In Fine: A Comic About Gender (Liveright, April), Ewing interviewed dozens of Americans about how they define and experience gender.
Where did the idea for this project come from?
I had all these feelings about gender that didn’t fit with femininity or masculinity. A part of me just wished there was no gender. Then I looked at the beautiful spectrum of the LGBTQ community, and I realized there were a lot of people who were getting joy there, and I didn’t want to cancel that joy. I wanted to understand.
These interviews took place over a decade. How did you select subjects?
I started out interviewing people I knew, but I was interested in talking to people whose experiences I wasn’t able to hear elsewhere. Some interviews I did early on pointed me in the direction of how race and disability intersect with gender experiences. It took me a while to find myself in spaces where people felt safe and confident speaking with me.
Were there answers that you found surprising or unexpectedly challenging?
One thing that stood out for me was the sheer variety. I could speak to two people with the same gender identity and expression, and maybe even the same past experiences, who would have completely different answers to questions like, “How do you feel about your body?” or, “How important is language to you?” One of the things I struggled with before I came out was a desire to have the “right” experience or follow a certain formula. I learned that everyone is their own person, and we all come to the ways we express ourselves through different paths.
Were there challenges in deciding how to depict the subjects visually?
The easiest were folks whose attitude was: this is who I am, you can take my picture. The more challenging folks needed a level of anonymity, and I needed to create a character who represented who they were but didn’t look like them. One person wanted to be depicted as a superhero with a team of LGBTQ activists. I had a lot of fun with that. There’s also a subject who wanted to be super anonymous, so I drew them with a bag over their head. Those weren’t very happy pages, but it was an engaging challenge to see what I could convey through body language and a paper bag.
How has the project affected your own sense of gender identity?
It’s been such a relief. When I started, I was very isolated and concerned with being correct. The thing is, connecting with other people requires vulnerability and flexibility. It allowed me to learn how to listen. Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but it also gave me the flexibility to listen to myself. I think of my gender now as something I’m constantly exploring, as opposed to something I have to present like a taxidermy specimen. Instead, it can be alive and growing.