This was a hard one. Hard to read, hard to write about, hard to articulate my feelings about, and hard to grade.
Rain is a comic about a trans girl attending a new high school and trying to make new friends – and running into an old childhood friend. It’s written by a trans woman, and deals heavily with issues of transphobia and homophobia, passing and going stealth, transition and identity. It’s also one of the most hurtful things I’ve read in recent memory.
After multiple readers suggested I take a look, I had high hopes for Rain. My hopes were quickly dashed on the rocks of cissexism and transmisogyny, which practically no page of the comic is free from.
After she gets non-consensually outed to her small group of friends, these friends constantly refer to Rain as “he” or “him” or “really a boy” or “physically male” or whatever, and no one corrects them, not even Rain. When Rain’s childhood friend Gavin realizes that he knew her as a boy, he becomes hostile and angry at her for a long period of time, which the comic treats as a normal and expected reaction. Rain and her genderweird/ crossdressing(??)/ possibly actually trans neighbor Ky are both referred to as “liars” for concealing their birth-assigned gender, and the comic makes no attempt to refute or counter these ideas. Rain herself refers to being trans as a “condition”, which is some HBS bullshit if ever I’ve heard some. I hope you’ll pardon my language, given the context.
I stuck it out a lot longer than I would have for another comic. There were some things that carried me through: it’s clear that Maria is trying hard to be a decent cis person and challenge her own transphobia, and her crush on and defensiveness of Rain is really cute. But I can’t even have a cute ship to make the rest of the comic worthwhile, because Rain doesn’t reciprocate Maria’s feelings. Brutal.
I’m willing to forgive trans writers a lot of things, especially when it comes to internalized oppressive ideas. If the ideas put forth in Rain were written by a cis person, my rage would be unbridled, my defenses up. But coming from a fellow trans person, another person harmed by transmisogyny, it’s a sickening gut-punch. Rain is unrelentingly cissexist and transmisogynist, a brutal irony I have difficulty reconciling.
The thing is, I’ve been there. Who among us trans folks hasn’t at some point based our self-worth on how well we pass, or laughed at a transmisogynist joke to make the cis people around us feel more comfortable? We internalize these awful ideas from childhood – that people with penises are men, that certain behaviors/clothes/etc. only belong to people with certain genital configurations, that people who transgress their assigned gender are evil and/or disgusting and/or hilarious jokes. It’s hard to get angry at people for repeating ideas that hurt themselves.
But these ideas hurt me too, and all trans people. A gender analysis that doesn’t disavow cissexism is useless, and one that actively upholds it is worse than useless.
It’s not just cissexism, though. The transmisogyny in the comic was the ugliest slap in the face of all – Rain is meant to be a comedy, and a disturbingly large number of the jokes are at the title character’s expense, often in the format of “These straight boys are attracted to Rain. If only they knew the truth! Ha ha ha!” When the Halloween arc rolls around and Rudy decides to dress up as a schoolgirl, we get a different kind of transmisogynist joke – people being disgusted at a boy in drag.
Maybe Jocelyn C. D. is aiming for realism. After all, what would high school be without all the horrible oppression and bigotry from the faculty and other students, right? Maybe the characters who say horrible things, constantly, on every page, aren’t meant to be sympathetic. Maybe Rain’s internalized cissexism is supposed to be relatable, not admirable. Maybe they all grow out of it later in the comic!
I’ll never know, because I can’t finish it. I got about a third of the way through the archives and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Every page of this comic was an ordeal, a dark reminder of awful times in my life and horrible things people have said to me. As a former high school “boy” in “drag”, I do find much of Rain relatable – in the worst possible way. As I’ve said before, I have no time or energy to spend reading comics that make me feel bad. I can’t think of a single comic that I’ve ever read that has made me feel worse than Rain did.
Final verdict: There’s no way I can recommend this comic to anyone.
Addendum: (August 1, 2015)
It’s no secret I’ve been on the receiving end of some vicious harassment these past two days over my review of Rain. I don’t expect all my readers to agree with me, and I’m open to different opinions and interpretations of the comics I review. I’m not perfect, and I can take criticism as good as I dish it out. But the mean-spirited nature of the messages I’ve gotten, both here and on Twitter, has done nothing to incline me more positively to the comic in question, nor has anyone constructively challenged my analysis of it. However, I do want to address some misconceptions people repeatedly brought to me, regardless of how abusively they did so.
There seems to be some misunderstanding of what I mean when I talk about positive representation. As many people brought up, Rain depicts acts of transphobia that occur in real life, to real trans people; surely this realism qualifies it as good representation? Well, the issue isn’t the events and actions depicted, although they are definitely depressing and unpleasant to read. The issue is the way the narrative depicts and responds to these things. A narrative that fails to condemn the harmful actions of a character is portraying them as justified; the fact that none of the characters in Rain face consequences for their transmisogyny means the narrative supports them.
The fact that no one speaks up for Rain when she’s misgendered; the fact that no one is corrected for saying she’s not fully female; the fact that no character disagrees with the idea that trans people are liars; the fact that no one is offended by the repeated use of slurs; all these things reinforce transphobia. That is what makes Rain harmful.
By point of comparison, actually good trans representation reinforces the ideas that we are entitled to privacy, bodily autonomy, and self-determination. They normalize us instead of exposing trans characters to scrutiny and ridicule. They protect trans characters from harm instead of voyeuristically zooming in on our suffering. They do this by having characters who are proponents of these ideas, and by rewarding those characters – or by punishing characters who oppose them.
Examples of this are sparse, to be sure, but that’s the point of this website: to help you find them. Iothera, Computer Love, The Blue Valkyrie, Portside Stories – all webcomics by trans writers with trans woman/girl protagonists that don’t make me feel like I’m worthless. Even the totally garbage Sense8 does this better than Rain! Merely depicting transphobia without challenge, as if a neutral party, only supports transphobia. It’s honestly not that hard to do.
I don’t hate DiDomenick. I can’t believe I have to say this. This isn’t a personal condemnation, although I do think her writing choices imply massive internalized transphobia – something I’m sympathetic to! I’ve been there too; what trans person hasn’t? But my internalized transphobia didn’t just hurt me. It hurt all the trans people around me, and it was only with their tough love and a better analysis that I was able to get over it. It’s that tough love that I’d like to offer to DiDomenick and her readers.
Rain is sad because it teaches trans people that cis people are entitled to intimate information about our bodies; that we’re deceptive and those who discover our deception will be justifiably angry; that our bodies have a gender that is both innate and at odds with our identity; that we will be met with unending violence if we don’t pass well enough. It reinforces every horrible thing that we’re taught from before we even know what gender is.
But Rain is utterly terrifying because it teaches cis people the same things, and does so from the horse’s mouth: a trans author. More than one cis person wrote to tell me that Rain had taught them so much about being trans, and that’s frankly chilling.
Please, please stop learning about trans people from this comic, and start learning from communities of trans people who challenge transphobia and write about it, like Eva Problems or Aevee Bee or, like… me.