way to go still but thankfully the path is being paved.

At San Diego, I was accosted by a senior comic executive, eager to show me photos of you, in a rather stare-at-the-freak fashion. Is this something you’re aware of, being passed around like some kind of figure of fun? How do you deal with that?

I am not aware of any specific incidents. I am quite sure and prepared for the fact that incidents like that have happened and will continue to happen. I will say it shows a lack of maturity on their part. I find when people react in such a manner their fascination speaks to issues within themselves. A fully realized and balanced person is accepting of others and does their best to understand.How I deal with it is to know it exists but look past it. Unless the incident is directed right at me in a violent matter it is not of concern to me. Is it possible my status will cost me work? Perhaps. But I’ve always been an individualist. What has cost me work in the past is my steadfastness in terms of principles. I tend to fight for the integrity of a business plan or project and when you deal with some of the shady people in comics that can cost you a gig or two.

That being said, I would never throw around my transgendered status to get a job. I want to be hired on the merits of my talent and execution thereof.

I am a pragmatic realist but idealistically I am hopeful people can move beyond the “stare and gawk” phase.

My parents were the only ones I really worried about in terms of opinion of my status. Mothers and fathers, at least the good ones, have hopes and dreams for their children and want them to be happy. I think they worried most about how others would treat me. Thankfully they have come to understand I am much happier these days.

My parents are very intelligent, thoughtful and caring people. My dad is probably the smartest person I’ve ever known and I’ve met and worked with loads of brilliant people. My dad also is very driven, sets goals and accomplishes them. I think he sees this as a another goal and that is of self-actualization. My mom is incredibly intuitive and we’ve had a million great conversations about people and situations. And also about entertainment! She loves great movies, television and books. I gained a lot great traits from the both of them which has allowed me to listen, understand and work with people. It’s helped me grow as a person and a writer through time.

One executive told me that the first they were aware of your new public identity, was when you started hitting on them in a San Diego bar. Does that sound like you? Certainly people were suprised, would a “teaser” campaign before the show have been more practical to avoid such encounters?

The last time I attended San Diego was in 2010 so if the executive in question is saying this incident happened this year they would be highly mistaken. In 2010 I was also still in “boy mode” and had just come off an awful break-up so I doubt I was in the mood to hit on anyone. I do my best to maintain a professional demeanor. I know in the past I was known as a bit of a partier but even then I made sure to keep sexual advances out of intoxicated scenarios.I am fortunate to have a very active romantic life and try to keep that as separate from comics as possible. I am very in touch with my sexuality and only spend time with people who are confident in theirs as well. I don’t think drunken comic book convention hang-outs are the best places to find people to share optimal erotic experiences.

How do you feel your gender experiences affect your work, and the audience you draw – if at all? And if so, can you give any specific examples we can check out?

I remember having a conversation with the late great Frank Pierson at my office when I worked on the Disney lot. We were waiting for my business partner to get off of a phone call, which was often the case before meetings, so I knew I had time to chat for a bit. We discussed his wonderful film Soldier’s Girl which was about the real-life relationship between Calpernia Addams, a transgendered woman, and Barry Winchell. Winchell was killed by his fellow soldiers who couldn’t process their own hate. We then talked a bit about his Oscar Award winning screenplay Dog Day Afternoon. In the film Al Pacino’s character robs a bank to try and get money for his girlfriend’s sex change operation.

Pierson took great care in making sure in both of these films the relationships were portrayed accurately. I knew if I was to ever write about my own experiences I would have to make sure not to sensationalize stories to try and shock readers into reading them.

I am working on a comic called Validation which will discuss my thoughts on transgendered life. I’ve written a great deal of it already but my artistic budget is tied up currently in other projects and in paying off old debts. I hope to begin production on it sometime next year.

Beyond that I try to write from a humanistic viewpoint. I think if you look at my comic Dealers, which is based largely on a failed relationship I had during the late 90s, you see that none of the characters have one-sided motivations. There is of course the desire to succeed in business and in love, but there is also the need for individualistic self-realization. Sometimes different wants and needs aren’t compatible with each other. Does it make it wrong? No. What makes things wrong is when there is a lack of understanding. If through honesty you can reach an accord, even if it means you have to give up some things to do so, then that is attaining a higher level of human existence.

But it isn’t easy and that’s where much the drama comes from in my work.

Larry has apologised to you, and you accepted but a number of people are still angry. What are your thoughts now?

I accepted Larry’s apology because I have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he will learn something from this. I also can’t let his words and actions fester inside me. I have to let go and focus on positive things. That being said, he continues to display a very cavalier attitude regarding what happened. So perhaps he has not grown from this yet which is a shame. I can only hope that one day he will find peace within himself to be at peace with others. He has compared his dislike of the Yankees and Jets to explain how he acted. As a Yankees fan this disturbs me…

Oh, and I did sign up to write something for this anti-bullying anthology.

Thanks Christian.

And, again, I will be watching the comments carefully with my ban hammer ready. Because.

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